If you ask a member of the public to draw you a ‘cool’ bike you’ll probably end up with a rough drawing of the Triumph Bonneville. If there was ever a motorcycle that encapsulates the concept of cool it’s the iconic bike from Hinckley. Named after Jack Wilson’s 1956 land speed record of 214.17mph (set on the Utah-based salt flats), the Bonneville was an instant success upon its release in 1959.
With its high compression pistons, twin carbs and one-piece crankshaft the Bonneville was the class-leading sports bike of its day. And this performance, coupled with Triumph’s British style, made the Bonneville the bike to be seen on. It was not a coincidence that Clint Eastwood, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley all rode T120s. But it was ‘King of Cool’ Steve McQueen who secured the bike its legendary status. For most people the name Triumph and McQueen will forever be remembered for the nail biting jump at the end of the World War Two epic ‘The Great Escape’. Granted, the bike in the film was actually a TR6 Trophy, not a Bonnie, but for most people that small distinction is irrelevant.
Impressively, the current Bonneville still has enough magic to keep buyers coming back for a taste of the ‘explorer’ lifestyle. Footballer David Beckham has also helped to renew interest in the brand by taking his own customised Bonneville to the Amazon for the BBC documentary titled “Beckham Into the Unknown”. Sales were up in 2015 and a new water-cooled Bonneville was recently unveiled at the EICMA showing a new direction for the icon.
There are very few machines that are capable of transcending their respective sectors to become a recognised part of popular culture. The Boeing 747, Aston Martin DB5 and Ducati 916 are perhaps the three greatest examples. Massimo Tamburini’s iconic and timeless bike was unlike anything seen before when it was released in 1994. The design was so successful that the bike instantly became an icon of 90s cool, featuring in various music videos and even the blockbuster film Charlie’s Angels. The bike even managed to do the impossible by receiving recognition from the art world when it was officially recognised by the Guggenheim Museum as an important part of motorcycling history. An example of the bike is even on display in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
However, all this success would be in vain if the bike didn’t perform on track. Luckily, Tamburini’s design went as well as it looked, with variants winning in various domestic and world championships. In fact, Ducati and King Carl Fogarty’s success almost led to the demise of the entire Grand Prix (now MotoGP) championship. The majority of British fans wanted to watch a British rider win on a bike that they could actually go out and buy at their local dealership rather than watch some Italian racer on a 500cc two-stroke that had no relevance to their bike at home. The 90s was the era of the superbike.
No motorcycle before or since has captured the public’s imagination like the 916, making it a truly iconic and seriously cool machine.
The BMW GS has always been a great bike, but it’s not always been cool. For many years the big BMW was the go-to bike for the middle aged balding man who wanted a nice comfy afternoon ride. Yes the bike could go half way around the world, and yes it basically kick started the adventure bike market, but that doesn’t necessarily make a machine cool. That all changed in 2003.
When Ewan McGregor and his posh mate Charlie Boorman secured BMW support for their ‘Long Way Round’ world trip they unintentionally changed the way we looked at adventure bikes forever. No longer were these Bavarian beasts reserved for boring old accountants. Their epic trip showed us first hand that these bikes could actually be taken off-road, that they could survive having their engines flooded and that they could continue on with cracked frames. If you really wanted a bike that really could do it all, you had to have a GS.
The trip opened the eyes of many a sports bike rider (me included) who thought that speed was everything. Riding on the limit and clipping every apex suddenly seemed a little silly. Sales of the GS rocketed overnight and even in 2015 the GS was still outselling all of its competitors.
Unfortunately, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. And as they say, as soon as you think you’re cool, you’ve probably lost it. As a result, the current RGS1200 has fallen back into that middle-aged man boring category. So if you want a GS with that X-factor we recommend that you look for an original example with full Adventure specification. But if you do buy one, don’t just sit in your garage. Get out there and hit some trails.
The Ducati Sport Classic manages to walk the line between retro style and modern design perfectly. It’s a truly beautiful machine, which makes it all the more surprising that the bike didn’t sell that well when it went on sale back in 2005. However, the lack of sales was simply a reflection of the market at the time; the demand for retro bikes was nonexistent.
Oh how things change. Particularly after Beckham’s recent Amazon adventure the biking world has woken up to retro bikes in a big way and the Ducati is finally being recognised for the awesome machine that it always was. We think that the standard 1000S is an awesome looking machine, but for the connoisseur you’ll want to hunt down an example of the classic Paul Smart limited edition which was based on Smart’s 1972 Imola-winning bike. The silver paint with the turquoise frame is pure sex on wheels.
When Motorcycle News reviewed the KTM 990 Super Duke it summed the bike up in one succinct sentence: ‘If all of life were like a KTM Super Duke, it would be a short, barely glimpsed blur of action’.
