Meet a Reader – Bob Horn

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You fine folks seemed to enjoy when I brought back the Meet a Reader series with Jeff Moore, so I’m looking forward to continuing it! This time around I’m excited to feature Bob Horn. Hopefully you’re already at least somewhat familiar with Bob – I shared one of his creations (the RoHorn Racer) back in 2019 because it was my favorite bike from that year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

Rob (L, with glasses) and his RoHorn Racer. If you haven’t seen my story on it yet, I highly recommend you read it before going through this interview.

How did you get started with motorcycles – how did you learn, and what was your first bike?
May have been genetic: my dad rode a 1946 H-D W model in the early ‘50’s, back when he was engaged to my mother. They had a bad accident on it and the “it’s me or the bike” discussion happened – the decision was obvious. My own childhood thrills from downhill runs on the old Rollfast bicycle (letting 7 year-olds ride miles from home wasn’t a big deal a long time ago…) while twisting an imaginary throttle while imagining what it must be like to go faster made motorcycling inevitable.

My late teens were spent driving/fixing old Triumph sports cars, so a “soulful” British bike also seemed like a good idea. I was stationed in England with the USAF at the time and didn’t have a motorcycle license yet, so I had to get an “L” plate eligible machine (250cc or under). A running and complete 1957 BSA C12 was found – dozens of miles were put on it, several under its own power. Between the Triumph cars and the BSA, I soon learned that “soul” was grossly over-hyped.

The BSA was quickly replaced by a functional motorcycle: A new 1983 Kawasaki AR-80. Put thousands of miles on it that summer riding East Anglia’s B and C roads, mostly at redline in 6th gear (60 mph), much of that time also imagining again what it must be like to go faster.

Never took a riding class until after I returned to the USA in 1984 and had to take a mandated MSF course. I thought I already knew everything, but was surprised how much there was to learn…

What bikes do you currently own?
2001 2WS/2WD Electric Test Bike
2012 Rohorn Racer
2021 KTM 890 Duke
202? New Racer

The electric test bike has been hanging over my desk since 2017. It is a fun conversation piece – hard to ignore a bike in the living room.

The Rohorn Racer recently rolled into in the nearby St. Francis Motorcycle Museum. While it was also a killer conversation piece in my shop, it wasn’t doing me any good there. As much fun as that bike is to run at the track, my only source of spare parts is a cantankerous pain in the ass to work with. I also have reasons to think he sleeps with my wife.

The KTM is the first “normal” bike I’ve owned and ridden since 2012. It is darn near the perfect bike for me as it has what I consider a near perfect balance of weight and power. I also got bored with it on the street very quickly, which isn’t really a problem since it is the engine-and-systems donor for my New Racer, currently under construction.

The New Racer was supposed to have a 2-stroke engine of my own design, but a combination of running way behind schedule, the unknowns of developing a dependable racing engine from scratch (no sour grapes here!), and the unexpected development of the KTM 890 engine made that change easy to make. No pictures yet of the New Racer as it is still a lot of parts and sketches – nothing really photogenic. A project’s success always seems inversely proportional to how much hype it gets so I’m not making any performance predictions. But I am really quite excited about it!

Assume for a moment that money is no object, and importation laws aren’t a problem. What’s the next bike you’d buy, and what would you do with it?
Oh wow, leave it alone and just…ride it? What a concept – I could live with that!

2022 KTM RC 8C (Kramer GP2-R) – and track it – a lot. And borrow the race ECU and harness for the New Racer ‘til I can get a spare.

Photo from KTM

The only bike more desirable is a Britten V1000, except that I’d feel like I was defiling something sacred just getting my fingerprints on it.

A Britten on display at the Petersen Museum.

What’s the most memorable motorcycle trip you’ve ever taken?
Albuquerque, NM to Tularosa, NM in 1994 on a piped and very well-tuned but otherwise nice and original 1987 GSXR1100. It was the return leg of a trip and I decided to find out what some of those thinner and less direct lines on the map were like, since I had all day to get home. I was still young enough (31) to take trips like that on a bike like that – and enjoy them! Also young enough to think it would be a good idea to do it at well into triple digit speeds most of the way. Found out that a bike that usually gets mid-30s mileage now gets mid-teens mileage. Reserve…already? Also found out that, after a while, focusing a few seconds ahead makes any speed feel pretty much the same. And dropping a gear and pinning the throttle at 1x0mph just wasn’t as exciting as it was when I first got the bike – it really needs the benefit of too many pages from the Yoshimura catalog and a large check mailed to them – yeah, I NEED that! Besides, I’ve just gone south through Carrizozo and saw the only patrol car that ever works that stretch serving another satisfied customer – open it up and make it home in a half hour, even if there’s still the rest of the day to get there – this is FUN!!!!

A different GSX-R1100

Yeah, an unheard of 2nd patrol car was heading north. I hit the brakes hard and…pulled over. He U-turned and parked behind me. We had a good talk – he wasn’t used to seeing GSXR riders over the age of 19. I got a huge break on the ticket and took it easy going home – had the rest of the day anyway. I never did place that Yoshimura order as I sold the GSXR that week and picked up a 1977 BMW R100/7 project bike (with 1978 parts donor – yay snowflake wheels and kinematic shift lever!) a few days later.

Do you listen to music while riding? If no, why not? If yes, what are some of your favorite tunes when you’re on your bike?
Music? Love music!
Riding? Love riding!
Both at the same time? No!!! Tried it once – hated it (Sony Walkman cassette player, yes, 1984).

