Showing posts with label 1970s Classic Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1970s Classic Motorcycles. Show all posts

Ducati Dharma SD 900

Ducati Dharma SD 900 1970s Italian classic sports bike

The Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a fine - if flawed - motorcycle. Certainly, there was plenty in its plus column. Performance, handling and styling all passed muster - and more. In the excitement stakes, the SD scored heavily. Only in practicality terms did it fall short. And yes, superbike fans, it does matter!

Looks-wise, the Sport Desmo was on solid ground. That was thanks to the revered visual skills of Italjet. The agency was run by Leo Tartarini. In the past, he had been a Ducati race rider. Tartarini now brought his innate Italian design skills to the table. For the Dharma, he drafted a sweeping swathe of tank, seat and tail. The 864cc V-twin engine looked good from any angle. Smart Conti pipes - and neatly-forged wheels - set off the SD's sartorial swagger.

Technically, too, the Dharma delivered. Admittedly, it was not the pokiest bike on the block. Still, its 60bhp output turned in a top whack of 115mph. Mere mortals were happy with that! The Ducati's bevel-driven valvetrain kept it all taut. Real-world speeds were a doddle for the Dharma. Ducatis had long been renowned for their handling. The SD's firm, but flexible frame, sweetly-tuned suspension and responsive brakes were stability to a tee. Long but lively journeys, then, should have been a gimme. Too often, though, gremlins grabbed the reins. To put it bluntly, Ducati build quality was not the best. Electrics could be especially trying - given wet enough weather. No matter how beautiful a bike, standing looking at it in a downpour does not show it in its best light! And peeling paint and chrome - while less of a pressing issue - in time likewise tested owners' patience. In so many ways, the Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a two-wheeled delight. Good to have a garage/lock-up at your disposal, though. Annoying little problems always need sorting in the end!

MV Agusta 850 Magni

MV Agusta 850 Magni 1970s Italian classic sports bike

In standard trim, the MV Agusta 850 was a class act. Add to that the Magni factor - and quality increased exponentially. Arturo Magni had managed MV's racing department. MV took 17 consecutive 500cc World Championships. That told you all you needed to know about what Arturo Magni brought to a two-wheeled party!

In time, Magni turned his attention to roadsters. To that end, he set up his own engineering facility - in Gallarate, Italy. Soon, a steady stream of MV 850s started rolling into his workshop. They did not have far to come. Magni duly introduced them to his own take on engine components and chassis modifications. The Magni effect was marked. A top speed of 140mph was now available. The 850 was weighed down by a bulky shaft final drive. When Magni's chain-drive conversion kit had been fitted, handling, too, improved. Also key to stability was Magni's custom-built frame. The single spine original had been replaced by one with two top tubes. Magni's motor-related mods included uprated cams, high-compression pistons and a four-piece exhaust system. Suffice to say, you could hear it coming from a mile off!

The 850 Magni was visibly race-bred. A full fairing - complete with rider number - said it all. The Magni's stats justified its looks. High-grade parts - from Marzocchi, Koni and Brembo - added further fuel to the performance fire. Arturo Magni - following on from his high-calibre racing exploits - had slipped seamlessly into the world of road-oriented specials. High price tags came with the territory. But - for those with the disposable - MV Agusta's 850 Magni was the pinnacle of hand-built pedigree!

Laverda 750 SFC

Laverda 750 SFC 1970s Italian sports bike

The Laverda 750 SFC was a production racer. Originally conceived to compete in endurance races, it went on to be a shining light on the roads as well. The 'C' in its name stood for competizione. While we are at it, the 'F' stood for freni, Italian for brakes. That referenced the improved drum sets, with which the SFC came equipped. Ceriani suspension sealed the roadholding deal - telescopic forks at the front and twin shocks at the rear. Always a good sign, the SFC won first time out. That was the Barcelona 24 Hours race - at Montjuic Park, Spain. The bike's bright orange paintwork was a cinch to spot, even at night - for both spectators and pit crew alike!

On the road, too, the SFC was a scintillating sight. 549 SFCs followed on from the prototype. A certain commitment was required of the rider - since they were far from 'ergonomically correct'. Low clip-on handlebars - and rear-set footrests - meant relaxation took a back seat to a racing crouch. And it was a single back seat, at that! At least the SFC's smart half-fairing was a concession to comfort - keeping the worst of the wind off. And - certainly in handling terms - the SFC was eminently user-friendly.

