by Victor Wanchena
Beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. Motorcycles have always hovered in a gray area between transportation and art. The fact that they often have a wheel in both worlds, leaves them excelling at neither. Personally, I have always loved form following function on motorcycles, but can appreciate when the motorcycle is used as a canvas for sculpture. And, like most art, there is a wide range out there from the sublime to the “beat with an ugly stick”. In my mind, my old Yamaha XS750 Special is equivalent to a velvet painting of Elvis, while a Vincent Black Shadow is on par with something painted by Rembrandt. But there is no accounting for taste. The ultra crappy cold war era bikes of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc have a soft spot in my heart.
Sometimes ugly is just plain ugly. Case in point; the Suzuki Madura. Built in the mid-80s, the Madura has never been considered a “beautiful” machine. The engineering behind it was solid and it functioned just like it was designed, but what a pooch. It strangely has become Suzuki’s Edsel. They languished on the sales’ floors, but now have become somewhat of a cult bike. Devotees revel in its “so ugly it’s cool” styling.
Even uglier was the Bohmerland. Built in Czechoslovakia in the 20’s, it looked like the bike LEGO Corporation has secretly wanted to build. Garish colors and frame length close to that of the Plymouth Fury, the Bohmerland had a look that only an engineer could love.
Modern custom choppers often plumb the depths of unchecked style aggression, but one stands out in my mind. The Orange County Choppers “Christmas Bike” has got to be the ugliest of the ugly. I caught the episode where they threw this rolling spasm together. It had the usual formula for the show; tension grows as they get behind schedule, then the crew blows off some steam during (insert goofy montage here). The Franken-bike is finished just in the nick-of-time. As I saw all the pieces coming together, I writhed in pain. Time for another double bourbon. The whole time I wondered if it was some elaborate late fall April Fool’s joke. Or maybe they were trying to pull an Andy Kaufman style joke where the audience is the punch line. No, I was giving them too much credit. They really thought the “Christmas Bike” was going to bring joy to the faces of a few kids huddled together in the parking lot for the taping of the show as two of them rode up dressed as Santa and an elf. I will admit that most of these concept or “theme” bikes are never meant to be anything but a display piece, much like the pink flamingos my retired neighbors have in their front yard.
Deep down, if it rolls on two wheels it can’t be all bad. What excites me may cause a yawn from the rider next to me. Beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.