21st November 2017
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Motorcycle Live: Retro Roundup
Hidden under the retro fancy dress are some new bikes that stand up on their own merits. And some that don't. Martin Gelder knows what he likes......
One of the dangers facing a manufacturer launching a new bike with an old name is that people will compare new with old... and old often comes out better. Harley-Davidson shot themselves in the foot by displaying pukka XR1000 dirt track racers next to their shiny new XR1200 road bike when it was launched; the road bike just ended up looking fat and bloated next to the sparse and lean racers, and it confirmed that bodywork and paint don't make a classic.
There was an original Z1B on the Kawasaki stand, but it was kept at a distance to merely hint at the origins of Kawasaki's new retro roadster, rather than imply some reflected glory. And the new bike looks better in the flesh than the promo photos promised. It's chunky and squat, but purposeful without being too big or looking like the retro bodywork is simply draped over an existing model.
The version without the Z1 face-paint looks fine in its own right, which is really the proof of the pudding when it comes to design; does the bike look good to people who don't know what it's trying to emulate.
The cafe-racer version doesn't quite work, but I think that's mostly down to the stripe on the nose fairing just being... wrong. By carefully standing so that the fairing is a bit hidden, the lines are revealed and you can see what they were getting at.
Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 and Interceptor 650
Royal Enfield's newly announced 650 twins perfectly bridge the olde-world charm of the single cylinder Bullet and the demands of a modern, Euro4 compliant motorcycle. They look, if anything, more authentic than the current singles, which are starting to groan under the weight of all the bits and bobs added to make them pass the required legislation.
And they don't look like 1970s Honda or Yamaha twins, which is the other pifall Enfield faced. You could stick a black and white number plate on one and short-sighted old men would still come up to you and tell you about the one like it they had before their kids came along. The disc brake and shock abosrbers would be the giveaway, but the bikes on show seemed to be sprinkled with various optional extras so it was never quite clear which were the base models. Price will be the critical success factor, as these bikes will be going head to head with Triumph's various twins.
There was nothing on them that caught the eye as being slipshod or hastily added, and if the production models are as well made as the show examples the 650 twins could represent a big step up for Enfield.
Norton 961 California
Spend as long as you like circling the Norton California; you won't find an angle from which it looks coherent. It's the Homer Simpson's Car of the motorcycle world; all the right components brought together to make something the just doesn't work as a whole. Maybe it needs air scoops or a Rolls Royce grill.
Fantic, on the other hand, have hit the nail on the head with their 125, 250 and 500 flat track, nostalgia inspired, modern-but-retro, horny little single cylinder city bikes.
Styled to hit the spot with fifty-somethings who lusted after one of the Italian firm's sixteener specials in the 1970s, they also seemed to be attracting the interest of younger riders with their cobby good looks and impressive spec sheets; a little lighter, a little more powerful, a little purer than the run of the mill XL400 clones elsewhere around the show.
As with the Kawasaki Z900, the non-retro version stood up well on its own merits.
Mash Roadstar 400
Mash are carving out their own niche, doing what a lot of other people are doing, but doing it better. You can have chrome for £4000, or you can have a sidecar outfit for £9000. Both with a two year, unlimited mileage parts and labour warranty.
SWM Six Day 445
Or how about an SWM 440, taking the best of the companie's modern off-roaders and mating it to a retro motor and styling? Price to be confirmed, as with al the best bikes at the show, it seems.
Triumph Bonneville Speedmaster
It's a Triumph Bobber for people who like the idea of the Bobber but shy away from the (im)practicalities of actually owning one.
The National Motorcycle Museum had this Marsh Four (built from scratch by Fred Marsh in his shed in the early 1960s) not only on show but being run up twice a day. It was loud enough to stop conversation at the other side of the exhibition hall.
Metisse had the same vast stand as they have had for the previous four or five years, with the same bikes, frames and engines on display.
And Ducati had a promo-boy to keep their promo-girls company on Media-Monday. Is motorcycling finally dragging itself out of the twentieth century?
Words and Photos: Martin Gelder
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