Almost invariably, form is the result of function in the sportbike realm. Here are six motorcycles whose designs startled and impressed us in various ways, each adding something to the rich canon of performance motorcycling.
Triumph Daytona 675. (Click image to enlarge)
Take a 900cc in-line four, chop off a cylinder, and you might be surprised at the outcome. That’s just what Triumph did and the result was the 600-class-beating Daytona 675. Packing a dis-tinguishing 123 hp in-line three motor, the Daytona 675 caught its Japanese competition flatfooted, gaining a power and torque advantage by ignoring displacement conventions. The Daytona also has aggressively tuned suspension and sharp-but-neutral handling for local canyon wars.
For Kawasaki, the quest for power domination started in 1969 with its mind blowing Mach III triple-cylinder 500cc two-stroke musclebike. It continues in the 21st century with the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14; a refined open-class rocketship with almost 200 hp of thrust that propels the machine to a self-limited 300 kph (186 mph). Unlike the Mach III, the ZX-14 is a bike with good manners at any speed, though it does have an exhilaratingly addictive rush at 6,000 rpm.
Ducati SportClassic PaulSmart 1000LE. Photograph by Paul Barshon. (Click image to enlarge)
The name may be English, but the Ducati SportClassic PaulSmart 1000LE is all-Italian. A limited-edition model that may now be hard to procure, this is a retro-style motorcycle that retains the café racer essence of the 1970s, while delivering Design Award winning technology of modern times. Proudly displaying a fairing that recalls the 200 Miles of Imola-winning machine ridden by Paul Smart and a fully tucked riding position, the 1000LE is a practical and, dare we say it, smart alternative to owning a 1972 Ducati 750SS.
Not everyone—particularly older riders who have been there, done that, and are now happy to see where they’re going—feels the need for race ergonomics on the street. The MV Agusta Brutale 910R rewards the reasonable rider with a 136 hp motor, radial Brembo brakes, a 6-speed transmission and, of course, an upright riding position. MV’s design team took the standard Brutale and upgraded the already-excellent trellis frame and 50mm front suspension to create a comfortable sport bike that needs no excuses.
MV Agusta Brutale 910. (Click image to enlarge)
Custom sportbikes are gaining in popularity, but few rely on American-built V-twin motors to power them. Exquisite in both design and execution, the Ecosse Heretic is much too refined to be described as a streetfighter, despite its naked-bike aggression and brutishly displayed air-cooled 1966cc powerplant with proprietary 6-speed Baker transmission. The spectacular trellis frame and swingarm mingle effortlessly with premium Öhlins suspension to ensure that your riding experience matches the visual impact of this purposeful and unique design.
Ecosse Heretic. Photograph by Cordero Studios/www.corderostudios.com. (Click image to enlarge)
Honda’s CBR600RR was an exemplary place to start, but Ray Plumb and Team Honda racing turned the bike into something quite extraordinary. Fortunate enough to ride Miguel Duhamel’s AMA Formula Extreme race bike at Miller Motorsports Park, I was astounded at how incredibly well the machine performed. Power was crisp and strong, but not notchy or jerky. The gas-charged Öhlins suspension delivered beautifully neutral and solid handling. Faster than a Catholic running through nearby Salt Lake City, this bike needed every bit of its highly efficient Nissin radial calipers to bite down the speed at the straight’s end. This machine could be relatively easily replicated for around $50,000, but whether Duhamel would be prepared to set it up so perfectly for you would be another matter entirely.