The Joy of Riding Naked
From time to time people ask why I ride a BMW with little or no windscreen protection. You see, one of the perks of my job (the best one) is the opportunity to order a new BMW each spring for my use for most of the year. With the opportunity to select pretty much any model I want, why would I go with a K1300S (2010), another K1300S (2011), or (this year) an F 800R?
Perhaps I can explain.
First of all, it’s not that simple. If a model is in short supply, such as the BMW K 1600GT or R 1200R, I may be encouraged to select something else. Because I often lead customers on rides, it’s important to carry an air compressor, tire repair kit, and a first-aid kit, even though none of them have been used since purchase. That means some sort of saddlebags will be required. The leader of the group has to be able to see what’s going on behind, so great mirrors help…i.e., a BMW S 1000RR sport bike is not going to work well. The tasks at hand also require a bike that can do well on camping trips of 3 – 5 days, and maintain highway speeds easily and occasionally a good deal more – only on a track of course! That pretty much rules out the BMW G 650 GS.
That still leaves a wide array of tasty BMW models. This year I’ve chosen from this luscious menu of delights the BMW F 800R; a “naked” sport bike that is not all that powerful or fast (compared to a K1300S, R1200 GT, or either K bike) and that offers relatively few creature comforts. What’s up with that?
Glad you asked.
I started riding in 1967, before many of you were born, and in those golden days almost all bikes were “naked.” A windshield was a rarity other than the barn door clear plastic slabs affixed to some Harleys. I could not afford a Harley, and had no desire at all to ride one. For the formative first decade of my riding, all the bikes I rode were “naked,” including a 250cc Yamaha YDS 3, two different Honda 450s, and a Honda 500 4.
Ironically, I did fit a windshield to the Yamaha, and it was a Vetter! Let us ride down the history lane for a small diversion. The first products genius designer Craig Vetter produced came out a few years before he thought of the “Windjammer” fairing design that revolutionized touring and pretty much led to all of today’s luxury tourer models. His first products were essentially road race fairings with slightly higher windshields. To be fair, I did not purchase Vetter fairing (the 53rd made) because it protected me, but because it made the bike (and me) LOOK faster! Worked at that task very well.
Other than the Vetter experiment, naked bikes are pretty much what I learned on, and there is both value and comfort in dancing with the girl what brung ya’!
And then there is wind management. Almost every motorcycle I ride with a windshield creates some sort of buffeting, often accompanied by various noises as the wind curls and snaps around the fairing and windshield. Most BMWs have electronically adjustable windshields, but when I ride one I seem to spend an inordinate percentage of the time futzing with it to get the height just perfect for me.
With a naked bike, or near naked, you always know what direction the wind is coming from – straight ahead. Since I’m always wearing a full face helmet, life gets easier. If looking ahead, the windstream varies in velocity pretty much in lock step with the speed of the bike, and when turning the head the side pressure will be consistent.
Weather protection is lacking with a naked bike, but more and more these days that is a problem of the esthetic lack of appeal of a dirty bike more than a concern for hypothermia. The BMW 800R has heated grips, and the aging Triumph Speed Triple in my garage has a harness and a set of heated gloves (I have never used) for cold days. With my BMW jacket and a liner, and my ReVit! riding pants and BMW boots, etc., I am comfortable down to a temperature where I need to question why I am out there riding at all.
You can take care of most weather and cold concerns with a tank bag and what the British call a “fly screen,” also referred to as a “bikini fairing.” Both my Triumph and the BMW 800R have both of these, and it’s astonishing how well they protect your upper body from wind and rain.
It never occurred to me until I typed that paragraph that a “bikini” fairing on a “naked” bike is a pretty funny use of language.
Light weight and agility. Now we’re talking. A BMW 800R seems to weigh less than I do! OK, in fact it weighs 450 pounds with fuel and the tank bag and saddlebags, but it feels much lighter than that. There is a great joy to be found in hopping on something that feels like the bicycle you rode as a young person – a bicycle that develops 87hp! The Speed Triple has about 30% more power, but also weighs another 80 pounds and the seat’s a little taller. For any ride of less than a full day the 800R is easier and more comfortable to ride by far, and in some circumstances is actually faster.
Bear in mind that motorcycle design evolved from beginnings as a bicycle with an engine stuck in the middle of the frame. I love bikes that retain some of that original design DNA of simplicity and light weight, plus a ton of power and, in the case of a BMW, all the techno wizardry of a modern BMW instrument panel with multiple menus, heated grips, and so on.
