I’ll begin this edition of Lowside column by asking a loaded question: What is the most beautiful motorcycle of all time, in your eyes? For some, this might be an easy answer. When presented with this question, my colleague Adam Waheed from Motorcyclistonline.com simply replied “916.” And when I asked why he chose this motorcycle, he replied, “Cause it’s sick.”
For others, it’s a slightly harder question. The subject of a beautiful motorcycle is no different than the subject of a beautiful person, dog, house or island. What’s beautiful in my eyes may be far from what you would consider beautiful, but it’s a nice conversation starter, nonetheless.
I got the idea for this edition of Lowside from the excellent Instagram car magazine Drive Nation when they posed the same question to their readers. The answers were wide and varied, so I thought I’d wrangle in some of my esteemed motojournalist colleagues (and my dad, a motojournalist himself) into this most personal of subjects to see how different we all were.
I’ll start at the top.
My boss, Sean Finley, like Adam, nominated the 1994 Ducati 916, “It was just so different when it was launched but it immediately looked cool,” he said, and the early 1980s factory Honda motocross bikes of David Bailey, Bob Hannah, Johnny O’Mara and Ron Lechien.
“Those low aluminum tanks still look cool even by today’s standards,” Sean told me.
Cycle News editor Kit Palmer also went for some early 1980s moto love, signaling the factory Suzuki RA125 of Mark Barnett out for particular appraisal. “Super tech, full floater suspension, water-cooled, just plain bitchin!” Kit said.
Jesse Ziegler went for “any dirt bike and a bonus if they have multiple cylinders!” But when questioned further, he said, “Definitely factory rally bikes are the coolest looking for me. I like the retro-cool Unlimited class Dakar bikes from Paris-Dakar days: Big, unruly and pissed off. There’s something about a bike that’s meant to race across countries, navigate with paper, and not have considerations to be comfortable.”
Moving out of Cycle News, Ari Henning went for a classic in the Britten V1000—the choice of a true two-wheeled connoisseur. “The V1000 is exquisite on so many levels,” Henning said. “Beautiful in form, function, and story. That’s likely the bike that is the most moving to me. And what is beauty if not something that moves you to emotion?”
His television sidekick Zack Courts went a different way, citing the 1999 Honda RS250 grand prix two-stroke out as a favorite. “Smooth, elegant, purposeful and zero body fat. I think there’s a lot to be said for a 1940s Indian Chief, but I’m a road-race guy, I can’t help it,” Zack said.
Ultimate Motorcycling.com’s Nic De Sena didn’t mention one particular bike but a man who designed a series of them in Massimo Tamburini, the creator of the Ducati 916/996/998 range.
“To me, that entire generation is the iconic modern superbike and ushered in the design aesthetic that we still see today,” Nic said. “Massimo Tamburini single handedly, and forever, changed the design of sportbikes.”
Thankfully, one colleague went away from the sport/racing theme to a choice that took me by surprise. Ryan Adams from motorcycle.com chose the 2020 Triumph 1200 XE.
“I love the mashup of technology and performance wrapped in nostalgic styling,” Adams said. “The bike performs better off-road than some adventure bikes on the market, and it has classic style that will never go out of fashion. It is, quite literally, what scramblers were back in the day: streetbikes that could perform off-road.”
Racer extraordinaire Chris Fillmore threw a curve ball and picked out a Harley-Davidson Panhead (although this is a type of motor, rather than a whole bike) as his most beautiful. “It symbolizes American icon lifestyle, bravado and the Easy Rider flick,” he said, coolly.
Morgan Gales from Cycle World went even further in the other direction, nominating the jaw-dropping Maxwell Hazan-built Musket. I must admit, I absolutely love anything Hazan produces, but this is hot by even his standards.
“It’s a classic, minimal aesthetic,” Gales said. “Reduced to the minimum but it’s still a rideable, functioning piece of machinery. It’s simple but so complex. Motorcycles tend to be crude and brutish—it’s just their nature as machines. This one is sculptural.”
I feel my personal tastes for motorcycle beauty are quite broad, but when it comes down to it, I’m a racing guy and I love the purposefulness of a racing design, no matter what the vehicle’s chosen domain. I’ll list three bikes here (it’s my column. I do what I want).
I am in awe of the 1994 Cagiva C594 (pictured). This must be the most beautiful grand prix racing machine I’ve ever laid eyes on. The deep luscious red paint, the voluptuous curves, and the fact that it’s a thoroughbred 500cc two-stroke only adds to the allure.
On the other end of the scale, like Jesse, I love almost any rally bike from the original Paris-Dakar, but I am especially fond of the 1986 Marlboro BMW GS, ridden by the irrepressible Gaston Rahier. I love it more for what it represents than any aesthetic beauty. This was a time in rallying where surviving was a tremendous accomplishment, let alone winning, and the red and white GS is, to me, the first bike I laid eyes on and immediately made me want to go exploring the world on a motorcycle.
Finally, I will have a self-indulgent moment and say my Pikes Peak-winning Aprilia Tuono 1100 Factory. I have included this bike because of the feeling I got when I saw the finished paint job at Imperial Sportbikes after 23 hours of driving from Costa Mesa to Denver. It was done by Jason Madama at Syndicate Racing and transformed an ugly bitch of a bike, with a horrific matte-black wrap done by a dickhead stoner who couldn’t hold his end of a business deal, to a motorcycle I was genuinely proud to race, with my dad’s number 34, no less. And every time I look the Aprilia now, I get that same giddy feeling of “wow, that’s my bike.” Just as Ari says, “what is beauty if not something that moves you to emotion?” It’s a part of the family now, even though I don’t own it. Yet.
Talking of the family, I’ll leave the last word over to my dad, Jim. It’s no understatement to say dad is the doyen of classic motorcycling in Australia, having been in the motorcycle industry for nearly 60 years and the editor of Old Bike Australasia.
“The Matchless G50, without question,” Jim said. “It’s utterly gorgeous and easy to maintain. I’m also very fond of the 1973 TX750 Yamaha. I feel sorry for this bike as it was shit-canned when released, it had all sorts of problems, but when properly sorted—which mine is—it’s a fabulous bike to ride.”
Okay. Now it’s your turn. What’s your most beautiful motorcycle of all time? CN