The definition of a replica is a copy or reproduction, often exact or by the same creator. And motorcycling is full of replica machines which may or may not live up to that standard. The Ducati Mike Hailwood replica from the late 70’s was a watered down lookalike, whilst Kawasaki’s Z1000R Eddie Lawson replica wasn’t even green! They’re both examples of manufacturers cashing in on racing glory to shift a few more bikes. And by going slightly above the level of slapping a HM Plant paint job on a CBR, or clothing a GSX-R in Rizla or Alstare colours, they can also charge a bit more.
In the classic world, there’s also the replica built to hark back to a particular race machine, and again, this is where the definition of a replica can sometimes become a bit stretched. Not to take anything from the quality, the time and the potential as a race machine of a modern homage, but perhaps tribute is a better description?
The question of the Suzuki XR69
Last year I was lucky enough to spend time with a couple of Suzuki legends – one being the Suzuki GS1000R which is better known as the XR69, and the other being original rider Graeme Crosby. In both cases, they were the real McCoy.
I spent a damp day in October getting to know the ex-Crosby Suzuki XR69 with a good few hours spent snapping pictures, talking to the owner, and also the mechanic responsible for working on it, well and truly quenching my thirst for anorak facts. On the same day I also had the chance to look closely at a Suzuki XR69 replica, which was hand fabricated and built in the UK.
They say the original is best, and I have to agree. The replica is a gorgeous machine, expertly put together and built to a standard way beyond the race track rough and ready approach of the original. The heart of the real bike was fettled by Pops Yoshimura, whereas the replica power comes from a reworked GS1000 engine from a road bike plucked from eBay. Looking at the original motor shows all of Pops hallmarks – the drilled barrels, peppered plug seats etc, all lovingly done by the hand of the master.
Like the original, the replica is also built to race. And they’ve done a great job reproducing components, but I can’t help wondering if it has a shadow when the sun hits the fairing? After all, you can paint a bike in Heron colours, but you can’t reproduce a soul.
A few weeks after encountering the XR69, I was lucky enough to spend some time with the man who rode it. He was guest of honour at the Stafford Show, and whilst walking around the halls I asked his opinions on the Suzuki XR69 replicas. When he referred to them as fakes, he pointed out that they’re a far better build quality than the originals and therefore not technically a replica.
Replica, Tribute or Fake?
I’m not knocking a modern attempt to emulate a classic. In some cases there are legal and technical reasons why an exact clone can’t be created. And many are built with love, attention and pride by people who couldn’t afford the massive price tag attached to the original.
All I’m suggesting is that calling it a replica isn’t necessarily accurate – maybe ‘tribute’ is a fairer description? No-one else seems to have challenged the name, even in an age of copyright lawsuits. Maybe the fact that a bike identity like the XR69 can be touted around so unchallenged is something that just bothers me and Crosby?