Profile: Craig Vetter - Motorcycle Hall of Fame Inductee

In 1969, Craig Vetter designed what later received credit for bringing the "Cruiser" class of motorcycle into the industry. The Triumph X-75 Hurricane featured swooping glass fiber bodywork, a three-gallon gas tank, lowered gearing and a triple exhaust on the right-side.

First conceived under the BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) Motorcycles logo as the Rocket3, Vetter's design impressed American officials and the bike was sent to Europe for review just when BSA ended its motorcycle manufacturing run. After overwhelming public support when it appeared on the cover of Cycle World, the design found life under the Triumph label as the X75 Hurricane.

Ever the inventor, Vetter again changed the motorcycle industry when in the 1970s he brought his Windjammer fairing to market - a product proving to be so successful that manufacturers included fairings as stock equipment ten years later. The Vetter Fairing Company quickly rose to prominence and at the time became the second largest motorcycle industry manufacturer in the United States.

In 1980, after a hang-gliding accident left him wheel-chair bound temporarily, he designed a line of Human Power Vehicles. The rider in his design won the 1982 Boston Marathon.

Today, Vetter works studiously on streamlining motorcycles and his fuel economy contests which ran from 1980 to 1985 and resumed in 2011 invites designers to test their products to compete as the most fuel efficient motorcycles on the road. Currently, he is working on a five book set documenting the projects he has been involved with.

The Guggenheim Museum's "The Art of the Motorcycle" touring exhibit featured Vetter's X-75 design in 1998 and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame inducted Vetter in 1999. The first Vetter Streamliner motorcycle is on display at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame as is the original Triumph X-75 Hurricane.

Age: 71

Age you started riding: On my Daddy's Harley tank, I was 4. Riding by myself, I was 13.

What motorcycle did you start on: Cushman WW2 Airborne Scooter

What are you riding now: Streamlined Honda Helix

Where do you live: Carmel, CA

Website: craigvetter.com

Company Founded: Vetter Fairing Company 1966; Sold Company 1978

Motorcycle Hall of Fame Induction: 1999

Career Highlights:

  • 1966-70: Designed the Vetter Phantom Series of fairings
  • 1969: Designed the Triumph Hurricane of 1973
  • 1971: Designed the Windjammer fairing and five subsequent variations which became the most popular motorcycle fairing ever made
  • 1971: Invented and designed Hippo Hands
  • 1972: Redesigned the Triumph Bonneville which appeared as the T 160 Trident of 1975
  • 1975: Became Amateur Midwest Open Class Caf champ. Took 3rd at Daytona in 1976
  • 1976: Designed "Floating Mount" luggage, saddlebags, Tail Trunk, tank bags
  • 1978: Sponsored Reggie Pridmore on the Vetter Superbike to become AMA Champ. Designed the Mystery Ship based upon this race bike. Designed the Quicksilver fairing based upon the Mystery Ship
  • 1980: Designed and made the Vetter Streamlined Luxury Touring Motorcycle
  • 2007: Assumed role as Chair of the AMA's Hall of Fame Design and Engineering Committee. Began making annual presentations at AMA Vintage Days, Ohio

Other hobbies/interests: Bible study and putting God's Word into practice. My overall direction is from Genesis 1:26 where I am called to be a good steward of what God has given me. My small role, as I see it, is to learn how to "Live Better on Less Energy," to be an example of that stewardship and to pass it on to you.

  1. Tell us how you first got interested in motorcycles and riding them?

My Grandfather raced on board tracks a hundred years ago. My daddy always had a scooter or motorcycle around. It must be in my blood.

  1. How did you come up with the idea for fairings?

Riding my Yamaha 250 to the Aspen Design Conference in 1966, I realized I needed something to make riding better. More fun. More romantic. My first love was little airplanes. Motorcycles always seemed like little airplanes to me. Airplanes plus motorcycles equals fairings.

