Single Track Mind – Melling’s Best of 2013

December 31, 2013
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Every year the great and the good of MCUSA’s staff of galactic superstar journalists provide their “Best of the Year” awards – and every year I am banned from joining in because my huge age, wisdom and sagacity is just too much for the little ones who run MCUSA to handle. Not that this prevents me from spreading the one true word – well, a couple of thousand one true words – which reveals the best and worst of motorcycling in 2013.

The Most Memorable Motorcycling Moment of 2013:

Marc Marquez kept pace during Day 1 of testing at Sepang  placing third.
Marc Marquez pushed physical boundaries  on a MotoGP bike during his title-winning rookie season in 2013.

This is probably the easiest award of 2013. It goes to Marc Marquez and his ability to slide a MotoGP bike on the front wheel with the rear wheel in the air. Now clearly, this can’t be done. The instant the front wheel of the bike slides you correct it or the very next question is: “What time is the doctor coming to see me, nurse?”

However, this rule, which is as fixed in motorcycling wisdom as E=mc2 resides within the laws of physics, doesn’t apply to Marquez. Somehow, he can balance the whole weight and energy of a MotoGP bike on just the front tire – while the rear wheel is waving around in the breeze – and still retain complete control of the situation.

Clearly, what your eyes are telling you is happening can’t actually be taking place except that Marc does the same trick lap after lap and doesn’t crash. We saw this before our eyes at Turn 1 in Valencia but Boy Wonder can do it anywhere and anytime.

Sadly for every other GP rider this is now the minimum benchmark to which they must all aspire – and that’s going to be some challenge for 2014.

Most Beautiful Bike:

Honda wants an piece of the exotic liter-class market with its SP CBR1000RR
The Fireblade SP takes the cake for most beautiful bike in Melling’s eye, which is inch perfect in every respect.

In every STM annual awards, Ducati almost inevitably wins the “Most Beautiful Motorcycle” trophy: but not this year. The new 899 Panigale ought to be on the top step of the beauty pageant podium because it is an utterly stunning motorcycle in every way. Yet, almost bizarrely, Ducati have given it a very non-descript red paint job. If I had a 899 I would want everyone to know because it is a truly breathtaking motorcycle.

Instead, the champagne and trophy go to Honda for the Fireblade SP. Occasionally, the Japanese get the styling 100% right and set a world-beating standard. This is the case with the SP which is inch-perfect in every respect and has a paint job which leaves the onlooker panting with desire.

As a fat, bald, old wrinkly I wasn’t invited to Qatar for the SP launch but the word is that the bike performs as well as it looks and, although the term “bargain” is something of an oxymoron with a bike costing $23,000, let’s say that the new Honda is very good value for money.

Most Important Bike(s) of 2013

The 2013 CB500X shares a 500cc engine with the 2013 CB500F and CBR500R.
Honda scores a second Melling win in 2013 with its new line of desirable and affordable CB500s.

This is the second win of the year for Honda with its CB500s – effectively the same bike in slightly different packages. I just love this range of wonderful motorcycles which combine the rarest of attributes – super desirability with a savagely attractive MSRP.

These are just the machines which motorcycling needs. Twin cylinders, excellent acceleration and ample enough speed to get your license suspended without even trying.

The entire CB range stop, go and handle beautifully and are finished to a typically high Honda standard. Okay, they’re not a Fireblade SP but in Britain they are $15,000 cheaper and that is one serious attraction to anyone new to motorcycling.

Best of all the CB range – road, sports and trail – all look and feel like real bikes. They’re not some second rate pastiche of a motorcycle but a 100% authentic bike and Honda deserve every accolade in the book for achieving this. If I had no other bike to ride on the road than a CB500 I would be happy.

Most Successful Bike of 2014 Which You Don’t Yet Properly Know About – But Will Soon

With the greatest respect to my esteemed colleague Bryan Harley, I am not a cruiser fan. For this reason, I can’t understand the attractions of Harleys. Equally, there is no argument that H-D have the cruiser market by the cojones and no-one has truly found a way of loosening Milwaukee’s non-metricized grip of steel.

Big bling - Triumph Thunderbird LT.
The Parallel Twin Triumph Thunderbird is poised to be a genuine competitor for Harley-Davidson in 2014.

What is equally true is that if you want an immense presence wherever you go, and incredible residual values, you have got to own a Harley – and these two statements are fact.

Until now, it doesn’t matter what anyone else has pitched at the cruiser market, H-D has always been #1. In 2014, there will be a genuine contender for the first time in the form of Triumph’s quite astonishing Thunderbird.

As a motorcycle, the T’Bird is as bad as every other cruiser. As a cruiser, it is a genuine H-D competitor. The problem which the Japanese, Victory and even Moto Guzzi face is that their products are never authentic. Worse still, a V-Twin – any V-Twin – will always be an intimation Harley. Everyone else can start up their bikes in whatever way they wish but a V-Twin cruiser is a Harley and that’s another one of the immutable constants in the multiverse.

