There's beauty in imperfection I think. I'd venture to say Leonardo da Vinci thought so too. Today on my ride I realized that's why I like the Sporty so well. A buddy of mine owns three BMWs and is always deriding Harleys as being low tech piles of junk. He hates the single crank pin and the resulting weird cylinder cadence, he hates the weight, the relatively low redline, basically everything about them. He equates the 45 degree V-Twin to riding a bicycle with both feet on the same pedal. He loves the sheer precision and smoothness of the Bimmers and I admit, the geek in me does too. I, however can't stand their sometimes bland, sometimes in your face weird styling. I can't help but feel they're almost completely without soul. Notice I said almost. If you want a bike completely devoid of soul you must look to Japan. To be fair I don't feel the older Japanese bikes are without soul. The CB 750 sure does beg to be ridden. And that's not to say I wouldn't ride the shit out of a nice S1000RR or even an R1, and have lots of fun doing so. It's just that these bikes are so good and so perfect that it's almost completely insulating. It takes the skill of the rider somewhat out of the equation. It gives false confidence and makes one better than they really are. Kind of like driving a fully traction controlled, ABS, pin drop quiet Lexus. Why then do so many Japanese custom builders get it? Shinya Kimura makes some of the most beautiful machines I've seen. They are rough and raw and unpainted. They are asymmetrical. They are absolutely stunning. Certainly it's not cultural; the ugly, soulless perfection of the Japanese production bikes. 

When I ride the Sporty I can't help but feel one with the machine. There's nothing but a cable between me and the carb. When I have to stop quickly I have to apply the proper amount of pressure to each of the brakes. I feel the engine's vibration being telegraphed through its cases, to the frame, to the bars, to my hands. I learn to identify new sounds, new vibrations. I love the way the engine roars up to redline, like a demon shot reluctantly from Hell, flaming and screaming almost to the point of breaking. But it doesn't. And they don't often. The old misconception that Harleys are unreliable is based on the rantings of very, very old greybeards and bike snobs. A reputation that started with the Knucklehead (ca. 1936) and ended well before the much lambasted AMF days (ca. 1969). Really, the Panhead pretty much solved that problem and it came out in 1948.  So while Hogs may be loud, big, and heavy one thing they are not is unreliable. Anyone who's been inside an Evo Sporty engine will tell you the damn thing is built like a tank. Twin Cams too. They're bikes built to make their owners happy. Since most BMW riders wouldn't be caught dead on anything that comes out of Milwaukee, and HD has one of the most loyal customer bases in the world I'd say they suit their purpose just fine. They are cruising bikes and what's important when cruising? Torque! Pulling away from stoplights, dodging family trucksters and the like. HD's current troubles aren't because they have bad product, it's because they have failed to capture the younger market. I wasn't always a believer. I used to tease my brother. Used to love it when we'd be somewhere having lunch and a crowd would form around my Triumph and ignore his custom painted Hog that cost three times as much. But when I went to MMI it was Harley that I enrolled in (partly because they don't offer Triumph or Ducati). I wanted to get to that early model class. To study the Flatheads, Knuckles, Pans. To hopefully get my hands on an XR750 (which was completely absent, though I did drool on an XR1000 daily). I'm a history geek and the MoCo's is as rich as any. But first I had to prove my mettle on the new stuff. As I progressed through late model I began to see what others saw in them. I saw just how well built these "antiquated" motors were. How great they were to work on. How wonderfully simple they are and how they have been constantly evolving for the last hundred years. My Screaming Eagle instructor illustrated just how much fun it was to coax performance out of a motor not built for it. I still have no desire to own a bagger. No thanks on the Dynas, I'll keep my Sportsters. A Fat Boy, maybe. An XR1200, definitely. I'll still go for a Ducati over a Hog any day all other things being equal but hopefully I'll never have to make that choice again.

