The Connoisseurs Motorcycles

Donovan Fourie looks a few examples of The Connoisseur’s Motorcycles

Let’s consider some of the top-selling big motorcycles in South Africa – the BMW GS, Honda Africa Twin, Honda NC750 and the sort. These are obviously very good motorcycles – they are the best-selling, so the rules of democracy dictate that they are good. They are all well made, easy to ride, practical, comfortable, reliable, economical, and anyone who buys them is obviously sensible.

But this story looks at the other side of the motorcycle buying coin, the motorcycles that do not tick all the sensible boxes and yet have something else – something emotive, metaphysical even – that drives people to buy them.

Ducati Hypermotard:

Let’s begin by looking at this motorcycle from a factual, objective standpoint – it’s a Ducati, and although the brand has made some huge turnarounds, especially under the guidance of its German Audi owners, there is the question of service costs, possible repair costs and resale value. It also isn’t the most luxurious motorcycle, lacking some of the creature comforts of some of its similarly priced Japanese peers – at R237,000, you can buy a Suzuki DL1050 with all the screens and heated everything. The Hyper will struggle on the long road, and with the 973cc V-twin motor pushing 114hp, it isn’t breaking any land speed records.

It is essentially a sports commuter, one that is not entirely practical nor economical, so there is little wonder that this model is not topping any sales charts in South Africa. On the other hand, from the moment you push that starter button, the Hypermotard is an unadulterated, unabashed world of mischief and fun. Every trip to the shops is an obstacle course, every commute is a motard race and every Sunday ride dares the elements to even try to wipe that giant smirk off the rider’s face. The Hypermotard may have its drawbacks, but it is some of the most fun you can have in motorcycling or anywhere…

Triumph Thruxton R:

This bike is no longer on sale, which tells you a lot about it. According to our democratically elected open market, it is, therefore, not a good motorcycle in precisely the same way that we know that the Honda NC750 definitely is good because it sells well. The Thruxton R is hard, stretched out and somewhat agonising to ride. Also, retro bikes are not embedded in the heart of South African motorcyclists. That’s the objective truth of it.

The subjective truth holds a few more twists and turns. In 2016, the Thruxton R was voted by the cream of South African motoring journalists as the SA Bike of the Year, and the audience collectively said: “huh?”

The South African anti-retro kicked into full steam as the head of Triumph climbed aboard a podium while the importers of various adventure, commuter and superbikes sat bewildered. Surely these journos have lost their mind, or never had one to begin with? Either that, or maybe there is something more to this bike than meets the eye. This writer’s first engagement with the Thruxton R came at the very 2016 SABOTY event that the Thruxton ultimately won. We were refuelling the bikes and ourselves at a garage in Mashishing (quondam Lydenburg) with the anticipation of the upcoming LongTom Pass burning in our souls. We drew keys for this crucial stage of the journey from Joburg to Sabie, and I picked the Thruxton.

“Oh,” I said, a lack of enthusiasm oozing from my monosyllabic voice. In truth, I, like most SA citizens, knew very little about the Thruxton R, having unforgivably filed it under “Another Retro Bike” that should be great to ride and bring back fond images of yesteryear, but I’d rather have something a little sportier for Long Tom.

I started the ignition, and the dash had the nerve to tell me that the traction control was switched on. The insolence! I turned it off, pulled out of the garage, opened the throttle and nearly flipped the damn thing as a mountain of torque shot the front wheel skywards.

The following journey through Long Tom Pass was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Not only was the Thruxton R sporty, but it inspired feelings of nostalgia so strong that it took me to golden eras I had not yet been born for. As the bike growled through the sweeping bends on one of SA’s most famous sections of road, I was Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, Bill Ivy and every other racer from yesteryear combined. When we reached the Woodsman in Sabie, I was jumping around like a kid who had just had their first rollercoaster ride. I wanted to write a letter to the head of Triumph that went something along the lines of:
“Dear Mr Bloor, thank you for the privilege of riding your glorious motorcycle on this fine day…”

The Thruxton R has been put on the sales chopping block. Democracy has spoken. If, however, you have a Thruxton R, please keep it. Otherwise, our biking forefathers, drinking in the giant biker clubhouse in the sky, will never forgive you.