I like chocolate. I also like bacon. But putting bacon bits in chocolate pudding just doesn’t work. At least not for me. [Editor’s Note: But what about chocolate-covered bacon?]

What’s your favorite piece of gear?
Belstaff “Boa” jacket that I bought from Stag Kawasaki in Ipswich, England, 1983. Well over 100,000 miles on it since then – a little bit of that directly on pavement. Unfortunately, it is still size 36, and I haven’t been since 2003. But it fits several of my kids really well. They don’t know the stories that jacket could tell, but they know they’re in there.

You have $25,000 to spend on anything in the world of motorcycles – 1 new bike, several old bikes, track days, a trip, you name it. How do you spend it?
I’m already spending money that isn’t really mine yet on the New Racer, so the imaginary responsible me would spend the imaginary money on that. But what fun is that? Racing is a perishable skill – letting that grow stale isn’t a good idea, so:

KTM RC390, race school, enclosed trailer, race school, track paraphernalia, race school, track days, race school, and club racing at High Plains Raceway. I really like imagining that a lot….

The 2022 KTM RC390

What do you expect from the future of motorcycling, good or bad?
Part of me is really cynical about the future, and part is very excited about the possibilities. No breakthroughs, innovation, or excitement comes from my cynicism, so I’ll try to focus on those exciting possibilities.

Near term: The growth of the performance middleweight twin has a lot going for it – I hope it keeps going. A factory production club racer seems like the ultimate development there. A 650cc 100hp sub-300 lb club racer shouldn’t be that hard to do for a reasonable price. And if/when they can do that, a production Moto2 level club racer can’t be that far behind in development.

Long term: Aircraft design has gone through several revolutions – same with car design – even locomotives. Yet motorcycles have not, unfortunately – the potential greatly exceeds the demand for it. And not just for the pointy end of the performance envelope – the potential for better aerodynamics, comfort, safety, range, and, yes, fun is all there for the utilitarian end of the business. But as long as the only accepted development formula is

Next Year = (This Year + 1)/BNG

well, eventually, the opportunity for someone to succeed doing something truly better has to be huge. [Editor’s Note: If you’re not familiar, BNG stands for Bold New Graphics, an industry joke to refer when a company doesn’t make any mechanical changes for a model year and just updates colors (see: most of the Suzuki lineup).]

The list of “once biggest” motorcycle companies is also a litany of failure – time for that cycle to come around – again. It is inevitable.

An awful lot of my enthusiasm was a reflection of the motorcycle media and market at the time. The hype factor was huge for the ‘80’s and ‘90’s – that market eventually collapsed (2008) and took the media with it. Nobody buys a magazine to get bored after a few minutes of finding out there’s nothing to find out, again. Now we have what I think are 3 branches of the motorcycle media: Legacy (magazine leftovers), Clickbait (internet addicts and enablers), and Enthusiast (Hey, you there…). The legacy sites are going to die with their audience soon – the comment sections are overflowing with grumpy retirees that will gladly remind everyone again that, like themselves, Peak Motorcycle was reached in the middle of the last century – no future there! The clickbait sites are written by dimwits with barely any more knowledge on the subject than their readers, not that it matters – the comment sections are overflowing with internet addicts that like to talk about motorcycles but will never engage in any activity that interferes with worshipping their cell phones. Why make bike payments when you can pay the same amount to have TikTok everywhere you don’t go 24/7 – no future there!

Which means that I think the future lies with the enthusiasts. I know absolutely nothing about the commuting, off-road, and touring segments, so I can’t say anything about that. I think that the sportbike market shift from street fad to track days and club racing will ultimately be a good thing – the whole squid thing needs to become a memory of bad fashion, like polyester leisure suits. Speaking of bad fashion, when the current bagger fad collapses and takes bagger racing with it, something far better has to take its place. I’m hoping that a huge part of that is the end of the racing organizer’s (I didn’t say “Moto America” out loud, did I?) business model of squeezing easy cash out of the OEMs rather than giving enthusiasts something to get excited about and open up their wallets, virtual or otherwise, again. Production street-based motorcycle racing doesn’t draw the crowds that purpose built motorcycle racer based racing draws – never has and never will. People will drive across the country to watch Brittens run, but won’t cross the street for a supersport race. I have a Blu-Ray called “Brittens at Barber” – ever see one called “Suzukis at Seca”? Didn’t think so.

Electrics will have a brighter future when they become the obviously better choice – that won’t come from mandates – there’s no such thing as a scheduled breakthrough. They are still in the “Gasless Motorbike” stage of development – just like “Horseless Carriages”, their designs are too stuck in the past to reach their potential. It has to happen – people got over the idea of climbing into an airplane with only one wing.

Editor’s Note: I haven’t shared this yet, but I placed a deposit on a Stark Varg. Here’s hoping it’s more than vaporware…

Just as people still build/restore and fly biplanes, the recreational internal combustion motorcycle isn’t going away. They might end up hauled in the back of electric trucks to race tracks and that sort of thing – but the fun, excitement, and, yes, escape value will seem even stronger. And just like those biplanes, there might not be thousands of them out there every day, they might be old and restored, or new ones built from kits, or even from scratch, but they will still have a lot of enthusiasts actively enjoying them. Who knows – some people might even look away from their cell phones and wonder if that’s more fun?

Thanks to Bob for sharing his thoughts, I hope you enjoyed!