American Vs. Metric Cruisers
A Styling Analysis Of Why The Japanese Still Don't Get It!
Many moons ago, when I was considerably younger, sexier, still had a hairline visible from the front and a waistline in the double digits, I was the editor of a motorcycle magazine. The first Kawasaki Vulcan 750 V-twin had just been introduced and I wrote in an editorial about how it had really missed the mark.
The target for these first Vulcans, Shadows, Intruders and Viragos were the elusive Sportster look, long, thin, raked and mean. What the Japanese stylists came up with their first mid-Eighties efforts at creating a Metric Cruiser Look was fiddly, incoherent, lumpy, cliched and far too compact. I stated in my editorial that "The Kawasaki execs should just buy a Harley and send it down to the styling department with a note attached 'Copy This Down To The Bolts'."
The Kawasaki PR man who called me the same day the magazine was released chastized me for not appreciating the wonderful technical and aesthetic features of his new baby, but by the end of the conversation asked me in a roundabout way if I would consider coming on board as a consultant. In those days journalists had ethics (you can read up about that strange concept in dusty old books), and I refused on the grounds of conflict of interest.
If I had decided to take on Kawasaki's offer, I wonder if I could have saved them 15 years of muddling around before they finally started to hit the styling mark with the second generation Vulcan 1500s, which was the first Japanese V-twin to look like it was a real cruiser based on a righteous SuperGlide, not an dollar-store appliance.
Although the Japanese stylists have continued to get closer to the mark of a truly righteous ride, they seem to be like the Renaissance architects: they create a perfect design then add one obviously incongrous element to prove that only God is perfect and humans cannot be.
Yamaha had a 99% bullseye with the Road Star (Wild Star in Europe) 1600. It had all the proportions down of a truly great ride. Hefty, classic, clean and funky, it was a bike that really captured that "elusive pre-War aesthetic." All you had to do was remove those federally mandated battleship cannons passing for mufflers, and replace that Big Block V8 chrome air cleaner cover with something smaller that showed off that scrumptious pushrod V-twin, and then go proudly chugging around town. Still, you can't really fault Yammy for having to pass emissions and noise regulations. The Road/Wild Star whetted my appetite so much, I had it as my computer desktop background picture for years.
And a couple of years ago, Yamaha decided to "improve" it. So they added a couple of hundred cc's to that previously perfectly balanced pushrod engine and went with an Art Deco styling that turned a phenomenal motorcycle into a nightmare from a Gotham City freshman industrial design class. I wouldn't be caught dead passing by one of these new "Stratoliners" (ugh) on the street, let alone adorning my PC's desktop or my house's garage with one. Everything about the bike's styling is wrong. It harkens back to the mid-Eighties styling disasters in almost every way. they did make the air cleaner cover a bit smaller, though. That's about all I can congratulate them on. The rest of the bike is just a grim joke.
Apparently, I'm not the only motorcyclist who believes this. Yamaha Canada carries the full range of motorcycles, but the Stratolaugher is nowhere to be found in their catalogues. They're sticking with the classic good looks of the Road Star. I'm glad to hear that the Great White North may still be a bastion of taste in a regard other than beer.
And don't get me started on the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000s headlight! Even Kawasaki had to admit that they had created a monster and quickly issued an "LT" model with a conventional round one and not something that looks like an alien, three-eyed happy face!
It seems that even almost a quarter century later, my advice to the Japanese manufacturers was as valid then as it is now. Harley's look is classic, proportioned and perfect. Clone it, but don't mess with it!