KTM Super Duke:

Usually, connoisseur motorcycles are not big sellers on account of their appeal being somewhat niche. KTM somehow overcame such things with the Super Duke. It has a big engine, all the kit a sports bike needs and no fairing – nada! In fact, KTM became the pioneers of the ultra-fast naked bike, and since then, we’ve seen BMW step up with the S1000R, Ducati introducing the Streetfighter V4, Aprilia with the latest Tuonos and MV Agusta with the Brutale range.

What makes it a connoisseur bike is the no-fairing part. That means it has no wind protection for long-distance travel and fewer aerodynamics for lap record-breaking. This is a bike designed purely to tickle the senses. To induce torque-fuelled grins the size of dam walls. And it does it in a way still nobody else has managed.

The likes of the Streetfighter, the S1000R, the Tuonos or the Brutales will most likely clock better lap times, but the Super Duke rider honestly couldn’t give a toss. That rider is revelling in the feel of torque, the sound of demons and the coming apocalypse. If you want lap records, you buy a superbike. If you want to laugh evilly in your helmet, buy a Super Duke.

Indian FTR1200:

This motorcycle lacks common sense. It really does. It’s based on the famous flat-track racers in America, with a look that’s ready to conquer the Indy Mile, but who the hell needs a flat tracker for the road?

Here’s the answer – no one. It makes no sense. No common sense.

And yet, don’t you want one? We will be concerned if the answer is no because just look at it! It’s gorgeous in a style that could be described as ominous. Like the Super Duke, it will not break any lap records, including Indy Miles, but it is a riding and owning experience that will produce that ever-so-important grin. The connoisseur’s grin.

Anything by MV Agusta:

A few years ago, MV Agusta quit trying to take on the other European bike makers with mass production and focussed instead on what they were truly good at – making a bike special. And every MV Agusta is special. All of them. Much of that specialness has to do with the hefty price tag attached to it, a price tag that immediately drops 99% of the population out of contention.

But MV is focused on the connoisseur of means. And that hefty price tag buys a motorcycle that does lack certain sensibilities but overcomes that by putting the rider on a pedestal so that all around can see their glory. The fact that these machines also perform with the best of them is really just a cherry on the cake.  We might not even notice if they didn’t.

Triumph Speed Triple 1200RR:

“When is Triumph building a proper superbike?” The people keep calling. Obviously, the Daytona 675 didn’t count and nor did the current 765 Moto2 specials. The people are asking for a 1000cc or more, 200hp or more, all the electronics or more, proper racer.

To answer that question – probably never. To do so, Triumph has to spend many years and millions of Pounds on research and development only to throw their offer into the ring occupied by Ducati, BMW and all the Japanese, and many decades of racing experience. Instead, Triumph did something a little cooler. It took its already iconic Speed Triple naked motorcycle, gave it some tweaks and added a fairing. The result is a Speed Triple with more top-end power and neck aches.

But, man, is it cool! It’s the sort of motorcycle that need not be ridden, serving a function enough by sitting in a hallway and taking people’s breath away.

If you do perchance hit the starter and click it into gear, the combination of the looks, the racy position and that original triple soundtrack puts you straight back into the Sixties and Seventies when people lived fast and dangerously. Cigarette adverts lined racetracks, and smoke fumed on the grid. Things like compulsory ABS would be scoffed at, and the speed of the traction control was determined by the rider’s right wrist.

The Speed Triple RR has all these luxuries and many more, but it is all a support act in the show of the senses. The imagery of glory days gone by. It’s the sort of thing that cannot be conveyed by a spec sheet, but it’s the sort of thing the motorcycle connoisseur knows.

Eds note:

These are just a few bikes that come to mind – and there are more to talk about. Perhaps its worth another look soon…

Share your thoughts –

Donovan Fourie

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