Motorcycle Or Motorsculpture? - Up To Speed

Drawing The Line

In political debate it's become fashionable to speak of framing the issues. Framing in this sense is the process of defining the limits and vocabulary of the debate, thus encouraging the debaters to stay inside the frame.

Talking about custom motorcycles these days can be tricky, because the term motorcycle, while obviously referring to machines that are functional and practical, must also be used for custom machines that are so wildly non-functional they can barely move under their own power.

I'd like to frame this debate a bit differently. I'd like to call motorcycles of vastly reduced functionality motorsculptures. I don't intend the term to be pejorative. Motorsculptures can be and often are beautiful, innovative, creative pieces, displaying remarkable craftsmanship and ingenuity. They are built with the primary objective of being aesthetically pleasing and dramatic, and therefore compromises to functionality are allowable and expected.

Is a given machine a motorcycle or a motorsculpture? Let's look at examples. Massimo Tamburini's gorgeous MV Agusta F4, for all its striking looks and rich detail, is a fully functional piece, and examples are finally being raced with some success. It's most definitely a motorcycle.

The Honda Rune was intended to be a wild custom variant using Valkyrie/Gold Wing parts and might be considered to have been prim-arily an aesthetic exercise. But Honda, with its usual thoroughness, brought serious, high-level engineering and testing to the project. I'd say the Rune truly is a motorcycle, albeit very near the motorcycle/motorsculpture borderline.

Just over that border I'd put the Confederate Wraith (Motorcyclist, April), which began as an aesthetic statement-the early prototypes could not be ridden safely as designed. The latest version is considerably more functional, but only a full test will tell us if it has left the ranks of motorsculpture and become a true motorcycle.

A fourth example is the V-Rex, which clearly falls under motorsculpture. This Harley-Davidson V-Rod-powered bike was not initially designed as a machine at all, but as a series of illustrations by Tim Cameron, a talented computer graphics artist from Australia who has developed a unique, dramatically realistic style using light and reflection to brilliant effect. Christian Travert (who built the Y2K jetbike) converted the illustrations into a working machine-a motorsculpture.

Why isn't it a motorcycle? Cameron's illustration shows a novel front suspension that appears to be of the center-hub-steering variety, with a double-sided swingarm and what looks to be hydraulic steering. To convert a computer graphic into reality, Travert cleverly morphed Cameron's front end into a leading-link fork (like on old BMWs). But to keep the proportions and dramatic stance of the illustration, the fork has the longest-ever leading link. This heavily compromises steering geometry, with numbers of 41 degrees rake, 5.4 inches of offset and 2.9 inches of trail. These numbers look very strange when compared to, say, a Harley Fat Boy's 32/1.7/5.8. What the numbers suggest is the V-Rex will handle in what we'll politely call a "unique" manner.

Can this motorsculpture become, over time, a motorcycle? Do Cameron and Travert want it to? Or are the looks so important that no changes can be made to improve function? This is the question that separates motorcycles and motorsculptures. Custom bikes certainly have a place, and there is clearly interest in and fists full of dollars for the builders of these wild customs. But let's call these machines what they are-motorsculptures-and in so doing also show what they are not-motorcycles.

Concessions must always be made in the transition from fantasy to reality, but the V-Rex lost little more than its center-hub front end.
James Parker