I was watching the MCN long term review of their Tiger 1200. It’s a very good review. He extolls all its many virtues and claims to “love” the bike and even admits that it’s converted him to the benefits of adventure bikes. In summary though he says he wouldn’t want one because it’s a bit bland and lacks “character”.
I’ve never really understood what “character” actually means - perhaps it means different things to different people? Personally I’ve found that “character” is often used to excuse a bikes (or cars) faults, foibles, unreliability and sometimes agricultural nature!
Do modern Triumphs have “character”? I own two and really like them both and think both are superb at the things they’re designed to do, but I’ve no idea whether they have “character”.
It’s the most bullshit term used in biking, invented by British manufacturers to try and gloss over the fact that Japanese bikes could knock them into a cocked hat. Back then character appeared to be vibration, oil leaks and unreliability. I’ve had a couple of “boring” VFRs, for example. Plenty of character, if you will. Great sounding motor, complete dependability. That’s enough character for me!
I am guilty of saying when I took my new Honda out the other day that I think it does lack the “character” of my Street Triple. I loved it and am certain I will have a huge amount of fun on it, but I think what I mean is that you start the Striple and it sounds almost frantic and has that whistle and chirp, then when you get going and get that beautiful induction howl going and get it high into the rev range it seems to egg you on for more - combined with the exhaust noise, the wind noise and buffeting and the amazing feedback it seems to give you from every input and the road it’s a very sort of visceral and utterly engaging and intoxicating feeling. Extremely involving.
I have only taken out the Honda once and it was a very conservative ride so I do not know the bike yet, but it spoke to me of smoothness, reliability, perfect balance and effortless speed. There was no need to be as up and down the gearbox as much as the Striple and I was in a quiet bubble because of the fairing and screen. It still felt and sounded incredible but in a far more refined way - less of the “hooligan” factor and more of the very, very capable and competent machine that will get any job done, no fuss. Still engaging and exciting and I cannot wait to become familiar with it and for the roads to dry up so that I can push on a bit more, but just seemed to lack the “bonkers” feel a little. Speed was almost too effortless (need to watch that speedo…).
For me a bike’s character is almost entirely defined by its engine. Triples are what do it for me, my Speed Triple will stay till I stop riding. I also have a BMW S1000XR for 2-up touring, it does that very well but it’s the travel experience that moves the soul, not the bike. Never really gelled with the Multistrada I had for a couple of years, if character is faults it had a shed load. Had a week on BMW boxers, you can have “character” and not be a good thing.
I agree that the biggest element in ‘character’ is the engine. I patricularly like singles and V-twins (and modern Bonnies pretending to be V-twins). I also like triples, but I have never been able to love any of the fours that I have owned or ridden. Never tried one of those well known German boxers, but I did enjoy one of their excellent 650 singles.
And the most important element that makes the character of any engine is its firing order / spacing.
A regular inline 4 cylinder is characterless (IMO), but not so the Yam crossplane crank, or an Aprilia/Ducati/Honda V4.
Conversely I think Triumph have spoilt the triple engine when changing the firing of the newer Tigers to simulate a twin (only my opinion - sorry Tiger owners )
And the firing spacing directly alters that all important sound and torque curve that is “character”.
Character to me is about the feedback you get from the bike, most of which is about the engine response both when coming on and off the throttle. A long long time ago I had a 750 VFR. Very nice it was but I fancied a change even though I liked it alot. I trued a CBR600. Now THAT was bland, it was like the throttle had an elastic band fitted to it, no instant feedback at all, went quicker when you opened the throttle, was perfectly smooth, but it just didn’t exite me at all. Then I tried a Fireblade and knew within a few hundred yards I wanted one because it reacted to every single input and felt alive rather than bland like the 600. Don’t forget Neavesie rides just about every bike available and just because he won’t buy one it doesn’t make it a bad bike, it’s just not for him, which if you consider he rides bikes like the S1000RR and Panagali it’s no big surprise. It’s probably a case that it does things too well or it could be down to something simple like how the engine produces it’s torque.
A few people have recognised the engine as perhaps the greatest element of a bike’s ‘character’ and I wouldn’t disagree but I believe there’s a bit more than that. For example, looks are important to some. Italian sportsbikes often have a certain character in their design. Consider the uniqueness of the Ducati 916, or even the modern-retro MV Superveloce. In the end whatever ‘character’ is, it’s in the eyes, ears and hands of the beholder, influenced by what we’re primed to believe to be some exotic, desirable or nostalgic quality. Some poeple love the VFR but I was so disappointed I got rid of it because I found it characterless. It’s all subjective.
In the end I believe character is a combiation of the way the power is delivered (engine configuration), the sound it makes, the way the engine feels when you rev it (that Moto Guzzii twitch is certainly characteristic) and how it looks when you’re standing next to it.
My old 400/4 had bags of character… a weedy little inline 4 and I loved it. The Yamaha Diversion 600 I briefly owned was blander than Ed Sheeran wearing a beige cardigan, Farrah slacks and white moccasins whilst eating raw tofu.
“In MOTORCYCLE reviews ,it’s a GOOD idea to focus on THE MOTORCYCLE & actually START THE MOTORCYCLE, let us hear/see it run, & RIDE THE MOTORCYCLE, instead of focusing on the TOFU kid & his stutter stop poser bit”