Showing posts with label 1980s Sports Bikes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1980s Sports Bikes. Show all posts

Bimota DB1

Bimota DB1 1980s Italian sports bike

The Bimota DB1 was a double dose of Italiana. It was the first Bimota to feature a Ducati engine. So, the DB1 combined a deliciously torquey powerplant with the kind of looks that could only have been modelled in Italy. Bimota was based in Rimini. Unsurprisingly, then, the DB1 sold well. It came at a critical juncture for the stylish Italian specials builder. Design-driven to its core, business was never Bimota's strong suit. Indeed - prior to the DB1's '86 release - the firm was in financial decline. Thanks to the new bike, though, Bimota's downward spiral was stemmed - and even reversed. Crucially - along with its long list of virtues - the DB1 was reasonably priced.

The Ducati factor in the DB1 was its desmo-valved engine. A sohc 90° V-twin, the 750cc motor made 76bhp. Built more for mid-range grunt than throttle-to-the-stop velocity, top speed for the DB1 was 130mph. In superbike terms, that stat was not too much to write home about. The way it was reached, however, most certainly was. Suffice to say, acceleration was fierce. As well as its long-stroke motor, the rest of the DB1's tech-spec further fueled its free-revving fire. For a start, it weighed a skeletal 354lb. Plus, Federico Martini - Bimota's lead engineer - blended the fairing, tank and seat into a single, streamlined shape.

Acrobatic handling was only icing on the DB1 cake. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Brakes by Brembo. Pirelli brought low-profile tyres to the DB1's bend-swinging party. They were fitted to nimble 16″ wheels. The whole bike was comfortabe and compact. It is true that at peak revs, the new Bimota was not the most blistering bike on the block. But, for its overall strengths - and the Italianate cut of its jib - the DB1 takes its place at superbikes' top table!

Honda VFR750R-RC30

Honda VFR750R-RC30 1980s Japanese sports bike

In many ways, Honda's VFR750R - better known as the RC30 - was the ultimate 'race replica'. Visually, at least, there was little to distinguish it from the RVF 750 racer, on which it was based. Technically, too, it was along the same lines - allowing for the fact that no roadster is ever really going to compare with its competitive sibling. The RC30's exhaust, for example, could not compete with the racer's super-light, free-flowing set-up. Not if it was going to make it through the MOT, at any rate!

Nor, of course, was the RC30's V4 engine going to be anything like on a par with the race version. That said, it still managed to output 112bhp - at 11,000rpm. Which gave a top speed of 153mph. More than enough for most wannabe GP stars! In like manner, the RC30's handling was not going to get close to that of the apex-slashing track tool on which it was modelled. Again, though, optimal tuning of its suspension enabled a passable emulation of the race god of your choice!

American rider Fred Merkel took two consecutive WSB titles on the RC30 race bike - in '88 and '89. Briton Carl Fogarty did the same in motorcycling's Formula One series. Endurance racing, too, was meat and drink to the RVF 750. So far as Honda were concerned, the RC30 was first and foremost a racer. There was little doubt, though, that the roadster benefited hugely from it. Certainly - with its low-slung front end, aluminium twin-spar frame and single-sided swingarm - the street bike looked seriously stunning. Honda's commitment to the project, then, had paid double dividends. On both road and track, the VFR750R-RC30 did the business - in every sense of the phrase!

Kawasaki Z1100R

Kawasaki Z1100R 1980s Japanese sports bike

Over the years, many a motorcyclist has had a special place in their heart for a Kawasaki 'Z'. No bike more so than the Z1100R. No flimflam or finery - just straightforward, sit up and beg-style solidity. Highish handlebars, stepped-down seat and anatomically-correct footrests. In other words - a normal riding position. 'The way bikes used to be', you might hear it said. And - after a hundred plus miles in the saddle - who could argue?

Not that that should suggest any kind of staidness! There was little sober or solemn about the 1100R. It was, after all, inspired by a US Superbike racer. The one on which Eddie Lawson won consecutive titles in the early Eighties. Hopefully - from a Kawasaki marketing viewpoint - some of the spirit of the race bike rubbed off on the roadster. Certainly, it was far from unknown for an 1100R rider to feel like Eddie Lawson! And - to be fair - the Z's 140mph top whack was more than enough for most mere mortals. Especially when the high-speed wobble kicked in - on account of the bike's bikini-type fairing. The R's 1,089cc engine made 114bhp. Thankfully - with all that power to play with - the bike was blessed with good roadholding. Squat dimensions helped - as did Kayaba remote-reservoir rear shocks.

Albeit in a no-frills way, the Z1100R was still a stylish motorcycle. Few paintjobs are as emotive as those of Kawasaki's 'green meanies'. Of course, green bikes are considered unlucky by some. That said, owners of spanking-new 1100Rs were obviously prepared to take a chance. For the superstitious, though, other colours were also available. Launched in '84, the Z might be said to have straddled classic and race-rep. To wit, comfortable ergonomics - plus searing speed and cute handling. Fans would argue, then, that with a lime-green Kawasaki Z1100R, you got the lot. Now, that can hardly be considered unlucky!

