… | The 12 Best Iconic Bikes We Just Love [Pt.2]

Question: Which bikes do you think are the classics of history?

The Ducati 916? The Honda Super Cub? The Vespa? Maybe… except, the downside of immortality is that over time this list of classic bikes becomes a touch, how shall I put it… “obviously”..

So what about the industry’s underrated unsung underdogs?

The quirky oddballs, the bikes that identify as a bit “old”…or, as we say, cult bikes.

While these cult classics may not be the “best” bikes ever made, these oddities have kept their legacy and with good reason.

CLICK HERE for #12 through #7 in Part 1

6 – Suzuki TL 1000 S

Nothing says ‘cult classic’ more dramatically than a motorcycle whose reputation is so notorious that there are only a handful to ride that it has become known as the ‘widowmaker’.

The two-wheeled equivalent of that super-extreme chilli sauce you’ll try despite its health warning, early versions of the Suzuki TL1000S quickly became known for being unpredictable and difficult to ride.

At the heart of the problem was the TL1000S’ revolutionary, but also, as it turned out, flawed rotary damper rear suspension, which Suzuki had developed to negate the longer wheelbase needed to accommodate its 90-degree V-twin engine .

Along with its ultra-sharp geometry, Suzuki had successfully achieved its goal of keeping the TL1000S compact…

However, it also made him too eager to rear-end on the road. It forced Suzuki to add a steering damper, but not before the reputation was damaged.

Twenty-five years later, however, many look back to the TL1000S as the antidote to today’s modern, tech-crammed sportbikes… both as a reminder of how raw a high-performance motorcycle can be and why safety first is always better.

5 – Ducati Sport Classic

It’s not often that the words “Ducati” and “flop” appear in the same sentence, but it does happen very occasionally, as the Ducati SportClassic demonstrates, an embarrassing rarity in the Italian company’s illustrious history.

Launched in 2003 and hitting the streets in 2006, the SportClassic represented a “modern classic” in the 1970s, with designer Pierre Terblanche opting for this 21st-century reinterpretation.

While the boxy 900 looked modern for its time, the SportClassic bore little resemblance to its traditional looks and bulbous proportions.

Designed for more leisurely pursuits, the SportClassic might not quite fit Ducati’s DNA, but it felt premium, was enjoyable to ride and desirable in its own way.

It wasn’t a big seller, however, and just three years after its launch, Ducati quietly dropped the SportClassic from its lineup.

Nonetheless, as is often the case with “misunderstood” bikes (aka cult bikes), the SportClassic has found a posthumous following that hasn’t stopped begging Ducati for its return…

4 – Husqvarna Nuda

While Husqvarna’s recent history has tended to be marred by a confused identity – the symptom of a revolving door of owners who have stumbled from Cagiva to BMW and now to KTM over the last 15 years – the Swedish firm has nonetheless drawn some quality but underestimates it becomes. Pocket models, mainly the Nuda.

While BMW’s tenure was short-lived – just six years between 2007 and 2013 – Husqvarna’s collaboration with the German giants yielded this cheekily titled, sharply styled naked, based on the decidedly lanky BMW F800.

While it doesn’t take long today to discern KTM’s origins if you look a little closer at Husqvarna’s current range, the connection with BMW was barely noticeable, so much so that the more appealing Nuda was arguably superior to the F800.

With an edgy look inspired by its supermoto heritage and evoking the spirit of Steve McQueen on his beloved 400 Cross, the Nuda was such a statement in its own right that it was hard to believe it had evolved from the dowdy F800 .

Even the engine was different, with Husqvarna enlarging the unit to 898cc and boosting power to 105 hp.

However, the Nuda was also difficult to categorize, being too wild a supermotard in a conservative naked class while being too conventionally naked to be considered a gnarly supermotard.

A lack of praise on one end and a hooligan image on the other meant the Husqvarna Nuda didn’t resonate with buyers and sales were slow at the time. Today, however, she is a cult star.

When we featured the Nuda in Visordown’s Top 10 Flops That Deserve a Second Chance late last year, it was the Husqvarna that received the most unsung gem recognition of the ten bikes featured.

Further proof that sometimes we just don’t know what we have until it’s gone…

3 – Norton F1

As electric power deals the death knell to the internal combustion engine, the changes on the horizon are a reminder of how ubiquitous ICE technology has been over the last century… and how it has snuffed out alternative approaches like the rotary engine.

