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Common Tread

Beauty in the beasts: 2016 MotoGP bikes

Mar 08, 2016

In the eyes of a racer, beauty is found not in the pleasing curve of a fairing, but in seeing the checkered flag before anyone else.

Because beauty is so subjective, when I write a review of a motorcycle I often feel that the bike's looks are not even worth mentioning. What captivates me may leave you cold, or worse. It's better just to publish a photo and let us all make up our own minds.

KTM 450 SX-F
Even though it places function completely ahead of form, is there a kind of beauty in a purposeful motocross bike, like this KTM 450 SX-F? KTM photo.
Race bikes take the question of appearance to another level. I once told a friend of mine who loves cruisers and classic Harley-Davidson styling that I found a kind of beauty in the look of a motocross bike, how every part was designed to perform a very specialized job. He looked at me like I was insane.

With the 2016 crop of MotoGP bikes having wrapped up their final preseason test last week at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, all of the new models have been unveiled. To me, that kind of purposeful, function-before-form sort of beauty is the only loveliness I'm seeing in this crop of new bikes. That's OK. They're made to win races, not blue ribbons at custom bike shows, and we know that what looks best to the wind (as in slipping through it easily) isn't always what looks best to the human eye. 

I've already mentioned my opinion that Ducati's strakes, or winglets, are not an aesthetic improvement. And it makes sense that a MotoGP bike, a prototype with no purpose in life except to go fast, will not look the same as a consumer product designed to appeal on multiple levels. I know that. But I still can't help but compare the graceful curves of the Ducati Panigale Superbike to the carved chunkiness of the D16 GP.

Ducati Panigale Superbike
Ducati's shapely Superbike gives us a glimpse of exhaust and a good look at that single-sided swingarm. Ducati photo.

Ducati Panigale Superbike
Ducati's MotoGP bike gives us wings (not the good kind) and a mouth like a goldfish. Ducati photo.

Intellectually, I understand the advantage of that big wedge of a swingarm instead of the Superbike's single-sided swingarm, and the stubby tail section instead of the shapely rear. The hint of exhaust pipe showing through the Superbike's fairing calls to mind a woman wearing a slit skirt, while the wings on the MotoGP bike, as Julian Ryder pointed out, conjure images of a hammerhead shark. Purposeful, yes, but not nature's crowning aesthetic achievement.

Meanwhile, at the Qatar test, Yamaha resumed its experiments from last year by tacking on some wings to the front of the fairing and Honda also dipped a toe in the winglet waters, at least experimentally. Honda's version was a relatively small piece of unadorned carbon fiber, however, and not the catamaran outriggers of the Ducati or the dual mini-cowcatchers on Jorge Lorenzo's Yamaha.

Why do I suddenly fear we're going to see GP bikes sprouting wings like mushrooms bursting out of a rotten log after a spring rain? But I digress. Back to aesthetics.

Another bike that led me into this topic was the new Aprilia RS-GP. This is an important bike for Aprilia, since it really is a purpose-built, MotoGP prototype, instead of the modified motorcycle they ran last year with predictably poor results. And just like the others, "purpose-built" doesn't mean particularly pretty.

Aprilia RS-GP 2016
The Aprilia RS-GP for 2016. Aprilia photo.

Look at the black panels under the seat section on both the Aprilia and the Ducati. I'm sure these are carefully crafted and expensive carbon fiber pieces that serve an important function. Unfortunately, they look like they're shrouds that fell off a knockoff Chinese scooter. And these are the Italian bikes. Isn't everything Italian supposed to be beautiful?

At a second glance, the tail section on the Honda RC213V looks familiar, too.

Honda RC213V
The Honda RC213V for 2016. Honda photo.

Probably the best looking of the bunch, to me, at least until they started tacking wings on it, is the Yamaha YZR-M1, closely followed by the Suzuki GSX-RR (coming from a guy who is not always on board with Suzuki styling). The two actually look quite similar, especially in the front half.

Yamaha YZF-M1
The YZF-M1 may be the most attractive of the MotoGP race bikes. Yamaha photo.

Suzuki GSX-RR
The Suzuki GSX-RR for 2016. Suzuki photo.

Speaking of Yamaha, they used some free time in the off season to tease us with this video of taking the M1 to the ski slopes. What? When they said "The MI Goes Skiing," you didn't think they were actually going to put skis on the bike and hurl it down the slopes, did you? This is Yamaha, not Red Bull.

We'll be back with our MotoGP season preview before the opening round in Qatar on March 20, with a more substantive discussion of the big changes for this season and what's happened in testing. Meanwhile, we're just passing superficial judgment on looks. So what do you think? Are this year's MotoGP bikes beautiful in their own right? Or just beautiful for what they can do?