Ahead of their time | 10 Motorcycle flops that deserve a second chance

Motorcycle history is riddled with as many flops as there are 'big ones'... but we reckon there are many that would find favour if they were revived...

Buell 1125 CR

It’s new motorcycle season, so whether we get the first look at upcoming new models such as the practical Triumph Tiger 660, start looking forward once again to bike shows like EICMA, or even start saving for just released new models such as Suzuki’s new GSX-S1000GT sports-tourer, the hot topic on ever biker’s lips is ‘Which new motorcycles are around the corner?’

Which got us thinking – not just about possible NEW motorcycles, but also OLD ones which were famous flops first time around, but which maybe - just maybe - stand a better chance if launched today.

Take Suzuki’s infamous B-King, for example. The supposedly supercharged (it wasn’t in the end) super naked show bike which, when finally put into production in 2007, spectacularly failed to live up to expectations simply for being hyped so excessively. 

Or Gilera’s radical, single front forked CX125 of 1990 which looked like something from Tron but performed so conventionally (and expensively) just 1000 were built before being canned less than a year later. 

Some revived bikes, however, might find their niche and you favour – here’s our Top 10 requests, in reverse order…

10. Harley-Davidson XR1200 (or maybe 1250)

Most of us know the ill-fated story of the XR1200: a bold, Harley Europe led project to build a decent-handling performance ‘Hog’ to suit European tastes yet still inspired by H-D’s legendary XR750 flat track racer. 

The XR1200, in 2008, was the result, with tuned 1200 Sportster V-twin power, decent handling and great looks. And yet… it bombed, particularly in the US. 

An updated XR1200R followed in 2010, with improved multi-adjustable suspension which did little better and the whole project was canned in 2012. Which is a shame as it wasn’t a bad bike, just not, at 90bhp, quite powerful enough, being too heavy to impress against European rivals and not backed enough by Harley USA to succeed Stateside.

Today, however, with HD USA fully into modern global bikes (as proven by the PanAm and LiveWire), plenty of experience to draw on and a new 120bhp, liquid-cooled Sportster S to base it on, a retro roadster XR1250 could be fabulous.

9. Husqvarna Nuda 900 (or maybe 890)

Few modern bike brand stories are as chequered as that of historic Swedish off-road specialists Husqvarna. Bought by Cagiva in 1987 with production moving to Varese in Italy, it was then sold to BMW in 2007 who, after various difficulties, including falling foul of Italian trade unions, disposed of it to KTM in 2013. 

Which was a shame as the latest bikes today are little more than re-styled Dukes while under BMW ownership its Nuda 900, although a sales flop, was sensational. Essentially a forerunner of today’s F900R but better equipped and better looking, the Nuda 900 was based on the F800 but enlarged, tuned to 105bhp and fitted with Brembos and more.

In short, pretty much exactly what the KTM 790 Duke was nearly a decade later. Dial in a bit of Steve McQueen styling (then Husky had been experimenting with that, too, with its Moab, concept bike) and today it’d have both the KTM 890 and BMW F900R beat. Easily. 

8. MV Agusta Brutale 920

How many times have Italian exotica specialists MV Agusta almost got it right? How many chances do they need? 

Well, for our money, it got closest of all with the ultra short-lived Brutale 920 of 2011-2012. Developed during Harley-Davidson’s brief tenure, the 920 was intended as the ‘entry-level’ Brutale with a more basic spec, which probably put people off, ‘cos if you’re going to buy an MV you probably want to buy the maddest, most extreme version available. Wrong. 

The 920 was brilliant: its refined, smooth yet grunty 130bhp was more than enough for a road roadster, its handling and ride was far, far better than most MVs, too, it looked great and it was affordable. 

With the 920 (by comparison the 910, 989 and 990 were all too extreme and expensive) MV Agusta should have hit the mass-market big time if marketed and distributed right. 

Except it didn’t because Harley got cold feet, offloaded it back to the Castigionis for a Euro and they went back to their bad old ways of producing extreme exotica nobody actually wanted to buy…

7. Buell 1125 CR

Ah yes, Buell, Erik’s bold but bonkers pipedream which, some good ideas accepted, never quite worked out what it wanted to be… especially when Harley-Davidson took over and wedged in its Sportster V-twin engines. 

Except… it very nearly struck gold at least onc. Buell’s last-gasp, Rotax-powered, 146bhp 1125R sportster was a really quite good (if odd looking) road sportster that never got a chance because Buell rushed the press launch with flawed bikes. 

By the time it’s fuelling was sorted, its sister super-naked, the 1125 CR was available and (ridiculous low handlebars aside) was even better – it’s performance being more competitive, its style more distinctive. Sadly, that bike never really got a chance either, was sold uncomfortably through Harley dealers, never caught on in the US and the whole Buell operation was shut down after the CR had barely been around two years. 

Today it’d stand a far better chance, which is handy because Buell has just risen from the grave for a third time…

6. Moto Morini 1200 Granpasso

One of the most unsung of the revived historic Italian brands finding its way again in the early-00s, Moto Morini was also actually one of the best and its final bike (sort of) was also among the most underrated. 

Moto Morini was revived in 1999 before launching its first all-new bike, the 1187cc V-twin Corsaro in 2005. It was a more than decent bike, too, with 140bhp fiery bhp and good handling. 

