by Mark Descartes

Scientists tell us that animals, including humans, fixate on things early in our development. We “imprint” on sensory inputs that neither time nor distance can erase. I was created at a time when motorcycles were simple conveyances. They were all singles or twins, air-cooled, required a kick to start and had no creature comforts. I imprinted on these unadorned machines, especially British twins.

In 1972, when I was but eight, I rode a righteous metallic purple one-speed with matching banana seat and Craig Vetter introduced his first fairing. Both banana seat one-speeds and fairings were instant successes. Pretty soon, all manner of machines had these universal bolt-on plastic bowsprits. Pedaling my bike, envious of those who could ride a motorcycle, I was confused. Why would anyone want to block the wind in one’s face? 

By the early 1980’s you had to search for a bike without a fairing. Everything from humble 400cc twins to 1,300cc tourers wore some aftermarket plastic junk drawer. The motorcycle “mono-brow” became so ubiquitous that by 1984, all Honda Goldwings came with a fairing. Even Prince’s bike wore a fairing on the cover of his 1984 LP Purple Rain.

I didn’t understand why anyone would want to mask the unique lines of their bike with the motorcycle equivalent of Groucho glasses.

In 1987, I was searching for a bike to replace my stolen ’77 Bonneville. I found a sweet ‘78 BMW R-80 that was everything that Triumph was not: quiet, reliable, had shaft final drive and electric start. It also had a white fairing.

I didn’t get it. If I stood next to the BMW while it idled, it purred and quietly whirred like a straight-6. Climb aboard and the fairing reflected all manner of noise. The music of the valve train, cam chain and pistons were magnified into a grinding mechanical calamity.

The seller boasted that this fairing was the best accessory he had ever purchased. He let me drive the bike and I was perplexed. Gone was the sweet breeze over my face, and wind whistling around my head and shoulders. These were replaced by a pool of stagnant air at low speeds, a wind tunnel roar at highway speeds and reflected mechanical noise while riding. I told the seller I liked the bike but hated the fairing. We met in the middle and I rode it home.

The first order of business – that fairing had to go. My roommate tried to talk me off the ledge. “Why not ride the bike for a bit before you remove it? You might like it. Lots of guys love these things”.

I replied that the demo ride was enough for me. I was not a “fairing man”. The white plastic elephant was in the apartment dumpster before the motor had cooled.

I liked that air-cooled BMW and in 1995, bought a used R-100 Paris-Dakar. Again, I was torn. While I liked the butch Land Rover function of the bike, I was put off by its frame-mounted fairing. Function won again, and I bought it.  One of my first trips on it was to the Sportbike Rally in Parry Sound, Ontario. While up in the Great White North, I wedged the BMW under a fallen tree, mowing off most of the stock windscreen. I got the bike out, binned the broken pieces, and enjoyed the rest of the rally and the ride home on my “naked” BMW.

At gas stops, some guy who felt it was his duty to inform me that I “shouldn’t ride without a windscreen” would inevitably corner me. I learned to smile and nod and quickly take off before they could launch into their rambling saga. I rode the Paris-Dakar screenless for over a year until I was beaten into submission by a gang of BMW “bolt-spotters”.

I have purchased many bikes since, some with frame-mounted fairings, some with add-on models. I have always removed the bolt-on fairings. In the pre-internet era, I developed a network of scavengers who actually paid me for that moto-junk. I felt like P.T. Barnum. One colleague bought an early big-bore Japanese tourer that came with an optional full fairing, made for Suzuki by helmet manufacturer Shoei(!) It was one piece and while visually reminiscent of 60s GP race bike fairings, the similarities stopped there. It weighed about 200 pounds and was as big as a boathouse. Murph worked his network and found a guy who bought it sight unseen. That buyer offered more for the fiberglass monstrosity than Murph paid for the entire bike. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure…

Bikes with “roofs” are even more puzzling. I once came across a Honda Pacific Coast with a windscreen so tall; it curved up and over the rider, ending behind his helmet. More than one touring bike has been “improved” by the owner with a hard windscreen/roof combo. If you need that much coverage and a radio, why not take the Miata?

That moto-imprinting runs deep. I have come full circle and returned to the simple lines and form of an air-cooled V-twin, although I willingly abandon a kicker for electric start and welcome fuel injection. Motorcycles inspire passions and opinions and no doubt you have yours. Hope to see you down the road. Just don’t look for me behind a fairing.


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