What’s a Streetfighter Motorcycle?

SV650 Streetfighter
SV650 Streetfighter with Buell headlights, single-sided swingarm, underseat exhaust, USD forks

With all of the motorcycle labels and genres being slung about these days, a lot of riders both new and old have been left scratching their heads about the differences between streetfighters, cafe racers, trackers, scramblers, and more. Like most labels, these custom motorcycle “genres” are no more than a convenient shorthand, and some of the best bikes are the hardest to classify. Still, we decided to delve into the history of some of these genres and clarify the subject. First? The streetfighter.

At its most basic, a streetfighter motorcycle is a sportbike stripped nearly naked, customized to have a more aggressive stance and attitude. This is usually accomplished by removing the fairings, adding an aftermarket headlight, sometimes switching to dirt-style handlebars, and often adding a short, loud underseat or GP-style exhaust.

History of the Streetfighter

Acerbis Headlights Became Popular

Most motorcycle journalists believe that streetfighters took their earliest inspirations from the cafe racers of the 1950s and 1960s, but really began to take form based on the Japanese bikes of the 70s and early 80s. Some believe the mods began with inexperienced riders who could afford a cheap Japanese bike, but not the repairs to keep them in original shape. After dumping a bike and breaking up the fairing, the only solution some of these riders had was to remove the fairing or ride around with the pieces flapping in the wind.

Other mods were more performance-oriented. The straight-up handlebars assist in little things like wheelies, while the removal of extraneous parts like rear footpegs, mirrors, and pillion seats lower the weight and improve aerodynamics, increasing the speed of the bike. In later years, Acerbis headlights became popular, in particular the Cyclops and DHH models–so much so, that they became almost a cliche, like the wrapped pipes of cafe racers.

The BloodRunners Influence

Bloodrunners Streetfighter
Hoover from Bloodrunners

In 1983, Bike magazine commissioned a cartoon called Bloodrunners, written and illustrated by artist Andy Sparrow. In addition to featuring couriers who delivered blood and body parts for transplants, it is believed to have featured the first printed design template of the streetfighter motorcycle, but the actual term was first applied to a customized Harley-Davidson. Customized Japanese four-cylinder bikes were included in the category later.

You can read online episodes of Bloodrunners online here:  http://bloodrunners.com/blood/index.htm

Streetfighter Show Bikes and Custom Frames

Spondon-framed Streetfighter
Spondon-Framed Hayabusa Streetfighter

As time went on, shops began to turn out custom streetfighter bikes that had much in common with the fat-tired choppers popular in America:  custom frames, chrome, wild paint schemes, oversized rear tires, skull and brass knuckle-related accents, and an obscene outlay of cash. Custom frames from manufacturers like Harris and Spondon became highly sought-after, and these frames still fetch a pretty penny on the pre-owned market. Tails grew higher and smaller, single-sided swingarms were en vogue, and front fairing often imitated the visages of monsters or demons, like the carved figureheads on the prows of sailing ships.

Some of these more over-the-top customs seemed to peter out at about the same time as the chrome-laden, fat-tired choppers did–when the recession at the end of the first decade of the 21st century hit, and there was less disposable income hanging around.

Manufacturers Jumped on the Bandwagon

As with any trend in motorcycles that has a sustained following, bike manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon, and soon there were a number of “factory streetfighters.” For purists, of course, the very term is a sort of oxymoron, not unlike “legal moonshine.” The streetfighter, at its core, was a bike marked by the rider’s own work and personality, not subjected to white-coated engineers and bespectacled marketing analysts. Still, some of these production streetfighters could race the blood of even the most hardened purist.

Triumph Triple Streetfighter
Looks Hoover-ish, Doesn’t it?

One of the first to appear on the mass production scene was the 1994 Triumph Speed Triple…not bad, it only took Triumph a little more than a decade to recognize the trend! The Triumph Speed Triple is now in its fifth generation. After 2011, the Speed Triple was powered by a 1050 cc engine that produces 133 hp and 82 lb-ft of torque. The new alloy tubular frame allows the bike to have an anemic curb weight of 472 lb.

The Japanese powerhouse Honda, joined the fray in 1999 with the X-11, also known as the CB1100SF, then Ducati tossed out all pretense, naming its 2009 entry the Ducati Streetfighter. Whether you mod your own bike or buy a pre-fab unit, the streetfighter motorcycle is a lightweight, scantily-clad demon of a bike that is not for the faint of heart.

Ducati Streetfighter
Ducati Streetfighter: notice the design similarities to the Spondon-framed Hayabusa.


Streetfighter Resources

By far, the biggest streetfighter forum on the web is CustomFighters.com. Our editor-in-chief is a longtime member, having owned a 2001 Suzuki GSX-R painted flat black with the fairings stripped off, Buell bug-eye headlights, and an LSL handlebar risers kit. If you’re thinking of stripping down your existing bike, this list of streetfighters by model is huge for inspiration.

Some of the Best Streetfighters (IMO)


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