I write stuff. A lot of it is about cars and motorcycles.

Steampunk Style

Motorcycle Daily asks if Steampunk might be the next customization craze in motorcycles. Steampunk, for those who don’t know, is the melding of very high-tech devices with a very 19th-century Victorian sense of design. Here’s a good example:

Steampunk PC

Steampunk PC

Yep, it’s a Steampunk PC.  And, here’s another one:

Taimoshan Super Cafe Racer

Taimoshan Super Cafe Racer

It looks Old Skool with all the bare metal, and the nice bronze bits showing off some golden accents, but that engine is the Rotax powerplant from the Aprilia RSV Mille.

Now I don’t know if Steampunk is the direction that customizing is going–it’s as good a direction as any, and better than most–but it certainly needs to go somewhere other than where it is.

The trouble is that the manufacturers are now making “custom” motorcycles.  Harley-Davidson has an entire line of “Dark Custom” motorcycles, and even the Japanese are getting into the act, with bikes like the Honda Fury. They are going by the oxymoronic name of factory custom motorcycles, which ignores the elemental fact that if it’s a factory motorcycle, it can’t possibly be a custom one. What the manufacturers are doing is taking their styling cues from the custom builders, and making factory copies.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it does devalue the currency of a customized motorcycle, in that you can now get the same styling…for a lot less money. And, of course, the whole point of a custom motorcycle is that it doesn’t look like a factory motorcycle.

Well, that’s not always true.  For instance, the Honda Fury is put together too well.

Honda Fury Detail

Honda Fury Detail

Look at how nicely integrated the chrome engine covers and frame are.  That obviously came from a factory, not a custom shop. It’s designed well, but it has no…soul.

So, the custom shops–who should be all about soul–need to find a different direction to travel.  If the makers are going to co-op the current custom style, then the customizers need to head in a new direction.

And, quite frankly, they should probably do that anyway.  At the end of the day, we’ve probably completely drained the well of creative design based on the 1950s, with springer front ends, coil-wrapped rear shocks, and the like.After all, we’ve been drawing from that well for fifty years.  How much more expression can we get out of it?

To my mind, the Steampunk movement opens up new, untapped design vistas for customizers. Almost no one has really worked creatively in this area yet, and the ornate beauty of Victorian design, mated with modern frames and engines offers the possibility of some outstandingly beautiful–and unique custom bikes. As Motorcycle Daily’s Gabe Ets-Hokin writes:

Taking the best from our favorite eras can only be a good thing. The power of a BMW S1000RR with the looks of a Ducati 750 Sport? How about the durability of a Honda CBR600F2 with the handling and looks of an MV Agusta? Or the shriek of a Honda RC166 with the fuel economy of a BMW R1200R? There’s no reason why it won’t all be possible.

No reason, indeed.

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3 Responses to Steampunk Style

  • I visited the NY Motorcycle show last Sunday and there were some very nice custom bikes on display, none that I would ride for any length of time though.
    The Taimoshan Super Cafe Racer does look nice though, but that’s it, looks nice but is it good to ride and enjoy the ride? not sure.

  • I too love the look of cafe racers. But as I age the “sit up and beg” riding style suits me better.
    Still, Even though there’s a GoldWing in the garage I smile and stare when a bike similar to the one pictured pulls alongside at a stoplight.
    Thank God for diversity.

  • That Aprilia custom (which has been floating around a lot lately) is an excellent technical specimen for modern cafe builders, but I don’t think it has any more soul than the aforementioned Fury. It’s a highly polished build that will likely see more showroom floors than country roads. It doesn’t move me as a ‘riders’ bike, more of a show pony.