We’re hitting that time of year again when every motorcycle manufacture is preparing or has just launched their latest creations for 2016.But I’m not feeling the usual sense of excitement!!
Perhaps it’s because I’m getting old (er), but back in the 90’s and even the 2000s the anticipation that accompanied the unveiling of every model was a bit like the run-up to Christmas was as a kid.
These day, though the anticipation is missing somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, the new bikes that will be launched in 2016 are, I am sure will be some of the best machines that have ever been made. They will be flagged as faster, more powerful, lighter, better handling ect ect …. And it will all be true. But efficient design isn’t the stuff of dreams. A showroom stock BMW S1000RR will probably run rings around a GP Bike from a couple of decades ago-but perhaps that’s the problem, because given the chance I know which I’d prefer to do a few laps on and it won’t be the BMW.
The 80’s and 70’s were the high water mark, the time when new model anticipation was most easily justified. Not because the bikes of the era were the best but because they were the least predictable, and the development leaps were so great.
The 90’s saw the development of the Superbike as we know it now- the Fireblade , the R1 ect as well as the maturing of genres like Adventure Bikes. But the 70’s and 80’s were in another league.
Just look at the bikes that we started with Z1000’s, CB750s, GS1000s, Katana’s , XS1100’s,6 Cylinder Kawasaki’s and Honda’s , GT750(water bus) , Yamaha’s 2 stroke RD’s & RZ’s , Kawasaki Triples , Single Cylinder Thumpers like the XT’s. Going from the air cooled, twin shock CB1100 to the RC30 took just six years. That is real progress.
But it wasn’t just the performance flagships that made the 70 and 80”s great. It was the sheer diversity. It was the heyday for 250cc two strokes, not to mention the likes of the RZ500, RG500 and the NS400R.Air cooling was ubiquitous at the start of the 70’s and virtually gone by the end of the 80’s.The four valve per cylinder engine went from the exception to the rule.
Yet designers and manufactures still found time and took brave pills – to make weird oddballs in the midst of it all. Turbocharged machines like the XJ650 Turbo, GPZ750 Turbo and the 650Turbo.Honda also did all its work on the NR oval piston technology during the 80’s to.
Despite all the weird creations, the huge R & D expenses and the engineering cockups that the decade saw, it was also the Creation of most of the genres of the bike that we recognise today. At the start of the 70’s, there was no “class “of four cylinder, 600cc sports bikes. There were no “dual sport “or “adventure “bikes. There weren’t even really many dedicated “tourers” or “sports tourers”. By the end of the 80’s we had 6 cylinder Goldwing’s, we had the CBR600 and the BMW GS.
The 70’s and 80’s were, looking back, the definitive decades for bikes.
The design also incorporated favourable aerodynamics, with a special emphasis on high speed stability, and was repeatedly wind tunnel tested in Italy. The production Katana of 1981 differed only slightly from the prototype, changes included a small wind deflector, paired silencers and black paint on the front fender and air box covers. Keeping components compact and close fitting was applied to all areas of design to reduce production cost, weight and the number of components required.(overlapping dials, offset petrol filler and continuous seam weld on the tank.) In late 1980 when the GSX1100S Katana hit the street Suzuki claimed it to be the Fastest mass production motorcycle in the world. Nevertheless it was a sales success, and the motorcycle had a lasting impression on motorcycle design. Portions of the design ethos are still visible in many current sport motorcycles.
Kawasaki KZ1000R ELR
What makes it stand out is its colour. The green paint is a perfect example of what used to be cool- like a time capsule. Back then a Kawasaki was a Kawasaki; it was green, and it didn’t look like a Yamaha or Honda. Back then the colour made the bike. The origins of the Eddie Lawson Replica go back to 1972 and the Kawasaki Z1 903cc Four. The double overhead cam roadster was a performer of the time, and it wasn’t just fast in a straight line; it also handled the twisty roads. Handling was a week point of Japanese motorcycles of the late 60’s and early 70’s, and the performance of the Z1 surprised many riders. Only 750 were ever built and was a limited edition homage to the mount of Eddie Lawson 4 x winner of the World Championship amongst other titles.
Take yourself back to 1980 when Grand Prix Racing was still ruled by 500cc two strokes. These were pure race bikes and were a million miles away from anything in mass production. Both Yamaha and Suzuki had attempts at bringing the road rider with four cylinder two strokes, but the truth was that the ordinary motorcycles on the street wanted a big four cylinder four stroke. The Honda CB1100RC was an exotic Honda model that was produced in limited numbers from 1981 to 1983.The R suffix denotes racing version however the CB1100R was a road legal machine produced by Honda and offered for sale to the public. In 1981 1050 units were sold, followed by 1500 per year in 82 and 83.The limited numbers were sufficient to meet the homologation requirements for the R to be classed as a production motorcycle in markets into which it was sold. It was Honda’s first homologation special and was raced in production class racing in most major markets: including Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It was not sold in the USA.