It's different with the Ducati. The Monster is such a lightweight, well balanced, beautiful yet wonderfully imperfect beast. Mine was a 2002 M750. It took seemingly forever to warm up, the throttle was impossibly touchy especially when cold and never did run too smoothly until it hit at least 65 but when it did, boy was it a blast. My sportbike friends would get exceedingly tired of waiting for the damn thing to warm up, they being used to hitting the start and kicking it into gear in one fluid motion. My Harley buddies always seemed a bit embarrassed, like they were riding with a guy wearing a flowered dress, gorilla mask and 18 inch long jet black strap on dildo. The fact was, I was just wearing a full face helmet, mesh riding jacket and 16 inch long strap on dildo. That's OK, I like riding alone. I Ioved listening to the sweet Italian twin symphony coming out of those sexy raw titanium cans. I loved the way the growl would get when I'd wrap it up around 6k, then 7, sometimes 8k. I loved the way it sounded at idle, so deep and muted, yet somehow capable of triggering every car alarm it passed. The way it would make quick work of freeway on-ramps and carve up back roads. The Italian bike is one of pure riding passion. The Italians model bikes after their women: beautiful and full of piss and vinegar. They've always had great technology but never at the price of character. The beauty lies in the challenge of figuring out every little nuance and quirk. It's similar to why I've always loved the smaller 650-900cc bikes. Anyone can kick ass on a big, perfect liter plus bike. It's the real rider that will squeeze every little bit of performance possible out of a low tech, under powered imperfect junk pile.

Which leads me to the old Triumph. The 1974 T120. Yes, it's one of those spare parts built Meriden 650s that weren't supposed to exist. The bike that was state of the art when it was originally designed in what, the early sixties? Some 15 years on it was the struggling red headed stepchild. The product of the once great but dying British bike industry. And I love it so. To call this bike quirky is to call Lady Gaga quirky. I remember explaining to my nineteen year old Yamaha riding MMI classmate what Ton Up meant. He was all "Whatevs man! I'd do that with my eyes closed while LOLing as I rode past." I was all "Pushaw! Oh yeah Broseph, try doing it on a bike older than me, based on technology older than your dad." A bike that despite its great condition still looks and feels as if parts might shake off at any moment. Do it on a bike that makes your hands vibrate for an hour after you get off. Check out the surprisingly frail looking triple trees. Hell, I'd have given the kid a hundred bucks if he could even get the damn thing started...then another hundred if he could make it around the block without jamming the brake when he meant to downshift. This is a bike that on a good day with proper modification is pushing its limits at 100. It feels as though it might completely shake apart at 100. Let's not forget there's no fairing to cut the wind and most guys wore sub par helmets back then, if they wore helmets at all. You get the point and eventually so did he.

At the end of the day it's useless arguing what's better. It's like arguing about the best band of all time or the best pizza ever. That's not what's important. That's what dynos and big glossy magazine shootouts are for. These are things that can be measured. What can't be measured is the interaction I have with my bike. Or the interaction Mr. Bimmer or anyone else has with their bikes. We all have our tastes and even when I don't quite understand what makes someone like their chosen ride I'm always glad to hear them try to explain it. For sometimes we can't quite and that's the beauty in it. I just wish everyone could drop the silly name calling and just ride because it's something we love to do and it's something we have in common that non-riders just don't understand. At the end of the day we're all in the same boat. We're those crazy two wheeled hooligans willing to risk their lives in the name of speed. As my buddy Jared says "As long as it puts your knees in the breeze it's all good." You know what? He's absolutely right.


Ten Sexiest

The folks over at Visordown have released their list of the top ten sexiest bikes of all time and as you might expect it is even worse than their top engines list. They included one Harley and all the rest were Japanese and Italian sportbikes. Um, hello? Norton Manx, Triumph Bonneville, Vincent Black Shadow? Hell, Vincent garbage can is better looking than some of these bikes. I know Visordown is a sportbike-centric site but come on. If you're going to release a sexiest bikes list then all bikes must be considered. Otherwise it's just the sexiest sportbikes plus a Harley list. Really, I don't know who these people are but truly there is no accounting for taste.

Visordown 10 Sexiest List