It's said that a visit to Tokyo-the city of bullet trains, automated toilet seats and ubiquitous vending machines that dispense everything from cold beer to hot corn chowder-is like traveling 10 years into the future. For a motorcyclist, however, seeing the bikes that are currently popular there is more akin to traveling three decades back in time.
During a recent trip to Tokyo I spent an afternoon in the hipster hot spot of Harajuku, and looking at the bikes buzzing around that neighborhood was like being transported to your favorite moto-hangout circa 1980. It seems you can't swing a chopstick in Tokyo without knocking into another Kawasaki Zephyr, still offered in Japan in three sizes from 400cc to 1100cc, all of which feature the signature teardrop tank and tail of the original, iconic Z1 900-and, for '07, even the classic green/yellow or root beer/orange paint schemes. Similarly inspired Hondas, including the late-model CB400SS (complete with stamped-steel fenders and the classic Wing logo on the two-tone tank) and CB750s decked out in red/white/blue or silver/blue graphics that recall the brand's first superbikes, are just as common. If naked standards from the glory days of naked standards are your thing, Tokyo is your place.
Is this trend headed to America next? Nostalgia is powerful currency in the motorcycle marketplace. Harley-Davidson's stratospheric sales over the past decade have been driven by boomer-aged buyers snarfing up '50s-style products that recall what their fathers rode back in the day. More recently, European manufacturers such as Triumph enjoyed popular success with a raft of '60s-style Bonnevilles and Scramblers, while Ducati's newly launched SportClassic line draws inspiration from its own '70s superbikes. Can a full-blown retro-Japanese trend be far behind? With reams of iconic bikes worthy of reproduction-and, indeed, many worthy reproductions already being built for other markets, just waiting to be homologated for American roadways-it seems a strong possibility.
This isn't unfamiliar territory for the Japanese OEMs, all of whom, at one point or another, have offered retro product to U.S. consumers, usually with less-than-stellar results. Honda played at this in the late '80s with the single-cylinder GB500 caf racer and the CB1000 super-standard, both of which withered on the sales floor but have since become valuable cult/collector bikes. In the early '90s Kawasaki offered 550, 750 and 1100cc Zephyrs in the USA to a lukewarm reception. And just a few years ago the W650 parallel-twin was likewise a dismal seller, cursed by a reputation as a rip-off of a rip-off-a copy of the mid-'60s Kawi W1, itself a copy of the BSA A7.
Was this a case of the right product at the wrong time, or is there just no market for these bikes in America? A more relevant (and more promising) data point is Kawasaki's recent experience with the ZRX1200. The nuevo Eddie Lawson Replica demonstrated that a carefully considered retro-replica, drawing on authentic history, with truly iconic style, can and will find a successful niche in the American market. There is no shortage of Japanese bikes that fit this mold, including the aforementioned Honda CB750s or the CB1300SB Super Bol d'Or (made to recall the early-'80s CB1100R endurance racer replica). Both of these are already in production, but why stop there? Imagine a modern interpretation of the '82 Suzuki Katana (yes, please) or GS1000, or the '85 Yamaha FZ750.
Honda and Kawasaki reps both declined comment, but if they aren't currently anticipating this market, they should be. Motorcycle enthusiasts are not going to want '50s-styled Vulcans and Shadows forever. Kids that grew up with images of KZs and GSs burned into their subconscious are entering their peak motorcycle-purchasing years right now, and the market is primed for machines that tap into this connection.
Are the bikes presently ripping up the streets of Tokyo representative of our future? If trends begin there and travel outward, a trip to that metropolis might indeed be like looking into the future-a future, it should be noted, that looks an awful lot like our past.
The Bike That Changed My Life
1979 Kawasaki KZ1300
Rider: Rickey Gadson
Now: Eight-time AMA Drag-Racing Champion
Then: 15-year-old High-School Freshman
I've been riding forever. When I was 9 months old, my dad, Richard "Suicide" Gadson, actually took me from Philadelphia to New York City on his bike, tucked inside his coat. The tollbooth workers were freakin': "Is that a baby in your jacket?!" My dad died in 1979 in a motorcycle accident on his Kawasaki KZ1300. His friends fixed the bike up and my mom gave it to me in '83 when I turned 15 and got my license. I was real short then, maybe 5-foot-6, and even with the seat cut down and the suspension lowered I could only get one foot down. And it must have weighed 700 pounds, easy. I went to the dragstrip for the first time on that bike when I was 15 and I'll never forget it: I ran a 12.20 and was hooked! But I also blew up the bike that day. I told my mom it blew up on the street because I didn't want her to worry about me racing. She found out later when one of my buddies let it slip. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked. "If that's what you want to do, we'll get you a bike for the track." So we sold the 1300 and bought an '84 Suzuki GS1150ES, the NMRA AA Super Stock record holder, for $5K. It ran 9.90s with the stock wheelbase, and we went down South street racing and made sooo much money with that bike. No one expected a stock-wheelbase bike to go that fast!
Back In Black Is Back - First Look
A Production Homage To Jeff Nash's Texas Outlaw
Remember Jeff Nash's nuevo retro Back in Black Ducati Sport 1000 from back in our January issue? The Ducati guys do. Evidently the bike generated enough showroom turbulence to justify a limited-edition factory version. Make that very limited: According to Ducati North America, Italy will crank out 100 of the Darmah-inspired monoposto twins-90 for the U.S. and 10 for Canada-for the same $11,495 you'd pay for a standard, twin-shock biposto version.
You don't get all the tasty Jeff Nash motor mods, -hlins suspension or AC/DC logos at that price. But you do get a dry clutch-'07 Sport 1000s get wet ones-along with the obligatory numbered plaque. Announcements had just gone out to Ducati dealers as we were going to press, so the only bit of bad news is if you're name isn't already on the list, it could be too late.