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Almost Fiction: Retro simple

By Sam Jones

Standing in the Harley-Davidson display area at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, California, I heard several young riders talking about the Sportster Iron 883.

“It looks like a motorcycle is supposed to look; clean, simple, no frills; just two wheels, an engine and go.”

“To me, calling it Iron is about right. It looks like an anvil.”

“No, it looks like a stone; a big prehistoric stone ax.”

“Don’t call it a stone. Moto Guzzi has a bike called The Stone.”

The boys started off to see if Moto Guzzi was at the show while the rider who liked the Sportster stayed and continued to check it out.

“The more things change the more they remain the same,” I heard myself saying to him.

“How do you mean?” Asked the young rider.

“When I started to ride, about 100 years ago, all motorcycles were simple like this; that was their charm. Like you said, two wheels and go. None of them were very sophisticated. For example, no one would have thought of riding a bike with a fairing.” I droned on about how time passed and everyone wanted a fairing. Then more time passed and everyone wanted a full fairing hiding the entire body from every molecule of air that might hit the rider. Bikes were, and in some cases still are, graded on how much “protection from the elements” their fairings afforded. And now everything has gone full circle and the hottest motorcycles on the market are retro naked bikes. “The more things change the more they remain the same.”

The young man listened politely, told me that he understood and that he was graduating up from riding motor scooters. “If you want to see simplicity and you like the way things used to be, you should take a good look at the small Korean motorcycles and Chinese scooters.” He then excused himself and went about his business of analyzing all the new bikes and sitting on as many of them as he could.

Walking around the show, I searched out the dealer display of Chinese motor scooters. Finding them was a flashback to high school. My buddies and I would sit around the senior mall and talk about French girls, bota bags filled with wine and riding motor scooters around Europe.

This display had over a dozen scooters in bright shiny colors and pretty girls answering questions and handing out brochures. “We have two engine sizes, 50 and 150cc.”

“Are they freeway legal?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No, but the 150 gets over 75 mpg and the 50 over 125 mpg and the 150 will go 70 miles an hour.”

“My lawnmower has the same size engine.”

“I am sure it does a fine job on your grass, but can it take you to the store and the bank and run your errands?”

She had me. “No, it can’t.” One hundred and twenty five miles per gallon is impressive and of course, it is just as well you can’t ride it on the freeway. Trucks squash bugs bigger than these things.

I looked around the display. Most of the styling was stolen from the classic Vespas and Lambrettas, but on one model they had gone the Italians one better. This model sported a huge box built into the back of the scooter that started at the license plate and continued forward turning into a backrest for the pilot. It looked perfect for a pizza delivery boy, but I couldn’t help wondering how much weight it would stand until the front wheel came off the ground. A cement salesman should stay with a Harley Iron 883 and a sidecar.

“OK, how much are these things?” I finally bit.

“Depending on the model, about $1,700.”

“Wow, I am impressed.” I have road-racing leathers that cost more than that. “OK, which is the most tricked out, which one has the most bells and whistles and how much is it?”

She looked around and pointed to an over-chromed super-bright model with extra mirrors and lights. “This one is $2,200; it is our limited classic.”

In high school, for our European safari, this beauty would have been hard to resist. It was shiny and it was cheap.

Not far from the scooter people was the Hyosung motorcycle display. Having nothing in common with a motor scooter, they were showing a 250cc V-twin motorcycle that looked like a real motorcycle. This simple, 250 commuter bike was cute as hell. “This model gets better than 70 mpg and it cost sonly $3,700,” were the answers to my unasked questions. “$3,700 and the local dealer will give you a coupon for $1,000 if you buy it before January 31. You can use the coupon at his dealership for anything you want.”

$2,700 for a 250cc V-twin real motorcycle that is freeway legal, goes 75 mph and gets 70 mpg. I think I am impressed.

The Chinese motor scooters were dead cute and a super deal. But I live in Los Angeles and I can’t get to the liquor store without getting on a freeway. Sorry; they’re out. Maybe I’ve outgrown some of my romantic high school notions.

The Hyosung 250 for $2,700 with a coupon… well, now… there’s a deal.

I own a dozen motorcycles, but I don’t own a 250 commuter street bike. It is a niche I have yet to fill. Do I need to fill it? Probably not.

But these small bikes are simple and they are cute. Most of us started out on something similar, and with gas at $4 a gallon they make even more sense than they ever did.

A good idea is a good idea. “The more things change the more they remain the same.” Come on, Harley; we don’t want to let the Chinese and the Koreans build all the fun stuff. How about bringing back the Harley Hummer or the Sprint? They were the first two bikes I ever rode and I still have a soft spot for them in both my heart and my head. Even if I didn’t buy one of them, someone would. Don’t forget retro is in. And by my own unsophisticated survey, one in four new riders thinks simple and uncomplicated is cool.


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