Potentially, SFC riders needed all the handling help they could get. The bike's parallel twin engine came with high-compression pistons - fueled by 36mm Amal carbs. A close-ratio 5-speed gearbox was fitted. Top speed was 125mph. An injudicious twist of the the SFC's throttle, then, and a race-style posture may well have proved welcome. Better a little discomfort than finding yourself lying upside down. The SFC weighed in at just 454lb - but that is a lot to pull out of a ditch! So, the Laverda 750 SFC was a true Seventies superbike. It combined impeccable Italian styling - and the technical wherewithal to keep it that way. Hopefully!

MV Agusta 850SS Monza

MV Agusta 850SS Monza 1970s Italian classic sports bike

Bikes named after racetracks need to be fast! In the case of the MV Agusta 850SS Monza, it was. Top speed was 145mph. That was quick for a road bike, in '77. Mind you, it did weigh in at only 429lb. Naturally, the engine had a lot to do with it, too. The Monza's cylinders were wider than its MV America predecessor. As a result, capacity was increased to 837cc. The compression ratio had also been raised. Plus, a Marelli distributor - and hotter cams - had been added. All in, power had risen to 85bhp - at 8,750rpm. Previously, the 750S America - built predominantly for the US market - had upped the ante from the 750 Sport. Now, the Monza had trumped them both.

In styling terms, the new MV was equally upbeat. It had 'café racer' written all over it. Low-set 'bars - and a humped-back seat - referenced MV's GP bikes. Not only had the great Italian marque won 17 top-flight titles - it won them on the spin. Now, that is domination! Sadly - for MV Agusta, at any rate - the advent of the Jap 2-stroke motor had put the mockers on it. Design-wise, the Monza's red and silver livery further enhanced its race-based brief.

Key to that brief was Arturo Magni. He was MV's chief engineer. Reporting to him were mechanics from MV's former 4-stroke race team. Taking MV's already cutting edge technology, Magni meted out still more modifications to the Monza. Among them were a free-flowing exhaust, a chain-driven conversion from the standard shaft-drive and a bigger-bore kit. In turn, Magni's twin-loop frame firmed everything up. Under Arturo's tutelage, top speed and acceleration had both improved. Handling, too, was a beneficiary - since power delivery was smoothed out. The MV Agusta 850SS Monza was an impressive motorcycle with factory settings. Magni's magic mods made it yet better!

Harley-Davidson XLCR

Harley-Davidson XLCR 1970s American classic motorbike

Marketing-wise, Harley-Davidson's XLCR fell between two stools. It was neither a full-bore sports tool, nor - in typical Harley fashion - a laid-back cruiser. More than anything - as far as categories went - it was classic café racer. In the Seventies, though, performance was key. That was, after all, the decade of the first wave of Japanese superbikes. There was no way the XLCR was going to compete with them. While its pushrod V-twin engine packed plenty of torque, it was some way off its Oriental rivals at the top-end of the rev range. On the other hand - dramatic though it looked in its jet-black livery - it did not have enough 'attitude' chops to keep Harley die-hards happy. As a result, just 3,200 XLCRs were sold.

Willie G Davidson - Harley's head of design - had fulfilled his brief. For sure, the XLCR looked the business. From its flat-handlebars fairing - via an elongated tank - to the racy seat/tail unit, the XLCR's lines were in all the right places. Certainly, the swoopy siamese exhaust set-up was stunning. Sadly, the XLCR's speed stats did not stack up as neatly as its styling cues. A peak power output of 61bhp - at 6,200rpm - did not set any alarm-bells ringing. A top speed of 115mph was average - and no more. Suffice to say, then, that boy racers - of whom there were a lot in the late '70s - were underwhelmed.

Harley's sales brochures, however, took a different tack. They pointed to the fact that the XLCR's performance was a marked improvement on what had gone before. Up to a point, they were right. But then, the same could be said of Harley's new Sportster. In white knuckle terms, the XLCR did not do much the Sportster was not already doing. And - crucially for a Harley - the Sportster scored more 'sit up and scowl!' points. Harley-Davidson was right to try to tap a new trend. But - for two-wheeled speed merchants - the XLCR Cafe Racer simply could not cut the cappuccino!

Yamaha YR5

Yamaha YR5 1970s Japanese classic motorbike

The YR5 is a small, but perfectly-formed 'Jap classic'. Torakusu Yamaha founded Nippon Gakki in 1897. The firm went on to become one of the world's biggest makers of musical instruments. In '55, it branched out into motorbikes. Some might say they made sweeter music than Yamaha's previous products! The company logo - a tuning fork - has appeared on the tanks of millions of bikes since. Certainly sweet music to a salesperson's ears! One of the best-sellers was the YR5.

