This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: How Ugly Motorcycles Come From Awesome Concepts

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The lights, the hype, the acclaim, the champagne and glad-handing. Like a royal birth, concept bikes are lauded as the next big thing when they’re introduced. Then the time for production comes, design doldrums are readily apparent, enthusiasm wanes, and reality sets in.

If it’s European, the bike will be said to be “lacking soul.” If it’s Japanese, it will be called an appliance and sold for 0 down, 9 percent a month at Bob’s Suzuki/Yamaha/Honda/Kawasaki/John Deere (they have to make margins somehow). So what happened? Put simply - reality. Put the long way, rules, regulations, and corporate suck.

Everyone knows the basics - EPA emissions mean big cans, lean tunes, etc. But a whole laundry list of little things are really what turns a great concept into middling reality.


For our before and after, we’ll be using the Suzuki B-King. A striking, supercharged concept turned into a bleak reality many years after its debut.

This production B-King, with its goofy mirrors, soft lines, and lovely new rear swingarm/tire don’t quite have the same effect as the concept.

For insight, I called in an expert. Nick Murphy handled homologation at an electric motorcycle company, managed development at a moto gear company, four-time Dirtbag Challenge winner, and has a perpetually furrowed brow. Now he works at Ministry of Supply making dapper things made from spacesuits.


The bullshit you never see, he has to deal with. Here’s just a small taste of development hell.

Turn Signals


The giant stalks on these turn signals, along with the goofy mirrors, are first on the chopping block for any new Triumph Scrambler or Bonneville.

The number one thing left off concept bikes and binned by customers. These dangly bits are the bane of riders everywhere, but here’s why they’re ugly.


One, they need to be a minimum of two square inches. They can still be oddly shaped, but a circle about the size of a golf ball needs to fit in them somewhere. Second, they need to be visible from 45 degrees on the opposite side, so your front left turn signal needs to be visible from the front right at an angle of 45 degrees - hence the long stalks they’re on. There are also regulations for brightness, blink speed, how long bulbs last, etc.

Sizing Requirements:

  • Minimum edge to edge separation distance between a turn signal lamp and headlamp is 4 inches.
  • At or near the front, at the same height, symmetrically about the vertical centerline, and having a minimum horizontal separation distance (centerline of lamps) of 16 inches.
  • Height: Not less than 15 inches, nor more than 83 inches.

Prognosis: Big, ugly long warts applied to your sleek concept.

License Plate Brackets


Oh hey Sean, that’s a cool looking supermoto you have there... what the fuck is that giant black tupperware thing on the back of your bike?

The second-most derided piece, and probably the biggest scourge of every new production bike. Dudebro’s bin ‘em, nerds buy new ones that are smaller. Here’s why they suck.


One, they need to be a specific angle, no steeper than 15 degrees with someone on the bike. Second, they need to be behind the vertical plane of the rear axle, way outside the back of the tire.

Prognosis: Oh so nasty brackets off the butt of your bike. People stare, children laugh, and the regulations go satisfied. The horror continues.


Dull Edges

Nothing says high performance sport machine like giant, bulbous mirrors.

Blunt bodywork is the hardest to change and the most hazy area of the regulations. Here’s where the pointy concept bikes of your dreams go to die (except the RC8, which must have used Austrian magic.)


“External projections.” The goal of this is if you graze a pedestrian, you won’t take off a pound of their flesh. Similarly, if you stop short or rear-end something, you won’t hurt yourself on your own bike. To test, there’s a big cylinder that they roll along the side of the bike, and anything it hits needs to be rounded.

There is a different requirement depending on the location on the bike, but farther forward has tougher requirements (i.e., rounder edges). Any edge needs to have a certain diameter and/or certain durometer rubber/material.


Prognosis: Here is where your bulbous clutch lever balls come into play - it’s so they can’t go into someone. Other examples are round turn signals, folding/rounded footpegs, and on sport bike windshields, when they put the strip of rubber on the edge (so you don’t slit your throat).



As the folklore-style story within the industry goes, some drunk asshole left the bar and hopped on his FLHTXSTP Glide. He pulled away with the kickstand down. First left turn he was bucked off the bike and into the hospital. Once he came-to, he sued EVERYBODY. And so the ridiculous requirements for kickstands were born.

Ignore the requirements for the kickstand to hold up your bike on hills that don’t even exist in San Francisco (by the way, if your bike ever falls over on its kickstand, it’s probably your fault.) Let’s look at the requirement that says “you can’t ride away with your kickstand down.”


Most manufacturers do this the same way - a kill switch that requires the stand to be up before the bike is put into gear. Some Euro-trash bikes have been known for their disastrous “automatic” kick stands, some silly dual sports have a rubber leg that’s meant to drag on the pavement and kick up the stand if the bike is in motion, and Harley honestly does it the best (seriously, take a look at what goes into an HD kickstand next time you’re at Starbucks. This is clearly where they put their engineering resources.)

All of this because you can’t be trusted to put your stand up before taking off. But let’s be honest, how many times has it saved your ass?


Prognosis: An annoying switch you end up hot-wiring, a chunk of rubber you take off, and maybe an idiot light on your dash (if you’re fancy). Be cool like us and do kickstand turns until it breaks off and then lean it against the dumpster until you turn it into a track bike.

International Lameness

I’ll let Nick take it from here:

The EU, AKA the Nanny State that ruins everything awesome, has much more stringent regulations, and a significantly more difficult approval process.

In the U.S.A, most regulations are self-certifying, meaning you just say “yup, we did it and it passed”. Of course if you lie about this there are ways to catch you and fine the lights out of you.

The EU certifications need to be signed off by an official representing the EU/ECE. Everything is tested, scrutinized, and sent back to the drawing board.


And common sense in this process is anything but common.

For example, even though electric motorcycles obviously do not have an exhaust pipe, they still need to go through the same sound requirement tests. Breaking news, they passed, but that test still costs multiple thousands of dollars, and holds up development time.


Good thing we tested this thing for emissions, right guys?

Additionally, since they have many more requirements, and the OEMs don’t want to have to make different bikes for every region, a lot of their stuff ends up on US bikes.


The good news is the DOT AND EU are working to unify certain standards. The bad news, this will probably only result in more red tape, cost, and development time as the game of safety telephone is now played internationally. Furthermore, it’s never going to happen 100 percent.

There’s the long and the short of it. You won’t cut yourself on a bike, or put an eye out, but they may be hurt by the sight of some ugly.


If you want to learn more, and have a big enough pile of Adderall and nothing better to do for the next several days, start by Googling “FMVSS” and have a blast.

Joseph Gustafson is a brand new contributor to Lanesplitter. His mouth is much faster than his riding acumen. He enjoys taking long rides on the road, short rides on the dirt, and finding new ways to use the term “voracious” in a sentence. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter as he butchers welding and words in the pursuit for hashtag glory.