For the same set of reasons, a Parallel Twin will be always be a Triumph. One of the most beautiful motorcycles of all times was Edward Turner’s 1938 Speedtwin and Triumph have been in the Parallel Twin business ever since.

What the T’Bird does is to mine this vein of heritage gold very hard indeed and, in so doing, it completely eschews any attempt to be Harley. First, last and middle the T’Bird is a Triumph. However, what the British factory have done is to shamelessly analyze why customers buy Harleys – and then give them the whole package with a Triumph badge on the tank.

Since the 1938 Speedtwin  Triumph has been in the Parallel Twin business.
One of the most beautiful motorcycles of all time was Edward Turner’s 1938 Speedtwin and Triumph have been in the Parallel Twin business ever since.

First, there is a presence and this is probably the single most important thing to owners of cruisers. My goodness, fill up for gas with a T’Bird and the cruiser aficionadas will be mobbing you because the T’Bird has an ego which makes Liberace look like a Trappist monk in a mountain monastery.

The finish is show winning, straight off the production line. You will need not so much sunglasses but, more likely, a welding mask to prevent blindness if you polish this bike in the sun.

Finally, but I do believe it is a secondary issue for cruiser owners, the good folk at Triumph insist that the T’Bird actually works as a motorcycle. Throughout the T’Bird’s three years of development it has shared garage space in Triumph’s R&D department with H-D’s latest Road King which was used as the benchmark. The aim was to make a cruiser which stops, handles and goes like a real bike – and that’s something you could never accuse a Road King of doing.

I predict that the bike will sell like cold bottled water at Laguna Seca and, best of all, when these bikes come on to the second hand market they will hold their prices very well indeed.

Greatest On-Going Myth of 2013:

This story comes in three parts. Thus: Part 1 – the Japanese have lost interest in motorcycle production and have forgotten to how to make an iconic motorcycle. Part 2: European cost base, plus labor laws which are punitively anti-manufacturing, mean that bikes can’t be made at a profit on this side of the Atlantic. Part 3: the Chinese will take advantage of Parts 1 & 2 and soon everyone will be riding a Chinese motorcycle.

Maybe the Taliban want an ultra-cheap  Chinese-made XL Honda clone  but we buy bikes that excite us.
Maybe the Taliban want an ultra-cheap, Chinese-made XL Honda clone, but we buy bikes that excite us.

Economic analysts who make these predictions simply miss the one key factor in the equation: we buy bikes which excite us. The Taliban want an ultra-cheap, Chinese made, clone of an XL Honda because their primary need from a motorcycle is that it carries a bearded bloke, wearing a turban and an RPG launcher, reliably and economically. This is where the Chinese are doing well.

But if you don’t want to run round mountains with an AK-47 and half a dozen grenades strapped to your bike then maybe you have different needs and aspirations. Perhaps you want a bike that is beautiful, desirable and has so much performance you go weak at the knees merely thinking about it.

The truth is that the Japanese are making utterly wonderful and lust-inducing motorcycles. The second truth is that the European motorcycle business is booming – and is profitable too. And the third truth is the Chinese have nothing to offer in terms of style, performance or build quality which will inspire any rider with either knowledge of motorcycles and motorcycling, or a passion for the sport.

Chinese styling and technology or a new Ducati
Chinese styling and technology or a new Ducati?

The only way forward for the Chinese is to do what Enfield have done with their new Continental. Have the whole bike designed by a team who have motorcycles in their DNA and then use European equipment to build the bike and a historic name to sell it.

Go on, tell me truthfully, if you were in the market for new Harley cruiser or a hyper sports bike from BMW what would it take to get to spend your hard earned dollars on a Jinan Qingqi or a Zongshen – regardless of the quality or price?

What the Chinese need is a game changer – even if it sold at a huge loss. They need something like a super-charged V8 which makes 220 hp at the back wheel – a bike which demands respect and attention and which is the biggest/fastest/heaviest or whatever in its class. Off the back of this headline act, they will sell us conventional Fours and Twins. Without it, we will stick with the bikes we know and trust – and we would be stupid not to do so.

Greatest Missed Opportunity of 2013:

I have shed more tears over this category than any other, from both an international and British perspective. Again, let’s look at the facts. Interest in motorcycling in general, and motorcycle racing in particular, is falling. This is absolute fact.

Marc Marquez sits and talks about testing the Honda RC213V at the Sepang circuit.
Tom Sykes claimed his sixth-consecutive SBK Superpole victory with the pole position at Imola.
Prince William made it to the Birmingham Bike Show in 2013...but wheres Tom Sykes
Motorcycling personalities like Marc Marquez and Tom Sykes could help broaden the appeal of two-wheeled sport, but when Sykes doesn’t even appear at the Birmingham bike show, what can you expect? Prince William?

What we need is something to get us center stage in terms of worldwide publicity. What we need is a young, physically attractive, multi-lingual, motorcycling deity with a charming personality. What we need is what we have: Marc Marquez.