The 'big four' Japanese bike manufacturers introduced precision-engineering hitherto unseen in the industry. Indeed, Torakusu Yamaha had trained to be a clock-maker, prior to starting up Nippon Gakki. The first Yamahas were built with machinery previously used to forge aircraft propellers. Now, that is the kind of component that needs to be got right!

The YR5 was a supreme example of early Japanese bike building. It reached a top speed of 95mph - from only 350cc. Engine layout was reed-valve 2-stroke. In tandem with that, the YR5 weighed just 330lb wet. Acceleration was fierce - right up to 7,000rpm. Traditionally, there has been a trade-off between 'stroker' speed and reliability. The former tended to come at the expense of the latter. Yamaha's 2-strokes, though, gained a reputation for robustness - relatively so, at any rate. The YR5's handling and braking were equally solid. Design-wise, neat and tidy styling set off pristine paintwork. As you would expect, then - with a competitive price-tag attached - the Yamaha YR5 sold by the shedload!

MV Agusta 750 Sport

MV Agusta 750 Sport 1970s Italian classic sports bike

The MV Agusta 750 Sport was race-bred. A straight line could be drawn from the roadster to Meccanica Verghera's competition machines. They were fettled in Gallerate, near Milan, Italy. MV ruled the racing roost, at the time. The 750 Sport's clip-on 'bars - and humped-back seat - gave the game away. Add to them, a 4-leading-shoe Grimeca front brake - and a chrome quartet of megaphone exhausts. All were clear pointers to the Sport's race-track roots.

The 750's top speed of 120mph was good going in the Seventies. Especially, since the bike was a tad portly. It weighed in at 506lb. Its in-line 4-cylinder engine produced 69bhp - at 7,900rpm. Power was supplied via gear-driven twin overhead camshafts.

Compared to its rivals in the showrooms, the 750 Sport was expensive. Suffice to say, it did not sell well. To be fair, MV had little choice but to up the price. The complexities of the Sport's engine - and labour-intensive production processes - all had to be paid for. From a purely commercial standpoint, then, the Sport turned out to be another nail in MV's coffin. Count Domenico Agusta had founded MV, in '45. In '71, he suffered a fatal heart attack. With him went the soul of MV. Indeed, it was not long afterward that the marque shut up shop. The lacklustre sales of the 750 Sport had not helped. From a non-commercial point of view, however, the MV Agusta 750 Sport summed up the spirit of motorcycling like few other bikes!

Ducati 250 Desmo

Ducati 250 Desmo 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

Ducati's 250 Desmo was a nailed down design classic! The famous firm began in Bologna, in '26 - producing electrical parts. That might generate a few wry grins amongst bikers of a certain age. Italian machines have traditionally been praised more for aesthetic than technical perfection.

Ducati's signature set-up, back in the day, was 'desmodromic'. It saw engine valves closed by cams - rather than springs. That provided more precise control of valvegear moving parts. For a marque so synonymous with styling, 'desmo' was definitely a feather in Ducati's cap. The 250 was the baby of the newly engineered range. Though of reduced capacity compared to its bigger siblings, the 250 was still blessed with a fair lick of speed. Indeed, it fell just a tad short of the totemic 'ton'. In handling terms, too, the 250 had plenty in its favour. Weighing in at less than 300lb - and with finely-tuned suspension - its rubber side remained resolutely glued to the tarmac. Saying that, clip-on 'bars, rear-set footrests and a solo seat coaxed riders into finding the limits of adhesion!

The Desmo was designed by Leo Tartarini. He drew the 250 with simple, strong lines. They were all that was needed. The bike had dynamism built-in - by dint of its 'racy' parts list. So, the 250 was as strong visually, as it was technically. Certainly, its desmodromic valve-train was a key asset. But, it also possessed poised and purposeful looks - belying its size. Dimunitive it may have been, but the Ducati 250 Desmo married technological innovation with innate good looks!

Suzuki GS1000

Suzuki GS1000 1970s Japanese classic motorcycle

The Suzuki GS1000 was not blessed with the most exotic styling, ever to have flowed from a designer's pen. Indeed, visually, it was straight out of Studio Old Skool. But what the GS lacked in aesthetics, it more than made up in the technical stakes.

