Motorcycles For People Who Don’t Like Motorcycles

Converting them with the unconventional, the cute, and the eye-catching

Honda Monkey
Honda Monkey: a head-turner.American Honda Motor Co.

Some people couldn’t care less about motorcycles. It never ceases to amaze me when I pull up to a diner or café on one of my Ducatis and people don’t even turn to look. Really? I imagine if it were some exotic supercar, people would be peering through the windows and stopping to take selfies with it. Motorcycles are either outside many people’s purview or they just don’t care. A Panigale might as well be a Virago, and an MV Agusta might as well be chopped liver. So while motorcyclists get all verklempt over KTM 1290 Super Dukes, Kawasaki H2s, or Honda RC213V-Ss (though good luck seeing one of those in the wild), non-cyclists tend to be drawn to quirky stuff. It isn’t racing-derived technology, a badge on the tank commemorating 37 world championships, or a Miguel Galluzzi-penned design that makes the minivan driver think, “That’s cool; I want one.” No, it’s a third wheel or something cute that they fall in love with.

Motorcyclists take it for granted that to see a motorcycle and recognize excellence, you actually have to know something—anything—about motorcycles. Counter-rotating crank, semi-active electronic suspension, big-bang firing order? No one cares.

For a lot of riders, odd bikes are just that. But if they create an entrance for non-motorcyclists to dip their toes into the two-wheeled world, what else could we ask for?

Here are four bikes that people who don’t like motorcycles are into.

Ural Gear Up
Ural Gear Up
Two of our staffers take the Ural Gear Up for a spin.Jeff Allen

There's nothing more inviting in the motorcycle world than a sidecar. Put a dog in said sidecar and then really watch a crowd form. The Ural looks like it leapt from the pages of a children's book (did they have children's books in Soviet Russia?). If the standard two-wheeler looks prosaic to the uninformed, the sidecar looks whimsical and novel. Or maybe it's just the dog they're into.

Honda Monkey
Honda Monkey bike
What kind of a monster wouldn’t find this visage lovable?American Honda Motor Co.

I don't know what it is about the human race, but we seem to be taken with things that have been miniaturized. Tiny homes, teacup pigs…um, children. So it should come as no surprise that if you go all Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on a motorcycle, people will think it's adorable. A lot of people have a visceral reaction to the perceived and actual danger of riding a motorcycle, but it's hard to have such an aversion to something they think is adorable. The new Honda Monkey doesn't have just its small size on its side. Its retro styling taps into a nostalgia for a bygone era and the carefree days of youth.

Yamaha Niken
Yamaha Niken
Max lean on a Niken.Yamaha Motor Corp.

The Niken is a curiosity. Its leany double-wheeled front end is just the thing to get a second glance in the parking lot. Leaning on its sidestand with its wheels turned is a sight to behold. Until Nikens take over the world, I think non-cyclists will be intrigued. And when they ask, “Why?” you can talk about how it’s to give a larger contact patch for added grip in the front. It’s just the sort of thing that may encourage a tentatively-curious-about-cycles onlooker to do some googling and daydreaming.

Royal Enfield Classic Chrome
Royal Enfield Classic Chrome
Wait, how old is this bike?Royal Enfield

I’m not gonna lie, when I fire up the ole 996 and the Termignonis roar with a blast so loud and primal that it scares the young and infirm, I can’t hide the devilish grin crossing my face. It’s one of the fiendish sides of motorcycling I love. Loud pipes are great when they’re attached to engines tuned by Apollo himself for the pleasure of his choir of muses. Sing, my Termis, sing.

On the other hand, the friendly putt-putt of a bike like the Royal Enfield is unlikely to startle or intimidate anyone. It beckons "let's go for a ride" like a tail-wagging, drooly golden retriever. When people ask how old your bike is, and you say, "It's brand new," watch them go, "Hmm." When you say, "And it costs less than $6,000," watch their faces change from bemusement to astonishment.