So what the hell is Steampunk? You actually know it well, even if you didn’t know what it was called. It’s the aesthetic of melding old—usually Victorian-era mechanical elements—with modern or futuristic technology, or of extrapolating how that technology would look had it evolved in a different direction from our current reality. Think of the giant steam-powered war machines in the 1999 movie “Wild, Wild West,” or the ornate vehicles and vessels of 2003′s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
Almost every manufacturer now has a retro-styled bike, but the most interesting of these aren’t those that mimic the looks of an earlier model, but instead resemble what the original might have resembled had it just been updated through the years. Ducati’s SportClassics come to mind, as does the Triumph Thruxton and the Harley-Davidson XR1200. Call them neo-Steampunk, then, as they combine modern and retro elements to create a new aesthetic.
Of course, since we’re enthusiasts and handy with a wrench, we can make our own Steampunk bikes. A good example is the Taimoshan Super Cafe Racer, built by Welshman John Pellew. He wanted a modern “Norvin,” (a prized cafe racer that combines the burly power of a Vincent Black Shadow V-Twin with the competent handling of a Norton Featherbed chassis) with all the power, brakes and suspesnion of a modern sportbike. He seems to have hit the mark, with a gorgeous Manx-style tank and giant round headlamp contrasted with the huge lump of a V-Twin. The radiator is cleverly tucked under the seat, where Pellew says it functions as well as a front-mounted unit, thanks to clever placement and extra cooling fans.
This kind of thinking—creating something that is evocative of the past, yet is something new—is key to attracting younger people into our sport. The upcoming generations, just like every generation before them, wants to define itself as something new and different, and not just adopt the time-worn trends and fads of the last 50 years. The cafe-building trend seems at first glance to allow much more creativity and individual expression than the chopper-building frenzy of ten years ago, which was an endless riff on the same basic engine and frame design. Cafe builders can choose from an endless variety of frames and motors—from every era and combine them in new and exciting ways, and much can be done for under $1000 with enough time and Krylon. And where customizers build, inevitably factories follow, allowing the less adventurous to enjoy the look of a hot custom without the expense, time and hassle of rolling their own.
Taking the best from our favorite eras can only be a good thing. The power of a BMW S1000RR with the looks of a Ducati 750 Sport? How about the durability of a Honda CBR600F2 with the handling and looks of an MV Agusta? Or the shriek of a Honda RC166 with the fuel economy of a BMW R1200R? There’s no reason why it won’t all be possible.
A tip of the hat to Bike EXIF (www.bikeexif.com) for hipping me to this bike.