  1. Did you think they'd revolutionize the industry such as they did?

Yes. I try to spend my time doing things that are important. For me, it has always been important to conserve and not be wasteful. In 1966, when I began designing, motorcycles got 40 mpg in an era when cars got 10-15 mpg. If I could help motorcycle be better transportation, more people would ride them instead of cars and our fuel would last longer. I was proud to be involved with motorcycles. I was doing the right thing. One of my first tag lines was: "First to do it right" - a claim loaded with many meanings.

  1. OK, you hooked me - what are the meanings behind "First to do it right"?

It goes back to "what is the problem?"

In 1966, motorcycles got 40 mpg when cars got 10-15. I wanted to make motorcycles better transportation. It was the right thing to do. It turned out to be the right time, too. Consider the effects of the impending gas crises of 1972. Over the next 12 years, the product itself was right. (So right that there were only copies in the marketplace.) The concept was so right that the OEMs began making their own fairings in 1981. In 1978, when the motorcycles that people wanted were no better than cars, regarding fuel consumption, I sold the business.

Today, my streamlining kits are the first to do it right. The Last Vetter Fairing, a streamlining kit, allows a unit of energy to take you twice as far at the same speed in maximum comfort and carrying a useful load. There is no better shape. There never will be either. Will there be another energy crises? If so, you will be very interested in the Last Vetter Fairing. If energy never becomes precious, streamlining is the right thing to be doing. I am still the first to do it right.

  1. How were you called to design the Triumph X-75 Hurricane?

In 1969, I pestered everyone I could find at Daytona, asking to be allowed to redesign one of their motorcycles. I showed them my Suzuki 500 with the zoomy seat tank. A couple of months later, Don Brown of BSA called me. The story is in a book called "A Hurricane Named Vetter." More complete stories of my involvement with the Brits is one of the books I am writing.

  1. Why do you think the X-75 has taken on such a life of its own?

Besides being a really beautiful and flashy motorcycle, the story of how it happened is so fantastic and unlikely it reads like a fairy tale.

  1. Do you own one?

No, I am not a collector. I did own the original one but I donated it to the Hall of Fame Museum where it is on permanent display.

  1. What got you so interested in electric bikes?

Half of the petroleum we consume in our vehicles is imported. This is making us dependent on others? making them rich and making us poor. Energy from the sun is free and abundant. The sun?s energy can easily be harvested from our rooftops and turned into electricity. Gathering our own energy, from our own property, and learning how to use it efficiently is the key to "living better on less energy."

  1. Electric bikes seem to be gaining in popularity with a number of manufacturers producing them as well as the new eMotoRacing Series for 2014 - how ready do you feel the motorcycling community is for electric bikes?

I think we will look back and say: "2014 was the turning point for the acceptance of electric bikes."

  1. You've had some interesting inventions over the years both successful and not so successful. What?s your favorite and which one do you look back on and wonder what you were thinking?

My favorite design is my Last Vetter Fairing, the Streamliner I ride today. The Last Vetter Fairing represents everything I have learned. An un-streamlined electric bike requires something like 14 kW to go 70 mph. The same bike with my streamlining requires 7kW to go 70 mph. This is not a 3-4 percent improvement most engineers are satisfied with. This is a 100 percent improvement! The streamlined bodywork carries more cargo than any motorcycle made. It also keeps you warmer and dryer than any fairing made. As I used to say about the Windjammer in my ads of the 1970s: "There is nothing like it."

My least successful "what was I thinking" design was my instrument module. In 1976, I designed a module for my Windjammer fairings that would hold instruments or a radio. Fred Hoese in Texas made a much better one called a Cycle Sound. I abandoned mine and did a deal with Fred to buy his.

  1. When thinking of your storied career what accomplishment are you most proud of?

The most important decision of my life was to believe that there actually is a Creator God and that He sent His one and only Son to die for us and save us. His instructions have guided me to be the husband, the father and the designer I believe He wants.

Written By: AndrewT

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