Comparisons

Bobbers galore: A four motorcycle shootout

Images by Rohit Mane

Form over Function: Which of these Bobbers should you be riding around on?

Once upon a time in a land far far away, a bunch of bikers decided to customise their bikes, make them lose weight and go faster in the process. Every bit of excess, every gram of flab was stripped but what made these motorcycles really stand out were their chopped or bobbed fenders. Remember, we’re talking the 1930s, when valanced fenders were the norm and not the exception. And speaking of norms, there wasn’t much else. It was pretty much a free for all with each custom builder creating his own idea. Only the bobbed fenders remained a constant.

“The idea of the bobber as they came to be called, continued to evolve through the 1950s and ’60s, even as other forms of motorcycle customisations started in earnest both in America and Europe”

The idea of the bobber as they came to be called, continued to evolve through the 1950s and ’60s, even as other forms of motorcycle customisations started in earnest both in America and Europe. Even though Japan was rapidly gaining ground in the global motorcycle development arena, the idea of the bobber never really got the fancy of the engineers from the east. The bobber therefore remained an Euro-American phenomenon, and over time, as with many other things, came to be identified eventually as an all American motorcycle format by the global biker.

That was how things remained for a while until the Europeans decided to revive their interest in this now retro motorcycling format and create bobbers of their own. There was, after all, a lucrative opportunity in nostalgi-biking that American manufacturers had successfully cashed in on for the longest time ever. So now, you not only have a pair of American bobbers available here in India, there is also a British version. Not to forget, the Italians have another unique take on this classic bike format.

“There was, after all, a lucrative opportunity in nostalgi-biking that American manufacturers had successfully cashed in on for the longest time ever”

So, which of these four should be in your garage? You’ll be crystal clear on that one at the end of this story.

Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber

Italians can be eccentric in their interpretation of norms. Especially when it comes to motorcycle design. So it was hardly a surprise that Moto Guzzi decided to create their own idea of what a bobber should be. They wanted to break free of the convention, delivering some much-needed freshness to the bobber theme. So if the British went for intricate detail and the Americans went for brashness, the Italians chose simplicity and ended up with elegance too.

“The V9 Bobber therefore isn’t a Californian deep dish, it is a thin crust pizza that most of us like”

You do get bob cut fenders. The front is in tune with the theme, the rear overhang extending rather more than what a conventional bobber’s would. The tank is chiselled and sleek, tapering nicely towards the rider’s seat. Keeping with traditions, the headlamp as well as the instrument cluster are round and sport chromium treatment. They do feel slightly cheap and do not match the quality standards of the other bobbers on test here.

Of the four however, the V9 has the sportiest stance. It is near identical in fact to a retro naked and had the motorcycle not been pitched as a bobber, I think it would have done exceptionally well against the current crop of classically-styled naked motorcycles. But since it has been monikered ‘V9 Bobber’, complications arise and it is difficult to think of this as a bobber. Hey, but it is an Italian and feels no need to conform with social expectations.

Since it is a Moto Guzzi, the V9 Bobber’s 853cc V-twin air-cooled mill is mounted longitudinally on the twin down tube cradleframe. Its motor has oodles of torque right from the moment you twist open the throttle. The delivery is punchy and raw but fizzles out post the 7,000rpm mark. Given the relatively small cubic capacity, the V9 Bobber boasts of 54bhp and 62Nm of torque and is therefore the least powerful in this company.

“What contributes to its dynamic prowess is the fact that it’s the lightest of the lot, tipping in just a kilo shy of 200”

The way the engine is mounted however has a side-effect. The longitudinal mounting of the motor enhances the gyroscopic action of the rotating crankshaft. This is further amplified by the shaft drive, which adds its own gyro moment and this has a profound impact on the way the V9 Bobber goes around corners. While it wants to turn into a right-hander easily, you’ll have to hustle it into a left. It is something that a rider will have to adapt his riding style to. Once you get used to this, the bike is enjoyable and the peculiarity becomes unnoticeable. What you cannot miss however is the abundance of vibrations felt across the motorcycle at idle. The vibes fade away on the go, arising again only in higher revs.

