Ugly bikes – an anthology

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A wise man, quite possibly Jesus, once said: ” One man’s meat is another man’s poison. ” And he wasn’t just talking about lunch. He was talking about differences in taste.

Most of us have a rough idea if something is semi-tasty or totally tasteless. The views of the man in the Cornish pasty shoes and maroon-trimmed, suede-fronted leisure-cardigan don’t really come into it.

But even within the confines of what constitutes acceptable looks, there is room for massive disagreement. Much as it is with what doctors call ” members of the opposite sex ” (i.e. women), there are disparities in what men find attractive. Similarly there are differences in what attracts certain people to certain bikes. It’s a great source of debate and fodder for endless pub discussions.

Fashions come and go. So do motorcycles. Models (motorcycles, that is) often disappear forever and sometimes elements of them live on as so-called ” styling cues ” in other bikes. But sometimes, just sometimes, you can’t help but wonder how on earth some bikes ever managed to make it off the drawing board and into the showrooms in the first place.

What follows is a selection of some dubious motorcycling style decisions over the years. The list is the result of votes logged on the MCN website, coupled with an in-depth, in-house poll of MCN staff. Those of a nervous disposition, please look away now.

Obviously, it is a somewhat subjective compilation. We’ve probably included some bikes you think are stunners, while omitted others which you think possess less style than a hybrid between Sally Webster off Coronation Street and Pauline Fowler off EastEnders.

So, tell us your ugliest bikes of all-time.

Unpopular misconceptions

The concept bike is usually concocted from wood and clay, but what first appears as fantasy can sometimes make a second coming as part (rarely all) of a new bike. Mr Arlen Ness’s swooping homage to the grossest four-wheeled cruisers of America’s 1930s was no concept because he went ahead and built the thing – a sort of Bat Bike With Flared Trousers.

When stationary, the sloping tank and seat combo could double as a slide for a small child, while the expanse of bodywork, when properly polished, could blind a man wearing a welding mask. Then Kawasaki, which to the best of our knowledge has never gone quite as far with a production cruiser, revealed the VN1500 Drifter – a heavily watered-down variation on an original Ness creation.

It takes the most independent of minds to craft the future (often borrowing heavily from a rich past) when it’s more a matter of style than substance. But when it’s an engineering showdown between the heavy-hitters of the sports bike world, concepts don’t count for much. The mythical fluid drives, magnetic drives, plasma-this, electron-that tend to remain fixed on the clay models and in the fertile minds of new design recruits.

On which note, let us take a very big stick and point it in the direction of the Apache Warrior. The 1700cc V-twin concept that was introduced to the public at Daytona Beach in 1995, where onlookers must have thought that they had stepped into the future where all bikes had to be melted in the oven before they could be ridden.

Race bikes can be ugly, too

TWO track turkeys of the recent past both failed because they swam forlornly against the rip-tide of effective engineering practice.

Whether dear old Soichiro Honda himself (RIP) was responsible for the dreadfully disappointing NR500 or other individuals anxious to make the old boy happy with a winning four-stroke GP bike is open to conjecture. In a bid to wrestle the laurels from filthy two-strokes, Honda conjured up this oval-pistoned four-stroke V8. It debuted at the British GP in 1979 and scored no points. And it managed to continue the tradition of ” nul points ” throughout its existence, which came to an end in 1982.

The Elf project began in the late 1970s, with a TZ750-engined hub-centre steered machine. This was followed by endurance race bikes with works Honda motors, and then the GP bikes with factory NSR500 engines.

One thing the Elf never lacked was a decent engine. What it was woefully short of was ground clearance. Our very own Rocket Ron Haslam was hand-picked to lead the Elf challenge and, as ever, he gave it his very best shot, notching a couple of rostrums in 1987.

But most of his outings ended in the straw bales when the front swingarm dug in and pitched him off. It was, however, quite a bit better than a Bimota Tesi.

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff