Wheels: Motorcycle Makers Shake Up Designs to Draw New Riders

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The styling was done by Kiska, an Austrian studio whose work is also seen on products from Audi, Adidas and Zeiss.

The visuals are best described as disruptive: a sculptural postindustrial theme, with mechanical bits so boldly exposed that the popular classification as a “naked” bike does not serve. The use of a steel-tube trellis frame is not radical, but components like the swingarm, handlebars and rear fender are consciously stylized with an eye on appealing to a younger audience, reawakening the tribal motorcycle culture that diminished as bikes became more complex and costly.

“The look and feel represent a Scandinavian approach, an alternative to the mainstream,” Gerald Kiska, founder and chief executive of the studio, said of his intention to “design desire.” The target buyer, Mr. Kiska explained, is looking for a machine that “touches the heart and brain as an art piece.”

Royal Enfield, whose archaic 500cc singles have traded on little more than nostalgia for the venerable Bullet model — and the considerable appeal of low prices — is overhauling its approach with a modernization of the design and production that includes doubling the number of cylinders. The coming Continental GT 650 and Interceptor 650 still mine the profile of British classics, retaining throwback components like a twin-shock rear suspension and wire-spoke wheels, yet updating the internal parts.

Royal Enfield’s ambitious effort to crack the American market has some distinctly promising factors. The simplicity of the bikes is appealing to new riders, and the pricing undercuts competitors. The company also gets a boost from the introduction of the Himalayan, a $4,499 model. Its 411cc single is far smoother than the engine of the Bullet, though that model drew the admiration of style-conscious onlookers over the course of a weeklong vacation tour I did in Italy. Likewise, the crude gearshifting of earlier Royal Enfields has been dispatched, though the brakes leave room for improvement.

Even so, the Himalayan may hit a sweet spot of style and affordability. Not so aggressively desert-focused that it’s awkward to ride around town, and approachable for a new rider, it may be a formula for what could bring growth back to the American motorcycle market.

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