The observant among you probably first noticed the beginnings of the retro automobile fad with a few dashes of chrome piping appearing on new cars a few years ago; this evolved into hugely successful reboots for the Mini, Beetle and Fiat 500. A similar thing has been quietly going on in the motorcycle world.
Here, across the Atlantic and in Japan, the rose-tinted image of the swinging sixties has resulted in a conveyor belt of retro over the past few years and one of the areas where it has been absorbed the best, is in the motorcycle world.
The Great Escape (released in 1963) is arguably more famous for the scenes with Steve McQueen riding to his escape on a 1961 Triumph TR6 Trophy, disguised as an BMW R75, and along with McQueen’s permanent status as an all round cool guy, I might be inclined to argue that this accounts for most of the inspiration for all the retro bikes on the market today.
It was in the swinging sixties that Triumph was at the peak of its power; long before the jaw dropping energy of the Japanese models would saturate the market. After a worrying drop in sales, retro cool has brought Triumph to the fore again with sales last year almost reaching those dizzy sixties heights once more.
Triumph isn’t the only brand reaching back into the past for inspiration of course, the 75-horsepower Ducati Scrambler is, Ducati tell us, not a retro bike as they seek to distance themselves from the current trend. Though keen not to burn their bridges entirely, Ducati describe the Scrambler as ‘post heritage’ in their advertising blurb. There’s even a ‘Classic’ version and the olive green paint option is straight out of any classic movie McQueen might be seen in. It really is a nice looking bike. With a bench seat and bucket headlight it borrows heavily from the classic bike styles of yore.
Of course, an article about retro motorcycles would not be complete without a nod to Harley Davidson. Arguably less iconic on this side of the Atlantic, the brand has always had its roots firmly in the looks over speed camp. The company has for many years adopted the policy of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ keeping the fans on board. Rather than use the term retro though, the catalogue is full of words like custom and cruiser. If you want to avoid the more laid back and distinctive Harleys, then take a look at the 883cc Evolution engined 883 Roadster with its tapered peanut fuel tank and understated styling – more UK retro in its appearance than American.
If you want to really convince, then look no further than the 500cc Royal Enfield Classic 500, a bike that doesn’t shy away from what it wants to be. With old school paintjobs and accessories, the single cylinder, 2-stroke Classic 500 comes with modern disc braking and fuel injection.
If you’ve ever wondered why it might be easier to get away with such pure retro styling in the motorcycle world compared to the car world, it’s worth considering how little biking has actually changed throughout its history as far as rider comfort goes. Yes, suspension has come a long way since the First World War, but essentially, the rider is still subjected to the elements in exactly the same way – there’s no climate control air conditioning or entertainment systems to consider; it’s all about the look.
Triumph does of course, have a complete ‘Classic’ range and can also now boast the likes of David Beckham being a fan adding spade loads of extra cool to the brand. Beckham rode an adapted Triumph Bonneville T100 during the highly entertaining BBC documentary, Into the Unknown that was last screened in June this summer. In it, Beckham takes three good friends on a motorcycling road trip across Brazil to ‘lose himself’ and ‘discover himself’ in equal measure. Like a shortened version of Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Round series (in which McGregor rides BMW adventure bikes), Into the Unknown is a more stylised family-friendly adventure. We see a laidback Beckham in just a t-shirt and open face helmet riding his Bonneville with one had rested on his thigh admiring the scenery. Triumph’s marketing department must have cried with joy.
My aunt used to tell the tale of how her and my uncle George went for a picnic in the New Forest one balmy summer evening; she was alarmed by a biker gang stopping nearby. My uncle, to alleviate her fear, wandered over to talk to them about their bikes. He used to ride a Norton during the war and the gang’s leader joked with him that he probably would have given up his leadership if George had joined their gang on a bike like that. And there you have it, the reason why motorcycling will always be effortlessly cool; bikers doff their caps with respect to the past and the history of motorcycling – probably far more than car owners do.
Images: tomcc.org, theguardian.com, silodrome.com, topspeed.com
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