The Odd Couple: James May motorbike review

Top Gear's James May and Autocar Magazine's Colin Goodwin team up with Yamaha and Harley-Davidson in a quest for the alternative to scary sports bikes.

Posted: 28 January 2011
by James May & Colin Goodwin

Dipping in to the archive when James May did a review for the magazine. Enjoy

James May is 'not the short one' on BBC2's Top Gear. Unlike Clarkson, who famously hates motorcycles (despite the fact he once bought his wife a Ducati), May is a serious bike fan who's had some fairly useful machinery clutter up his garage. He started off, having discovered bikes in his late 20s, with a CB500 twin. From this worthy learner bike he went back in time to a brakeless 1971 Honda CB750 before returning to the 20th Century with a Ducati 750SS. He then worked his way through an 851 and 888 before ending the run of Ducatis with a 748. "I had to get rid of the 851, the electrics were driving me mad. I pushed it further than I rode it," says May.

He's also had loads of Hinckley Triumphs, from Speed Triples to a Thunderbird Sport to 955i Daytonas, but the current collection is a three-bike line-up of Yamaha XJR1300, Moto Guzzi V11 Sport and a 1978 Guzzi California.

"I used to buy a new bike every year to take advantage of the VAT situation. Utter bollocks of course, because I lost loads of money on each one."

As you can tell, May is rather difficult to categorise. Into which box do you put a bloke who's had bikes as diverse as a Ducati 888 and Triumph Thunderbird Sport?

The 'odd' box. The box, in fact, that you might put potential owners of the new Harley-Davidson VRSCR Street Rod and Yamaha MT-01, neither of which is exactly a conventional motorcycle. Surely it's the sort of tackle that May himself might buy?

"Funny you should say that," he says. "The dealer from whom I bought the XJR13 has been pestering me to try one out thinking it might be my bag. He could be right."

We'll know by the end of the day. There is no plan, we're just going to ride shotgun with May as he ponders over the possibility of adding one of these to his collection.

"I've done long touring trips on bikes - to Verona for an opera on a Speed Triple - but generally I just use them to plonk around town and to go down to the Top Gear studio in Surrey or to the local café. In other words, the sort of riding both these bikes should be perfect for."

The Street Rod is what H-D should have launched right after it presented us with the original V-Rod back in 2001. Unlike the V-Rod, the Street Rod has ground clearance, big Brembo discs and upside down Showa forks. And attitude. It's meant for riding, not just for posing. It's also the model that should do justice to the watercooled 'Rod motor, which has always been much revvier, punchier, smoother and more sporting than a traditional Harley 45° twin.

The Street Rod also gets around a problem that the company has with its traditional market - it's been invaded by the Japanese with their Harley clones. And on top, sales growth of H-D's traditional big twins is currently stalling. Either way, it's time to fight back and the V-Rod platform is an excellent way to do it - steal market share from the Japs in the big streetbike market and hopefully make some converts to the Harley cause. You know - R1 last year, Street Rod this year, Electra Glide next year. Well, it's a plan at least.
Yamaha doesn't have a problem to sort, but has spotted a niche into which it's hoping to slot its funky MT-01. The theory is that there are a whole bunch of people out there who have got rather bored of scaring themselves to death on sports bikes and want something that is fun, handles, stops but doesn't have a power output that'll highside them into the nearest churchyard.

Continue James May's Review of the MT01 and Street Rod - 2/2

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Discuss this story

I have an MT01 amoungst others and frankly I love it only regrets are that I don't have the black version out now. Does seem slow against my prillia but this is relative. Agree why bother tuning whats the point? don't agree price no one pays over 10K more like £6500. As for Hardly Dangerous well you can by an MT and a Prillia for less money in fact my Factory + MT cost less than a Hardly and you don't have to buy a tasselld jacket either. As for reliability what do you think!!!

                                                  Regards Z 

Posted: 12/08/2008 at 19:37

join the MT owners club forum

Posted: 12/08/2008 at 21:22

One of the local dealers only just offloaded the last of his 2006 MT-01 stock at half thier orriginal price.The retail price of a used one is always low,thats if you can find a buyer,some have been on the market for a couple of years without any interest from buyers. I owned one for a while but got bored with its lack of versatiliy. Tiny fuel tank and lousy range, passanger seat high and unable to carry anyone taller than a small child or dwarf, heavy and not suitable for  short arsed riders unless they wear platform heels.Having said that, great looking engine with bags of  torque. Hire one for a month and its fun,  buy one as a serious bike and you'll get bored to tears quickly.

Posted: 30/01/2011 at 04:18

Hardly go, hardly stop, hardly go round corners - hardly understand what you're looking for James - to scare yourself ???

Posted: 02/02/2011 at 18:52

    Sold mine two along with the Prillia in fact a dealer bought the lot, its known as divorce, however am now on the "recovery" mode. Seriously I have owned some great bikes none will do all things, the most versatile and rapid and pleasurable to ride was the

Prillia Falco somthing to do ,with engine mapped to pull between 60, and 120, no wind, best lights ever, just nice. Qwned Prillia RSV Factory, pulls after100, lights not as good as Falco, wind protection poor.

 Still best quality engineering I have ever come across for the money, mine black /gold 06, lush.

Prillia Tuno Factory, quality of fittings etc better than Ducati, just great and rapid if you can hang on  to it.

Now have GTR Kwaker, SV 1000s, preffer to ride SV, light, gearbox great engine nice but not as good Falco, brakes a bit soggy but for the money CAN THIS BIKE BE BEAT??  £2400 6K miles!! Kwaker OK but to much of a beast for me didn't realise that they weigh in at 275 K Dry!!

How about SV1000S medium trips light lugg. SV1000 Black, cans, street fighter and still 125BHP for blast, DL V Strom GT Tour the lot 9K Just need Guzzi Falcone 500 1955 for Classic days. Anyone got one??


Posted: 03/03/2011 at 20:53

In the picture of what appears to be James May's garage, is that a cat standing on the tank of a Guzzi?

Posted: 20/04/2011 at 11:01

the cat must be the now late Fusker

Posted: 14/06/2011 at 10:43

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