It is going to be controversial today. How many times did You hear a sentence like:
“Years back, motorcycles (or cars) had a soul! Unlike the ones You can buy today… these are plastic, made by accountants. Like calculators. Blah…”
Or something like. Sound familiar?
Let’s try to work on answering the question – do motorcycles have a soul today? Without additional explanations: No. Did they have a soul 30 years ago? No. How long back do we need to look for the soul?
Maybe it’s not the age? Perhaps it’s the “cult following” of the badge? Like Ducati or Harley-Davidson, are somehow more likely to carry the soul than “dull” Yamaha? Nah.
Let me explain, by breaking down a few of the “facts” and analysing some milestones in history.
Some time ago I prepared post about “The most beautiful superbike” – the Ducati 916. The story is rich with “Italian trademarks”, engineering background of the brilliant Desmoquattro engine, which involves two brilliant engineers disagreeing on a concept. A machine with a very human story behind it, that resonates in the minds of Ducati fans, This way one of the most essential sportbikes in the ’90s was created. Does it have a soul then? Too Young? Too much plastic?
How about BMW R90S? Moto Guzzi Le Mans? First Honda CB? The ’80s? The ’70s?
Maybe it’s the post-WWII? Vincent Black Shadow? Does it have enough metal and chrome vs plastic proportions (meaning no plastic at all)? Or perhaps something even older?
In general the older motorcycling we talk about… there were more innovations, more brands and visionaries… more victims of those machines as well. And they were not as comfortable ride partners as they are today. The sophistication of these machines went up with every decade. The market was more diverse, but also “polarised” there were brilliant machines ahead of their times, but there were also failed experiments all over the place. So is the age and market character from an era the key to finding the soul? No.
It’s not the machine that has a soul…
As it is only recognised by the owner. It is born out of nostalgia and memories that the machine becomes a part of. It still doesn’t mean that the soul will “appear” in every bike we ride. Like in my example – my current ZRX1200R has a lifetime with me. I love it. After three full seasons of riding it, about 15k kilometres so far – we created some cool memories and “bonded” a little. But I cannot say the same thing about one of my previous bikes – SV650. I find it boring and remember riding it as completely “bleak”. We travelled around the country a lot on the SV, but I only remember it like one of my previous mobile phones. I know that with the ZRX it will be a different story.
“Dude… The ZRX is a power naked with a cult following, and SV is just an entry level budget bike, with a punchy engine, but that’s it” – You say.
Yes, I do appreciate that the engineers in Kawasaki had to work little harder on releasing ZRX than probably SV took the Suzuki guys to make. But it’s still not about the size, segment, price or being complicated.
It is the story of a man and a machine. The fact that the ZRX has more narrative behind it (it is inspired by the racing machines from the beginning of the ’80s) is a factor for some. I think that the soul is “enriched” by this aspect. Either it’s the history of people standing behind it or an event this machine participated in. We should appreciate the real innovators, engineers and builders behind iconic motorcycles. Buy and ride proper bikes for the right reasons. The statement of respecting the builders, not the marketing team – in my opinion, it is an important factor of the topic.
But it doesn’t change the fact that the soul is purely subjective. And is not dependent on sales, performance, reliability, horsepower, dates or any other number from the technical specs. What I wrote about ZRX and SV means that it’s only my opinion. Some of You will agree with me; some won’t, some will state the opposite (that ZRX is soulless and SV has 100kg of it).
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