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#328 Back and forth to the future

Bikers and bike makers can’t get enough of that old time feeling.

There is juxtaposition in this issue. On one hand, Bertrand Gahel attended an event in California where BMW outlined a vision of the next 100 years and what it may mean to motorcycles. Contrasting that is Bertrand’s road test feature from the new model launch of BMW’s R nineT Scrambler which celebrates all things old timey—even if hidden beneath the retro exterior is a modern, new motorcycle with the most up to date version of BMW’s pre-liquid cooled boxer motor. This won’t be the only new-retro machine to follow the first R nineT, as a cafe racer and a GS tribute model are also in the works.
BMW is far from the only European manufacturer building on retro themes as the most exciting new models in the Triumph catalogue for 2017 are new versions of the “Modern Classics”—the prime example being the Bobber for which we were lucky enough to have been invited to a launch party at our local Triumph dealer, Savage Cycles.
It did seem that these well-executed machines were right in the wheelhouse of the enthusiastic crowd nibbling appetizers and talking motorcycles.
As this is Victoria, the crowd had a mature leaning though at least one of the coveted young hipsters was present and accounted for and for whom this retro chic is intended to be pure catnip.
Even though retro is still very hot, Honda and BMW are now showcasing prototypes with futuristic safety features and styling. BMW’s VISION NEXT 100 motorcycle is self-balancing and styled in a Tron kind of way. Honda also has a self-balancing prototype but is quite normal in appearance, as Honda bikes tend to be. Honda introduced its tightrope roller in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Equipped with Ride Assist technology it will reduce injury potential by not falling over if you forget to put your feet down at an intersection or wish to be seated with your feet off the ground and your hands off the bars. While the broad application of this technology may be hard to fathom at present, the innovation will surely prove useful in future projects and advances for our robotic friend ASIMO.
What both the BMW and Honda concepts indicate is that future will be safer for motorcycles be it through self-balancing machines, motorcycles and automobiles that “communicate” with one another on the road or the Gold Wing with an airbag.
Fond views of the past are also evident in bikes like Ducati’s new Scrambler Café Racer, which is oddly named but is still a slick retro machine for those with a sporty bent. It may be just the thing to take on Triumph’s new Speed Twin.
But the most obvious indication that heritage can trump modernity—at least when it comes to styling—was the announcement from Polaris in January that Victory Motorcycles will cease operation leaving Indian Motorcycles as the only two-wheeled subsidiary of the Minnesota company. This issue we reflect on the 18-year start to finish of the Victory brand and some of the experiences we had with the bikes over those years.
Victory had always ridden against the retro trend, and that may have turned out to be the wrong road. It will be interesting to see how Indian Motorcycle fares heading into the future. Heritage must be what the segment demands and Harley-Davidson seems solidly anchored by its 113-year history. In an industry where trends seem to come and inevitably go, there has always been that look back to the past, that fascination with Steve McQueen, Bud Ekins and films like The Wild One. The good ol’ days they may have been but it is always good to have a (self) balanced view to the future.

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