WO. The Standards are Back

Posted 10/6/2015
Updated 10/7/2015 to include Triumph

When I first got interested in motorcycles in the late 1960s, there were three major categories of mass-produced bikes: street bikes, dirt racing bikes, and dirt play bikes. Some of the dirt bikes had minimal street equipment to make them legal to ride on the street, but they were not very good street bikes. They much preferred the dirt. Some of the street bikes, like the ones called “scramblers,” had semi-knobby tires and could be ridden off road, but they weren’t very good dirt bikes and much preferred the street.

Just about every street bike sold back then was a “standard.” Let me define what I mean by “standard.” They had neutral ergonomics with medium height handlebars (somewhere between clip-ons and ape-hangers), mid-position foot pegs and controls, and usually a flat dual saddle. Perhaps most importantly, they showed off their motors — these were MOTORcycles. I liked being able to see the engine.

There were some exceptions. Harley Davidson made some heavy touring bikes intended mainly for the open highway. In the mid-1970s some of the Italian factories, notably Ducati and Moto Guzzi, made some bikes that fell into the café-racer category. But the exceptions were few in number.

three 1970sThree 1970s standards: the Honda CB750, the Norton 750 Commando, and the Moto Guzzi V7.

If you wanted a long-haul touring bike but not a Harley, you bought a Honda CB750 or a Kawasaki Z-1, got a Windjammer fairing from Vetter or something from Wixom, some saddle bags from another manufacturer and turned the standard Honda (or whatever) into a touring bike. If you wanted a Harley but not a big touring bike, you bought an Electra Glide and took or chopped off all that heavy touring stuff to make a lighter “chopper” (this was before the Harley 883 Sportster was released). If you wanted a sporty café racer you bought perhaps a Norton Commando then sent a lot of money to Paul Dunstall for clip-on handle bars, a big fuel tank, a bum-stop solo saddle, a sporty fairing, and rear-set foot pegs and controls. A commuter bike was easy, just buy a luggage rack that fit behind the seat, lots of them were available for many different bikes. You could bungee your books, or groceries, or briefcase, or whatever, to the rack.

There were lots of aftermarket parts and you could turn your “standard” motorcycle into just about anything, and a lot of people did. It was kinda like a fancy Lego set. You could have a long-haul touring bike one weekend, a café racer the next, and a commuter bike in between, just by swapping parts around on your one standard street bike.

I drifted away from motorcycling for a decade starting about 1985, and in 1996 when I finally decided I wanted a new motorcycle I was surprised to find that all the major manufacturers were making niche bikes. There were racy sport bikes, long-haul touring bikes, sport touring bikes, cruisers, urban street fighters (what used to be called commuters but I guess that didn’t sound sexy enough). About the only thing that resembled a standard was the Ducati Monster.

I didn’t want a niche bike. I still had my 1974 Ducati Sport and that was nichey enough for me. I ended up buying a 1988 Honda NT650 HawkGT, an eight-year old motorcycle, to get my standard bike.

But what goes around comes around, the old saying goes. Let’s look at the models being offered today by the major manufacturers and see if there are any “standards” being offered. I’ll list them alphabetically.

Aprilia – Mostly sporty bikes, but there is the Dorsoduro 750 and the Shiver 750, both standards (IMHO).

BMW – the R nine T, F800R and R1200R look like standards to me. The S1000R has too much plastic to meet my definition.
2015 Ducati Scrambler
Ducati – the venerable Monster is still around, and of course there are the new Scrambler models. There are slight variations among the four Scramblers, but all are standards.

Harley-Davidson – the Sportster is still around, in a number of variations, and there’s the new Street 500 and Street 750 models.

Honda – CB1100, CB1000R, and CB500F, although this last one is pressing right against the “too much plastic” barrier.

Kawasaki – Kawasaki disappointed me. TheZ1000 and Z800 maybe, but they’ve got this plastic “nose” and wind screen, plastic side panels, and a plastic chin fairing. The Versys 650 could have been one but they ruined it (as a standard) by a big plastic fairing on front, side panels, and a two-piece chin fairing. What do they need to hide?
2016 M G V7 II
Moto Guzzi – The V7 II Stone and V7 II Scrambler look pretty standard to me. Not really surprising as these are “retro style” motorcycles. The Griso 8V SE, is well, um. Moto Guzzi says it has “nonconformist styling,” and I’ve got to agree. It meets the definition, but it’s hard to call it “standard.” They’re for sure not hiding that motor behind plastic panels.

Suzuki – Like Kawasaki, Suzuki can’t seem to resist adding unnecessary bits of plastic to their roadsters. The only standards I see in their 2016 lineup are the GW250Z, a true beginner bike, and the SFV650.

Triumph – All of the five “Classic” models except the Thruxton, which is more in the cafe racer style, are standards. No surprise there, they are meant to be “retro” bikes. In their Roadster line-up the base Street Triple is pretty standard. The Speed Triple is close, but the chin fairing and that windscreen over the headlights make it questionable. I didn’t examine the Cruisers but some of them might qualify as standards.

2016 Yamaha FZ09
Yamaha – The FZ09 and FZ07 are close enough, and the SR400 is THE definition of a standard.

So where does that leave us? By my count there are 19 models (I only count the Ducati Scrambler as one model, ditto the Harley Sportster). If I counted all the variants there would be a couple dozen standards right now.

If I was in the market for a new 2016 model motorcycle I would definitely look at the Ducati Scrambler, the Moto Guzzi V7 II Stone, and (just to show I am not a complete Italian snob), the Yamaha FZ09 & FZ07, and the Suzuki SVF650. It’s also hard to ignore the Yamaha SR400, it is SO cute!