What contributes to its dynamic prowess is the fact that it’s the lightest of the lot, tipping in just a kilo shy of 200. Had it not been for the wide front tyre, the V9 in fact would be one of the sharpest motorcycles here. The suspension is on the firmer side and would suit sport riding. Yet, the setup is not jarring enough to rattle your teeth when ridden on our brilliant roads.

Had Guzzi priced it reasonably, the V9 Bobber could have been considered a worthy rival to the lot here. Sadly, it is the costliest of the lot at over Rs 13 lakh, ex-showroom. The premium pricing is one of the biggest contributing factors for the motorcycle’s poor fortunes in the country. And so I humbly conclude that the V9 Bobber simply cannot match up to its brethren featured here, all of which seem to offer as much if not more, for less.

Indian Scout Bobber

Less is always more when it comes to a bobber. Just like the other manifestations, the Scout Bobber is a ‘bobbed out’ version of the Scout, Indian Motorcycle’s entry-level cruiser. However, unlike the Italian, the Scout Bobber is America’s perception of a bobber. If the V9 skims on clothing a la Monica Belucci in a bikini, the Scout is a Dwayne Johnson sans sleeves. It is borderline menacing with blacked out panels and chopped fenders, revealing the fat tyres, very similar to Batman’s ride. The rider’s triangle has been vastly changed as well (compared to the Scout), all thanks to a raised seat, slightly rear set foot pegs (by 38mm) and a tracker-styled wide bar. But Indian has gone too far with the bob job, reducing the rear suspension travel by 26mm to just 50mm.

“If the V9 skims on clothing a la Monica Belucci in a bikini, the Scout is a Dwayne Johnson sans sleeves”

The ground clearance too is a meagre 123mm, putting it in the club of ‘low riders’ along with the Bonneville Bobber. But what is lost in terms of practicality, is gained in terms of aesthetics. Not only does it announce your arrival but also keeps the paparazzi busy for hours even when you’ve left the bike parked. The v-twin motor looks stunning thanks to a matte black finish combined with silver panels while the twin exhausts remind you of WW II fighters with loaded missiles. Even the front cowling (termed nacelle by Indian) seems meticulously designed to go with the ‘dark’ theme. In fact, to my eyes it is the best-looking motorcycle of this lot. It maybe not the most authentic bobber out there, but who cares?

Add to that the fact that the Indian isn’t all form no function. The 1133cc, liquid-cooled, V-twin is not just a visual delight but is one of the most graceful units to have been put on a cruiser motorcycle. It’s unbelievably smooth and the response is buttery at all times. The fuelling is precise too and refinement levels are among the best out there. The peak torque comes in at 5,600rpm while the engine revs all the way to 9,000rpm. Shifts are slick and you don’t miss out on the loud clunks either, typically associated with old-school cruisers. Riding the Scout Bobber is a joy, be it on the open highways or even through twisties.

And once you’re on the move, even the raised seat starts making sense. With a slightly leaned forward riding position and an upright handlebar, you’re mandated to hunch at all times. That may not be comfortable during long rides, but the intent is to make the Bobber feel sporty. Thanks to 16-inch front and rear wheels, the Bobber goes around corners like a sportsbike too. Even with a wide, 130-section front tyre, she tips in quickly into corners while sticking to the line at all costs, limited only by the foot pegs.

“The 1133cc, liquid-cooled, V-twin is not just a visual delight but is one of the most graceful units to have been put on a cruiser motorcycle. It’s unbelievably smooth and the response is buttery at all times”

However, the picture isn’t all rosy for this Indian. For starters, the awkward riding position starts taking a toll on your lower back while the low ground clearance leads to scraping the underbody on most speed breakers. The short travel rear suspension is extremely painful for bumpy roads, thus making it a workout to ride. But bobbers were never meant to be practical anyway. If you’re someone who prefers to stand out in  a crowd, the Scout Bobber will help you do so.

