In selecting this week’s Church of MO, I came across this article written all the way back in 2003, wherein the author, George Obradovich, compares the nostalgia of his 1981 Kawasaki GPz550 to that of the new-at-the-time Yamaha YZF-R6, and poses the question; “In the end, on the streets and thru the distance, which do you find more satisfying? The ability to rely on technology, or the necessity to rely on yourself?”
This struck me as interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s almost laughable to think of motorcycles from 2003 as being technologically advanced. Most bikes didn’t even have ABS at the time, let alone ride modes, adjustable traction, control, cruise control, semi-active electronic suspension, etc. One must also consider that a GPz550 was as technologically advanced to 1981 as the R6 was to 2003, the Honda CB750/4 to 1969, and so forth. As technology advances at an exponential rate, the bikes we’re riding today will seem as defunct in 10 year’s time as a 2003 sportbike does today, or a GPz550 felt in 2003. What Mr. Obradovich’s column illustrates best is that this topic of discussion will continue as long as there are generational gaps between riders, and technological progression.
Nostalgia And Capability
By George Obradovich October 29, 2003
Have you heard any of the stories about the Vincent Black Shadow? Heard any of the musings of the fogeys who drove 42hp machines across the AlCan Highway? Read and understood “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”?
Probably the single biggest debate I’ve been in recently is: does modern technology and high horsepower equal more fun on the average street bike?
I realize this debate sounds a bit more trollish than most anything showing up on rec.motorcycles in the mid-nineties (sorry r.m. folks; I was alt.syntax.tactical), but it’s a long-standing debate for good reason: is it “more satisfying” to twist your wrist on an R1, pushing it to 50 percent of it’s ability (and you to 100 percent), or is it “more satisfying” to engage in the all-senses-necessary driving that a smaller, less technologically cutting-edge bike (say, a 1970’s Norton Commando)?
This has been on my mind a lot recently as I pour thru the reviews of the latest liter-class and 600 class supersports. My neighbor, a young guy, recently traded his R1 for an R6. The reason? He’s a tiny guy at 5 foot 9 and 150 or so pounds, and, according to him, the R1 was “way too much bike, dude.” So he’s done all he can to make his R6 a “Biker Boyz” racer, complete with many engine mods, strobes(!), and many suspension mods. Me? I drove a 1981 Kawasaki GPz 550, lovingly half-restored, carefully garaged for twelve years by the previous owner.
My neighbor looks at my bike the same way a kid looks at a pound of ground beef: wot, no happy meal? I look at his bike, and I see the point, and I appreciate (and love) the massive technology and power behind it, but I….I just don’t get it.
You have to understand, I come from a background of Fast Things. My father owned the very first 1979 Formula One Trans Am in Texas, a car that would blow the doors off of anything on the highway. My uncle is a Porsche 911 guy, and has owned 911’s since they looked like reformed Beetles. He’s also a BMW and Kawasaki guy, and currently owns a beautifully maintained 85 R75S.
Myself, I’ve owned or driven a ton of different bikes, ranging from a CB750/4 to an FJ11 to a CBR900RR, to a Guzzi SP. Out of all the bikes I’ve had, my GPz and a certain Honda GB500, a late-eighties Brit-Twin replica. Out of the two, I loved the GB500’s looks and sound, but it was useless for more than 50 miles.
And in southern New Mexico or west Texas, the nearest destination of any worth is 200 miles or more.
As I look through the crop of reviews and videos, I note that most folk these days seem to depend quite a bit on the power and technology in their bikes, never really finding that ragged edge where you need to be truly 100 percent involved in the motorcycle. My neighbor says, “why work so hard to go ten miles to work?” Indeed, why?
Because. The nature of these things relies on the pilot to be a certain type of individual. Addicted to the senses, depending as much or more upon themselves as on the technology underneath them.
My neighbor and I raced thru the hill country on a nice little ride, though our “race” was affected by weather, traffic, cops, and the like. We got done with a particular stretch of twisties, and stopped at a gas and sip. My neighbor, his R6 gleaming, smoked a cigarette while I checked out my mechanical status (temp, oil levels, fuel, chain, tires, and plugs). “Dude, why don’t you buy a bike like mine?” he asked, yawning, looking bored.
And while I adjusted the air in my front forks, I answered him with the ridiculous beaming smile on my face. Here on this stretch of highway, he found boredom, slow cars, tiring stretches. I found a complete connection with the pushrods below me, the smell and feel of the bike. I pushed on for another two hundred miles that day while he drove home to find his homies for a burnout contest. Was his “fun” any less satisfying than mine? I doubt it, but in some ways, I pity him for his modern technology.
In the end, on the streets and thru the distance, which do you find more satisfying? The ability to rely on technology, or the necessity to rely on yourself?