What I have to write today is purely subjective, just my opinion and you are entitled to disagree. As a friend of mine said the other day, “I don’t know where you got your opinion but I hope you kept the receipt.”
Fact is, modern bikes ARE ugly. Take the GSX-S1000 Suzuki pictured above. This bike looks like it has been beaten with an ugly stick. It looks like they have continued to beat it till the ugly stick broke at which point they went and got another ugly stick and beat it some more.
The styling is an exemplar of everything that is wrong with modern motorcycle styling. I could use any one of a tribe of modern bikes to use as an illustration but I chose this one. Incidentally, if you happen to see this bike in its all-black colour scheme the ugliness is magnified.
“Stick insect bikes” are all the rage. Along with abbreviated tailpieces that look like they have been booted up in the air, Euro-compliant mufflers that look and sound repulsive and robot-like “faces” there simply is nothing to like. And don’t say, “But they go so great.” Maybe they do, but I wish they’d go and KEEP going.
There WAS a time that bikes delivered all the performance that riders wanted AND looked attractive as well, but those days are sadly gone. Every generation has had its stand-out style bike. The 50s it was the Norton Manx. In the 60s it was the Triumph Thunderbird. The 70s, the Z1 Kawasaki, the 80s, the Gixxer Suzukis, the 90s, the 916 Ducati and the Noughties, well, that’s where it all started going downhill.
To a large extent I blame Suzuki. The Katana was a stunning breakaway from the style of the day and, while it met with a muted reception to begin with (hardly surprisingly), buyers soon warmed to it and it set the tone for what was to become. But, at the same time, it was still a product of its time in that it consisted of a seat and tank that were pretty much on the same level and a tailpiece that extended past the back of the rear wheel. The “hunched forward” look was radical and the execution of the whole thing was clever and very innovative.
The single most important factor that makes all the GOOD-looking bikes stand out from the modern fare is that the rider, a very important part of the overall styling package sat IN the bike rather than ON it. Today, it’s the opposite. The bikes have become smaller, the bike itself more and more vestigial and the combined rider/bike appearance now is much more of a pimple balanced on the top of a pumpkin.
So, are there any good-looking modern bikes? Well, yes and no, and when I start listing them you will see a pattern emerging.
In this writer’s opinion, there are still SOME good-looking bikes. For example, the Triumph Thruxton R is a truly beautiful bike, though it does share some modern styling trends.
Likewise the Kawasaki ZRS
Again, though, this is a “retro” bike and not really representative of what average riders are buying. Unfortunately, pickings are slim if one wants to buy something other than a stick insect bike and even the ZRS falls short. While mimicking the styling of the legendary Z1 it is too small and compact to have the bulk and “presence” that its ancestor had and the integration of the rider and the bike is lacking as can be seen from this photo.
Yamaha tried a “retro” style as well but its result is truly appalling.
It must be said, in its defence however, at least the proportion of rider/bike is more pleasing.
The current (and final) model VFR Honda also fits into this category. It is a very pleasing design until one recognises that it was designed after a long, hard look at the 90s 916 Ducati! And it has remained unchanged since its release way back in 2014. Nothing really new here at all, then. And maybe that’s the reason why it DOES look good.
So, another question, do ugly bikes get better with age? Do we, like the frog in the saucepan, acclimatise ourselves to bikes that are less than pleasing and gradually come to accept them? The jury is out on this but my answer is, no, we probably don’t. The 2008 Honda CBR1000 was a very unpleasant mixture of lines and the passage of time has not made me like it any better despite upgrades, different colour schemes and racing success.
Right about now (or perhaps it happened a while ago) someone is going to say, “Ah, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Yes, it certainly is but that saying presupposes that there is an element of beauty THERE to begin with and it’s my contention that there simply isn’t. Modern sports bikes? Grand prix replicas with all the styling compromises that a GP bike needs but a road bike doesn’t. Adventure bikes? Practicality wins out over style. Touring bikes? Again, practicality wins, though not so fiercely as in the case of sports bikes. And don’t get me started on naked bikes (though that’s where we started, isn’t it?)
Every motorcyclist is cognizant of the “shop window” syndrome. The compulsion of every rider to admire themselves and their bike’s reflection in the shop window as they ride by. Do you REALLY want this to be what you see?
Answers on a postcard, please.