This post is an edited version of a column I originally wrote for UK magazine, Bike last year. Someone reminded me of it on Friday night, at the Bike Shed Show, so I thought I'd dust it off. To be clear, this is not a criticism of the Bike Shed show. I personally love what they're doing and I'm proud that Sideburn is a part of their show, but a small percentage of the bikes turning up there have lost the plot and many of the others will never be ridden...
The new breed of café racers and scramblers are at risk of following the evolutionary route of choppers and birds of paradise. As each builder wishes to stand out from the crowd and attract a mate, in the motorcycle sense that is someone who is going to buy the bike or commission a build, they become more outrageous and only good at attracting attention. The beardy curators and commentators and I are both stunned by the creations, but for different reasons. They become aroused by the sheet metal work and lustre of the five-foot long dustbin fairing, while I’m amazed that anyone thought 13mm of ground clearance was a good idea.
I’ve seen bikes that ‘taste makers’ fawn over, but make zero sense in dynamic terms. Yes, welding the carb to the intake manifold does away with the ‘unsightly’ rubber and Jubilee clip, but how do you, ‘Y’know, service the carb?’
The answer is, You don’t, and it doesn’t matter, because it’ll never be ridden. The proliferation of ever more pointless baubles by, and for, people who have forgotten the fundamental purpose of the motorcycle is on the increase. Think how choppers developed from the origins of heavy touring bikes stripped, slimmed and souped-up for better power-to-weight and improved agility, and ended up as fat-tyred Orange County freak machines. The Bike Shed-style custom crowd has to check its progress so it doesn’t go the same way. The scene this column often concerns itself with started with people turning unloved and devalued post-classics into handsome urban buzzbombs. To labour the bird analogy, the scene began loving sparrows, developed a penchant for magpies and have now become increasingly obsessed with peacocks.
I’m way beyond saturation point for show bikes. I’m interested in go bikes.
Remember, make a bike shiny and the general public will fall over themselves to gawp, slack-jawed at it, but form without function is mere titillation.