February 2022: Another missed “gem” of opinion and bias.
Originally Published March 2009 and in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine
On the right, that showroom picture? That’s “America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle.” According to the 59th Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, CA, Carl Brouhard designed and built this $175k (Brouhard’s estimated value) concept-topping, prettiest-in-the-nation bike and everything else is Ugly Betty by comparison. I know, you know what I’m thinking.
I’ll give Brouhard’s boat points for a great paint job. The Batman in Drag styling is impractically, weirdly, non-functionally uncomfortable looking; the cute girl in a wheelchair kind of look or a paraplegic weight-lifter. (If you think those comparisons were politically-incorrect, you should have heard what my wife compared it to.) For posers, this mechanical abortion is the perfect bike: all kinds of imagined power without a lick of performance, 0-ground clearance and a wide, flat rear tire so it can’t tip over, and airport turn radius so . . . I don’t have a reason for the yanked out fork arrangement.
Like Douglas Adam’s Vogon guard said about his job, “The hours are good, but the minutes are quite miserable,” some of Brouhard’s details are pretty but the whole is damned ugly. It’s true. I don’t get non-representational art. Jackson Pollack-style wallpaper, Chagall’s my-3-year-0ld-can-paint-better-than-that portraits, or Ornette Coleman’s harmony-and-rhythm-free jazz all leave me with a little less appreciation for chaos. A pile of shiny pieces, randomly glued together into a hippo of a motor, stuck in the middle of a bunch of swoopy Euro-bend sheet metal puts me in a mood to watch some X-Games moto-x’ing. I’ve seen some bikes, even around here, that I’d pick over that crazy looking geek-mobile at the top of this page.
Somebody in Duluth turned a VFR into a Supermoto monster. I took a picture of it, during the 2004 World Trials at Spirit Mountain, but I fed those pictures into my data-eating Mac and that bike remains an image in my mind’s eye that I can’t share. That was the meanest, coolest, most sophisticated custom bike I’ve ever seen. I freakin’ loved it.
A quick browse through Google found two other bikes I’d pick as being a lot closer to “America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle.” For example, the tricked out little Honda single Supermoto MX’er (above) or the totally weirded customer VFR that looks half road bike and half Supermoto (right)? I admit it. I have a bias against motorcycle that can’t be ridden. I don’t much like bikes that can’t be ridden practically anywhere.
“America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle” actually has pads under the bodywork that prop the bike up for show. No kickstand, just a pair of belly-skids that work like immobile training wheels. The wheelbase must be approaching 10 feet. The motor is, by far, the ugliest aspect of a long list of ugly aspects. It is a butt-ugly conglomeration of chrome bits, randomly jutting out like a bunch of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones almost compacted into a neat pile ready for recycling. My love of functional cool goes a long ways back. I can’t even guess how far.
My grandfather was a particular fan of function. He managed the installations for the company he and my grandmother ran. He was good with tools and appreciated a good tool for its utility and appearance. I followed that with a job in Texas where I worked with an Air Force trained tech and a self-trained machinist for 3 years. Both of those men built equipment from scratch as complicated as multi-station electronic weights and measures system to as simple as a four component hitch system that could support and restrain 50k pounds and be disassembled with a single hitchpin. Both men had a gift for simplifying designs to the point that our company’s design engineers refused to look at our installations because they knew they would be better than the original proposed design.
A friend once compared my form-follows-function tastes as “fundamentalist.” My wife says I’m more Calvinist. I have a feeling that either comparison is insulting, but I’m going to ignore the fundamentalist tag since I know where it came from. I’m not sure there isn’t some connection to Calvinism in me, though. I’m some part English (3rd generation American), some part German (3th generation), some part Dutch (no idea what generation), and more mutt bits that are probably better left unknown (by me). I do subscribe to the philosophy that says, “don’t work, don’t eat.” I think that came from whatever brand of rejects who survived the attempt to settle Jamestown.
Apply it to motorcycles and you have “don’t work, don’t waste fuel.” I can live with that. That won’t be a problem for “America’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle.” It appears that the ridiculous thing can’t move without being picked up. The only fuel likely to be found in the vicinity of this strange sculpture will be used for cleaning parts.