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Function Dictates Form: Flat Track Racers and the Naked Bike Resurgence

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When we wrote “Upright is Alright” in 2006 we were a somewhat lonely voice in the motorcycle wilderness, but the industry has come to its senses. Naked standards are back in a big way.

This photograph of a Triumph Bonneville flat track racer, received along with a press release yesterday, made me think about ergonomics as they relate to a rider’s purpose, i.e., controlling a motorcycle. There really is no pretense when it comes to designing a flat track bike, just make it work for the rider as he tries (or she tries, apologies to Shayna Texter) to hustle it around a dirt oval as quickly as possible. Control is paramount, and mastery of the slippery surface leaves no room for compromises in the name of aesthetics. Long live the naked standard.

28 Comments

  1. ballistic billy says:

    When I saw the first XR1200 I bought it. Titanium pipe, trick wheels and brakes, trick suspension (cheap from Harley), Speed Tuner from Harley and good tires. On the curves on mountain roads the “crotch rockets” got bested until the long straights. When I’d stop they were freeked to be bested by a Harley. Years of road racing allowed a fat old guy on a tricked out Harley to pass and pull ’em in the turns. The Po Po got so bad I gave up riding in the mountains and I’m too smart to ride around town. Miss the XR “sniff sniff”.

  2. Grover says:

    The closest thing we seem to flat track bike from the factory was Harley’s XR 1200. There’s a very slim market for this type of bike and the Japanese just don’t see enough profit in it. The Ducati scrambler is pretty cool, though, and it’s bike I would choose if I were going to modify a bike for flat track style. Just don’t wait for the factories to do it or you will end up putting another 550 pound poser-type flat
    track bike.

  3. Hewlett Hermit says:

    The riding position of the flat track bike, like the one you’ve shown gives greater control. One of the most memorable rides of my life was going north from Boone,NC on US 421. I was riding a ’99 Buell Cyclone(M2) with almost that exact riding position. The level of control made it easy to ride this very twisty road at a goodly rate of speed. I currently have a Kawasaki ZRX1200 with a similar riding position – it’s a keeper.

    • Stratkat says:

      thing is you dont need a dirt track bike for that kind of ride. just get a Superduke or something like it, you get all that plus power and a ride taylored for the real world

  4. TF says:

    Simply beautiful!

  5. Streeter says:

    I think Kawasaki ought to get on this bandwagon. They seem to be the up and comers in this class. I think a Ninja 650 based street tracker would be perfect. They already have a naked bike, the Versys and a Vulcan, an “FT” version should fit right in.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      With as much success as they’ve had in flat track, I am surprised Kawasaki haven’t flirted with the idea yet, either. Maybe Ducati Scrambler sales will get them thinking a little harder.

  6. Gary says:

    Wonder if it will come with electronic traction control? (snicker snicker)

    I once had a 1983 Honda VT500FT Ascot. I bought it solely for it’s tracker styling and discovered it was a sweet little toy for tearing up back roads. A really well executed package, I’d have kept it to this day if it had more motor.

    • Kagato says:

      That VT Honda has always been a favorite of mine–I think I have a Honda flyer of it somewhere

  7. GKS says:

    Don’t forget about Nichole Mees, 8th at the DuQuoin Mile a couple of weeks ago !

  8. Blackcayman says:

    >>>>>>>>>THIS

    …is where I hope Indian is going with their Project 156 Bike.

    Twin front discs though…and a little more seat, obviously.

    • GKS says:

      Indian has announced they will be fielding a flat track team in 2016 !!
      Hopefully this will help revive the series.

      • fast2win says:

        I can’t wait to see a race replica. This Indian and Victory thing could heat up real fast. The project 156 engine must have been under development for some time. Rumors of a 1200cc Victory are swirling around. Next year could be big for Polaris motorcycles.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Well, now that is interesting.

  9. mechanicus says:

    Will the owner of that bike PLEASE let King Kenny take that thing around the Springfield Mile with me in attendance standing on the rail by the back straight? I’ll pay anything to see that. (I’m having a nostalgia meltdown….)

    http://motorcyclehallfame.artehouse.com/images/image/sizeC/SKU0000-69xx/0000-6914.jpg

  10. cyclemotorist says:

    What are the displacement rules with regard to the Triumph? They displaced both 790cc and 865cc. Are they limited to 750cc? I suppose they could be destroked to 750. If not, do they have to run restrictors?

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I believe the displacement rules are still 550cc – 1250 cc for street bike-sourced engines. 1000cc and up have to be air-cooled and get fitted with restrictor plates. Engines designed / produced strictly for racing are limited to 750 cc. I think – but don’t know for sure – that the HD XR750 is the only racing engine in the GNC1 Twins class.

      • Hot Dog says:

        Remember how the AMA put a strangle hold on Honda when they started to win on their RS750? More weight, restrictor plates and more weight. It’s now wonder they got out of the series. Let’s hope the same crap doesn’t happen again.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          Yeh, I think the unwritten rule used to be that any engine that routinely throttles the HD XR750 either gets restricted or banned. I believe those days are gone though. I hope. With the Kawasaki 100cc down on the XR750, I think the powers that be probably consider this natural restriction to be sufficient at this time.

  11. Lenz says:

    The 270deg twin from the Triumph “Scrambler” would make an interesting flat track power plant but the best beastie would be a 500cc GM Long Track slider running a laydown engine with 2 carbs, methanol and plenty compression.

  12. VForce says:

    Agreed.

    For the record, Triumph America built a flat track Bonnie “prototype” back in 2004. Looked alot like this one in fact sans the sponsorship paint. It was completely and utterly ignored by Triumph UK and their product planners until about 2011. After all of those years of watching it collect dust in Triumph America’s warehouse, they realized that there are quite a few young riders that would love to have one. not just the glassy eyed boomers.

    • Eric says:

      Count this ‘glassy eyed boomer’ among those who really appreciate the uniquely American flat track style. Have been stripping down standard bikes for years. Also a big fan of the Storz Performance bits for Harleys. Closest thing I’ve seen to a street legal XR750.