Our culture is said to be hedonistic: we are attracted by beauty and are drawn by the soothing balance of symmetry.
In this sense, motorcycle designers have sometimes ventured towards new paths and directions. Back in the day the sport bike was revolutionized by the Ducati 916, and nearly a decade later the KTM 950 Adventure overturned our concept of what an ADV bike could be.
It’s no secret that the vertical uni-fairing is somehow now the go-to design for any brand that wants to appeal to the ADV market.
But is this really the best design available? In the past 20 years we have seen a number of entries in the adventure bike segment that have shocked both designers and customers. With the 916 we had beauty and grace: it was proportioned in such a way that all its parts added up to a beautiful whole. But does that concept even exist in ADV bikes?
Let’s analyze a few.
In terms of bad design, BMW went full on, proclaiming an asymmetric headlight block and sharp lines to be the cornerstone of the brand. There were clearly some improvements in the 700–800 series with the rear tank and parallel engine technology, but they really just stopped there. The boxer engine is a trademark for the German brand that, instead of being redesigned for better aerodynamics was left with those protruding heads to keep customers’ feet warm.
Despite the alien-like look and the cow-shaped ergonomics of the bikes, those who loved the brand were intrigued by a lack of innovation for the 1200 series.
In terms of ugly design, nothing in my opinion could beat the KLR650. Kawasaki apparently felt so strongly about the lines of this motorcycle that they released basically the same bike from 2008 on for a whole decade without changing one single bit. The model was discontinued in 2018 but has since been reintroduced with some changes, though it’s still a KLR.
Notable mentions in terms of ugly designs go in my opinion to two brands that are quite opposite but somehow attract a very loyal type of customer: Ducati and Harley Davidson.
The latest Multistrada brings something new to the table for Ducati, but it’s a long way from pleasing to the eye. Bulky and oddly shaped, the Multi seems to be seeking inspiration from . . . birds? It is miles ahead in terms of looks, compared to the first edition (what were they thinking?) but, considering their undeniable skills at motorcycle design, I was expecting something better from the new models.
The undisputed challenger of the Italian brand, in terms of price and looks, could only be Harley-Davidson, which just launched its new Pan America. There’s no need to add more than what the image below expresses. But in all fairness this is a brand that never had a bike in this segment and that somehow had to step into a pit full of trained tigers.
Suzuki, following on the amazing success of the DR series, launched a new line of V-Stroms to succeed the very bulky but quite comfortable looks of the first model. The second series looked quite futuristic, but then they decided to go back to a not-so-modern squared headlight, recalling the old-school look of the ’80s DR Dakar racer.
Aerodynamics again are not the main focus of the brand, which seemed to be somehow confused whether to go forward or backwards with their design. Not an unreasonable choice, somehow, going for the “homage” to the Dakar, these days.
At least Yamaha seems to have taken the right steps lately. The good but bulky design of the Ténéré 1200 was slightly modernized and turned into a spectacular Dakar-looking T7. A smart move that made the marketplace a happy-place. This year’s sales don’t lie.
KTM was accused of taking a step backward in terms of design when the 790 Adventure was launched. The space between the headlight and the front fairings wasn’t a people-pleaser. It was somehow a radical change compared to the older models, shaped from the legendary Dakar-winning 950 Adventure.
In my opinion, they actually didn’t go too extreme. The evolution process is clear, once you see all the models lined up.
Honda is holding strong with its new Africa Twin design. A great tribute to the old glory with a definite look towards the future. The brand hasn’t come up with a middleweight entry yet but we are all hoping for a lighter version of the CRF1100L.
Notable mention for the Ugly Department goes to Moto Guzzi, which just a few years ago came out with a new and exciting middleweight, the v85TT. After the sales flop of its predecessor the Stelvio 1200, the Italian brand decided to launch the 85TT; looks are not too bad on this one, but far from appealing. Moto Guzzi decided to opt for the retro style double headlight look, which has been there since their ’80s model Quota. Time to move on?
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the rider. When it is bound up with grace, the idea of every part contributing to the attractiveness of the whole, we have something that is universally appealing, and in the ADV world, at least, something that is rare.