A weird thing's been happening these last couple of weeks. I've actually been enjoying my commute.
Which is a big surprise, since-as I've written ad nauseum of late-I usually have a pretty ugly morning and evening trek: 25 miles (one way) of (mostly) surface streets and (some) freeways pressure-packed with smog and hordes of phone-wielding, makeup-applying, newspaper-reading commuters who seem to put as much mental energy into sitting behind the wheel as they do sitting in front of the boob tube.
But I think I've got this spate of happy-commuting figured out. The common feature of the last two weeks are the bikes I've been riding. And the bikes I've been riding are the so-called "naked" bikes, bikes like Suzuki's newly sharpened Bandit 1200S and Ducati's refined Monster 900 i.e. (OK, the "naked" name's not totally accurate since many of the genre actually have cockpit fairings, but it's far better, I think, than the boring old "standard" moniker-which the manufacturers don't like anyway.)
They're big dirtbikes, really, bikes with plenty of wheelyable, instant-on power, wide handlebars that make them easy to flick in and out of traffic (and into corners), and enough comfort and ergonomic sensibility to keep my creaky lower back and knees reasonably painfree for extended treks or around-town cruising. Heck, speaking of cruising, these things are cruisers-the real cruisers-as far as I'm concerned.
Stay with me for a minute here; the parallels are plentiful. Most of today's naked bikes are good-lookers, bikes offering clean styling and a near total lack of plastic coverings. It's a sportier aesthetic than traditional cruisers, for sure, but it's clean and stylish all the same-traits cruiser fans and sales brochures tout all the time. Naked bikes are also comfortable, which I covered in the preceding paragraph. And best of all, they're reasonably easy to tweak, personalize and modify-and there are loads of aftermarket parts with which to do the job. Sounds like a traditional cruiser recipe to me.
But there's one vital added ingredient: These naked bikes, whatever you call them, are highly functional motorcycles. They go, stop and turn surprisingly well, as well as some hard-core sporty bikes of just a few years ago. And that's something traditional cruisers just can't say, now or anytime in the forseeable future.
There are plenty to choose from these days: You've got your ZRX1100s, your Bandits, your SVs, two sizes of Monsters, etc. And there's good news on the naked-bike horizon, too. As we reported last month, Ducati is set to launch a 916-engined Monster early next season, and if the performance of our Monster 900 i.e. test bike (see page 52 for a look) is any indication of the direction Ducati's going with all this, the eight-valver is gonna be a major grin-producer. Better still is Yamaha's all-new Fazer (see Up To Speed for the scoop), an R1-based scoot that's almost sure to come Stateside and raise the naked-bike performance bar more than a few notches. The thing's got a claimed 140 crankshaft horsepower, and it's way light to boot. Hoooooooooo!
Heck, at this rate I'll be doing a lot of happy-commuting this coming year.
Mitch Boehm, Editor