In the September, 1966, issue of CW, Suzuki ran an ad for the X6 Hustler 250, a ferociously quick 250cc piston-port Twin with six speeds and “Posi-Force” oil injection. What made the ad stick in my mind all these years was the copywriter’s line at the top: “We’ve invented a very fast way to lose 70 lbs.” The point being, as the body copy of the ad made clear, that the Suzuki was as quick and fast as most 500s but it weighed much less.
I was on a scholarship at U.C. Berkeley when that ad showed up, and already was into lightness, which is why I’d sold my ’64 Yamaha YDS-2 250cc two-stroke Twin to a classmate and bought a ’65 OSSA 175cc SE Sport. The OSSA was much lighter than the Yamaha, and though it was a single-cylindered piston-port two-stroke, it was pretty potent. I could easily keep up with freeway traffic, and it was a joy to use in the hills behind the campus, where I spent far too much time apex-strafing when I should have been studying.
Over the years since then, I’ve tested and owned a lot of bikes, among them many big, heavy, very fast machines like my ’91 Honda ST1100. But even though today’s mega-bikes are exemplars of engineering excellence, I always believed that behind the Suzuki ad of long ago, there was a message implied but not elaborated in it, which I formulated this way: L+S=MF, or Light and Simple equals More Fun.
I know from my years as editorial director of Cycle Guide and editor-at-large of Cycle World that this ideal has never really disappeared among my fellow riders, but a local dealer friend tells me that his customers in the streetbike category keep bugging him for bigger and faster bikes, not lighter and simpler ones. In my book Bodies in Motion: Evolution and Experience in Motorcycling, I set out some of what hard science shows us about why this might be in the chapter called “Fast is Never Fast Enough.” Though the emphasis in the chapter is on racers, the pre-cognitive psycho-biological mechanisms that enable us to adapt to ever-higher speeds and acceleration are distributed throughout the population, and for some of the most committed sensation-seekers, “light and simple” will never satisfy their need for speed.
Well, to each his own and so forth. Still, of all the bikes I’ve owned in the last 40 years, the one I miss the most is the sweet ’89 Honda NX250 I bought, supposedly, for my daughter. Every time I rode that single-cylinder dohc four-valve, six-speed pocket rocket, I’d grin and remember what it was about motorcycling that captured me in 1963, the day I first rode my new 80cc Yamaha YG-1 down Winding Way in Fair Oaks, California: the amazement that something so small, so simple, so light, could make the world go by so quickly and enjoyably.
Obviously, I’m not alone in my fondness for light and simple bikes, and there is evidence that the OEMs are gingerly testing the market here again for such machines, as well as evidence that the market might once again be receptive to them. You can read some of that evidence in the current CW Forum debate under the “Feedback” section, where, under the “Finally another small sportbike option available in the U.S.,” you’ll see the discussion about the concepts behind the Honda CBR250R. Likewise, when even BMW is thinking seriously about launching another scooter here, it’s clear something’s up.
Exactly what is going on, and how it might relate to the other currently raging debate about tiered licensing, as the U.K., for example, handles it, is unclear, but what is obvious is that the times are right for major changes. I hope so, and maybe someday we Americans will once again embrace “light and simple” in our motorcycles and many will regard the mega-bikes the way we moto-kids of the early ’60s used to regard prewar Harleys and Indians: as lumbering dinosaurs, relics of an age that knew not the likes of the Hustler.