Compact, light, high-revving, there are several attributes in rotary technology that make it superior to an internal combustion engine on a motorcycle, perhaps even enough to offset the trade-offs of oil consumption and dubious durability.

After Suzuki tried and failed in the 1970s, Rotary remained dormant for more than a decade until Norton was convinced by Brian Crighton to take a different route for his RCW588 race bike, which eventually evolved into the road-going F1.

With its big wraparound body, angular lines and menacing black paint job – subtly spiced up by iconic JPS gold decals – the rotating Norton F1 is as dark, mysterious and deliciously desirable today as it was in 1991.

During a golden age of sportbikes, when a game of dominance between the Japanese giants quickly advanced the game, the F1 stood up to those comparisons as comfortably as it stood out as a curiosity, an exclusive one at that.

Unfortunately, the F1 would not be the bike to popularize Rotary technology as its brief revival began and ended with Norton in the early ’90s.

However, because it exists as one of the most unique motorcycles of all time, the legend of both Norton F1 and Rotary technology will live forever in cult folklore

2 – Honda Motocompo

At a time when e-scooters are trending as a convenient, practical and easy-to-use mode of transport, we think Honda is missing a trick by not reviving the brilliant little Honda Motocompo.

Even the origins of this quirky, adorable folding scooter qualify the motocompo for this rundown. Developed in the spirit of “things you didn’t know you needed in your life”, the Motocompo was offered as an accessory option for the Honda City subcompact.

Because the City was specifically designed to its dimensions, the Motocompo – also known as the “Trabai” or “Trunk Bike” – was essentially a two-wheeled equivalent of the City’s small, light and simple urban credentials.

Combined with the City, the Motocompo seemed like a fairly redundant machine that didn’t quite serve Honda’s intended purpose. Also, it took up the entire trunk in your car…

However, if you separate the two and consider the motocompo on its own, its cult appeal couldn’t be more apparent.

While folded it looked like a sewing machine on wheels, once unfolded the Motocompo charmed like a dainty, low-slung scooter that was never less than a dizzying hoot to ride… as long as you didn’t push it too far.

Along with its fire engine red finish, retro lettering and unique packaging, the Motocompo’s legacy lives on today as one of the weirdest and most wonderful two-wheelers ever built.

1 – Cagiva Elephant & Cagiva Mito

Maybe it’s because Cagiva is no longer an active motorcycle brand

Or because the Italians – at least until recently – were fed up with playing in the dirt.

Or because the era of the pop, crackle and pop of pocket-sized two-strokes is over.

Whatever it is, all we know is that it’s difficult to look back on the Cagiva Elefant and Cagiva Mito without longing for these humble icons of their time.

We’ll avoid attempts to summarize Cagiva’s complex history of owning and owning multiple brands over time, but the Elefant “Traille” off-roader and the Mito mini-sportbike were certainly her finest moments as two models that embody what it means to be a cult bike. So much so that we treated them equally this Rundown.

A dual-sport desert road motorcycle equipped with a Ducati V-twin engine in most of the many configurations available, the Cagiva Elefant was an odd creation with a cute name.

However, it also had charms in droves, the plate-side, utilitarian, rally-raid-inspired looks felt rugged yet unintentionally stylish, while the injection of Ducati DNA gave it plenty of character on the road too.

So too could the Elefant, as evidenced by his status-affirming Paris-Dakar Rally victories with the Lucky Strike liveried Elefant 900, a machine that has now matured into such an icon that is as eye-catching as anything exotic…

Which is fitting, since Cagiva’s other opus – the Mito – was that piccola Mini-Me version of the Ducati 916, arguably the most exotic motorcycle of all time.

While it might be considered sacrilegious to imitate one of the world’s most beautiful motorcycles before then shrinking it down to pint size, in reality the Cagiva Mito was the perfect homage to a stylishly affordable, easy-to-ride, eager urban runabout.

Indeed, as far as facsimile goes, the Mito is well judged, right down to the GP-specific handling and two-stroke zip that might give you as many goosebumps on city streets as a Ducati does on the open road.

Unfortunately, the end of the Mito in 2012, after the two-stroke era was halted by tightened emissions regulations, also spelled the end of the Cagiva…at least for now.

That’s the thing about “cult figures” after all… they can never die. In fact, many will return one day…

CLICK HERE for #12 through #7 in Part 1

About Veronica Richards

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