Dear motorcycle manufacturers: Remember when naked bikes used to be, well, naked? Whatever happened to those carefree, happy days?
I have long lamented the current trend towards plasticizing the form of the naked bike, but after EICMA this year, it was really obvious: The naked bike is hardly very naked anymore. Sure, a few stalwarts of the breed retain their classic lines (the Ducati Monster, in particular), but the strain is becoming more and more diluted.
For a good example of the sad state of affairs, look no further than Kawasaki’s Z300 (not coming to Canada, in case you wondered). The Ninja 300-based ‘super-naked’ bike (as Kawasaki is calling it) saw lots of hype at EICMA, but take a good, long look at the amount of plastic bits bolted on to that machine. There’s a plastic belly pan. There’s what basically amounts to almost a full fairing covering the radiator – at least half of a fairing. And then there’s a headlight that looks like a prop from a 1950s sci-fi flick about invading robots from Mars.
Kawasaki is hardly the only offender (although the hideous bodywork of the Z800 may make them the worst culprit). Suzuki’s new GSX-S 1000 has what appears to be not one, but two belly pans. The bike has what appears to be an almost complete full fairing, and a headlight ripped straight from the pages of anime.
Not to belabour the point, but the Japanese manufacturers aren’t the only ones at fault either.
Erik Buell Racing’s new 1190SX also packs more plastic than a Big Apple starlet on a Fifth Avenue spending spree, and Triumph’s Speed Triple, one of the most famous of the original nakeds of the 1990s, is also starting to gain bodywork.
In fact, you couldn’t get a better indicator of the dire situation than those two bikes. Consider the form of the original Buell Lightning, back when Erik Buell was toiling away in the MoCo’s basement. Sure, there was some plastic bolted on where necessary, but that was a bike that looked mean.
Same with the original Speed Triple. With those bikes, it was easy to see how streetfighters got their name. It was a rough, raw, in-your-face machine that combined muscular styling with the visual assault of raw machinery. “Twist my throttle,” they seemed to whisper, “And there will be wheelies. And burnouts. And mad escapes from the police.”
Even Japanese manufacturers “got it” back then. Check out the early Honda 919, the first-generation Suzuki SV650 or even the Z750 or Z1000. They were a little more refined than their Euro counterparts, but they still showed off their engines, not plastic, and the headlights didn’t look like they were sourced from Wal-Mart’s toy department.
Not anymore. Today’s naked bikes appear to be aimed at 14-year-old fans of comic book movies, not actual motorcycle buyers. Maybe it’s just me complaining, but I don’t think so. I think it’s time for motorcycle designers to return to the idea of a naked bike as an unfaired motorcycle with aggressive lines, not styling ripped off from the Transformers.
I realize that might cost a bit more money than the current approach of simply taking fairings off a sportbike, then covering the ugly bits with more plastic.
But I think motorcyclists will actually pay money for a naked bike that isn’t ashamed of its heritage – a bike like the Ducati Monster, which, 21 years after its first appearance, still refuses to get dressed. At least one manufacturer still gets it.