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Modern Bike Rant


This is where I spend a few minutes ranting about modern bikes, and some of the shortcomings and backsliding that have crept into the designs of newer bikes. A friend of mine has observed that much of this stems from the emphasis on racing and performance, which has produced some miraculous results (witness the 420lb, 65hp SV650), but has also come with serious real-world consequences. (In the case of the SV: Drop it on the left and you'll take out the tach; drop it on either side and you may damage the tank; the whale butt makes hard bags super-wide; no centerstand; the stepped seat keeps you from moving around; that ridiculous oil filter/bash plate; etc.)

Let's start with the basics. How about centerstands, does anybody remember these? Am I the only one who uses them all the time? Not only useful for any number of maintenance chores, having the bike upright can also be a major boon when bike-camping. I guess it makes sense to offer this as an option, but in my book it's not optional.

And how about grabrails? Very versatile, very cool. Back during the pinnacle of UJM design in the early 80's, big square grabrails were common. (See "crashworthiness" below.) And vestigial under-seat rails were also around, like on the CB700SC, which I've found to be really useful.

Now one trend I simply don't understand (can someone help me here?) is the "whale butt" phenomenon, wherein plastic bodywork bulges out sideways under and aft of the seat. What the f***? Is this to protect the metal frame with a layer of fragile, expensive plastic? Makes sense if you're a parts manufacturer or merchant, or if you recently won the lottery. An excellently awful example is the SV650. What if you want to mount hard bags? (See also "crashworthiness" below.) Aren't those high muffler(s) trouble enough on this count? If I wanted to look like a racebike, would I really buy a Nighthawk 750? If I ever get that SV, will I have to take a bandsaw to the bodywork to trim things down?

Crashworthiness is something that really seems to have went down hill. The CB700SC can slide from 30+MPH with only the loss of a mirror and/or lever. The geometry of the bars, pipes, grabrail and brake calipers means the tank and seat never touch the ground. Since I seem to drop the bike (usually at 0MPH in mud a snow or other off-road conditions) about once every two weeks when touring, and maybe once a year around town (also at 0MPH), this is important to me. Maybe others never drop it, and never have this problem. Thank God for frame sliders, which have recently burst onto the scene, better late than never.

Now ironically enough, there is one class of bikes that never lost many of these features: namely, those much-maligned good citizens of the road, cruisers. BMWs and adventure bikes also score high in most of these areas. I'd like to see standard-style bikes, or what used to simply be called "motorcycles", return to this design goal.

There, that's my rant. Thanks for listening.

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