The heart of the GS was its in-line four-cylinder engine. We are talking 'classic Jap' here. The bike cruised to a top speed of 135mph. Cornering was consistently solid and stable. Its frame was robust, suspension adjustable and tyres wider than normal for Seventies superbikes. So - properly maintained and adequately set up - handling was never an issue. When the time came, its dual front disc brakes were more than capable stoppers.

Anyway, beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. For some, the GS was a beautiful bike, precisely because it was big and basic - not despite the fact. 'That's the way a motorcycle should look', they would have said. 'Forget about frills 'n' flimflam!' Heavy metal over cosmetic plastic. So, the Suzuki GS1000 was something of a wolf in sheep's clothing. On the surface, it seemed a placid enough beast. Even slightly staid, perhaps. But rider beware - if you twisted its throttle!

Benelli 750 Sei

Benelli 750 Sei 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

It is a truism that the Italians are past masters of design. In engineering terms, too, they have often been ahead of the game. How far the latter held true for the Benelli Sei, though, is a moot point. For sure, the Sei was visually impressive. Six-cylinder bikes usually are. The jury was out, though, in the court of motorcycle performance stats.

Certainly, the Sei's engine looked superb. For non-Europeans, by the way, sei is Italian for six. As did its twin sets of triple-stacked exhaust pipes. When it came to horsepower, however, it was another story. Even by '75 standards, the Sei's top speed of 118mph was hardly earth-moving. Not for a six-cylinder sports bike, anyway. In the market-led surge of Seventies superbikes, Benelli's rivals all supplied quicker machines. And Ducati, Laverda and Moto Guzzi needed half as many pots. Or less!

It was not like Benelli did not know how to make bikes go fast. After all, they had been GP 250cc world champions, in 1950. And then again, in '69. But - at least in the case of the Sei - race success did not trickle down to the roadster. Saying that, the sleek contours of the Sei's 'six-pack' bodywork certainly helped. So far as buyers were concerned, they went a long way toward offsetting what the Benelli Sei lacked in the 'go' department!

Kawasaki Z1300

Kawasaki Z1300 1970s Japanese classic motorcycle

The Kawasaki Z1300 is one of a select set of bikes that sport six-cylinder engines. Such a powerplant is always going to pack a punch. In the case of the Z1300, though, it does not make quite the impact you might think. Why so? The radiator plastered across it. In profile, it is still an impressive piece of kit. But - viewed head-on - the 'Z13' paid a visual price for its water-cooling.

Top whack for the big 'Z' was 135mph. It reached that speed with consummate ease. The inline 1286cc motor gave an output of 120bhp. Manoeuvrability-wise, a bike with a wet weight of 670lb was never going to be agile. That said, the Z13's handling was impressive for a bike of its size.

The Z1300 will forever be bracketed with Honda's CBX1000Z. Another Seventies siren, that machine, too, radiated 'six appeal'. The CBX, though, was a brash brute of a bike - more muscular than the Z13. The latter blended power with refinement. Its shaft final-drive, for example, was much easier on the fingers than oil-soaked chains! So, in many ways, the Kawasaki Z1300 was the perfect motorcycle. So long as you were not a designer. In which case, that pesky radiator grille rather upset the aesthetic applecart!

Honda Gold Wing GL1000

Honda Gold Wing GL1000 1970s Japanese classic motorcycle

In its day - between '74 and '79 - the Honda Gold Wing GL1000 was a luxury motorcycle. Then again, Gold Wings always are! Whichever 'Wing' you plump for, there will be a few constants. It will be big, it will be heavy - and, surest of all, it will be comfortable. So much so, indeed, that extra care may be called for. When riding a motorcycle, it pays to be alert. On a bike as relaxing as the Gold Wing, that could pose a problem!

Not that such concerns have harmed the Wing's sales. The GL1000 had a five-year production run - from '74 to '79. Obviously, it was doing something right. Overall - given its gargantuan girth - the Wing was a smooth and compliant mount. A dry weight of 571lb was a lot to coax through corners - and a handful to haul up. On both counts, though, the Wing scored well. Just in case, the 'Aspencade' came with a compressor ... for on-board suspension adjustment.

The Gold Wing is a bike with a cult following. For an owner, the 'season' starts early and ends late. Summer rallies cascade like confetti ... for those married to a Wing! The bike was always big in the US. And the Gold Wing has graced many a European get-together, too. In fact, the Gold Wing has gone global. Wherever there is a road, there will be a Honda flying up it, sooner or later. And - with a top speed of 122mph - the GL1000 will probably be sooner!