Every now and then popular music aptly reflects a cultural phenomenon, and the sound track of early punk music could hardly have suited the launch of Yamaha RD400 any better than it did. If there’s one word that describes the Yamaha RD400 series, the word is intense. The RD400C was the first motorcycle by a manufacture to be fitted with cast wheels. The RD Yamahas have always been quick steering motorcycles. This kind of motorcycle isn’t really guided into and manipulated through the corner,rather,RD Yamahas simply dart into the entry and out the exits. The passing of the decade saw the passing of the RD400 after three years at the top of the hooligan’s tree. But as punk gave way to New Wave, the RD grudgingly gave way to the RD350LC and there honestly could have been no more fitting successor.
A letter “S” after a Suzuki model name normally means that the engineers have basically mounted a cockpit (bikini) fairing to make it (look) sportier. That’s even the case with GS1000S.It was one of the first standard Suzuki’s sold with a fairing. The GS1000S is also known as the Wes Cooley Replica. Apparently the nickname came sometime after the model was released and the model was never officially known as the Wes Cooley replica by Suzuki. The GS1000S started being called that after Kawasaki released the Eddie Lawson Replica. It was a very fast bike, being one of the fastest in the world. In today’s standards, the model was a suicide machine with poor high speed stability but back in 1979 it handled as well as its competitors. The Katana took its place as being the fasted sportiest Suzuki motorcycle.
Kawasaki’s 900 Super Four Z1 did more than blow past Honda’s CB750 in terms of performance, refinement and all round ability .It was the World’s first Super Bike .Still, the question came up at the Z1’s model introduction press conference in late 1972.Why was Kawasaki seemingly abandoning its two stroke heritage to create this four stroke. Kawasaki’s Motorcycle Division General Manager said “Kawasaki wanted to build, in their own words, the King Motorcycle, a bike besides which the finest motorcycles in the world would shrivel in comparison, a bike that would leave a hot smoking scar across the face of the sport, and you can’t just do that with a two stroke engine”. From the beginning, the Z was always about its over achieving power plant Kawasaki claimed 80 horsepower for the air-cooled transverse inline four-handily about 15 bhp more than Honda’s CB750.In short, Kawasaki’s 900 Super Four Z1, as it finally came to be known, was a revelation, a motorcycle that pointed the way to the futures for virtually every other manufacturer on the globe.
Honda CB750 Four
Classic for the Masses. It was the CB750 that triggered the horsepower arms race among consumer motorcycles more than any other bike. Rumours had been rife for many years that one of the Japanese firms would release a four cylinder bike that would dismiss the theory that such a project would be to complex and the bike would be too heavy. Honda stunned the press (and Kawasaki who had been working on their own four cylinder bike) by unveiling the CB750 and silencing all those critics who said it could not be done. The CB750 had, at the time, a very impressive spec sheet. First production bike in history to have a hydraulic front disc brake, in line four cylinder, four carburettors, chromed four in to one exhaust, five speed gearbox and an electric start. Now that was high tech. The CB750 was also one of the last nails in the proverbial coffin for the British bile industry. An affordable and reliable big bike from the Japanese proved too hard to beat.
Street going 2 strokes died in 1979 right? Two stroke technology didn’t die-it just wasn’t seen on street-bike side of the showroom floor. Produced for a short period between 1984 and 1986 it has become a sought after collectors machine. The engine architectures is pure road race. Inspired by the YZF500 factory racer ridden by Kenny Roberts during the 1983 season, the twin crank V4 was the closest thing to a Grand Prix bike (with lights) that you could get your hands on. From its GP styling full fairing to the water cooled, four cylinder two stroke engine, the RZ500 was a dream come true for race enthusiast worldwide, and naturally it became highly lusted after machine.
The prototype Suzuki GT750 was shown at the 17th Tokyo Motor Show in 1970 and launched in Japan in 1971 as a sport tourer (GT standing for Grand Tourismo).It was developed from the T500 with an extra cylinder and water cooling. It was nicknamed “The Kettle in Britain and the Water Buffalo in the USA” Suzuki thus led the motorcycle world by being the first company to mass produce a liquid cooled, large bore capacity two stroke engine. The vast majority of owners prefer to keep their bikes in standard trim and will grow to extraordinary lengths to keep them as Suzuki built them. From 1972 to 1977 these bikes rolled off the production line and we still love them today.
Honda’s CBX1000 is a six cylinder master piece of engineering cheek, 70s glam rock style gas guzzling hedonism. It remains one of the few Honda motorbikes with real rebellion and attracts collectors and petrol heads to this day. With a vast history of racing machines utilizing 5 and 6 cylinder motorcycle engines. Honda didn’t need to dig too deeply to create the technology for the CBX1000.They may not have been the first in the 6 cylinder motorcycle game but in their usual fashion they took the reins. Launched in 1979 the Honda CBX1000 showed the world again what Honda was capable of. It had only been a decade since Honda set the CB750 loose, and the CBX seemed a fitting follow-up.