Mean Streets: Star Bolt C-Spec

Motorcycling looks to its past for a vibrant future.

Star motorcycles logo

As I watched Yamaha's presentation of the Star Bolt C-Spec at AIMExpo, I was struck with its similarity to Harley-Davidson's Street 750 introduction last year at the EICMA show in Milan. Both makers' reveals showed their sporty V-twin product against a backdrop of industrial buildings with a definite "mean streets" feeling. The character they invoked as a rider is a tough, gritty-in-the-city, Billy Joel type that "knows the score." The Bolt logo seen on a background appeared pitted, as if by rust.

This is one more nostalgic chapter in the recent image evolution of American motorcycling. Up through the 1970s, the motorcycle buyer was most often a young man with a well-paying industrial job. From my own personal experience in a dealership, I knew that many such young men began saving for this important purchase as supermarket bag boys or on early morning paper routes. Every dollar was earned in the good old American way. None of today’s “leveraging our synergies.”

Times changed and many of those good industrial jobs went away forever. But the idea of coming to maturity in that hourly pay way is fondly remembered, and many of us today are sons and daughters or grandsons and granddaughters of people who traveled that path.

2015 Star Bolt C-Spec studio side view

The motorcycle, like any manufactured product, evolved to suit its market. I saw the storied individualistic past of motorcycling become almost unrecognizable. At the racetrack, the old way—the man in a van with a plan—gave way to a present day of big-truck teams with corporate logos and press officers. No money gave way to big money. Motorcycle prices and technology shot up, like the cost of a college education.

The motorcycle itself began as a hot, noisy metal animal whose parts stuck out for all to see. It has become a smoothed-off, muffled appliance to please its new upmarket buyers. Motorists came to believe that traffic accidents are caused by not wearing a seat belt. Children grow up in child safety seats, heading for Suzuki piano, no longer climbing trees or riding bicycles.

Time can’t go backward, but in our minds we secretly honor what is lost. And makers of motorcycles, knowing a thing or two about their customers and their life stories, are free to aim their products squarely at our romantic nostalgia.

2015 Star Bolt C-Spec front 3/4 view