Kawasaki Z1

Kawasaki Z1 1970s Japanese classic motorcycle

The Kawasaki Z1 was nick-named the 'King' ... which kind of says it all! Suffice it to say, it was well-received - on its release, in '73. Riders had been putting up with past its sell-by date technology for years. As often as not, it was down to outdated management techniques. All that was blown away by the Oriental invasion. When the Japanese - and their new wave of machines -disembarked at the Isle of Man, 'Brit bikes' were dead in the water. The TT wins which followed presaged the future - not just for racers, but roadsters. When the Z1 hit the showrooms, the future had arrived.

The Z1's twin-camshaft, four-cylinder motor left its road-going rivals reeling! The ageing 'thumpers', twins and triples simply could not compete. The Z1 took cycle parts, too, to another level. Performance stats had gone up a gear … well, several gears, actually! The 'King' came, saw, and conquered! Before long, the British bike industry was a mere memory.

The new bike heralded Kawasaki's iconic 'Z'-series. A plethora of 'superbikes' - from the 'big four' Japanese manufacturers - followed. Never again would bikers settle for second-best. From that point on, a test-ride delivered outstanding performance, handling and braking - or the deal was off! The Kawasaki Z1 had secured its place in motorcycling's pantheon. As for Brit bikes ... the king was dead, long live the 'King'!

Moto Guzzi Le Mans 850

Moto Guzzi Le Mans 850 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

Moto Guzzi is rightly renowned for rugged, reliable machines. If any bike is going to get from A to B, a Guzzi stands as good a chance as any. One model, though, that had more going for it than mere practicality, was the Le Mans 850. Strong and purposeful, certainly. But, also a kingpin of two-wheeled design.

The Le Mans' top speed of 130mph was plenty impressive, in '76. Especially, since it was delivered by shaft-drive. A relatively heavy power-train, it is more associated with low maintenance, than high performance. So, like its second to none Italian styling, the Le Mans motor was simple - but effective.

The engine in question was an across-the-frame V-twin. So interlinked is it with Moto Guzzi, that it has attained iconic status among fans of the Mandello del Lario marque. Rather like another well-known V-twin - made in Milwaukee. Except that Harley-Davidson opted for a longitudinal layout. Guzzi's mill was first installed in a 3-wheeler ... built to cross mountains. Suffice it to say, torque was not an issue! It would be a long journey from such icy wastes - to the furnace of France's most famous racetrack. But, the Le Mans ate up the miles ... and never missed a beat. Which probably goes some way to explaining why Moto Guzzi - founded in '21 - has outlasted any other European motorcycle manufacturer. The Le Mans 850, then, blended style, power and solidity - in pretty much equal measure!

Laverda Jota

Laverda Jota 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

The Laverda Jota was a stalwart of the Seventies superbikes. It combined impressive performance with Italian styling. In '76, the Jota's top speed stat of 140mph was admirable. Particularly, given that it was sourced from just three wallet-hugging cylinders!

Yet - for all its virtues - the bike might never have been launched. Prior to the Jota, Laverda had knocked out a few frankly average motorcycles. Average, but affordable. At the same time, a wave of cheap cars - like the Fiat 500 - rolled into showrooms. Non-bikers - especially, those with families - tended to plump for four wheels. As a result, Laverda came close to going out of business. In the nick of time, the management changed tack. They gave the green light to the two-wheeled exotica for which the firm is now renowned. Classic bike aficionados will forever be in their debt.

But, the bike's British importer also deserves credit. It was they who suggested to Laverda's top brass that the latter pack more power into what was already a perfectly pukka motor. Thank goodness, the marque's managers rose to the challenge. Laverda lovers have not stopped dancing since! Now, they had an engine which did justice to the Jota's impeccably-drawn lines.

Ducati 900SS

Ducati 900SS 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

Of all the Seventies superbikes, the Ducati 900SS was one of the most pure of purpose. Unburdened by such 'add-ons' as an electric start and a pillion seat, the SS roared 'race-bred' - as loudly as its Conti pipes!

Ducati's proprietary desmodromic valve-gear took pride of place in the 900's V-twin engine. As a result, it solidly piled on revs - enough for the Duc to accrue a top speed of 132mph.

Yet, the 900's technical prowess seemed to fade into shade, in light of its visual virtues. Achingly good-looking, the Ducati 900SS is arguably beyond compare, styling-wise!