However, the Harley does offer 600 extra cee-cees at a little premium over this bike while the Bonneville Bobber will save you over Rs 2 lakh, giving you a lot more ‘bobber’ for your buck. But you love Indian Motorcycles you say? Pick up the Scout and bob it up yourself.

Harley-Davidson Street Bob

It weighs a bulky 298 kilos with all its bodily fluids. The ape-hangers mean stretched out arms at all times. The positioning of the pegs work in tandem with the ’bars to scrunch up your body enough to shame a yogi. You sit on it and think, “there’s no way I could possibly enjoy this thing”. Because just like me, you’d assume things too soon and come to a conclusion without even cranking up the motor. But let me tell you this. Once the Street Bob comes to life, it turns into one of the most ridiculously fun bikes you’d have ever ridden.

“You sit on it and think, “there’s no way I could possibly enjoy this thing”

We’ll get to that soon, but let’s just take a minute and whiff in the aesthetics of this motorcycle. As the name suggests, the Street Bob emulates the custom bob job bikes of the past and pares down all superfluous equipment and components. There’s not much in the way of, well, anything, except an engine, wheels, brakes and some things to hold on to. And that is certainly refreshing at a time where bikes are all too often covered in plastic and other visual drivel to hide what they’re actually packing.

The sheer pull this one packs though, is enough to tear continents apart! A staggering 145Nm hitting the ceiling at an early 3,000 rotations is no joke. But in all honesty, it’s an unfair advantage over the other bikes in the mix since it has the biggest engine. The 1745cc Milwaukee-Eight mill works wonders in the Street Bob lending it a characteristic you’d look for in a bobber. Unfettered fun. There is a definitive rumble while idling, and as soon as you give it gas, the explosions inside the metal boxes make themselves more apparent and you just surge ahead effortlessly. The fuelling is damn near perfect and so are the NVH levels. Transmission too is slick, with occasional thuds here and there. The ratios are perfectly selected, with sixth being a full overdrive.

“The 1745cc Milwaukee-Eight mill works wonders in the Street Bob lending it a characteristic you’d look for in a bobber. Unfettered fun”

“Oh, but I’m sure it’s gonna be a nightmare to corner.” Jesus Christ man, enough with the assumptions already. The switch from the Dyna build to the Softail design has lent it a new chassis and some serious suspension upgrades. And they work together beautifully, both in flowy corners and arrow straights. The bike feels light and agile. But the ’Bob, doesn’t feel as accessible as say, the V9 Bobber or the Bonneville Bobber. The 28.5-degree lean-angle meant that pegs grinded at almost every corner.

Undulations are soothed by a set of Showa Dual Bending Valve forks in the front and a concealed adjustable monoshock at the rear. All of these combined would make you want to ride the Street Bob like a loon. But what would stop you (or wouldn’t, in this case) are the brakes. Both the front and rear wear a single disc. The four-pot caliper up front has enough juice to effectively shed speed but the rear two-pot doesn’t do justice to the hefty frame. But all that is forgiven once you ride it. Because the unadulterated fun the motorcycle delivers is rare in today’s day and age. It’s why the Bobber existed back then, and it’s why it’s still fun today in 2018.

Read our review on the Harley-Davidson Street Bob here.

Triumph Bonneville Bobber

The Brits never do things by half measures. It’s either all, or nothing for them. We Indians should know. When they came to trade with us, we ended up trading in our freedom for a good 190 years. When they decided to drink tea they got obsessed with it. Coffee? They couldn’t be bothered with and have never stuck their noses into that beverage. It’s the same with their bikes. When they’re not interested they can’t be bothered but when they decided to build one, they build it like no one else does. For years and years the only staunchly British motorcycle manufacturer couldn’t give a rat’s backside for the bobber culture that had gained popularity across the pond. But when they did decide to show the yanks how to do a bob job, they pulled out every single stop. The result is this gem of a motorcycle, the Triumph Bonneville Bobber.

