I have been writing a column for the French magazine Café Racer for over a decade. When I remember, I post some of them on this blog. I changed the format a while ago, to Love & Hate. I cover something I love and something I hate in motorcycling. In truth, I don't hate much, but 'Love & Mildly Irritated By' isn't a snappy title. GI (Photo: Triumph)
I watched a man being tattooed the other day, just for a few seconds, it’s not a new hobby of mine. The tattoo was on the inside of his left bicep, a tender area, from the look on his face. The tattoo was of a motorcycle. The artist was skilled enough that in the brief moments I was gawking I could recognise the make and model of the bike in an instant – a Triumph Bonneville Bobber from Hinckley’s current range.
I don’t have any tattoos, but I get the gist of the transaction. Bear with me if you’re carrying your own permanent illustrations and know the process inside out. As I understand it, the client either chooses art that the tattooist has designed, or arrives with a specific design or idea. Right? Unless they are freestyling it, the tattoo artist often makes a drawing of the tattoo on a paper-like material that they use to deposit an outline on the client’s skin to help guarantee some kind of accuracy. Right? Then they trace the design with gun and indelible ink.
I mention this because there are a few steps when the man I witnessed being tattooed could have said, ‘You know the EU-mandated rear light and number plate hanger that everyone, from the bike’s designers down, absolutely hates? Yeah, leave that off the tattoo, please. Let’s give it a neat tail tidy, the kind that positions the license plate right under the tail light, like it was supposed to.’
Yes, he could have said that. But he didn’t, so forever more (or until he goes through the apocalyptically painful process of tattoo removal) that number plate hanger remains. And that leads us to the point of this column. The Triumph Bobber is, I’m told by journalists who test hundreds of bikes every year, a great-handling machine. Triumph don’t build bad or unreliable motorcycles, so it will do the job it was designed to do for decades. No doubt. But the Bobber is a nothing bike. It’s a range filler. A fashionable box ticker. It wisely uses an existing engine in a new chassis, to tot up a few more sales.
It’s the kind of bike that stays on the roster for a few years, until sales diminish to the point it is dropped from the range and no one really notices, or at that point, cares. Not every bike has to be beautiful, era-defining or unique, and there is nothing original or groundbreaking about the Bobber. Even its name. In fact, especially its name. Yet, this man loves it so much he chose to have a side profile of it tattooed across the length of his upper arm. I, for one, love that commitment.
People get all sorts of the weirdest art tattooed on them nowadays, but this guy didn’t choose the 2022 Bobber for laughs. He has a huge sense of devotion and emotion linked to the bike. He could have chosen any production, custom or even imaginary bike from the last 120 years. And he chose the Bobber! I honestly wouldn’t make room in my garage for one if I was given it for free. Perhaps he thinks the same of the bikes I own and love. No, of course he doesn’t. He’d give his left testicle for any of my arsenal of custom-framed specials.
What I’m celebrating here is the feeling of love and commitment that a mass-produced two-wheeler, created by a marketing department (the majority of whom are probably working for another company in another industry by now) can instil in a man. I didn’t know Bobber Tattoo Man, or particularly feel I wanted to, but surely he’s going to trade that bike in for a newer model in two or three years. It’s just that kind of bike. And he’ll be left with that tattoo. Thirty years from now he’ll be blind to it, just another tattoo on his sagging 70-year-old body, but one day, when he’s combing what’s left of his hair, he’ll glance at it in the mirror and remember the time he rode to that nice café on it. And the other time he went to the local bike night on it. And that time his sister put her baby on it for the photo. And… Then he’ll wonder why the fuck he got a Triumph Bonneville Bobber tattooed on his arm.
Motorcycles, we love them so much that they make us do dumb things.
Moto Guzzi has just launched their first liquid-cooled V-twin, the V100 Mandello, and it looks great. It’s a sports tourer with a very high waistline, its sharp body panels all above the jutting cylinders. It looks like a Guzzi, possessing a strong lineage to previous models while also being very contemporary. The architecture of the engine has been revolutionised without losing the Guzzi look. The cylinder barrels are liquid cooled, but don’t look it. They have also been rotated 90 degrees, so the exhaust ports are no longer at the front, but come out the side, and the intakes face each other in the centre of the bike. The Mandello’s single-sided rear wheel looks like it was taken from a Ducati MotoGP bike or a Lamborghini, and the S model has semi-active Öhlins suspension. The source of my chagrin, is also the area Moto Guzzi are leading their marketing spiel with: the Mandello is the first production bike to be fitted with ‘adaptive aerodynamics’.
There are two wings, where the fairing meets the petrol tank, directly below the handlebars. The ‘wings’ are 20cm or so long. At certain speeds, the wings move out from the body of the bike to deflect wind from the rider’s stomach. Along with an adjustable windshield (nothing new there) Guzzi claim the rider will benefit from ‘a potential reduction in air pressure of up to 22%.’ Reports from the launch tell us that Guzzi say the majority of the 22% reduction in pressure is around the rider’s middle. It took 200 hours of wind tunnel optimisation to reach this result.
A 22% improvement in most things is hard to find and usually gratefully received, but who has ever been out on a ride and thought, ‘I wish my stomach wasn’t under such wind pressure.’? This is just more feature creep bullshit we don’t need, the answer to a question no one asked.
Further Reading: Inman Columns