Brace yourself for weird motorcycles
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There have been many willfully weird motorcycles over the decades. But one of our favourites is the Suzuki RE5, because it didn’t just go into strange territory – it also went a long way towards making something weird work in the real world.
The RE5 wasn’t the world’s first rotary-powered motorcycle and it wasn’t the last. Kawasaki and Yamaha produced concepts, while Norton (pictured below) and Van Veen (from Holland) actually made bikes. But only Suzuki can really claim to have taken Wankel rotary technology right into the motorcycle mainstream.
That’s not to say it was a huge success. It was only produced from 1974-76 and while it was acclaimed as a great ride, the complexity of the single-rotor engine (it required both water and oil cooling, for example) and its various ancillaries proved an own-goal for what was the main theoretical advantage of a rotary for motorcycle use: lightness. It was 260kg wet and less powerful than equivalent piston-engined models of the time. Smooth but thirsty.
Still, is the RE5 the epitome of 1970s geeky cool or what? The styling and design was done by Giorgetto Giugiaro, including the now-iconic cylindrical “tin can” instrument cluster. It was advertised by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell.
And now for something completely different that was never intended to make sense: the Dodge Tomahawk.
Produced as a concept for the 2003 North American International Auto Show, it was a retro-styled motorcycle with a 370kW, 8.3-litre Viper V10 engine.
Actually, was it a motorcycle at all? Some said no, because it actually had four independently sprung wheels, although that also meant it could lean into corners… like a motorcycle. Although it only had about 20 degrees steering lock!
Who cares? It was just a big fantasy machine, which was reflected in Dodge’s claims that it could hit anywhere up to 680km/h.
The company later acknowledged it had never been ridden above 160km/h in testing and it was never released for road testing to any independent organisation.
It did its job of putting the Auto Show spotlight firmly on Dodge, though. Tomahawk was an instant star.
Incredibly, the company did actually sell the thing to the public, though the famous Neiman Marcus Catalog for a price of US$555,000 (2003-06). The nine buyers got a “rolling sculpture” that was not road legal. Or in any way practical to ride, except in a straight line. But what a loud, scary work of art.