Bikes You Should Know appears weekly as part of Two Wheel Tuesdays. Since Hooniverse primarily caters to automotive enthusiasts, this column focuses on historically or culturally significant motorcycles that are likely to interest a non-riding audience.
For roughly a ten-year period, from the early seventies through the early 1980s, if you wanted a touring motorcycle, the formula was very straightforward. You: 1) bought a motorcycle, and 2) installed a Vetter Windjammer fairing on it. It was as simple as that. Never has a single accessory so defined the motorcycle market. This bolt-on part was a more powerful influence in the evolution of the motorcycle than any number of motorcycle models.
Motorcycle fairings had been around prior to the introduction of the Windjammer, but they were either motorcycle-cop style windshields or racy, full-coverage fairings custom-designed to fit a particular bike. Craig Vetter, a young designer fresh out of art school in Illinois, was trying to build a fairing business. He soon realized that sales would always be limited because motorcycle dealers couldn’t stock a different fairing for each model they sold. He also realized that the top half of his fairings were all alike — it was the part below the fuel tank that had to be changed for each model. Being the innovative fellow he was, he invented a modular approach, with a universal upper fairing shape. Optional lowers could be offered that would custom-fit the lower portion of the particular bike in question.The other innovation he hit on was not trying to use the stock motorcycle headlight. If he installed his own headlight in the fairing, one fairing could fit nearly any motorcycle with the addition of a custom bracket.
The result was the Windjammer, and it single-handedly created the touring motorcycle accessory market. Others such as Pacifico and Bates attempted to build similar fairings, but they were never more than minor-league players. Vetter was synonymous with touring. The basic Windjammer was upgraded with new features, such as windshield vents, integrated turn signals, and such, but the basic shape worked so well that it remained unchanged for a decade. As a kid, I remember being very confused by that ubiquitous “Windjammer” decal on the fairing. I couldn’t figure out if it was a brand of motorcycle or a model, because I saw it on lots of different looking bikes, and they all had different names on the tank. That it might be an aftermarket accessory never occurred to me, because it integrated so well with the design of so many motorcycles, usually complemented by Vetter’s spot-on color match option. Vetter went on to design a universal tail trunk and saddlebags, which while not quite as revolutionary as the Windjammer, helped define the canonical “fully dressed” touring bike configuration that is still with us today. Vetter was so well versed in the demands motorcycles put on fiberglass components that both Harley and Honda contracted with Vetter to manufacture their OE accessory fairings. Kawasaki simply offered production Windjammers in their accessory catalog with a Kawasaki decal in place of the Windjammer script. For a few years, it was the rare Honda Gold Wing that didn’t leave the showroom with a Vetter Windjammer installed. Such success couldn’t go on forever. Motorcycle manufacturers eventually woke up to the fact that people liked extensive wind protection on their motorcycles. BMW introduced their fully-faired R100RS, but its European-flavored fairing didn’t really work well until you hit triple digits, so they soon introduced the more Interstate-friendly R100RT to America. The tooling for Honda’s Vetter-built fairing was lost in a fire, and Honda decided to develop their own touring package in-house. Mr. Vetter, meanwhile, read the market well and knew what lay ahead. He sold the Vetter Fairing Company in 1978. When the factory-dressed Honda Gold Wing Interstate was introduced in 1980, it was the death-knell for the accessory touring fairing. Vetter Fairings was bankrupt by 1983.
WHY IT’S SIGNIFICANT
In 1972, any big bike was a touring bike. Five years later, a touring bike was any bike that had a Windjammer installed. Fast-forward another five years, and touring bikes came from the factory wearing an integrated fairing and luggage. The idea that certain bikes are touring bikes — as opposed to just bikes reliable enough and powerful enough to tour on — comes from the Windjammer’s success and was ultimately the product’s demise. Today, a small core of fans of the Windjammer design are designing their own mounting brackets to adapt used Windjammers to new bikes designed long after Windjammer production ceased. Certain hard-to-find components and accessory parts are highly sought after, and command big bucks on Ebay when they appear. This is a testament not only the aerodynamic effectiveness of Craig Vetter’s design, but to the universal-fit approach that made it such a winning product. IMAGE CREDITS: www.craigvetter.com