by Gary Charpentier
Every time I go to the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show I come away with The Itch. It’s as if, while wandering through acres of new motorcycles and accessories, I’m also wading through invisible patches of poison ivy. After the show, I suffer from a breakout of crazy desires, an intense itch which can only be properly scratched with large handfuls of wadded-up cash.
The primary itch centers around sportbikes, of course. The Ducati booth used to be the most virulent patch for this particular strain. But now that the design torch has been passed to a certain loony South African, I find it easier to turn away. Yeah, right into a face-to-face confrontation with Massimo Tamburini’s beautiful MV Agusta F4S. Ohhh, what an incredible piece of moto-sculpture that is! I thought it was nice enough in the original two-tone, but when you see it in monochrome silver, the sensuous curves and dramatic planes of the design really pop!
While I’ve got silver on my mind, the Yamaha R1 in that stealth-fighter black and silver livery catches my eye. This one has been out for a while now, and ever since I first saw it I’ve been scheming ways to make it my own. Less expensive and much faster than the gorgeous MV, it has a savage, elemental presence, which speaks to the Hooligan in all of us. This bike has Jail Bait writ large, in bright red neon, all over it. Nearly powerless to resist the mesmeric temptation, I flee…
Through the jungles of Gixxers, with Ninjas lurking in the shadows and crazy, speed-addled acronyms like CBR-RRRR popping up everywhere I look, it’s time to take a break, to calm down and catch my breath. Off to the BMW booth then.
Sticking with the jungle theme for a moment, I stand and gaze at the R1150GS Adventure. Soon fantasies of long, sweaty expeditions into the deepest, darkest wilderness are dancing through my feverish mind. That ammo can luggage and pop-eyed front-end whisper to me of trackless deserts and murky rain forests. I’m sure most of these, just like 4-wheeled SUVs, will spend at least 95% of the time on pavement. But it’s got to be reassuring to know that you could go on moto-safari any time you like. As I get older, I find myself drawn to these bikes. Not with anything approaching my passion for the repli-racers, mind you. This is more of a gentle-but-relentless tug, and it has the feel of the inevitable about it. Maybe this will be my 401K bike, my retirement ride perhaps?
Refreshed by this brief reverie, I set off through the sea of scruffy humanity towards the Aprilia booth. Up on a pedestal there sits the new, limited edition Tuono street fighter in flat black and gold. What an evil looking beast! I’ve wanted to explore this commercial street-fighter scene for some time now. I was there, in Southern California, when this phenomenon was born. Yeah, I’ve heard the myth that the Street Fighter was “invented” in Europe, but I know better.
The Street Fighter was born simultaneously; everywhere the Suzuki GSXR was first released, back in the mid-eighties. After crashing their new Plastic Phantastics, the riders would be faced with the ridiculous high cost of replacement bodywork. Already low on cash due to bike payments and exorbitant insurance, they had no choice if they still wanted to ride, but to look for an alternative. That was when the canyon racers began showing up at Newport Beach and Sunset Boulevard on Saturday night with their oval headlight buckets hanging out, messy gage and wire clusters naked in front of a hastily mounted motocross handlebar. Ugly frame members, never meant to see the light of day, were bared to the world alongside unsightly radiator plumbing and overflow “catch cans”. These squidly riders weren’t much better to look at. They wore shorts and T-shirts to display all their fresh roadrash and let the wounds scab over. They told outrageous lies about their mishaps and the bikini-clad beach bunnies believed them.
So I find it interesting to examine what modern marketing has done with such a dubious concept. Triumph has had notable success with it’s Speed Triple, but they did a lot of work with the components to make them more presentable in naked form. Aprilia has taken a different approach with the Tuono. On the high-end, limited version, you get Ohlins suspension and the R‚-spec motor. Components are either color-coordinated, or camouflaged with strategically placed carbon/kevlar panels. On the pedestal-perch, the black and gold Tuono looks mechanically menacing, like the robot warriors of the Terminator movies. The entire package has a tasteful, finished look to it. For an asking price of around eighteen grand, that’s the least they can do!
Not so for the bright red “standard” version, for about twelve grand, the proletarian Tuono sports a lower-spec motor and suspension, with plastic in place of carbon-kevlar. All the hardware and plumbing come in their natural colors and they don’t blend in well with the bright red bodywork. The whole thing looks rather cobbled together, but I suppose that’s actually closer to the original Street Fighter concept after all. A good compromise is the dark grey standard version, which has a completely mechanical ambiance.
After contemplating these Moto-Mafiosi, I decided to go see what the Yakuza versions looked like. As usual, the Japanese are more conservative than the Italians, sticking their toes in the water with various “Standards” or “UJMs” based on de-tuned sportbike lumps. Although several concept prototypes have been shown around the world, they have yet to come out with a full-spec Street Fighter. However, as I was looking at the Suzuki SV1000 (MSRP $7,999!), it occurred to me that one could build an awesome special with the four grand difference from the purchase price of the base Tuono. Depending on how much motor work would be required to bring it up to sporting spec, you might even be able to squeeze in some tasty Ohlins suspenders and Marchesini wheels and still come in under $13K! Then maybe a racing tail section and some kind of funky front end treatment to make it really nasty… Argh! Where’s that fistful of dollars I was talking about? I need to scratch!
Unfortunately, there is no new motorcycle in my immediate future. I’ll have to make due with my small stable of old Japanese specials, rebuilding and reshaping them each winter into something different, until my personal economic outlook improves. But you know I’ll be back at this show again next year, I can’t stay away. I just wish I could find some kind of ointment for this infernal new bike Itch!