02.02.2012
By Terry Flanagan

Motorcycle Mania: Harley, Triumph, and Ducati Debut 2012 Models

Metal-flecked paint, chopper handles, stripped-down bodies, exposed forged steel, LED headlights, electronically-adjusted suspension, GPS assistance…and Steve McQueen’s signature? Yes, this is what we’re seeing in this year’s latest from three of the top names in motorcycling, and it ranges from Harley-Davidson’s vintage revivals, to Triumph’s homage to a silver-screen hero, to Ducati’s envelope-pushing modernities.

Harley-Davidson’s Seventy-Two and Softail Slim. In the ’70s, choppers–those long, low-riding, rumbling pieces of machinery with high-set chrome handlebars–ruled the land, and movies like Easy Rider captured the time’s counterculture mindset. With its latest model, the Seventy-Two, Harley-Davidson seeks to evoke the aesthetics of that era, incorporating candy apple-red metal flake paint (the kind that was so ubiquitous 40 years ago), generous portions of chrome, and whitewall tires. Without going fully into the chopper look, this bike manages to convey both contemporary cool and vintage nostalgia, with the longer front fork associated with the chopper set-up and, of course, the chopped-off rear fender to expose the back tire. A mini-ape handlebar and forward foot controls complete the vintage look, as does a bold racing pinstripe atop the fenders and fuel tank.

The Harley Davidson Seventy-Two (left) and Softail Slim (right) bring the chopper back for 2012.

Counteracting the bold design of the Seventy-Two is the other latest Harley: the Softail Slim. Also meant to evoke another era–this time, the home-built custom kits of the 1940s and 1950s–the Slim is especially designed to display the essentials of a motorbike: namely, the motor.

““It’s time to make the engine the focal point of the motorcycle,” said Harley-Davidson Senior Designer Casey Ketterhagen in a February 1 press release, “so we put a Softail on a diet to get the proportions back in check. Scale down…and the heart of the bike, the motor, once again becomes the focus. We left a gap between the nose of the seat and tank so the rider can see the top of the motor. I like to be able to look down and see what’s moving me.”

If it were up to Ketterhagen, the bike would be stripped-down even further. But to please the masses, the Softail Slim is pared down just enough to still appeal to mainstream tastes: the stoplight, turn signal, and taillights are combined into one, the rear fender struts are exposed, the powertrain and engine are sparely finished (polish instead of chrome, cylinders left unhighlighted), and the front fender is shorter, showing more of the front tire. To cap it off, the Slim uses what’s called a “Hollywood bar”—a handlebar with a wider stance and bend to it.

“When you’re riding, you have an unobstructed view forward, which reinforces the idea that this is a very elemental motorcycle, a real back-to-basics ride,” Ketterhagen said. But don’t be fooled: Harley-Davidson’s latest two models, as vintage and stripped-down as they may appear, are still major lookers that can more than hold their own on the road.

Triumph Bonneville T100: Steve McQueen Edition. That’s right: a Steve McQueen edition. Once an avid Triumph rider known for zipping around the outskirts of Los Angeles on a Bonneville, The King of Cool gets a tribute from the British motorcycle manufacturer with this matte-racing green debut. Those who’ve watched The Great Escape will remember the stunts McQueen did himself, including a maneuver that involved scaling a fence…on a Triumph Bonneville.

Then and Now: 2012’s Steve McQueen edition can probably still jump fences–but then again, are you as cool as the man who did his own motorcycle stunts?

Much like the original version, the 2012 tribute has the same stenciled “Triumph” name on the tank and comes in the same shade of matte British racing green. Don’t expect the overall shape to be much different, however, as Triumph has maintained the same look for the classic Bonneville over the decades, making only small changes–for instance, the paint chips available each model year.

This McQueen edition also comes with a single seat and luggage rack (though of course, you can swap it out for a double seat should you be taking a lucky passenger along), a skid plate along the bottom, and some blacked-out components. The standard Bonneville only gives the option of complete black-out or silver components.

True to its spirit–the Bonneville once held the land speed record in the 1960s–the Steve McQueen edition can be expected to have speedy acceleration…and fans can look forward to that slightly mental engine rumble, too.

Ducati 1199 Panigale Superbike: Vintage, schmintage. Not so much a fan of the classic bike or vintage revivalism? Do you like your bikes to be up-to-the minute, geometrically shaped, sleek architectural masterpieces? The 2012 1199 Panigale, with its 361-lb total weight (414 lbs when wet) and at 195 horsepower, is not only the lightest speedbike in the market today…it’s also the fastest.

Speeding into the future: the 1199 Panigale has all gizmos a Jetson would want.

Priding itself on its technological advances, Ducati has also raised the bar with the Panigale’s other race-ready specs: the suspension is electronically controlled, and the steering damper is also adjustable. The body has certain carbon fiber parts, with a front LED headlight (also an industry first). Traction control is standard, and anti-lock brakes are an added option.

Aesthetically, the 1199 Panigale reaffirms the Ducati design philosophy: the rider is seated in an aggressive racing stance, and, as an observer the eye is drawn inexorably forward, as if the bike were already moving ahead despite being perfectly still. Strong geometric lines and angles underscore the full intent of this bike and its maker: to race.

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