BACK PAGE COLUMN
Better Way Back When
What is it about stuff from previous eras that get us all gooey, especially where motorcycles are concerned?
It’s a topic I’ve been mincing over ever since we started testing our Kawasaki Z900RS a few weeks back around the Malibu hills, one that’s always made me curious when applied to not just motorcycles, but anything that can get the blood going.
Take cars, for example. The car industry is rife with names and shapes that take you back—Mustang, Miata, 911, 500—all names that became famous probably before you were born, with shapes that evoke memories of a time that exist only in your memory or on film stock. Personally, I have a massive affiliation for 1960s and ’70s Formula One, of names like Stewart, Cevert, Andretti and Brabham, all gods in my book, because racing was more romantic, more dangerous, more heroic, and just downright cooler then.
Music is probably the perfect example of it being better in your day—whatever day that was. My mate back in Australia has this theory that once you turn 30, you stop liking new music. I don’t totally agree with that but I can see his point. I’d way rather listen to Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb than anything in the current Top 40—and that song was made years before I was.
As for motorcycles, I’ve found the more they change, the more people wish they stayed the same. Rose tinted glasses are in full effect right now, with bikes like Yamaha’s XSR range, Honda’s new retro-styled CB1000R and the Z900RS that looks like a kid who has dressed up in dad’s clothes dominating the press at a time when bikes have never been more advanced—or intimidating.
Maybe that’s it. The older we get, the more adverse we are to things not of our immediate understanding. I’ve lost track of the number of times my mother has told me she simply doesn’t get a subject because she’s getting old, regardless of how easy it may be.
A look into the new 2018 Triumph Tiger range goes some way to confirming this theory: the 1200cc triple ADV bike has six different variants, and as the guy supposed to tell you what’s what, I’ll admit to finding it hard to tell the difference, for the most part. There’s also six individual riding modes, all with varying levels of traction control and ABS intervention. Hell, the thing will probably pour you a Guinness if you ask it nicely. Surely that’s got to qualify as overkill, right?
It’s hard to get excited about something you don’t understand, and I think this is an area motorcycle manufacturers need to look at closely. As their bikes get more and more advanced, it’s only natural for people to become alienated and go looking for the next thing to get them going.
What happened to two wheels and an engine that doesn’t require a PhD in electrical engineering to ensure everything works correctly? I have a distinct feeling part of the reason we are struggling to get new riders into the fold is bikes are now becoming so technical they become sheer pains in the ass to get your head around.
There are definite cases for the advancement in all things electrical. The Ducati Panigale V4 has every rider aid this side of the factory MotoGP garage, and it needs it considering the company claims a rather stout 214 horsepower for their new baby, with the Speciale edition punching you square in the nuts with 226 horsepower. These are numbers MotoGP bikes weren’t making all that long ago, and they now come with a headlight and a license plate.
Another area where electronic advancement is in full effect is, you guessed it, in electric motorcycles. Here is where you will see the most advanced thinking, the most intriguing designs, since Hildebrand & Wolfmüller bought series production two wheelers to the masses in 1894. The next 30 years are going to be exciting times in terms of motorcycle design, as they will be in everything from home entertainment to being able to chat with your buddy on the other side of the globe in hologram form.
The future may be exciting and filled with baby-like wonder, but I just can’t help but think there’s more personality in what came before. It’s no surprise café racers, scramblers, bobbers, choppers and any other form of current-cool custom bike taps next to bugger-all out of the present, save for maybe welding standards and the fact people don’t generally smoke around an open gas tank anymore. Have we simply run out of ideas?
Motorcycling should be about easily accessible fun and I think the more advanced they become, the harder that fun is to find. I was chatting recently about this fact to a friend at a major manufacturer who was watching his bike being ridden (by a pro racer) alongside the clever and clearly advanced Alta electric motocross bike. All he could say was he didn’t think the Alta rider was having as much fun as the guy on his bike, and it’s hard not to believe him.
I hope motorcycle manufacturers don’t lose sight of the fact that riding is supposed to be first and foremost fun, an excuse to forget your life, your troubles, and just focus on the joy of the road. I think that’s why the current retro scene is so strong—it allows riders to live those heady days over and over again, and still make it home for their 8:30 p.m. bedtime.
What about you? Does the retro scene do anything for you? Do you wish for more retro bikes or are we tapped out and should we just focus on the future?CN