Top ten bikes we wish they had made...

Bikes that nearly made it to the road but no cigar...

Top ten bikes we wish they had made...

It’s a situation that’s all too familiar. A concept bike is revealed in the glitz and glamour of a bike show, or a prototype is spied in covert testing, whetting our appetites for something new and desirable. And then…


Sometimes bikes just seem to disappear. Whether down to market forces, management u-turns or external pressures, the fluid nature of new bike development means that just as many embryonic projects get canned as ever reach fruition.

It’s often a good call; the guys deciding to cancel projects don’t do it on a whim, but for sensible, well-judged reasons. But that doesn’t mean their decisions aren’t tinged with disappointment, as there are bikes that never made it which we’d love to experience for ourselves.

Here are 10 of them…

10: Norton Nemesis

OK, it’s become something of a laughing stock over the 20 years (!) since the V8-powered, 1500cc Nemesis was making front pages. Perhaps it was foolish to ever believe such an ambitious project could ever get off the ground. But suggestions that it was some sort of scam are wide of the mark; there were good intentions here, even if they were over-ambitious to the extreme.

These days, the ideas it included – active damping, ride-by-wire throttles, a cast frame and swingarm – are all production realities, so perhaps Norton (a totally different company to that holding the name today) was actually onto something. Remind yourself of it with this wonderfully dated Men & Motors snippet:

Let’s hope Norton’s V4 superbike, now running rather behind its originally-planned production timescale, doesn’t see history repeating itself.

9: Laverda Lynx

Compared to the Nemesis, the Laverda Lynx was a very simple machine, and it’s one that should have given the company a new lease of life. Swallowing its pride, back at the turn of the millennium the ailing Laverda planned to buy in Suzuki’s excellent SV650 motor and create a range of bikes to replace its own ancient 650 parallel twin models. The Lynx included ideas like a two-part frame – mating a trellis front to an alloy rear – that have become popular now but were innovative at its launch. Multiple models were planned to come later, using different trellis sections to alter their geometry while sharing the same rear chassis. Unfortunately, Laverda succumbed to the inevitably – and was bought by Aprilia – before the Lynx could reach production.

8: Gilera Supersport

In a tale that’s much like that of the Laverda Lynx, the Gilera Supersport was due to be the company’s 600cc sports bike contender, using an engine from Suzuki in an Italian-made chassis. It looked wonderful back in 2002, predating the Japanese manufacturers’ shift to more extreme 600-class sports bikes. But as Japanese firms made their mass-produced 600s into track-ready weapons over the next couple of years, the market slot where the Gilera Supersport could have thrived was swamped with rivals before it could ever reach production.

7: Buell Barracuda II

‘Barracuda’ was the internal codename for Buell’s Rotax-powered 1125R superbike, which reached production back in 2008. It wasn’t a bad first attempt but had some serious flaws compared to more established rivals. ‘Barracuda II’ was going to be its replacement in 2010, ironing out the problems and adding much sharper styling. The only problem? Harley-Davidson, Buell’s owner, closed the company in 2009, just as the Baracuda II was about to be launched.

It was later revived, sort of, when Erik Buell bought up the old designs for his new company, Erik Buell Racing, creating the EBR 1190RX. But without the backing of a major bike firm like Harley, the project lacked the dealers, backup and publicity that the Baracuda II would have enjoyed.

With its core cruiser market shrinking, Harley-Davidson might be rueing that 2009 decision these days…

6: Harley-Davidson Nova

Closing Buell wasn’t the first time Harley has made a decision that killed a potentially interesting bike in favour of its old-fashioned V-twins. It did the same decades earlier when the Nova project was canned in the early 1980s. What was Nova? It was quite simply the project that would have redefined Harley as a modern motorcycle maker, had it gone ahead. The firm commissioned Porsche to develop a water-cooled, modular engine – V2, V4 or V6 – to range from 400cc to 1500cc. The V4 was to be the main thrust, at around 1000cc and 135bhp, had it been launched as planned in 1981 (pre-dating Honda’s first V4s in the process). Unfortunately, after a management buyout that returned Harley to independence from its previous AMF ownership, there wasn’t enough money to keep the Nova project alive.

5: Harley-Davidson Penster

The Harley Penster was another project that died around the time H-D killed Buell. In the jaws of the global financial crisis in 2009, the firm’s tactic was to concentrate purely on what it knew best, so innovation was out. And the Penster was innovative – a leaning trike using Harley’s V-twin engines and giving a bike-style riding experience with car-like stability.

Now, a decade on, Yamaha is ploughing a similar furrow with the Niken. If it proves a sales hit, Harley might be kicking itself.

4: BMW R1

The S1000RR shows that BMW knows precisely how to make a superbike, but before it was launched there were plenty of doubters. After all, BMW didn’t have much experience on that front. The R1 project from the late 1980s was its last serious shot at making a superbike, and remains an intriguing ‘what if?’ to this day.

Using a 996cc DOHC boxer twin with desmodromic valve gear, it made up to 140hp – an insane amount at the time – and was intended as a potential contender in the then-new WSB championship. The engine was mounted incredibly high in the frame so that the cylinders didn’t restrict ground clearance, and it retained shaft drive despite its racing intentions.

Weird? Yes. But in a good way.

3: Honda CB1100R concept (2006)

It was a dozen years ago that Honda revealed its CB1100F, initially as a concept bike, and proved that air-cooled four-cylinder engines could still be made to pass modern emission regulations. But while the CB1100F production bike has never managed to set the showrooms abuzz, despite an on-point retro style, the CB1100R concept that was shown alongside it might just have done so.

Harking back to endurance racers of the 1970s and early 80s, that 2006 concept bike still looks great now. For years Honda refused to rule out a production derivative, too – after all, it wouldn’t have taken that much to convert the mass-made CB1100F into an ‘R’ model.

Now, though, it’s hard to imagine such an old concept bike being revived for production, and there must be questions over the long-term sustainability of the air-cooled four with Euro5 emissions limits looming in the next few years. The CB1100R’s potential production opportunity has probably flown for good.

2: Laverda SFC 1000

When Aprilia bought Laverda back in 2000, it killed off the chances for the Lynx to reach production, but it simultaneously opened a new possibility for Aprilia-engined Laverdas.

And that was the plan, too, with a range that would have been headed by the lovely-looking SFC1000, shown in 2002 in race form and 2003 as a road bike. It was later spied in near-production form, but Aprilia itself hit financial problems before the RSV Mille-powered SFC 1000 project could go any further. When Piaggio snapped up Aprilia and its subsidiaries, the SFC – and Laverda – disappeared.

1: Honda CBR750RR

The CBR750RR is a bike that few people ever saw but that we owe a huge debt to, as it sacrificed its life to bring us not one but two of the greatest Hondas there ever were.

It was developed in the late 80s as a potential runner in the upcoming World Superbike Championship. One Honda faction wanted to run a mass-made inline-four cylinder machine in the series, so derived the CBR750RR from the engine used in the rarely-seen CBR750F. Another faction preferred the idea of a more extreme racer – with a V4 engine – derived from the RVF endurance prototypes. The second group won, so the fabulous RC30 was born.

Later, Tadeo Baba, who’d worked on the project, dusted off the CBR750RR and pumped out its engine to 893cc. The result was the FireBlade.

So had the CBR750RR actually reached production we might have been robbed of two wonderful Hondas. But we’re still left wondering whether it might not have been pretty fabulous itself.