The Naked Truth

De­sign guru Glynn Kerr on two re­cent mo­tor­cy­cle de­signs, both naked bikes, that ar­rested his at­ten­tion

Bike India - - FEATURE -

Typ­i­cally, when we think of the lat­est, most im­pres­sive-look­ing mo­tor­cy­cle de­signs, we tend to fo­cus on the ones with an abun­dance of body­work. Whether it’s the sen­sual flow­ing lines of a Du­cati Pani­gale or the ex­plo­sive drama of a Kawasaki Ninja H2, each project gave the de­sign­ers plenty of free­dom and acres of plas­tic on which to ply their art. The more min­i­mal the body­work, the less there is for de­sign­ers to work with and aes­thet­ics be­come a mat­ter of pro­por­tion and at­ten­tion to de­tail, rather than ex­trav­a­gant sculp­tural ex­plo­ration. So when it turns out the two de­signs that have most grabbed my at­ten­tion re­cently have both been naked bikes, they de­serve some recog­ni­tion.

First up is the Kawasaki Z900RS. This model hardly pushes the de­sign en­ve­lope, with forms that hark back to the Z1 900 of the early 1970s, backed up by an ap­pro­pri­ately retro colour and graph­ics scheme. From a busi­ness per­spec­tive, it all makes per­fect sense. The Z1 is ar­guably Kawasaki’s most iconic model and with the retro scene in full swing, why not tap into their ear­lier suc­cess story? Just how iconic is the Z1? Last year, I put an orig­i­nal sales brochure of the 900 Su­per 4 on eBay at $20 (Rs 1,300) and, after seven days, the bid­ding ended at $137.50 (Rs 8,900). By con­trast, I’ve had an MV Agusta 750 Amer­ica brochure listed for over a year at less than $50 (Rs 3,250) with no tak­ers. Zero.

Not that it’s the first time Kawasaki has dipped into its Z1 her­itage. The 1990 Kawasaki Ze­phyr se­ries was a pretty con­vinc­ing take on the orig­i­nal, com­plete with dual rear shocks, only with an ap­pro­pri­ate in­crease in the width. Sales were strong, but 10 years later, the retro look gave way to more mod­ern styling in a new gen­er­a­tion of bikes like the ZR7 and Z1000. Now the tim­ing is right to re­visit the same theme, but while the de­sign lan­guage is much the same as the first two it­er­a­tions, two as­pects have brought the op­tics much more up to date. First, the Ze­phyr’s twin piggy-back rear shocks have given way to a thor­oughly mod­ern monoshock, which is barely vis­i­ble in pro­file. This frees up the en­tire area be­tween the wheel and tail unit, cre­at­ing a void which adds light­ness to the rear, and helps move the vis­ual cen­tre of the bike for­wards.

This ef­fect is height­ened by the sil­ver air-box cover and the frame tube be­hind the en­gine, both of which are lo­cated rad­i­cally for­wards of where you’d ex­pect to find them on a clas­sic lay­out. This is where Kawasaki’s de­sign­ers have cre­ated a mas­ter­piece. The look may be Z1-de­rived retro, but the balance is right up to date. Merg­ing the two has cre­ated an all-rounder with a dis­tinct per­son­al­ity and a pur­pose­ful stance, with­out sim­ply scrap­ing the nostal­gia bar­rel, which so many other man­u­fac­tur­ers are guilty of. Tri­umph and Moto Guzzi should take note, while the new Asian wannabes are still fall­ing over each other to jump on the con­ven­tional retro band­wagon. Never mind be­ing on the same page, those chaps haven’t even set off for the li­brary yet. There are lead­ers and there are fol­low­ers, and here Kawasaki have shown them­selves to be firmly in con­trol. After so many wacky Kawasakis on the sports/ sports tour­ing side in re­cent years, who could have guessed the com­pany could ex­hibit such poise and con­trol?

On a more con­tem­po­rary level, the new Honda CB1000R+ is also a breath of fresh air in the naked bike scene, el­e­vat­ing the just-an­other-mo­tor­cy­cle ten­dency to a higher plane. As with the Kawasaki, there’s noth­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary to be found here, but the forms are mod­ern, with an em­pha­sis on me­tal over plas­tic for a sturdy, me­chan­i­cal im­age.

