Top 10 bike styling ideas

Think Yamaha's new R1 has an ugly front end? It's the future

STYLING a motorcycle must be a nightmare. There are so many fixed elements that finding a way to make your design stand out from its rivals without compromising its utility or ability must verge on the impossible.

While some machines are criticised for looking ‘derivative’ it’s nothing compared to the slating they’d get if there was a problem in terms of their actual performance or handling as a result of their styling.

So, what are the best examples of styling innovation? Here’s our completely unscientific top 10 – feel free to disagree in your comments below…

10: Beaks

Love ’em or hate ’em, the beak has become a vital styling distinguisher for a ‘dual sport’ or adventure bike – they might be completely lacking in function, but these vestigial remnants of a motocross-style high-level mudguard seem to be vital for sales success. While it’s inevitably linked to the BMW GS these days, the first – and perhaps best – example of the beak was actually the Suzuki DR750.

9: Pop-up headlights

While they’re rare, the couple of occasions where pop-up lights have been used were certainly successful in terms of making bikes instantly identifiable – even if they split opinion when it comes to beauty. The GS750S Katana is perhaps the best-known example, but far more attainable is Honda’s CH125 Spacy scooter (known as the Elite in some markets) made from 1984-86 and famously ridden by Sarah Connor in the original Terminator movie. The rarest pop-up-light bike must be the handful of Lamborghini-badged bikes made in the '80s by Boxer Design.

8: Funny front ends

If you want a bike that stands out from the crowd then getting one with a ‘funny’ front end is sure to do it. Whether it’s a Bimota Tesi or a Peugeot Speedfight, the lack of conventional forks makes a styling talking point. The downside can be slightly unusual handling characteristics, but usually they’re ‘different’ rather than ‘worse’ when compared to a conventional design. The ultimate example? In styling terms it’s hard to argue with the stand-out weirdness of Gilera’s CX125 – single-sided suspension on both ends means it looks like there’s nothing holding the wheels on (from the right hand side, at least…)

7: Multi-pipe exhausts

Specifically, we’re talking about bikes that have the same number of tailpipes as cylinders. Not a terribly effective styling device on a single, it’s a potential stunner on a six-cylinder machine. Look at a Benelli Sei, for example, or a Triumph X75 triple, while more modern examples include the MV F3 and F4 models and Triumph’s Sprint ST and Daytona 675.

6: Ram-air intakes

There’s something terribly purposeful about ram-air systems, saying ‘I need this big hole in the front to feed my oh-so-hungry-and-powerful engine.’ Whether it’s a modern-style, central intake as used on virtually every current superbike or the old-school Hoover-pipe set-ups as on the old Kawasaki ZXR750, it’s one of those things that once existed only on race bikes, does a real job and gives a distinctive element to a bike’s appearance. No down-sides.

5: Belly-mounted exhausts

While in many cases a bike’s exhaust system is a key element of its styling, it can be even more effective when it’s almost completely hidden, usually achieved by hiding the bulk of the silencer under the engine. Buell was one of the early adopters of the design, championing the mass-centralisation of the idea, and by the mid-00s it was really taking off. Check out the 2006-ish Yamaha R6 and Suzuki GSX-R600, which managed to reduce their pipes to mere stubs. More modern emissions and noise regs are making belly pipes harder to use, since silencers are getting larger, but the latest Honda CB650F and CBR650F and Ducati’s Panigale show it can still be done to very good effect.

4: Indicators in the mirrors

Bike designers must hate indicators and mirrors. Both are vital to a bike’s operation, but they stick out and can’t easily be integrated into a bike’s style. So it’s surprising that it took until the '90s for firms to hit on the idea of combining both into the same unit. That was probably down to the cost of doing it as much as anything else, but since they started to appear (can anyone think of a bike before the NR750 to do it?) they’ve become a vital part of many bikes’ designs.

3: Single-sided swingarms

Okay, there’s always an argument to be have over single-siders. Yes, they tend to be heavier than conventional swingarms, and no, you probably don’t need to be able to change your rear wheel that fast in everyday life. But they do look great and have the slight practical advantage of making chain adjustment simple while keeping the rear wheel properly aligned. Honda again needs to take the credit here – the RC30, RC45 and VFR brought single-siders to the masses – but it’s Ducati that really seems to have taken ownership of the set-up these days, despite briefly ditching them for the 999.

2: Hidden headlights

Here’s a trend that’s just starting but one that’s likely to be taken on by increasing numbers of firms over the next few years. Modern lighting technology, and particularly LEDs, mean that headlights can be much smaller than in the past, and that gives a freedom to tuck them away. Yamaha’s 2015 R1 is a great example; sure, you can see the lights, but they no longer dominate the front of the bike. Kawasaki’s Ninja H2 manages a similar trick, although it’s because it’s got so many louvres and intakes on the front that the headlight gets slightly lost among them. The forthcoming Honda RC213V-S shows were lighting is likely to go – disguising the lamps inside the intakes on the nose.

1: Under-seat exhausts

Yes, it’s an obvious choice, but the adoption of under-seat pipes – first on Honda’s NR750 and then on the far more attainable Ducati 916 before a host of others followed suit – stands out as a defining moment in bike design. These days, the idea is dropping from favour a little; designers claim it’s down to mass-centralisation and packaging needs, but it’s just as likely to be fashion that’s leading to its decline. But there are still great examples in the likes of the MV Agusta F4. And you can be sure that the idea will make a comeback – after all, it’s still used in MotoGP machines including the RC213V, so the mass-centralisation can’t be that much of a problem.

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