November: Classic Bike Appreciation Month?
Howdy folks! It’s November again and time for another Classic Bike Month. OK, not really, but we should have such an observance, and November 2015 would be a great year to start. Those of you familiar with my writing will already have a full appreciation of my full appreciation for historical bikes, even if the ancestral tie is a tenuous as a few pieces of faithfully replicated trim. Admittedly, I really like it when manufacturers make a reproduction that is so faithful that you really have to squint to see the difference between the old and the new.
Such models are few and far between, but two whole sectors of the motorcycle market are awash with new old-bikes: new bikes with old DNA, and new bikes with a more progressive look that may appeal to fans of the original style. Both of the categories concerned were popular in the ’60s and ’70s, but were replaced by purpose-built factory bikes and just faded into the history books. These styles are making a comeback in a big way, which speaks both to the vision of the designers, and the good taste (says I) of the bike-buying public, proving that there is hope for humanity yet. The two styles I refer to are the resurgent cafe’ racer and scrambler categories.
Continue reading for my look at the resurgence of cafe’ racers and scramblers.
While there have been cafe’ racer- and scrambler-type rides on the market off and on for many years, the offerings have been, for the most part, tentative — almost as if the factory was testing the waters and unsure whether to commit.
The only notable exception would be Ducati, who last year released an entire Scrambler family with the Urban Enduro, Full Throttle, Icon, Classic and Flat Track Pro models, a move that primed the market for the deluge of competitor bikes in 2016.
Ducati added to the lineup with the Sixty2 Scrambler, a hail back to the original Ducati Scrambler from 1962, and they can’t keep up. There is already a waiting list for the Sixty2, not surprising given the resurgent interest in the class, and the smaller-by half mill that drops the price on the Scrambler right down into entry-level territory, an apparent perfect storm of favorable conditions that caught Duc, somehow, by surprise. I hope that the factory can up production soon, because folks interested in a scrambler have plenty of options this year, and waiting lists are bad, m’kay? Just ask Harley.
Pressure on Ducati will come from all quarters. Triumph has its own deep roots in the original scrambler culture, and those roots are plainly visible in its own Scrambler model. Our Bavarian buddies at BMW bring their own brand to the race with the R nineT Scrambler, and the even more radical and custom-looking, dual-surface Path22 Concept bike that looks more like a Mad Max homejob than a production ride.
Ducati will also face pressure at home from its traditional domestic foe, Moto Guzzi. MG entered the fray with the V7 II Special/Scrambler. As if that isn’t enough, Honda unveiled a scrambler concept bike at Milan this year, and if they follow through, you can factor in the Japanese threat to that market.
No matter who wins the Scrambler arms race, consumers win all around. Competition is good for innovation and low prices, and folks looking for the look and function of the grandaddy of the dual-sports will have plenty to choose from this year, on into the near future.
Another long-running class of bike that seems to be enjoying a spike in interest is the classic “standard” design. Though not new for this year, bikes like the Honda Rebel, Yamaha SR400, Star Bolt, Suzuki TU250X and every Sportster since the beginning of time follow classic design elements from the same ’60s to ’70s era, and people keep buying them, proof that the original designers got it right. Most qualify as basic transportation, but we can thank the Hipsters, in part, for this whole “old is new again” movement, and I love seeing these rides that remind me of my youngest years — not really a neat entry into either main category here, but worthy of mention because of the historical ties.
Next, I want to focus on one of my favorite classic designs of all time: the cafe’ racer. Popular as both homemade rides and production models, the cafe’ racer represents a significant era in motorcycle design, and though there have ever been a smattering of CRs here and there, I can’t remember a time in the last three decades when there were so many factory CRs up for grabs. Like the Scramblers, some of these have been out for a few years, but some are new for 2016 and represent a reach for manufacturers without roots back to the original CR days.
From Across the Pond
First, we have the usual suspects, and those with the deepest roots, with the Brits predictably coming on strong from the likes of Triumph, Norton and Royal Enfield leaping into the fray. I always liked the Brit’s take on the old cafe’ racers, and the Thruxton, Commando 961 Cafe’ Racer and Continental GT from the above manufacturers, respectively, embody everything British about the CR design.
Royal Enfield almost takes it too far with its GT. The British DNA is so prominent it almost appears to be a parody or a cartoon bike. It’s so old-school British, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lucas electrics on it. (Y’all remember Lucas, the Prince of Darkness?) Of the three, I think Norton is my favorite Brit based solely on the cafe-tastic design, and classic Brit flavor.
On the Homefront
Harley extended its CR legacy by another generation with the Street model family, and while the stock version merely suggests at the old CR style, it is easy enough to customize a Street to look like “the genuine.”
Star joined Harley in the American-made market with its Bolt C-Spec cafe’ racer. The design is subtle, really only a tail fairing and racy-looking exhaust shields on the regular Bolt, but it’s enough to bring the name, and the nostalgia, bubbling up.
Moto Guzzi used the Scrambler as a base (or vise-versa) and re-arranged it in the cafe’ style with its V7 II Racer America, and they included a tiny bikini fairing up front and a race-tastic number/ID oval on each hip to accentuate the look. Beemer did much the same thing with its R nineT, a variation on the R nineT Scrambler that comes with strong CR features.
We even have a new street bike from Husqvarna with cafe’-ish features, albeit with a decidedly progressive twist. This seems to be the first truly original fruit to be born of the newly-reunited Husky/Husaberg teams, and they are definitely casting an eye to the same naked-bike/roadster/cafe’ market burgeoning on U.S. shores.
The Vitpilen 401 leads the charge for Husky, and while part of the design may be simply about expanding Husky’s footprint, their choice of market indicates that someone read the teas leaves correctly, and Husky came out with this pure-street machine just at the right time.
Last but not least, Kawasaki took a stab at the CR market with its Vulcan S ABS Cafe’. While Kawi doesn’t really have its own CR history to fall back on, it did a decent job of borrowing and suggesting classic CR design elements with its own, unique interpretation. The result doesn’t scream cafe’ racer quite as loudly as, say, Norton or Royal Enfield, but it does offer a viable option for riders who appreciate history as well as the Japanese flavor Kawi brings to the table.
Maybe instead of Classic Bike Appreciation Month, we should call it Cafe’- Scrambler Month instead? Whatever you call it, these are interesting times for classic bike fans.