Naked bikes are back

Published: 26 May 2017

I’m not sure what goes through manufacturers’ minds when they decide to make a cheap naked bike out of something that was previously swaddled in plastic and adorned with expensive add-ons. In theory it’s a good idea, but in practice it rarely works. It’s often better to take an existing engine and build a budget naked bike around it, perhaps using a steel tube frame instead of an alloy beam, and so on. Suzuki are past masters at this. Bandit anyone?

Some nakeds are utterly brilliant, like the Triumph Street Triple – which has ruled the category for a decade. And some aren’t. The Honda X11, the ‘naked Blackbird’, is a prime example of the type. Awkward, clumsy, with a linked braking system that didn’t seem as good as the one on the original ‘Bird, and with hideous styling that made it look like an old 600 Revere had been sipping the steroids. It was a sales flop, and deserved to be. But, and here’s a thing, I’ve just watched a 2001 example sell for £2700.

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That’s incredible. Admittedly there were only 12,000 miles on the clock, but shortly before it I’d seen a mint 1997 Blackbird with just 7000 miles on it – yes, seven thousand miles – sell for exactly the same price. What makes a Blackbird with all the bodywork taken off it worth the same as far more attractive weather-cheating original?

Basically, naked bikes are back in fashion. To many, they look more like ‘real bikes’ while to others they simply deliver plenty of sensory enjoyment without the risk of licence-losing speeds. Look at what the Suzuki GSX1400 (another successful Suzuki adaptation) is fetching – you’ll pay between £4500 and £5000 for a low-miler, even though it may be over 10 years old. And I haven’t even mentioned the Kawasaki Zephyrs...

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