Call them what you will—show bikes, concept bikes, future bikes, whatever—they’ve been around for a long time. Sometimes they point the way to the future, most of the time they should wear a sign that says DEAD END. But the fun part is that nobody knows for sure at the time.
The first memorable concept bike of the modern era may have been the Suzuki Falcorustyco (gyrfalcon in Latin – pictured above), which appeared at the 1985 Tokyo Motor Show. Suzuki can deny it all they want, but it seems like the similarity between the Falco and the light cycles in Tron (1982) are a little too coincidental. Powered by a supposed square-Four four-stroke with three cams and packed with “hydraulic drive,” hub-center steering, etc., all of it was “so advanced in its development that it could be produced almost immediately,” said Suzuki. In January, 1986, CW bet “you won’t have to wait a decade to see its like on the street.” In retrospect, the Falco looks like it might have been a simple corporate diversion to throw curious types off the GSX-R trail—a conspiracy theory that unravels when you factor in that the GSX-R had already been introduced earlier that year. Maybe the ’rustyco was just an internal diversion to keep the troublemaker engineers away from the GSX-R?
Another Suzuki that had already been introduced, three years before the Falcorustyco, was the 1982 GSX1000 Katana. Penned by ex-BMW chief designer Hans Muth for the German market, where high-speed stability and aerodynamics are important, the Katana’s shape is not difficult to see in the concept bikes that came after it (right down to the suede seat).
Possibly still happily bemused at the reception the Falcorustyco had received, Suzuki was back at the 1986 Tokyoshow with the Nuda. This one, they said, is functional—not that anybody actually got to see it function. To keep it real, Suzuki said the Nuda contained a GSX-R750 engine, and then it was off to Tomorrowland again and babbling on about two-wheel shaft drive, hub-center steering and the “Suzuki Total Engine Control System”—a computer-controlled fuel-injection system regulated by air/fuel sensors, throttle-position sensor and engine-rpm sensor. Yeah, right! In any case, it all paid off in the form of the GSX1300R Hayabusa in 1999.
As with every show bike come to fruition, the stylists got a lot of what they wanted, and the technicians with the hub-steered dreams and three-cam square-Fours woke up alone on the couch yet again. Not that it mattered in the case of the Hayabusa: Its boring old inline-Four, telescopic fork and singleshock rear end provided more than enough kinesthetic stimulation.
Not to be outdone at the ’85 Cologne show, Harley-Davidson was, as usual, way ahead of its time with this Sportster-powered, Katana-inspired Café Racer, which shared the limelight with the new GSX-R750, Bimota Tesi, et al. Even H-D’s visions of the future share parts with the past: Bend that rear pipe up a little, Bob. Perfect!
Back in the U.S.A., meanwhile, we really were busy rolling our own. Having made quite a nice chunk of change by selling a Windjammer fairing to everybody in America with a motorcycle, Craig Vetter began cranking out his futuristic, modified KZ1000 Mystery Ship. Stylistically, the Mystery Ship looks like a sort of dead end, but thematically, Craig Vetter knew exactly where motorcycles were headed. And now that it had occurred to somebody that wind protection and styling were good ideas and didn’t have to be mutually exclusive, the floodgates were open.
The Bates Clipper (see ad above) fairing makes your bike look like it’s doing a constant cartoon double-take. What the?! Nice storage, though. And when the GL1100 Aspencade got its first factory fairing in 1982, the basic difference was that Honda moved the trunk to the back of the motorcycle.
Soon, the fiberglass resin was flowing like Gallo Burgundy; unfortunately, much of it flowed into molds that could’ve used a little more time in the barrel. One example was the creation of British designer John Mockett for the new Yamaha XS11 and available Over There as a dealer option; it never crossed the Pond. Just as well: It looks like a boating accident.
One word: plastics. DuPont showed its version of the future at the Design Engineering show in Chicago, circa 1984. We’re told there’s a V-Four Honda and associated running gear under the DOX-designed plastic bodywork. In the real world, you’d be able to appreciate the silver paint and orange wheels and trim.
Meanwhile, in Bavaria… The BMW Futuro first appeared in 1973, powered by a turbocharged Boxer Twin in a wrapper reminiscent of the classic dustbin, but with hints of shapes yet to appear—including a nearly auto-motive trunk Honda would put to good use in its Pacific Coast 16 years later.
And 17 years after the Futuro, in 1990, that trunk reappeared wrapped around BMW’s inline “flying brick” K100, labeled (literally) K1 and, for the first time, marketed to compete directly with the Japanese superbikes. Heavy, slow, buzzy, hot, uncomfortable and also with some characteristics that did not appeal to BMW devotees, about 650 of a total run of 2400 bikes were reportedly sold in the U.S. Combine BMW-guy devotion with weird-bike fanaticism, and it’s not hard to imagine the loyalty of the current K1 cult.