Off to the New York Motorcycle Show. Metro-North to Grand Central Station, cab to the hotel. Trouble is,
cabs are now real small, so to get my feet into the well in the back seat, my toes were under the front seat. It’s the high cost of fuel. People’s feet don’t shrink with the economy.
At the Javits Center, the good news just didn’t stop, and it was a solid stream of people on the down
escalators to the show. That stream held up all day, and it gladdened my heart to think so many people were drawn by motorbikes.
Busy aisles were dotted with custom bikes. While there were still quite a few of the usual beautifully
finished pieces of kinetic art, the New Fundamentalism was strongly represented: bikes closer to “found
art,” nearer to stock, with plain finishes and based on older machines of the kind we’re seeing in the
Why plain, why so stock? Because for a lot of people, today’s super-refined, super-specialized niche bikes are just plain humiliating. I saw an adventure bike fully equipped with all the mouth-watering crashbars and aluminum equipment cases. As I approached this purposeful colossus, it seemed to size me up and say, in a challenging voice, “Can we leave now for Patagonia? Then the Trans-Siberian?” And there was the computer-laden, micro-optimized 200-horsepower sportbike with self-adaptive suspension, making engine
noises and about to test my ability to lap under a minute eight. You up to me, flabby boy?
Not interested? Just want to ride a motorcycle and be left alone by programmed activities? That’s what
I saw last Friday night at a very loud Piaggio “do” at the Ace Hotel. Free drinks, roar of conversation
and under hot lights, backed by a loudspeaker array set about with tasteful candles in cups, was James
Loughhead’s latest custom.
The $15,500 Hammarhead V7 Wayward is plain, in a sense invisible, with a rough, unfinished gas tank, front tire as big as the rear (this seems to be a “thing” lately) and based on a no-pretenses, get-you-there 744cc Moto Guzzi. The exposed battery just stands there like cheese on a cutting board, not coyly blushing behind the usual modesty panels. Small, plain canvas bags—nothing fancy.
You, the rider, are the subject of the exercise, not the bike or some unattainable (and certainly
unmaintainable) level of professional finish. What will you do with this kind of bike? That’s up to you, not it. That’s the point.
Some of the reason for this return to basics is the recession, which, as always, has brought new interest in how much used bike how little money can buy. “Let’s build something” is another impulse. I heard an urban TV finance-show host tell about deciding to dive into his Ducati to change the clutch. Big stuff, considering how far most of us now live from the nuts and bolts. That is a progressive tendency. Carry your own water. Build the bike you want.
As for the show as a whole, it’s pretty much as it was at last November’s EICMA show in Milan, Italy: incredibly specialized variety, something for every variety of single mindedness, an industry willing to try just about anything to make a sale; cruiser, tourer, enduro, motocrosser, sportbike, with sizes according to your purse.
How far will these new forces go? We see that the makers are trying to provide lower-priced (well, a
little) and less-specialized rides like Honda’s NC700X and other non-denominational super-scooters. Will
economic recovery come sloshing back to wipe out such novel seedlings before they can take root?