Streetfighters then and now, a brief history

OK, I might not know art, but I know what I like. And I like streetfighters. But what exactly IS a streetfighter? And has the term been watered down by the manufacturers?

It’s impossible to know when the first streetfighter was built. It was probably in England or Italy, probably in the 80’s, probably when someone crashed his GSXR and didn’t have the dosh to buy new plastic. Voila! The first streetfighter.

A Streetfighter is a custom motorcycle, but (usually) customized in a way so as to enhance performance, NOT RUIN IT like so many custom bikes do. Most custom streetfighters started life as fully faired sportbikes. In the 90’s the stereotypical streetfighter consisted of a Suzuki GSXR-750 stripped of its fairings, with a dual headlight arrangement and maybe a Ducati 916 tail section. Upgrade the intake, exhaust, brakes and suspension, mix in a bit of custom paint and you’ve got your basic ‘fighter.

Streetfighters often have motocross style tubular handlebars. Just look at the large ads Renthal pays for in each issue of the UK mag “Streetfighters”. Somewhere along the way, in Germany at least, they’ve decided that ‘fighters need to have the ass end turned way up. Why? We have no idea. Those wacky Germans have taken streetfighters down a detour toward Harley-esque bizarre modifications made for no reason than just to be different. Nice to look at, probably not nice to ride.
True hardcore Streetfighters never really caught on in the U.S., but they carry on in England, France and Germany. One possible reason for their lack of popularity in the U.S. is that a typical ‘fighter features an upright riding position and zero wind protection, needed for high speed highway riding so common in the states. Another possible reason is that many motorcycle manufacturers have jumped on the streetfighter bandwagon, producing sanitized ‘fighters for mass consumption. These are often called “naked bikes”.

Ducati started the naked bike buzz in 1993 with its Monster. The Ducati Monster is such an iconic bike that it is still sold today, visually unchanged. Today’s Monster can be had in several sizes, from the beginner’s 620 to fire-breathing 1100cc variants with liquid cooled, 4 valve, motors and suspension worthy of full on racebikes.

Practically every manufacturer has a Streetfighter-ish offering in their lineup, but no one hit the mark closer than Triumph with their Speed Triple. The Speed Triple has sold so well for Triumph that they’ve expanded their range to include the new Street Triple, a similarly styled machine based on the successful Daytona 675 engine and frame.
Aprilia’s Tuono, MV Agusta Brutale, and Suzuki’s B-King are all mass produced ‘fighters, watered down to make them attractive, reliable and safe enough for mass consumption.

In a larger sense, streetfighters might be considered a rebellion against the low clip-on, high pegs plastic-wrapped repli-racer that gained popularity in the 80’s. Fighters might be considered…gasp…. a return to the “standard” motorcycles that were just about all you could buy in the 50’s and 60’s. Funny how some things come full circle.

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