Friday, November 29, 2019

Why the ordinary shape of a Royal Enfield is so sexy

Royal Enfield Classic 500 silhouette.
The unadorned silhouette of the Royal Enfield Bullet Classic 500.
I'm going to point out similarities I see in the design of so-called "standard" motorcycles like the Royal Enfield Bullet to the female human body.

I'm not an artist or designer. But, obviously, artists and designers have long been interested in the shape of women. They're generally creating art or objects they want people to look at; and they know people of both sexes like looking at women.

All I'm really trying for here is to make the point that this particular Royal-Enfield sort of motorcycle is a visual winner because it has this particular, classically popular visual appeal.

I am not insinuating it's anyone's fault that these similarities exist between humans and objects. It is a problem if it is exploitative. As a tribute to nature's original, though, it has its place.

And I couldn't help noticing. See if you agree.

Now, at first thought, it might seem that motorcycles, designed to fit between a rider's legs, might be more in line with typical male equipment. That's a crude simplification, and may be true of the motorcycles dubbed "choppers."

I'm looking at the more subtle visual cues in the standard motorcycle of the 20th Century, as represented by the Royal Enfield.

Royal Enfield Classic 500 side view.
The so-called "naked" motorcycle has everything you need, but nothing more.
These cues are subtle. In fact, the standard motorcycle is often referred to as a "naked" motorcycle, as it typically lacks anything showy, like a fairing, or exaggerated seating position.

Think back, before you owned a motorcycle. As a child, could you have drawn a picture of an ordinary motorcycle? I would have had trouble with this, as I didn't understand what all the "stuff" in view on a naked motorcycle was for, or where in the picture it should all go.

But this much I would have gotten correct, even as a kid: the headlight, instruments, tank, fenders, handlebars, wheels and seat. These are the most noticeable elements of the motorcycle. The rest of the gear is under there somewhere, doesn't matter much where.

Front view of Royal Enfield Bullet 500.
The Royal Enfield seems to turn its face toward you.
I submit that the first thing you and I look at when we gaze at a motorcycle is the headlight. The headlight is the "face," typically round and bright. Many Royal Enfields also feature two eye-like pilot lights above the headlight, but these aren't necessary to the effect.

A motorcycle headlamp that is not mounted in a fairing moves with the front wheel in the direction the motorcycle will go. The motorcycle headlight turns toward where it is going, as does the human face.

Royal Enfield nacelle holds headlight, pilot lights and instruments.
The Royal Enfield nacelle suggests a head, with eyes and "brains" (instruments).
As with the human head, the face of the motorcycle fronts a brain, represented by the instrument panel which, on the Royal Enfield, may be perfectly contained in a skull-like nacelle. Its twin pilot lights could even bring to mind human eyes. The nacelle is not necessary to the effect, but it sure is interesting it's there, isn't it?

Next, handlebars. These aren't usually as attractive as the human arms they represent, but they clearly mirror the shape and functionality of human arms. Notice that the handlebars end, like arms, in controls and levers that serve human hands as do fingers.

Top view of Royal Enfield Classic 500.
It's easy to see the human form in this view of a Royal Enfield motorcycle.
We now arrive at the gas tank, the first obviously female element. How? Well, recall how ungainly and plain motorcycles looked in the flat-tank era of the early 1900s. The curvaceous saddle tank design immediately carried the day when it appeared in the 1930s. There was just something about the curvy tank besides the fact that it could carry more gas.

That visual something was the similarity to rounded breasts.

I know you see this, so I don't even need to go on to point out that the saddle tank actually has cleavage (out of sight on the bottom, to accommodate the top bar of the frame) and, sometimes at least, a nipple on each side. (For simplicity the Royal Enfield Bullet only gives you one fuel tap but some motorcycles use two.)

Rear view of Royal Enfield fender, seat and tanks.
The Royal Enfield solo seat mirrors the part of the human anatomy it serves.
On to the seat which, on my Bullet and many others, is the tractor style solo seat. Like the handlebars, this mirrors the precise area of the human anatomy it is meant to serve. I need say no more, but you may go on to speculate why the solo seat has springs, even though these would seem unnecessary on a motorcycle that has its own complete rear suspension.

Finally we come to the fenders and wheels. Things are now really subtle, as wheels can't take any other shape, and fenders are sometimes reduced to being called "mudguards." No part of the human body performs the unseemly function of "mudguard." What an inelegant term for what are in fact the pleasing shapes of the Royal Enfield Bullet fenders.

Side view of rear wheel and fender of Royal Enfield Classic 500.
Some custom motorcycles minimize or even eliminate the rear fender. Too bad.
Its job is to carry the lines of the motorcycle to completion.
Humans don't just end and motorcycles shouldn't be "bobbed" either.
And, yes, the wheels and fenders are distinctly female in appearance.

Don't see it? Well, compare the rounded yet slim shape of the Royal Enfield Classic 500 rear fender to the fuller, yet angular design used on the B5 Bullet. The appearance of the Classic 500 is obviously better, although the B5 is probably a better mudguard.

Rear wheel and fender of Royal Enfield Bullet 500.
The Bullet 500 mudguard will work to catch mud.
But it is certainly less pleasing to the eye.
Why does the eye naturally prefer one over the other? My guess is that we know what we are looking for when we see it.

After all, how did the "standard motorcycle" get to become the "standard" anyhow? Because we most all agree it's the right shape.

You would be foolish to attempt to improve on the shape of a woman.


  1. Oh, David... you're walking where the ice is thin in a post like this one. Good luck with comments and I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

    1. Thank you and I hope your Thanksgiving was happy.

  2. Anonymous11/30/2019

    You put an interesting spin on what inspires the styling of a motorcycle. Whenever I discuss styling differences between classic Japanese and British motorcycles, I put it more simply: British styling is "organic" with flowing lines and rounded corners. Where if we look at the Japanese counterparts, they had a more angular, "appliance" like look. The Japanese had the function figured out pretty well, but were lagging in the form department, IMHO.
    Regarding Enfields in particular, I always find the timing covers of the pre Series II Interceptors and lesser twins more visually appealing, because they are more curvaceous. Does that make me a motorcycle pervert ?? Only my therapist knows for sure! LOL

  3. It's been scientifically proven that the attractiveness of the female shape overall is decided by the 'hip to waist ratio'. Thinner upper torso, narrow waist, clean curvature of the hips is generally optimal and isn't necessarily determined by weight. Having become aware of this I've (cheerfully) studied it 'in the wild' and found it to be true. If you apply this thinking to motorcycle design I believe you'll see it is applicable to your discussion.


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