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

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!

Suzuki GS1000

Suzuki GS1000 1970s Japanese classic motorbike

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!

Kawasaki Z1300

Kawasaki Z1300 1970s Japanese classic motorbike

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'!

Honda CBX1000Z

Honda CBX1000Z 1970s Japanese classic motorcycle

The Honda CBX1000Z was a child of its times. In the Seventies, performance was everything. Japanese superbike performance, that is. At the time, the 'Big Four' - Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha - were more concerned about how a bike went than how it looked. The 'CBX' could have been cited as a case in point. Its inline-six motor was prioritised over other areas of the bike. Its 24-valve DOHC air-cooled inline-six motor, to be precise. It had been designed by a one-time GP engineer. Most famously, Mike Hailwood's Honda RC166 racer had displayed the virtues of a 6-cylinder layout.

Given the girth of its 6-pot block, the CBX handled well. Its manoeuvrability was still more impressive when its cycle parts were factored in. By today's standards, the tubular steel frame, telescopic forks, narrow wheels and high-profile tyres were spindly. And dwarfed by the mass of the motor. Straight handlebars - and twin rear shocks - were similarly conventional. In fact, the width of the engine was deceptive. Just 2″ wider than the CB750. That was due to its unusual layout. The alternator and ignition parts were located behind the block. Well out of the way, should the bike ever find itself sliding down the road!

Flat out, the CBX did 140mph. Striking though that was, it was as nothing next to the noise the bike made reaching it. The high-pitched howl of a CBX at full chat is something that once heard, is never forgotten. Especially with a slightly less than legal pipe fitted. At which point, it sounds as much like a jet plane as it does a motorcycle! Sadly, the CBX did not sell well. In time, its design would be diluted down into less extreme machines. But, motorcycling would be the poorer without bikes like the CBX. Look on them as a challenge. Get a corner just right - and there are few feelings like it. The Honda CBX1000Z was flawed, for sure ... but fantastic fun!