Nine dead rockers ride again

Something strange is happening in the world of the motorbike – there is a sort of mini revolution or maybe a renaissance. Guest writer, MAC, reports on his observations.

In a world where it is now mandatory to sport designer stubble or a mountain-man beard, and be adorned with the sort of tattoos that mean an affiliation to organised crime or prison time, there seems to be a weariness, a malaise, a resistance to riding the ubiquitous Japanese bike. Not that there is anything wrong with the aforementioned product coming from the land of the rising sun – they are perfectly serviceable, reliable and seem to go on forever. It is just that they are just so…soulless.

Hardcore riders and even fashionista converts to the pleasures of two-wheel motoring are starting to demand something with more soul, more character, more pizzazz; and entrepreneurs around the world are lining up to oblige with names revived from the dusty shelves of history – names that are steeped in history and folklore, speed records and military service, and associations with celebrity riders. There is a resurgence in spoked wheels and chromed exhaust pipes bellowing a throaty note as a leather-clad rider accelerates from the lights outside the Ace Café. That’s right, nostalgia is back and I like it. So let’s take a look at my favourites.

The Ariel Ace

Heralding out of the UK, the new Ariel Ace has absolutely nothing to do with the original Ariel company, but we don’t care. We don’t even care if the basic engine comes from Honda, a V4 1200cc that is considered one of the best in the business. The bike is set to be a hand-built low volume production bike (about 150 will be made) that eschews production lines in favour of individual construction bays. The chassis is milled from a single block of aluminium and is described as a ‘perimeter chassis’. The styling is all new-age and sports bike; no bottled nostalgia here.

The Norton 961

You would be correct to assume that the name Norton typifies everything great about British motorcycling heritage. Norton was the darling of the swinging sixties, the all-British conqueror of the Isle of Man and most of Europe, unfortunately sent to an early grave by the industrial malaise that gripped the UK in the sixties and the rise of the ubiquitous Japanese bike. After a 15-year affair with American ownership and production, who did develop the 961, the latest reincarnation of the Norton name is very firmly back in the UK after Stuart Garner brought the marque home and housed it at Donington Park. The 961 is styled with a café racer theme and has found a market with nostalgic bikers the world over, including Japan. Stuart, we love you.

The Midual

Originating from France, the marketing materials on this one talk about “striving for timelessness through retro futurism”. Okay, let’s keep it real, please. The Midual may not be quite as famous as most of the other reborned marques on this list but it is certainly a thing of beauty. On his website, Oliver Midy, the owner of Midual, states, “We love metals and rare leathers, and instruments with needle gauges.” But at US$185,000, you will probably have more luck spotting duck lips than any Miduals.

Matchless X Reloaded

The new Matchless was born out of an association with an Italian fashion business owned by the Malenotti brothers, which is fitting really as it was the original Matchless company that pioneered the manufacturing of protective clothing. The bike is still billed as a British bike despite the association with the Italian fashionista’s, and is set to debut at the EICMA in November 2014. But try as I might, I am not able to find out where it is being built or from where the engine is sourced; I know that the original company was from London’s Plumb Road but I somehow doubt that will still be the case.

The Bultaco Rapitan

Perhaps a bit of an interloper on this list and a bike that may not appeal directly to the hairy-chested biker, the Bultaco Rapitan is set to bring a Spanish marque out of retirement where it has languished since 1983. The marque is famed in the US where a dirty old two-stroke manufactured by Bultaco won the world trials championship, five years in a row. The new Rapitan will be a much cleaner affair with the company planning to manufacture 2000 low-maintenance electric bikes projected to have a range of about 200 kilometres.

The Brough Superior SS100

Famed as the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles and also for being the bike that Lawrence of Arabia was riding on when he crashed and died, the Brough had a relatively short ‘first life’ being manufactured in Nottingham for 20 years, between 1921 until 1940. The current reincarnation may also be short after the new owner, Mark Upham, announced that the new SS100 will have a titanium chassis and magnesium front forks, mated to a 997cc V-twin engine and costs about US$80,000. The look is what really sets this bike apart from the rest, a sort of minimalistic café racer meets the tin-man from the Wizard of Oz. You will either love it or hate it.

The Indian

For many, the Indian was and still is the first bike in the USA. Famed around the world in the twenties and thirties for its ability on the race track, and not just in the US but also the Isle of Man where it dominated from as early as 1911. Originating from Springfield, Massachusetts, the Indian was in production from 1901 up until 1953. Since then, there have been numerous attempts to revive the marque, with the latest attempt ending up looking disappointingly like a Harley Davidson. There will be three models: the entry level Scout (pictured above), mid-ranged Chief and great big Roadmaster.


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