Some of the de­tail­ing is ques­tion­able; for ex­am­ple, the lower out­rig­ger/foot-peg holder cast­ings which dis­play nei­ther soul nor engi­neer­ing pre­ci­sion. The head­light, too, fol­lows re­cent trends rather than lead­ing them. The LED cen­tre framed by a cir­cu­lar run­ning light has been seen on the Husq­varna 701 Vit­pilen and En­er­gica Eva EsseEsse9 and, as I have pre­vi­ously noted, re­sem­bles an il­lu­mi­nated shav­ing mir­ror too ac­cu­rately to make a cool styling state­ment. I first made that con­nec­tion

Cre­at­ing an im­age that ap­pears new, while be­ing free of gim­micks, or gen­er­at­ing a strong per­son­al­ity to an all-rounder, are no easy tasks

over the lat­est MV Agusta Bru­tale at its 2015 Mi­lan EICMA launch, but in hind­sight, the MV was ex­e­cuted with so much more fi­nesse, with ta­pered run­ning lights bro­ken by a styl­ized me­tal sur­round. The oth­ers are just cir­cu­lar shav­ing mir­rors, how­ever you want to de­fine them. Heck, even the 2018 Har­leyDavid­son Fat Boy does it with more grace than the Honda.

The CB1000R+ fol­lows Honda’s stun­ning CB4 In­ter­cep­tor con­cept, a mod­ern take on the clas­sic café racer. With an in­te­gral nose fair­ing, the CB4 was hardly a naked bike in the tra­di­tional sense, but it nev­er­the­less pro­jected a pur­pose­ful min­i­mal­ist im­age which is par­tially re­flected in the CB1000R+. It ex­ists to a lesser de­gree in the CB250/300R and CB125R too. There’s a so­lid­ity to the tank/en­gine/ head­stock area which is very pow­er­ful and dom­i­nant, and therein lies the ap­peal. Cre­at­ing an im­age that ap­pears new, while be­ing free of gim­micks, or gen­er­at­ing a strong per­son­al­ity to an all-rounder, are no easy tasks. Here, Honda have achieved both in one pack­age.

Bikes like the KTM Duke and Su­per Duke take on the naked chal­lenge much more dra­mat­i­cally, but Kiska’s ex­tremeedge de­sign is not to ev­ery­one’s taste. The plas­tic scoops that project ahead of the forks, vis­ually link­ing the cen­tral mass with the front wheel, start to push the bound­aries of what con­sti­tutes a naked bike. Taken even fur­ther, the Aprilia Tuono pur­ports to be a naked ver­sion of the RSV, and yet all, bar a few inches of side panel, it’s al­most fully faired. The frontal body­work is frag­mented and heav­ily dis­guised as ducts or air dif­fusers, but it’s body­work all the same, and chas­sis-mounted at that.

Both the Kawasaki and the Honda are naked bikes in the true sense. Nei­ther are go­ing to set off an en­tirely new di­rec­tion in mo­tor­cy­cle styling, but they each move the game for­wards in their own way, and the world of mo­tor­cy­cling is richer for them.

The lines and colours might be old-school Z1, but the pro­por­tions are bang up to date

Hardly rad­i­cal, the Honda CB1000R+ nev­er­the­less takes naked bike de­sign in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion

Early Zs dis­played at the 2016 Mi­lan EICMA gave a hint of what was to come

Mod­i­fied Vul­cans at the 2016 Mi­lan EICMA pro­jected a sur­pris­ingly be­liev­able Z1 im­age

Di­rect pre­de­ces­sor of the Honda CB1000R+ was the Neo Sports Café con­cept

The Z1 cer­tainly has a fol­low­ing — this orig­i­nal sales brochure sold for $137.50 (Rs 8,900) on eBay last year

Café Racer not naked, but the spir­i­tual links to the lat­est Honda bikes can be seen in the stun­ning CB4 In­ter­cep­tor con­cept

“Shav­ing mir­ror” head­light de­sign seems to be the new trend — only MV Agusta did it first, and

waaay bet­ter than all the fol­low­ers

Some ‘naked’ bikes, like this Aprilia Tuono, have al­most as much body­work as the fully faired ver­sions

The Honda CB1000R+ fol­lows the cur­rent trend for “shav­ing mir­ror” head­light de­sign

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