This is pretty much the golden age of motorcycling. With the relentless advance of manufacturing technologies, the bits that make a motorcycle work have become quite good over the years. Engines are more powerful and reliable than ever before, and oil leaks are a thing of the past. Tyres really stick to the tarmac, with the kind of grip riders could only dream of in the way-back-then. Suspension actually works without wallowing all over the place, and is usually adjustable, so no problem if the pillion is occupied by a large passenger. And brakes make mincemeat of triple-digit speeds, without the bike trying to dump you in the nearest available ditch. But just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, the Percy Shelley law kicks in. ‘We look before and after, and pine for what is not,’ said Shelley, 200 years ago. The English poet was no biker-boy but, as it turns out, what he said also goes for motorcycles.
Give bikers a bunch of modern, fast, and efficient motorcycles, and you’d think they’d be happy. But, no. Turns out what they really want is motorcycles that resemble the machines they lusted after when they were young, when the hormones were raging, and bank balances were meagre. Horsepower costs money, and most young motorcyclists simply don’t have large wads of cash to blow on big, busty bikes. Decades later, for some, it’s time for payback. Time, then, to get the one that got away? Maybe. Only, the 1970s and ’80s are long gone. The bikes from back then are now categorised as ‘classics.’ And new bikes these days have scary things like TFT instrument panels, multi-level traction control, and riding modes; you almost need a degree in computer science to navigate the onboard electronics on some of the high-end motorcycles now.
Bike manufacturers know an opportunity when they see one. And nostalgic Generation X men pining for lost youth is an opportunity, if ever there was one. Especially since those Gen Xers, unlike a lot of perpetually broke millennials (avocado on toast, anyone?), have money to burn. So, we now have a host of motorcycles that take their design cues from their 1970s and 1980s predecessors. Of course, these bikes are entirely modern from the mechanical perspective; it’s just that they are designed to look like they’re from an older era. Here’s a selection of some retro-themed bikes that we, here at MW, quite like.
BMW R NINET RACER
Based on the regular R nineT, the Racer is pure 1970s, distilled down to two wheels, frame, fairing and engine. It’s powered by BMW’s 1170cc ‘Boxer’ twin, which produces a healthy 110 horsepower. The engine is mated to a 6-speed transmission, which transfers power to the rear wheel via a fully enclosed, low-maintenance shaft-drive system. The bike’s tubular steel chassis leaves the twin-cylinder engine fully exposed, which is just as well, because it looks quite gorgeous, with its black block and barrels and silver cylinder heads. With its single round head lamp and racy mini fairing, this is one BMW that gets retro just right. Not available in India yet, but next year, maybe?
DUCATI SCRAMBLER 1100
The original Ducati Scrambler came along in the early 1960s, and hung around until the mid 1970s, getting a range of 250-450cc engines over the years. The new Scrambler was introduced in 2015, complete with flower power styling and a simple, non-intimidating, low-tech vibe that jives to the psychedelic sounds of the ’60s. The Scrambler 1100 is the newest model in the range, and remains endearingly basic (relatively speaking, that is, especially when compared to a supercomputer-on-wheels like Ducati’s own Panigale V4R). It’s powered by Ducati’s 1100cc air-cooled V-twin, which lives in a steel tube trellis frame and produces an adequate 84bhp. Prices start at around Rs 11 lakh, ex-showroom.
Introduced in 1969, the Honda CB750 was the first modern performance-oriented motorcycle, with a fourcylinder 750cc engine. That 750, and the CB900F Bol d’Or that came a few years later, are cult classics that still have a dedicated fan following today. The new CB1100 is Honda’s attempt to recreate that 1970s magic, and we’d say, mission accomplished. The CB1100, available in EX and RS versions (minor cosmetic differences only), is fitted with an 1140cc inline-four that produces a reasonable 89 horsepower. Classic bits include a conventional steel tube frame, twin rear shocks, wirespoke wheels (only on the EX) and styling from the decade when Sony introduced the first ‘Walkman’ portable cassette player. “In the day, we sweat it out on the streets, of a runaway American dream. At night, we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines,” sang Bruce Springsteen, in the 1975 track, Born to Run. Those were the days, man. And the CB1100 is that bike. Honda, please bring this one to India.