“For years and years the only staunchly British motorcycle manufacturer couldn’t give a rat’s backside for the bobber culture that had gained popularity across the pond”

Visually, I remember calling it the coolest looking bike on the planet when I first laid eyes on it back in late 2016 in Madrid, Spain. More than a year and a half later, I stand by what I said. This is one of the best looking motorcycles money can buy. Those bobbed fenders, that old school riding posture, that solo seat on that gorgeous floating aluminium seat pan, the small round headlamp with the single adjustable dial above it, those slash cut peashooter exhausts and that swinging cage in place of a standard swingarm make for a visual treat.

And then there’s attention to detail. The hub of the rear wheel, even though it’s a modern disc brake setup, is crafted like an old school drum brake. The liquid-cooled 1200cc high torque parallel twin is fuel injected but features faux carburettors. Just so it looks the part it’s meant to play. That it sounds like a million bucks only adds to its appeal and ability to make a statement.

God help the man who thinks of the Bonneville Bobber as merely a style statement however. For no self-respecting Brit engineer would ever design a bike that isn’t capable. With 76bhp and 106Nm pushing its 228 kilos, the Triumph feels sprightly and powerful. Sure, it can’t match the Harley but then that American bike has 600cc extra and a resultant 39Nm more of twist. As for the rest, the Triumph feels the fastest of the lot. Where dynamic abilities are concerned, the Bonnie is up there with the Indian.

“Visually, I remember calling it the coolest looking bike on the planet when I first laid eyes on it back in late 2016 in Madrid, Spain. More than a year and a half later, I stand by what I said”

Frankly, that’s a bit of a shame because from a pure geometrical stand point the Bonnie should have been the better, more instinctive handler with its 25.8-degree rake and 1510mm wheelbase. Unfortunately, for Triumph, the Scout Bobber’s smaller 16-inch front wheel (the Bonnie gets a 19-incher up front) and a wider handlebar means that it is the Indian that feels more instinctive to turn in. That said, none of the others will be able to match the Triumph’s dynamics.

Admittedly, the Bonnie is a little stiff for our roads, perhaps not as much as the Scout but certainly more so than the other two. Then there’s the ground clearance, which isn’t much. You’ll also find yourself at fuelling stations more often than the others because you’ve only got 9.1 litres to empty. But you will forget about all this because this beautiful machine will leave you grinning for years to come. Be it in your parking lot or out on the roads.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. Four distinct flavours, four varied identities. The Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber is kind of a misfit. It’s like a pizza with pineapple topping. Sure, there will be some takers for it but it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Then you have those who prefer a veggie delight. It tastes great in short helpings but eventually will leave you wanting for something else. For them it’ll have to be the Indian Scout Bobber. It handles well and is the most powerful, making it a great bike really. But it’s also stiff enough to be unrideable at distances over anything beyond the weekend joyride. Soon, you’ll want something else.

That’s when you notice the Harley. It’s like a perfect BBQ chicken pizza. A slice of America. The Harley-Davidson Street Bob fits this description aptly. Conventional styling married well with great riding dynamics as well as huge dollops of torque. Do you need more? Yes, you do! Exasperated pizza connoisseurs know what we are talking about. The best topping of them all – pepperoni – lots and lots of it. It is definitely better than BBQ chicken. So, you know which one we would buy. The Triumph Bonneville Bobber excels in nearly all departments. With great attention to detail, the Bonnie is one of the most traditionally styled bobbers. It is the coolest looking motorcycle to have rolled out of Hinckley. It is cheaper on the pocket as well and that just seals the deal for us.

Read about Triumph Bonneville Bobber here.


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