It is what it isn’t
In the beginning we all came into this world naked, and the same goes for motorcycles. The term “naked bike” did not need to be used as a descriptor until we invented the aerodynamic clothes for motorcycles in the first place– fairings.
These shells are typically made of ABS plastic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber for those with a big budget.1 The major benefit of motorcycle fairings is to reduce air drag, which then improves fuel consumption efficiency and allows higher speeds and lower engine rpm.2 They can also serve a protective function for engine components. However, they have their pitfalls as well—reducing ground clearance, being costly to fix when damaged, and taking up more space around the bike (if you need to cram it into tight spaces). Some also find them aesthetically unappealing. In opposition to the fairing draped performance motorcycle is the minimalist naked bike.
Back to Basics
According to Robert Hoekman Jr., author of The Build, “Naked bikes are flexible daily riders built for life around town, afternoon rides, or whatever you want to do on a paved road.” However, these motorcycles are most often defined by what they are not. In comparison to sport performance bikes, naked bikes are stripped down to the basics, with little no fairings streamlining or camouflaging components of the bike. They are never seen with a substantial windscreen or many of the other plastic accouterments dressing modern motorcycles.
Sport or Modern Classic?
You can find all sorts of stylistic subsets within the naked bike class, like the street tracker, brat, café racer, bobber, and cruiser (if they’re stripped down, of course). Quite often naked bikes have a retro or vintage feel thanks to the nostalgic visual treatment, but a wrench has metaphorically been thrown in that sentiment with the advent of streetfighter bikes. These are arguably just as naked as modern classics but have the aggressive styling of a distinctly contemporary motorcycle.
In essence, a streetfighter is a sportbike stripped to naked status and stylized with lean but powerful lines. Converting a traditional sportbike into a streetfighter could involve removing fairings, introducing an aftermarket headlight, and opting for clip-on or motocross style handlebars. After an innovative custom culture begins to thrive, you can always expect manufacturers to follow suit, and thus the streetfighter became available for purchase stock. Popular streetfighters include the Triumph Speed Triple, Ducati Streetfighter, Yamaha FZ series, and KTM Super Dukes.
Naked is a Spectrum
One of the only things a Royal Enfield Classic would have in common with a Ducati Streetfighter would be the lack of fairings. So naked bikes span a huge variety of eras, manufacturers, and styles. It’s an all-inclusive term for bikes that pair down on plastic and get down to the bare bones of a motorcycle.