Ducati 851

Ducati 851 1980s Italian sports bike

The Ducati 851 was a slow burner. It took a refit for it to really kick into gear. Not that the first model did not have anything going for it. The 851cc engine was sound. Styling was suitably dynamic. Especially the three-tone paint job - in Italian red, white and green. The issue with the first version was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been released with 16″ wheels - smaller than planned. The problem was that they were too good! The handling was more nimble, but there was less room for error. When it came to quick cornering - without a high degree of accuracy - the small wheels were liable to 'tuck under'. A flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down - but there was a limit!

So, Ducati 851 - take 2! This time, a set of 17″ wheels were in situ. Things were looking up already … literally for some owners! The most obvious mod was the paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike's livery was still Italianate - but now it was fire-engine red. While there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes, the motor was untouched. Indeed, it had been universally praised. It took Ducati a year to complete the makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for Ducati. Its V-twin engine was now liquid-cooled - and came with 4 valves per cylinder. Desmodromic valves, in Ducati's case. Its unique set-up saw valves opened and closed by cams alone - as opposed to the standard cams and springs system. Springs are all well and good - but are prone to bounce and go out of adjustment. Its 'desmo' valve-train had long been a feather in Ducati's cap, powerplant-wise. Plus, Massimo Bordi - Ducati's lead engineer - added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the mix. As a result, torque was significantly increased. At the top-end of the rev-range, 104bhp was now on tap. That meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Souped-up Marzocchi shocks sorted the suspension. With the road bike seen to, it was time to call the race department. Three WSB titles on the trot for Ducati duly followed - courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. Truly, Ducati's 851 roadster - and its race-going counterpart - were on top of the superbike world!

Bimota HB2

Bimota HB2 1980s Italian sports bike

The HB2 was the second offering from Bimota - the radical Italian bike builder. The HB1 had set the template. Massimo Tamburini – Bimota's chief designer – totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Tamburini managed to salvage its four-cylinder engine from the wreckage. He then wrapped it in Bimota bodywork. The resulting HB1 - Honda/Bimota - hybrid became the first of the firm's stylish, trend-setting roadsters.

The HB2 upped the ante, power-wise, from the HB1. The new bike sourced its motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the big Honda CB. It weighed just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then fitted. At the front, Ceriani teles were synced with a progressive-rate monoshock at the back. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame added still more stability to the mix. With a 138mph top speed – and high-class handling – the HB2 etched a technical benchmark. Bimota had taken the superbike fight to its Oriental rivals. Pretty impressive from a small-scale manufacturer - certainly as compared with the Japanese 'big four'.

Not that the Bimota challenge came as a surprise to Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha. In no particular order, by the way! After all, Bimota had been around the GP scene a while by then. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was super-cool Italian looks - plus a Japanese engine! Sadly - even for a bespoke builder like Bimota - less than 200 HB2s were sold. The HB3 came to the rescue - to some extent, at least. It sealed the deal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. Like the HB2, the HB3 upgraded the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, the Japanese marques were leading the pack again, in terms of overall performance. Notwithstanding - with their HB2 - Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending motorbikes!

BMW K1

BMW K1 1980s German motorcycle

Back in the day, BMW bikes were borderline staid. That all changed with the K1. Design-led flair and panache were dripping off it. The K1 looked the absolute business - and BMW did plenty of it, as a result!

In engineering terms, the K1 was straight out of the top drawer. That said, BMW know no other way! Suspension was set up per the Paralever system - specially formulated for shaft-drive power trains. The K-series engine featured four horizontally-opposed cylinders - the flat layout having been a BMW trademark since the year dot. This time around, though, it was fuel-injected. Cue 100bhp. And a top speed of 145mph.

The K1 was stylistically stunning. Paint and bodywork blended into a cool mélange. 'Cool' was not a word which had been over-associated with BMW, in the past ... at least, not so far as motorcycles were concerned. The K1, though, was a visual harbinger of 'Beemers' to come. Indeed, BMW would go on to produce some of the best-looking bikes on the planet. And, of course, it went without saying, they also exuded a touch of Teutonic class!

Yamaha FZR1000

Yamaha FZR1000 1980s Japanese sports bike

'Genesis' is one heck of a tag to give a motorbike. But, that is what the first version of the Yamaha FZR1000 was called, when introduced in '87. No pressure, then! In the beginning, there had been the FZR1000 race bike. That begat the Genesis roadster ... which multiplied in great profusion. The first follow-up model was the Exup - or Exhaust Ultimate Powervalve. By that point, the FZR1000 was already selling in shedloads.

