While the streetfighter category is one of the more recent styles, it nonetheless evolved like most of the other styles we know and love. Styling origins are likely to have come from the cafe racer culture of the 50s and 60s.
The urban myth surrounding the streetfighter’s origins is that riders of the Japanese sports bikes of the 70’s and 80’s couldn’t afford to repair fairings after dropping their bikes, so a trend of removing all fairings and adding aftermarket lights was born.
One of the earliest print image references to streetfighters was in the ‘Bloodrunners’ cartoon written and drawn by Andy Sparrow and appearing in Bike magazine in 1983. Streetfighters were made popular by European and UK riders but gained worldwide popularity.
The basis of a streetfighter is typically a Japanese 750 or 1000cc sports bike, however nothing should be considered off-the-table.
- Like its cafe racer predecessors of an earlier generation, the objective is to take a fast bike and make it faster, with a more aggressive stance and appearance. A nose-down attitude gives the desired aggressive stance and if the bike is of an older vintage, upside-down (USD) forks are fitted, often with upgraded brake packages.
- The earliest streetfighters from the 70’s and 80’s aimed to secure a Spondon or Harris frame for use with a big-bore Japanese engine, or changes were made to the tubular steel frames to strengthen them.
- With factory frames constantly improving through the 1980s, an aftermarket frame – while still desirable – became less essential and factory frames were soon an adequate foundation for a streetfighter.
- A hallmark of the streetfighter is removing fairings from a factory bike.
- Removing the fairing implies removing the factory headlight, so streetfighters are often fitted with aftermarket headlights or lights from other bikes.
- The rear cowl is kept, though often modified to smaller and slim, with the cowl and rear subframe altered to give more of an upkick than standard, with any pillion seating removed.
- To facilitate even more hooning and stunts, streetfighters are often fitted with motorcross-style bars.
- Mid to rear foot pegs position is the norm, as is low slung exhausts, with shorty mufflers, kicked up beside the rear wheel, though sometimes the mufflers are mounted under the rear cowl.
- Single-sided swingarms conversion to early sports bike frames were a popular modification on early streetfighters.
Due to the relative ‘newness’ of the streetfighter style, ‘traditional’ interpretations are a bit of a misnomer. In the 70s and 80s, many Japanese sports bikes were transformed into streetfighters at least once as experimentation with style. Triumph’s Speed Triple was one of the first factory streetfighter releases.
Factories soon took notice of the naked performance bikes being built from stripped down sports bikes. Ducati released the Monster and Triumph brought the Speed Triple to the streets. One might argue these diluted the appeal of the streetfighter when you could buy one off the showroom floor.
However, this trend for “factory streetfighters” continued with Cagiva’s Raptor and Buell’s Lightning. Naked performance bikes are now a fixed part of many factory lineups, with popular models like the KTM Duke and Aprilia Tuono being real performance bikes capable of leaving the competition in their dust.