Nudity sells, we all know that. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re selling cars, carpets or cameras; nobody bats an eyelid if the promotional material contains scantily clad women — or men — showing off impossibly perfect bodies. So, naked is good, a sure-fire winner of a strategy for pumping up sales and raking in the money. Except it doesn’t work in motorcycling. Don’t get me wrong: naked ladies always go down well with the two-wheel crowd, myself included, but when it comes to the bikes themselves — not so much.
Naked bikes are actually a thing. The term refers to motorcycles — from sport bikes to tourers — that don’t wear the all-encompassing bodywork associated with superbikes or big tourers. On much of the rest of the planet, but especially in Europe, naked bikes are extremely popular, something that is most definitely not the case in South Africa. I’ve puzzled for years over why this might be the case, and all I can think is that the passion here is for brute performance. It’s also worth considering the size of this country, which means that an average ride is several times longer than the equivalent journey up north. Fairings are good for protection from the elements and for maintaining high speeds.
However, they are expensive and hide most of a bike’s mechanicals — which some of us like to be able to see and admire. This year looks like being a particularly good one for new naked bikes, so perhaps South Africa’s tepid affair with undressed models — of the two-wheeled kind — will receive a boost. The bike most likely to influence that change is Yamaha’s MT-10, which is nothing more complex than a naked version of the mind-bending R1 that first appeared last year. As performance nakeds go, there are few bikes with more suitable DNA.
Unless Yamaha has decided to only fit two of the four spark plugs, or grace it with square wheels, this MT-10 should be an absolute monster of a machine. Yamaha hasn’t stopped there though, because a more retro-styled XSR900 is also on the way and will appeal to those who think warp drive is a little over-the- top for their Sunday ride.Not that it will be exactly slow, with about the same power as the original Ducati 916 (which back then had enough oomph to make your head fall off) and considerably less weight. And it still has the goods to frighten any supercar off the line.
If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s basically the existing triple-cylinder MT-09, but with some groovy stickers that remind those of us of a certain age of the Yamahas of yesteryear. One of the most successful bikes of 2015, naked or otherwise, was Ducati’s Scrambler. This back-to-basics motorcycle, with its huge dose of nostalgic style and modest power, has prompted many other manufacturers to follow suit in 2016. BMW’s R nineT Scrambler will appear here shortly and, much like Ducati’s Scrambler, is not really intended to do any real scrambling, apart from leaping the curb outside your favourite nightspot.
These scramblers are all about the pose: they are a two-wheeled fashion statement, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They are street bikes with some old- time, off-road styling cues; they look great and any biker who argues that function should always outweigh form is either a liar or too boring to acknowledge. The scrambling phenomenon has also enticed a new machine from Benelli, an Italian manufacturer with a long and glorious history that was snaffled up by Chinese investors when it fell on hard times. Since then it has been largely dormant, save for some dreadful re-badging of cheap Chinese models that achieved nothing but a dilution of the name they’d spent good money to buy.
Hopefully, the promise of the small-capacity Leoncino means that phase is over. The Leoncino is a pretty version on the scrambler theme, designed in Italy, and built… who knows where? But don’t despair if it’s China, because many of your favourite electronic goods are assembled there, and quality isn’t an issue. If the same approach is applied to the Leoncino, then Benelli may well be on the road back to success. Another retro-styling exercise from Italy will come in the form of Moto Guzzi’s V9, available in Roamer or Bobber derivatives. Good looking and, more importantly, affordable, they will perhaps be outsold by their equally new, but slightly smaller V7 Stornello stablemate which is, wait for it… a scrambler! Motorcycle manufacturers obviously think that naked is the way to go. But will South Africans agree with them? This might just be the year in which local bikers finally embrace a lack of clothing — for their bikes at least.