The FZR topped out at a dizzying 168mph. Output was 140bhp. It tipped the scales at a scant 461lb dry. 'Upside-down forks', on later models, reduced unsprung weight - and thereby improved handling. A 17″ front wheel - and radial tyre - helped raise the roadholding bar. At the back, a rock-solid swingarm pivoted on an aluminium twin-spar Deltabox frame. The engine's electronic Exup system extended the FZR's powerband into the middle of the rev range.

The FZR was one sweetly-styled sports bike. The twists and turns of its bodywork went every which way. Rather than being a cause of confusion, though - in this case, it 'worked'. With the FZR1000, then, Yamaha gave a blank sheet to its engineers/designers. They clearly seized the invitation to move the motorcycle onto new ground!

Honda VFR 750F

Honda VFR 750F 1980s Japanese sports bike

The Honda VFR 750F was about as versatile as a motorbike gets. Indeed, it is often cited as the ultimate all-rounder. The VFR played footsie with perfection ... then improved on it! Fast, fine-handling - and styled with finesse. What more could a motorcyclist want?

In engine layout terms, the Japanese in-line four had the market pretty much covered. Until the VFR arrived, that is. Its water-cooled, 16-valve V4 was to prove a more than viable alternative. The motor's 100bhp output gave a top speed of 150mph. Sweet stats, by any standards! Combined with that, the VFR's 460lb dry weight was reasonably slim for a bike of its size. Plus, the VFR was fitted with a sturdy twin-spar aluminium frame. That was state of the art chassis technology, at the time.

As if all that were not enough - the VFR impressed visually, too. Not only did its bodywork sear through air, but the paintwork was sprayed to last. Hondas have long been known for their build quality. Deftly designed ducts sat by discreetly drawn graphics. Neat tucks and folds were the order of the day. Sales-wise, the VFR was a banker from the off. And Honda needed it to be. The VFR's predecessor - the VF750 - had damaged the Japanese giant. It had taken reliability issues to another level! Technically, then, the VFR 750F more than restored bikers' faith in Honda. As a bonus - it did so in impeccable style!

Suzuki GSX-R750

Suzuki GSX-R750 1980s Japanese sports bike

By no means every motorbike can claim to be the first of its kind. One that can is the Suzuki GSX-R750. So closely did its looks reflect those of Suzuki's '85 Endurance racer, that it was designated a 'race-replica'. Performance-wise, too, it did not fall far short. 145mph on the road was not for the faint-hearted!

The 'Gixer', then, was built to go fast. Corners were no obstacle to that mission statement. The GSX-R's light aluminium frame - and beefed-up forks - made it highly 'flickable'. Powering out of bends, though, needed the rev-needle firmly to the right. The GSX-R's power-band was uncompromising. Low-down 'grunt' was not its strong suit. Keep the revs up, though, and you were flying. When slowing could not be put off any longer, state of the art stoppers responded with relish.

The first GSX-R 750 was dubbed the 'slab-side'. That referenced the perpendicular lines of its design. Certainly, it communicated solidity - and a sense of purpose. So - single-handedly - the Suzuki GSX-R750 sparked the 'race-rep' revolution. After that, roadsters really were not ever the same again!

Hesketh V1000

Hesketh V1000 1980s British sports bike

The Hesketh V1000 might be viewed as a mechanical folly. In production terms, was all the time, effort and expense incurred worthwhile? Not from a financial viewpoint, certainly. Only a few of them were sold, after all. Then again, an architectural folly stands tall - boldly proclaiming itself a glorious failure. Perhaps the Hesketh V1000 should do someththe same.

It was not as if the losses would hit Hesketh hard. After all, Lord Hesketh funded the F1 team which bore his name. Along with some sponsors, of course. Certainly, the noble lord did not lack for ambition. His goal with the V1000 was nothing less than the resurrection of the British bike industry. And he might have succeeded. All things considered, the V1000 was far from a bad bike. It was stylish, for starters. And, when it came to the cycle parts, everything was tickety-boo there, too. The frame was made from nickel-plated steel tubing. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Disc brakes by Brembo. As you would expect, then, the V1000 handled and stopped with aplomb. So far, so good! Why, then, did the bike fail? Did it, perhaps, have an Achilles' heel?

Lord Hesketh's choice of engine designer could not be faulted. Weslake were at the top of their game. What they did not know about 4-strokes was not worth knowing. But, something went badly awry. When tested, the V-twin was noisy - and prone to leak oil. The gearbox was basic, at best. That said, the twin-cam set-up, with four valves per pot, gave 86bhp - and did so smoothly. Top speed was a cool 120mph. So, things certainly were not all bad. Sadly, though, there were more than enough 'issues', to sow doubts in buyers' minds. Which was a shame. Because Lord Hesketh's vision for the V1000 could have led to a good British bike. Maybe even a great one. In true folly fashion, though, it finished up mere whimsy. The Hesketh V1000 promised so much - but delivered so little. Anyway - hats off to his Lordship for trying!