We need young Marc at every bike show obviously. We need him on breakfast TV. We need him kissing babies in supermarkets and appearing on cooking programs and comedy shows with not the merest connection to motorcycling.

We need Marc to say to the world: “Look, I am intelligent, handsome and articulate – and have athletic skills which match Usain Bolt, Stephen Gostkowski or David Beckham.”

Instead tell me, how many times have you see Marc on a non-motorcycling TV show in the US?

On a lesser level, Britain has a very fine World Champion in Tom Sykes. Tom is a different package to Marc but still highly attractive. Tom’s strong point is that he comes across as a true Man of the People – which is in fact what he is. Sykes earned his world title the hard way and this makes his story incredibly strong, not to say moving.

One of the top shows on British TV during the whole year is the BBC Sports Personality of the Year program. It’s a big event with an audience of between 10 million and 14 million viewers. Here, the great, the good – and those that the BBC’s left of center political agenda insist should be included – are paraded in dinner suits and velvet frocks to receive their accolades.

Tom was virtually cut out of the whole program. I think that he got under 10 seconds in the whole show. Naturally, the British bike press went apoplectic with rage but their anger was completely misplaced. Yes, it was a travesty of justice that Tom wasn’t the star of the program but when he doesn’t even appear at the Birmingham bike show what can you expect?

There was an atmosphere as cold as a bath of liquid nitrogen on one manufacturer’s stand at Birmingham when a BSB so-called star launched a tirade regarding how exhausted he was talking to fans and signing autographs. I informed him, in front of his bosses, that he should go down on bended knees and kiss the feet of fans because his sole and only talent was riding a motorcycle round and round in circles very quickly. Other than this single ability, he would be an assistant shelf stacker at the supermarket so he needed to show some good grace, not to say professionalism and worship his fans.

Riders need to realize where their paychecks come from and manufacturer’s need to work their assets hard for the good of their brand and the wider benefit of motorcycling.

Greatest Challenge to the Laws of Physics in 2013:

Premier-class rookie Scott Redding gets used to his new RCV1000R and Honda Gresini team during testing at Valencia.
If GP bikes like the Honda RCV1000R Scott Redding rides here outpace the prototype machines in 2014, expect to see Dorna traveling back in time to expunge all memories of the non-factory team’s four-liter fuel and softer-tire advantages.

This was another very easy decision. It is well known that the speed of light is 186,282.397 miles per second. To exceed this speed will mean that you arrive at your destination before you leave.

Dorna are certain, absolutely and utterly convinced, that the customer GP bikes provided by Honda and Yamaha to Colin Edwards, Aleix Espargaro, Nicky Hayden and Scott Redding will not, despite having soft tires and four additional liters of fuel, be faster than the machines ridden by the aliens.

This is an interesting bet but the outcome will not matter too much because we know that Dorna can exceed 186,282.397 miles per second and therefore time travel is perfectly possible.

The moment one customer bike rider zips past an alien’s machine on the straight, or worse still genuinely out qualifies them in equal conditions, you will see time travel in all its wonder and glory as Dorna travel back to 2013 and expunge all memories of four liters and soft tires. “Back to the Future” will be a mere fictional movie plot in comparison.

Most Amazing Technical Feat of 2013:

The first article I submitted for publication was written on an Adler manual typewriter balanced on my knees as I sat on the end of my bed. In 1970 the only people who could type were girls and journalists. I was neither but desperately wanted to share my passion for motorcycling so I bought a second-hand portable typewriter for three dollars and pecked away with two fingers – and a lot of hope.

Later, much later, I saw my first fax machine ironically in Kawasaki’s British headquarters. It was the size of a very large photocopier and emitted so much heat that you could barbecue pork ribs on it.

Then came the Wang Word Processor with its glowing lines of green text which could actually be edited on screen. Goodness me, the aliens had landed!

The move to e-mail was quite simple. It was simply posh word processing and you could include a picture too. Touch typing – I had moved on from two fingers – and literacy were skills which fitted beautifully into e-mails so the transition was effortless.

GP mechanics had it easy in 2013, the most amazing technical feat of the year is undoubtedly the new Thundersprint Facebook page.

Designing a website was much harder but five days of hard work and a lot of reading – being an English Lit major at College is always helpful when it comes to wading through dense text – and I had a rough and ready website for the Thundersprint which sort of worked until a professional could fine tune it.

This left the last great mountain to climb: a Facebook Page. I refuse to Tweet for the very sound reason that I am incapable of saying anything of interest to anyone in 140 characters: I’m just not smart enough to master this higher order skill.

But Facebook…Yes, everyone told me, you need a Facebook page for the Thundersprint – and before the end of 2013. So, I read a few more “How To” guides and made one. Here it is now:

Since I know that everyone in MCUSA land is cutting edge in terms of knowledge about everything in the interwebfacebookery world, please do have a look and let me have your comments.

Thank you for doing the great honor of reading this column and my best wishes to you all for a happy, successful and peaceful new year – filled with the very best of motorcycling.