Back in the 1970s there was an article in Cycle magazine about creating a “Gentleman’s Express,” and it made so much sense I virtually memorized it. The concept was to take a stock bike and make subtle and relatively inexpensive alterations to approve performance, sound, comfort, brakes, and suspension – all while retaining a “quiet” appearance. The motorcycle used for the article was a Honda 550 4, and with a new exhaust, different handlebars, a tank bag, some K&N air filters, etc. it became a very desirable machine. I owned a Honda 500 4 (preceding model) at the time, and if finances allowed the magazine details would have been followed like a blueprint.
A change of house brought a new motorcycle – a Yamaha 750 triple. I converted that to a “naked sport bike,” (I don’t think the term was in use then) with lower and flatter handlebars from a European-spec Norton, the K&N filter and different exhaust that was routine for the time, a tank bag, throw-over soft saddlebags when needed, and a copy of a BMW R 90S bikini fairing. That wonderful bike was all I needed for 22 years and almost 50,000 miles.
Since then I’ve danced around the sinuous tango of pure sport bike vs. naked sport bike vs. sport tourer, always returning to naked. Here’s why.
Sport bikes feature full fairings and very low handlebars. They’re made to emulate road race bikes, where aerodynamics becomes exponentially more crucial as speeds rise past 100mph or so. But… on the street you rarely attain such speeds (one hopes) so the only benefit of the racer crouch stance is appearance. I do not scoff at appearance at all, as it was at the core of my enjoyment of motorcycles for a long time, but less so now.
As just one example, take the Ducati 916. Many would argue, with no dissent from me, that the 916 was the most beautiful sport bike ever created, including all of the current offerings from all manufacturers. I can see the logic of parking one next to your desk as an art object.
However, I once actually rode a 916 for four short rides over two days and it was a lesson in pain. Pain in the wrists almost immediately, followed by sharp pains in the neck, then shoulders, and eventually pretty much everything and everywhere. At a track day, ridden as it was designed to be ridden, you would be carrying enough speed for the wind to hold you up and moving back in forth in the saddle such that the pain would not be noticed so much, but on the street you were literally being punished for riding such beauty.
One solution is to ride a sport bike with an engine of such power and size that a larger frame is required, which in turn creates ergonomics that offer more room for the rider. My 2000 Kawasaki Ninja ZX 12R, which had a monocoque frame, was actually comfortable. The other solution comes from technology. The BMW S 1000 RR is the most capable sport bike in the world, but the most astonishing thing to me, after your motorcycle mind wraps around the 192 hp, the traction control and ABS systems, the three engine modes, etc., is the comfort! It is almost comfortable for a considerable period of time, and I’ve seen people go for short camping trips with theirs.
Naked sport bikes tend to have more of a straight up riding position, with higher and flatter handlebars, and so the ergonomics problems are dispensed with – although it may cost you a few mph above 135 mph or so.
How many of us ride that fast, and how often, and for how far?
Sport Touring bikes are another favorite, but when you add the larger fairing and larger bags of most of them, you get a heavier bike. The BMW K 1600 GT is a wonderful magic carpet at any speed about 10mph, with power, handling, and brakes beyond the capability of most riders (including me) to use. But getting on or off or around a parking lot – it is heavy.
The Triumph Speed triple is perhaps the most naked of the nakeds, and is a joy to ride on winding back roads on a sunny day. With the bikini fairing, a tank bag, and a Ventura rack, I’ve enjoyed mine for several 3 day trips, and the time limit came from my job, not any weakness in the bike or riding experience.
Having said that, the very nakedness that is part of the charm becomes a drag if you enjoy a clean motorcycle, because riding on wet roads for about 400 yards will trash it. On the other hand, washing the bike in the driveway while listening to a game on the radio – any sport, any game – is a great way to relax.
The BMW R 1200 R “Roadster” (in BMW lingo) is a Hans of all trades, and can be used to commute or sport tour or whatever, and is a perfect mount for track days, with excellent vision and posture and brakes with terrific feel.
Given a sufficiently large garage and budget, many of us would own 5 or 6 motorcycles. A BMW K 1600 GT dedicated to longer trips, with the windshield set all the way to the bottom or perhaps cut in half, would be my preference. A sport bike or two would be in there that, to be honest, I would mostly just look at.
For day to day rides I would have several of my favorites, and “ride naked.”
Copyright 2012 David Preston