1,003 cc, 1993, Japan
Courtesy of Yamaha Motor Corp., USA
Cypress, CA
The 1990s is the decade in which, for the first time since Honda presented its iconic strap line thirty years ago, "you meet the nicest people on a Honda." Motorcycling is not only cool, it sells. But, cool as it may seem, the edginess of '90s popular culture is present in motorcycling as well. The decade's design trends echo the rapid-fire change of politics and culture throughout the world. Nineties culture is about reference, not deference. Old orders are swept aside, upstarts take their place, and, against the odds, they succeed.

Ducati 916
916 cc, 1994, Italy
Courtesy of Ducati MotorSpA, Bologna

Miguel Galluzzi, a young student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, saw this edginess in the suburban streetscape of southern California, where grunge biking was a perfect mirror of the music and attitude of a new age. Flying in the face of every contemporary motorcycle design rubric from Tokyo to Munich, Galluzzi recreated stripped-bare suburban specials in a production motorcycle. The result, a brilliant piece of pop-culture interpretation, was the M900, nicknamed "the Monster."

Erik Buell, a true individualist of American motorcycle design, picks up cues from a different landscape and then reshapes them. Equally comfortable in the Gen-X world of mountain biking or the racetrack's pit row, Buell has reinvented an American motorcycle archetype. For a start, his designs are environmentally sensitive: "More noise does not mean more power" is one of his mantras. While using only Harley-Davidson engines, Buell proves that American motorcycles need not embody the cliche of the noisy, fat boulevard cruiser.

Aprilia Moto 6.5
649 cc, 1995, Italy
The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
Birmingham, AL

When BMW decided to depart from their seventy-year-old script of quick, reliable sporting tourers and plunge into the cruiser market, they could easily have made the mistake of aping the Harley-Davidson style. But, through the brilliance of designer David Robb, they found a new way to cruise. Like Galluzzi, Robb studied at the Art Center College of Design and is sharply attuned to the world outside his studio. But whereas Galluzzi and Buell come directly from motorcycle tradition, Robb's design antecedents are those of American automotive and product design. Robb's R1200C refers to those halcyon days of big fenders and chrome without being at all "retro," a word pregnant with negative motorcycle associations. On Robb's quiet and efficient machine, you can cruise at 55 mph while smelling the flowers. You can almost hear the birds singing. This is the soul of American motorcycling, even with a heart all BMW efficiency: shaft drive, a proven Boxer engine, and electronic engine management. The Cruiser is the flipside of Galluzzi's grunge Monster; it is the '90s turned green.