Launched in response to the 1969 Honda CB750, the Kawasaki Z1 rocked the motorcycle world on its haunches when it came out in 1972. Powered by a 900cc inline-four, the Z1 packed 81 horses, and could hit a top speed of around 210kph. Plus, the Z1 looked mean and purposeful when parked next to the more staid CB750. The Kawasaki was the bike for bad boys, as evinced by the use of a modified KZ1000 in the 1979 movie, Mad Max. Today, bikers of a certain age can still play out their Mad Max fantasies aboard the Kawasaki Z900RS, which is powered by a 948cc inline-four that produces 110 horsepower. The styling is pure 1970s, with colour schemes to match. All the modern bits (adjustable suspension, sticky tyres, ABS, traction control etc.) are there, of course, but the spirit harks back to a different time, when men were men and women were happy to ride pillion. Prices start at Rs 15.70 lakh, ex-showroom.
MV AGUSTA SUPERVELOCE 800 MV
Agusta, masters of motorcycle design, know how to put a cool new (old?) spin on things. Indeed, their F3 800 sports bike got a whole new lease of life when MV’s styling wizards gave it design cues from the 1960s Grand Prix race bikes and, voilà, a new retro-racer was born. Under its skin, the Superveloce 800 is still a thoroughly modern machine, but its single, round head lamp, round tail lamp, stubby little tail piece that’s as curvy as Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s, brushed metal fuel filler cap and vintage-style leather strap that runs across the top of the fuel tank elevate it to another level. That it’s powered by an exuberant, 153-horsepower three-cylinder engine and features top-shelf running gear from the likes of Brembo, Sachs, and Marzocchi only serves to make it that much more lust worthy. MV Agusta, after breaking off from their Pune-based importer, is said to be looking for a new business partner in India. So, we hope the Superveloce is coming here sometime soon.
MOTO GUZZI V7 RACER III
Moto Guzzi’s current V7 range of bikes have been designed to evoke memories of the early 1970s Guzzi V7 Sport, which was quite successful, and very well liked in its time. The current V7 line-up retains the simplicity and clean lines of the 1960s / 1970s bikes, with a range of different stylistic interpretations — there’s a V7 for every Euro-hipster who smokes a cigarette, drinks a beer, or wears a pair of jeans. And the best of the lot, we reckon, is the V7 Racer III, which looks like it’s just landed up straight from the 1970s. Every bit on this bike — the single seat, rakish angle of the handlebars, low-slung racy stance, wire-spoked wheels, twin rear shocks and mini fairing at the front — screams retro-styled café racer. It’s not unusual for Italian bikes to be cool, but this one is pure liquid nitrogen; think Jim Morrison in the ’60s or Mick Jagger in the ’70s or U2 in the 1980s. We hope someday Moto Guzzi (which already sells its V9 range here) will decide to bring the Racer III to India.
Back in the late 1970s, Suzuki felt the need to spice things up a bit, and looked to Europe for a bit of design inspiration. They got in touch with German design house, Target Design, to help them design an all-new heavy-hitting sports bike. The Katana 1100 was launched in 1981 and, lo and behold, a legend was born. With its unique interplay of shapes, colours, and graphics, along with a funky little fairing at the front, the Katana was unlike any sports bike the world had ever seen. And now, there’s a new Katana for those who couldn’t get their hands on one the first time around. The new one keeps the best, nostalgia-inducing design cues from the old bike, combined with an engine from the 2006 GSX-R1000 (one of the best four-cylinder sports bike engines Suzuki ever built), and state-of-theart chassis, suspension, and brakes. It’s the modern-day Eva Amurri to the 1980s Susan Sarandon; all the best bits are still there, some are maybe even better. The V-Strom 650 XT, which Suzuki sells in India, is all very well, but the Katana is the bike they need to bring here. Go ahead, Suzuki, do it now.
TRIUMPH SPEED TWIN
The Speed Twin is a modern interpretation of the classic British twin-cylinder motorcycle, elegant, pared down to the essentials, unburdened with short-lived fads and frippery. Of all the bikes here, this, along with the Honda CB1100, is perhaps the most timeless. The Speed Twin would be equally at home in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, and we suspect it might still be around (with the IC engine swapped out for batteries and an electric motor, maybe) two or three decades down the road. Powered by a 1200cc parallel-twin that produces 95 horsepower, the Speed Twin has enough muscle for the street, along with all-around capable chassis and suspension. No, it won’t keep up with something like Triumph’s own Speed Triple, but the Twin looks so much better. The Triumph Street Twin (as well as the T100 and T120) is already on sale in India. Triumph just needs to go one small step further and add the Speed Twin to its India line-up.