On the downside, it was let down with initially iffy fuelling, corporate underfunding and a lack of publicity and sales infrastructure. Better bikes followed: the retro Scrambler, the hi spec Corsaro Veloce (in 2006) and, latterly, in 2008 the Granpasso adventure sport. 

Sadly, however, around the same time financial problems sent the whole concern into meltdown from which it has struggled since

Which is again a shame as the detuned, fine-handling, styling and fun Granpasso was largely ahead of its time (Triumph Tiger 1050 Sport and BMW S1000XR anyone?) and deserved better. Even today its performance, versatility, style and fun would stack up well…

5. Yamaha MT-01

One of the boldest and most beautifully crafted bikes of the early Noughties was also one of the most misunderstood and, well, unsuccessful. 

The big, brash MT-01 (Yamaha’s first ‘Masters of Torque’ machine), was initially a show/concept bike which Yamaha bravely put into production in 2005, although we’re still not entirely sure why. 

And what a bike! At its heart was a monster, low-revving, 1700cc, push-rod V-twin put into an exquisite (but big) roadster chassis complete with multi-adjustable suspension, radial brakes and the best of everything. Even its dash was jewel-like. 

The experience, meanwhile, was like nothing else: a cacophony of rumbling grunt, an almost regal ride; a thunderous soundtrack and a sense of occasion like nothing else. 

Sadly, cynics also described it as underwhelming slow, overbearingly heavy and eye-wateringly expensive, so no-one bought one. The Philistines. Today, in this retro-driven world it might do better, although it’d never have got through Euro5…

4. Honda CB1000 ‘Big One’

Oh get over yourselves already… it’s funny to think that the late 1990s Japanese obsession with big four cylinder retros likes the XJR1200 and CB1300, plus the later GSX1400 and ZRX11 and1200, were all beaten to the punch by one of the biggest and best of all – the 1992 CB1000 ‘Big One’. 

And in light of how feeble and largely dismal Honda’s current offerings on the class are, ie the CB1100 and CB1000R, Big H could do worse than revive it today. 

At the time, the Big One, ahem, flopped because it was expensive and arguably before its time. But it was also fabulously put together (HRC were involved, if memory serves), gloriously grunty and smooth thanks to its detuned CBR1000F liquid-cooled four, surprisingly fine handling and, with proportions seemingly 10% larger than anything else, had a road presence like nothing else. 

Churn it out today with a more reasonable ticket price (assuming, as with most others, it could be made to get through Euro5) and Honda would have the biggest and best retro four of all.

3. Moto Guzzi V11

Another one with more than a hint of irony. Guzzi’s modern V-twin retro roadster, the V7, is the Italian marque’s best selling bike but has only now got the (850cc) performance it should have had from the outset and remains slightly dinky and novice orientated. 

Oh for a slightly more substantial, credible V9 or V11 even. Hang on, Guzzi did one, years ago, but back then was again years before its time, sadly hamstrung by Guzzi’s off-field woes and would today, surely, have a much better chance of success. 

The original V11 was launched under Aprilia ownership in 2001, was great looking, decent performing (with 91bhp) and spawned a whole series of variants in different specs and styles. 

In truth, by then it was already too late, Aprilia was haemorrhaging cash and despite improved build quality and sometimes mouth-watering spec, the V11 was before the retro boom and never going to get the recognition and success it deserved. 

Wind on 20 years, though, and a new V11 to the same style and spec would be stupendous… wouldn’t it?

2. KTM RC8 (or maybe RC 1290)

KTM’s long-awaited superbike version of its big V-twin was plagued by delays, finally launched in 2008 and was such a failure it was deleted by 2010. 

The RC8 suffered from a comically bad timing having been built with the intention to compete in the WorldSBK Championship… however, a shift in regulations while it was being completed meant it would have never been competitive, thus nixing its reason d’être.

Nevertheless, for a first effort at a sportsbike the RC8 - though a bit of a handful - was a pretty solid, albeit underpowered first effort and has since won a cultish following since.

Time has moved on though and KTM - now winning races in MotoGP - has the architecture of the 1290 Super Duke R, which has had enduring cries of an RC revival ever since 

If it uses the chassis no-how from both KTM’s other smaller RCs and its MotoGP experience, equip it with the latest electronics and style it like Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira’s factory machine and you’d have a sure-fire winner, wouldn’t you?

1. Ducati Sport Classic

Probably no surprise as the Sport Classic has regularly been touted as a bike before its time. But when you also add that to the current paucity of Ducati’s retro roadster line-up – when surely it should be right up there with Triumph – the argument for bringing back the Sport Classics gets stronger still. 

No wonder they’re so in-demand used… The Sport Classics were first launched in 2005 initially with the faired Paul Smart Limited Edition but also the unfaired, more affordable Sport 1000. 

Both being 992cc, air-cooled V-twins with bags of style, handling and a decent 92bhp. The twin seat GT arrived a year later. With hindsight all were brilliant. Trouble was, they didn’t sell. 

The Sport was solo only and uncomfortable, the Smart expensive, the more practical GT less of a looker and, besides, retro bikes had yet to catch on. Ducati meddled with the recipes over the next few years finally coming up with versions that were stylish, practical and affordable all at the same time but by then, 2010, it was too late and Ducati pulled the plug. 

All, however, were also classier, better-looking, better performing, better built and more cohesively thought out than any Scrambler. Shame