In celebration of my friend Rob’s latest in a string of KTM acquisitions (“another flare up of the Orange Fever, eh Rob?”), I met up with him and our friend Greg at one of those open-early college-town bars where it seems like the only working light bulb in the whole place is in the popcorn machine. While the PhD candidates at the next table debated life’s larger metaphysical questions, we grappled with a more terrestrial quandary: is it possible to traverse the motorcycling spectrum from one end to the other in as little as five bikes? Yes, here in the snowy spring of Upstate New York, we depend on such meanderings of fancy to keep spirits high. Cutting work early to drink beer with friends also helps.
“If I wanted to trade my knee pucks for chaps, I bet I could get from the Fireblade to the Fat Boy in five steps!” I declared proudly, drawing confused glances from the pedantic inebriants at the next table.
“I’ve gotten from an FLTRI to a GSX-R in less than five bikes—in real life,” Rob said. “Why would I go the other way?” Perhaps that’s a question for another time and another beer.
While our inquisition was strictly hypothetical, as with the best barroom banter, there’s a kernel of actual insight buried beneath the requisite double entendres, Fat Boy jokes, and rhetorical parries. With OEMs delving ever deeper into the minutiae of bike categories to appeal to every possible demographic, there’s a genre-morphing link between machines that’s more limpid than ever before. Here a puerile Heidegger scholar interjects, “I’ll give you limpid!” Ah, the joys of living in a college town.
In retrospect, what passed as insight after a couple of beers now seems pretty obvious. Still, it’s no grounds for abandoning the premise of my story—that would be a waste of liquid inspiration. It holds true that the breadth of machinery out there is evidence that we live in a great era of motorcycling.
Here’s the path I plotted from Fireblade to Fat Boy. If the trajectory seems way off, let’s use those beers as a scapegoat.
Bike One: Ducati XDiavel
Let’s start right off in the cruiser realm. For superbike lovers looking to put their feet up, the Ducati XDiavel is a logical starting point. Using a tuned-for-low-end, 1,262cc Testastretta engine with variable valve timing, the XDiavel pumps out 156 hp and 95 pound-feet of torque delivered down low for light-to-light supremacy. With performance-oriented chassis and brakes, the XDiavel is almost like a stretched-out sportbike, strafing corners with poise not typically associated with the genre.
Bike Two: Triumph Bonneville Bobber
Less superbike-y than the XDiavel, the Bobber nevertheless is a cruiser that resonates with non-cruiser people. Even though Triumph Bobbers are mainstays in custom culture, there’s still something left-field about the Bobber that eschews the traditional cruiser label. The 1,200cc parallel twin features a 270-degree crank to give the mule some character, and the high-quality finishes make the bike all the more desirable—like the latest must-have from Apple. I dare you to walk past the Bobber in a dealership without throwing a leg over it.
Bike Three: Moto Guzzi Eldorado
We’re firmly in cruiser territory here. Floorboards, heel shifter, whitewall tires, and art-deco styling highlight the nostalgic streak that runs through parts of cruiser culture. We’re not in Milwaukee yet, however. Mondello’s 90-degree twin sits the wrong way in the frame, there’s a shaft drive out back, and ride-by-wire throttle and three ride modes prevent nostalgia for a bygone era from straying into authentically old-fashioned.
Bike Four: Harley-Davidson Fat Bob
New for 2018, the Harley-Davidson Fat Bob serves nicely as an entry point to the H-D universe. While I don’t think there’s such a thing as “Harley Light,” the Fat Bob’s more aggressive styling is a slightly tweaked take on the traditional Harley: It’s less ’57 Chevy and more ’79 Trans Am. You’ll be listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin before hitting the road, I imagine. I’m not saying that 1979 is as forward-looking as Harley gets, but the Fat Bob doesn’t stray too far from homefield. No traction control, here. You do get liquid-cooled cylinder heads on the 107ci or 114ci Milwaukee-Eight engine though.
Bike Five: Harley-Davidson Fat Boy
Well, we’ve made it. The Harley-Davidson Fat Boy: as definitively Harley as it gets, as American as, well, let’s abstain from the clichés, shall we? Without a doubt, Harley needs to continue to develop new markets by reaching out to new audiences, but that doesn’t mean it has to abandon its core crowd in the process. Abounding in chrome, resplendent in two-toned paint, the Fat Boy is your grandpa’s Harley. Yes, the Softail platform, Milwaukee-Eight engine, and chrome-ensconced LED headlight are new, but philosophically the Fat Boy hasn’t really changed.
What bikes would you choose to traverse the far ends of the motorcycling spectrum? Have a different path from Blade to Boy? Chime in in the comments section below.