Before the Super Duke came along, unfaired (naked) bikes were viewed as fun bikes that would help you keep a hold of your driving licence. The thinking behind this was that bikes without fairing restrict your top speed and keep you on the right side of the law. Well, it appears that KTM didn’t get that memo. In 2005 KTM released the absolutely bonkers 999cc, V-twin, 120bhp Super Duke and the naked bike sector was changed forever.
With its torquey engine and shortish wheelbase, wheelies were an unavoidable part of the riding experience. If there was ever a bike that would get you locked up for hooliganism it was this one. The bike has evolved over the years but unlike others in the sector (the Ducati Monster for example) it has never been sanitised. The most recent 2015 1960 Super Duke R is an absolute beast and is a very difficult bike to tame. We absolutely love that a company has the balls to release a bike this mad and put it on sale to the general public. If that doesn’t make a bike cool we don’t know what does.
The MV Agusta is arguably one of the most beautiful machines of all time. Released back in 1999, the Massimo Tamburini-styled bike took the motoring world by storm; the MV was the most exquisitely detailed machine since the 1994 Ducati 916. With a sonorous 750cc engine and impeccable handling the F4 750 was a big deal for the small Italian company.
However, the 750cc bike is not the the coolest F4. For us, that award goes to the 2007 F4 R 312. The 1000cc, 183bhp, 312kph (193mph) rocket was the fastest 1000cc superbike on the market at the time, and the riding experience was absolutely savage. The fuelling wasn’t great, the clutch was tricky to use and bars would often trap your thumbs on full lock. But there is something cool about a bike that simply had one objective; going fast. Yes a GSXR-1000, Yamaha R1 or Honda Fireblade would be a cheaper and dynamically better alternative, but we just don’t lust for them like we do with the MV - give us the beautifully flawed Italian bike every time. Oh, and did we mention Bruce Wayne has one?
There often comes a time where small manufacturers have to expand their range to secure their survival. This usually leads to vehicles that don’t align with the manufacturer’s key ethos (think Porsche Cayenne Diesel in the car world). As a result, the biking world was a little apprehensive when MV Agusta, the most focused motorcycle manufacturer in the world, decided to produce a naked entry-level machine. Luckily, those worries were unfounded. The 2012 Brutale 675 was a beautiful lightweight machine that anyone would have been happy to own.
However, our favourite iteration, and arguably the coolest, is the Brutale Dragster RR. With a 140bhp, 800cc engine the Dragster is an animal, just as an MV should be. The various riding modes and traction control settings help to keep everything relatively under control, but there have been some reviews which have criticised the bike for going a little too far.
Road going race bikes like the Honda RC213V-S are pretty awesome machines, but lets face it, they’re not real race bikes. Ultimately, they’re built to fulfil the fantasy of rich collectors who want a limited edition Moto GP inspired machine. And as an added bonus, they’re a great marketing opportunity for the manufacturer. But can a marketing opportunity ever be considered cool? We don’t think so.
That’s why the Yamaha R7 stands out for us; it’s a pure homologation special. Built so that Yamaha could race in the World Superbike Championship (WSBK), it was a true race bike for the road. Powered by a 749cc motor, power outputs weren’t that impressive (around 107bhp), but a £10,000 option would unleash another 55bhp. Only 500 were made and they were sold for a price of £22,000, a huge amount of money for a bike back in 1999. But the aluminium Deltabox II frame and factory Ohlins suspension were pure racebike, helping to justify that incredible price tag. The bikes have held their value over the years so be prepared to pay in excess of £23,000 to get a piece of ‘factory’ spec action.
BMW’s boxer configuration goes all the way back to the company’s first attempt at a motorcycle, the R32, which was released well over 90 years ago. Since then the boxer engine has experienced considerable success, but in recent years the engine layout has been criticised by the automotive press for being a bit behind the times - which in all honestly isn’t an unfair criticism. With its low revving characteristics and wide cylinder heads restricting ground clearance, the boxer motor has been resigned to the more reserved BMW bikes (R1100 S Boxer Cup and uber exotic HP2 aside).
However, underestimate BMW at your peril. With the resurgence of the scrambler and cafe racer market BMW thought that it would make good use of the old school style of its iconic engine and packaged it into a retro roadster design. But instead of relying purely on its motorcycling heritage like some other manufacturers (looking at you, Royal Enfield) BMW designed the R nineT to have a thoroughly up-to-date chassis. As a result the Beemer can out-brake, out-handle and out-accelerate any of the other retro roadsters on the market.
Now, you might think that the coolest bike on the market would be enough for some people, but you’d be wrong. Tuners and custom designers across the globe have been producing modified versions of the bike with great success. Roland Sands Design was one of the first to ‘improve’ upon the design, but one of our favourites is Smokin’ Motorcycles Elegant B*d; surely worth the price tag for the name alone. Even BMW is getting in on the action and will be releasing a new scrambler version of the bike later this year. But if you want a bike that goes as well as it looks, we recommend sticking with the standard machine.
So CTzens, we think that these bikes are the kings of cool. Are there any others that you think should have made the list?