Motorcycles are generally conservative things. Despite the excitement that they bring, the design philosophies rarely deviate from the norm.
Let’s first define what we mean here by ‘oddball’. An oddball is a motorcycle from a mass-market manufacturer which, due to wacky styling and/or unconventional engineering, was a rare sight on the roads.
Excluded are high-priced limited-production exotica, as are more conventional mainstream machines which didn’t fly out of showrooms for reasons beyond their control – economic troubles, bad weather, pestilence and so forth.
Over the years, a few attempts have been made to defy convention – and these are the bikes we pay tribute to here. The Italians have turned out their fair share of oddballs, and there have been a sprinkling of oddities from elsewhere too, but the Japanese makers have rarely turned out models that have been too radical for most. Yamaha’s new Niken is certainly a current contender, but it’s too early to say. Time will tell, but here are some of the unconventionals which have already been down that road.
So, these bikes are here not because they were bad per se, but because, well, they proved to be just that bit too ‘different’ for the buyers in one way or another.
Do you own one of these bikes listed? Let us know what you think through our social media – @insidebikes
Before the Niken and its two pairs of front forks, there was the GTS1000 with hub-centre steering and no front forks. It handled and steered just as it was designed to do in that neither bumps nor braking affected the bike’s steering or stability. Despite this the GTS remains the only hub-centre steered bike from a major manufacturer.
It also looked the part, but with a near-280kg weight (wet) and a detuned FZR1000 motor the GTS wasn’t a rocketship. It was also thirsty and had a small tank which gave a frustratingly limited range. It came with two screens, one low and sporty, the other taller, but the taller touring screen caused buffeting for most riders.
The GTS also cost about 30% more than its FJ1200 stablemate which, all things considered, was the better bike. Add all that to the unconventional front end and the GTS was a rare bird back in the day, and even rarer now.
Oddball rating: 7/10
Yamaha’s XV-series Wild/Road Star cruisers were essentially Harley Fat Boy clones for a little less money than a genu-wine Fat Boy. Nothing unusual there, until Yamaha slotted the XV’s 1,670cc motor into an ally chassis to create the original MT-01 – a sort-of futuristic Ducati Monster that had overdosed on anabolic steroids.
The MT-01 was tall and heavy but it handled well enough. The 48° long-stroke v-twin was seriously grunty (110lb/ft), the bike had soul and it was a better package than Yamaha’s earlier and disappointing BT1100 Bulldog.
A five-year production run would indicate that the MT-01 wasn’t a complete flop, but consider that Yamaha’s similar-in-concept V4 V-Max was produced for 22 years, while its VMAX successor continued for a further decade.
Despite being an imposing and handsome beast, the MT-01 fell between two camps as it was neither cruiser nor hot-rod roadster. And those massive high-level megaphone pipes were just a bit OTT for many too.
Oddball rating: 8/10
Suzuki GSX-1300 B-King
It’s plausible that Suzuki’s product development team was so in awe of the MT-01’s physical presence that they created the even more extreme B-King.
Although not supercharged like the original concept bike, the B-King’s retuned 1,340cc four-cylinder Hayabusa lump still pumped out 164bhp, so it was good for a sub 10sec ¼ mile time and it could easily hit its limited-to-150mph top speed. Its alloy beam frame was quite different from the ‘Busa’s, but the chassis, braking and handling were well up to par.
The deal-breaker was the B-King’s aesthetics. The weird front mudguard, the awkward headlamp housing, the bulky fuel tank sidepanels and the steeply upswept seat unit all got the thumbs down. And then there were those comedic silencer cones which looked like they came from Stage 1 of a 1960s Soviet Voskhod rocket.
Ultimately the production B-King couldn’t live up to the hype of the prototype. Without that, who knows? Maybe it would still be around today?
Oddball rating: 9/10
Describing Honda’s DN-01 – Dream New model, number 1 – without a photo would be like describing a spiral staircase without using your hands. Even with a photo it’s still hard to know what to make of it. Was it a feet-forward commuter bike, a maxi-scooter, a futuristic cruiser or a two-wheeled car?
Whatever, nestling ahead of that super-low seat was the 58bhp 680cc V-twin motor from Honda’s Deauville. Allied to this was a ‘Human Friendly’ CVT auto transmission with three modes; Drive, Sports and push-button six-speed manual (a world first for a production bike).
Weighing a hefty 270kg (34kg more than the Deauville) the shaft-driven DN-01 was nippy enough around town, but short-of-breath on the open road and a pain on a long trip. Unlike a maxi-scooter it was devoid of any under-seat stowage space while its £9,000+ price tag also ensured that, although imported in limited number, the DN-01 sold in very limited numbers.
Oddball rating: 10/10
Honda NM4 Vultus
Honda’s stealth-styled NM4 Vultus (NM = New Motorcycle) landed on planet Earth in 2014. With mechanicals from the Honda NC750 (and its Integra and X-ADV maxi-scooter siblings), the 245kg Vultus had a 745cc parallel twin putting 54bhp through a three-mode dual-clutch transmission and chain final drive.
Costing the best part of £10k and quietly on sale in the UK for three years, like its oddball forebear the Vultus also offered inadequate wind and weather protection. It also had no under-seat stowage, although the pillion seat did serve as a flip-up backrest and the revised NM4 now sold in the US sports a pair of integrated 16-litre panniers.
Quite a few people liked the sci-fi looks but it was (and remains) a job to figure out the Vultus’ target market. Presumably it was conceived and designed by non motorcyclists for non motorcyclists who happen to hold a full motorcycle licence, but there aren’t very many of them.
Oddball rating: 11/10