Milan—By 1953, the motorcycle had reached the basic form it has today: telescopic fork, swingarm rear suspension, hydraulic damping and brakes on both wheels. True, things like water-cooling, disc brakes and six-speed gearboxes have been added since then, but the basics remain. Yet because we no longer need motorcycles as basic transportation, our reasons for buying must be constantly refreshed.
This is style.
At EICMA, I looked at Honda’s simple, 11-horsepower CBF125, but it was not simple. In front of its two-valve, air-cooled, single-cylinder engine was a scoop-shaped molded crankcase fairing. Above, the fuel tank reached around the fork in today’s “lobster-claw” fashion and completely engulfed it to form a kind of “bosom fairing” containing the headlight.
Such lobster claws are also present on many other current bikes, serving in some cases to integrate the functions of a fuel tank, radiator shroud, air-intake duct(s), front turnsignals and novel styling features. In the 1950s, fuel tanks of certain Moto Guzzis completely surrounded the fork, and on the current Ducati Diavel, it looks as if it might like to!
Honda offers a new version of its flat-Six Gold Wing super-tourer called F6B, with a swoopy shape suggesting stylists have looked at grande luxe autos of the 1930s from the pen of Jacques Saoutchik or even at the fabled Y-Job Buick concept car of GM’s Harley Earl. If it pleases people, it’s right. We humans love variety, and we love a choice.
Engines were once said to be the “living center” of motorcycles, much as was the obvious mechanism of the steam locomotive. But, now, I see them being progressively covered by functionless bits of crankcase fairing or filigree.
Norms change, allowing us to somehow get used to such big, rectangular luggage cases on the backs of “adventure bikes” that they begin to suggest two-wheeled delivery trucks. (Brace yourselves for candid wives or girlfriends who say so). The biggest tourers and scooters alike now put so much volume into the fairing/windshield/storage units mounted ahead of the rider that they’ve become as imposing as medium-sized refrigerators. People like it.
Some maxi-scooters have become so long and solid-looking that average people might wonder if they could balance such a thing. Have no fear: The innovation of two fairly closely spaced front wheels takes care of it and is said to work well. (Yes, they lean to go around corners).
As I walked through the EICMA show, I marveled at the ingenuity of stylists in getting our attention.