Showing posts with label Japanese Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 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!

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 1990s Japanese superbike

The Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 was one serious superbike. 176mph flat-out testified to that. Its 1,052cc, 16-valve, in-line four engine produced 145bhp. It needed to - the ZZ-R weighed in at a portly 603lb, wet. From 1990 to '95, the ZZ-R was the world's fastest production motorcycle - succeeding Kawasaki's ZX-10, in that regard. It took the Super Blackbird to restore Honda to the top of the speed heap.

The high-grade performance stats were due, in no small part, to 'ram-air' technology. The faster the ZZ-R travelled, the more air was forced through its ducted fairing, to the motor. More air meant more combustion - which, in turn, meant more power. If it was not an exponential increase - it sure as heck felt like it!

For all of its brain-warp acceleration, the ZZ-R was a forgiving beast, at heart. Sold as a sports-tourer, its chassis came supremely well-equipped. Both frame and suspension were solid, yet flexible. With the right settings dialled in, the ZZ-R was as safe as your riding skills. That a bike as explosive as the ZZ-R1100 could be considered an all-rounder said it all about Kawasaki engineering!

Honda CB750

Honda CB 750 1960s Japanese classic motorcycle

There is a case to be made for considering the Honda CB750 to be the point at which motorcycling's modern era began. Technically, it was released in '69 - but its presence so suffused the Seventies that it cannot but be grouped with bikes of that decade. Kawasaki's Z1 is often thought of as the first Japanese 'superbike'. Timeline-wise, though, it was the CB750 that was first out of the traps - and by a full four years, at that.

The CB750's four across-the-frame cylinders were a clear signal there was a new kid on biking's block. The shiny quartet of chrome exhausts reinforced the message. The CB750 was a muscular-looking motorcycle. But, it was stylish muscularity. The rounded tank was sleek and shapely. The multi-spoked wheels were a latticed delight. Paintwork and chrome vied for attention. At the time, the CB's front disc brake was technologically advanced. Highish handlebars - and a well-padded seat - were tailor-made for long journeys. So, it made sense for the 750 to be pitched as the perfect all-rounder.

Unsurprisingly, the CB was a big success in the showrooms. That was only to be expected from a bike which topped out at 125mph - and also handled well. Honda's rivals duly fell over themselves to try to match it. Over time, then, the CB750 furthered motorcycling's cause. By setting a benchmark, it forced manufacturers worldwide to follow suit. In the form of the Honda CB750, the day of the modern Jap classic had dawned!

Yamaha YZF R1

Yamaha YZF R1 1990s Japanese superbike

The Yamaha YZF R1 was about as close to a racer as a road-bike gets. Everything about it screamed speed. Its fairing parted air like a shark shifts water. Its tail-piece was sharp enough to shave with. In terms of its tech-spec, the R1 tasted number-crunching good! A power output of 160bhp. A dry weight of 389lb. A top speed of 170mph. Satisfying stats, to be sure!

But, the R1 was not just quick and aerodynamic - it was agile as an acrobat. Indeed, so 'flickable' was it, that it was almost so to a fault. The R1 could made corners a bit too tempting! Short and slim, its wheelbase was minimal. All the better for flying through bends. Engine-wise, there were 5 valves per cylinder. 20 minuscule parts - doing a mechanised dance of staggering precision. Cycle parts were state of the art. Suspension and brakes were razor-responsive. In every department, the R1 excelled. As you would expect, it sold in shedloads!

The R1 is the kind of machine lives get built around. It inspires not so much dedication - as devotion. Whether at R1 owners' rallies, track days or production racing events, the bike instils pride - and confidence - like few others. The Yamaha YZF R1 was a two-wheeled icon. And that will not be changing anytime soon!

Yamaha FZR1000

Yamaha FZR1000 1980s Japanese superbike

'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!

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R 2000s Japanese superbike

The letter 'Z' - on a Kawasaki motorbike - has long denoted high-performance. The Ninja ZX-6R - released in '03 - was a case in point. A race-bred riot on two wheels, it had a licence to thrill. As uncompromising as bikes come, the ZX-6R made 116bhp. Much of that was thanks to its ram-air system. Top speed was 160mph. Not bad for a 636cc capacity machine. The fact that the ZX-6R weighed in at just 354lb helped account for its awesome acceleration.

When it came to keeping all that power in line, the ZX-6R's chassis was well up to the job. Twin radial front brake callipers were there, if needed. They were directly derived from Kawasaki's race programme. As were the ZX-6R's thinly-padded seats … definitely not designed for comfort! That said - crouched racing-style atop the plot - rider and pillion were well-placed to help steer the beast. The lack of leverage from the stubby 'bars made hanging off through corners a requirement. To some degree, at least. That is an art to be acquired with caution! But - with weight distribution correctly addressed - the Ninja gave high-precision handling.

Just as the letter 'Z' can say so much when it is a Kawasaki, so can a colour. Every hue and shade in the spectrum has bedecked a motorbike, at some time or other. But seldom with the impact of lime-green. Since the heyday of the 'Green Meanies', the colour has adorned many a production Kawasaki. They were the evil-handling H2R race bikes the firm sent out onto Seventies circuits. Certainly, lime-green suited the ZX-6R. Green has been said by some to bring bad luck to a motorcycle. If so, it was not the case with the Ninja. The ZX-6R restored Kawasaki's status as sports bike supremos. 'Z-Bikes' have long been integral to the marque. Fast, dynamic, exciting? Always. Zzzzz? Never!

Suzuki Hayabusa

Suzuki Hayabusa 1990s Japanese superbike

The Suzuki Hayabusa was released in '99. At the time, the Honda Super Blackbird ruled the motorcycle roost. In top speed terms, at least. From a Suzuki standpoint, that was a stat that needed to change. The Hayabusa is a Japanese bird of prey. No doubt, one which would not object to gobbling down a tasty blackbird or two on its travels!

Suzuki's assault on the top speed slot would be a three-pronged affair. The Hayabusa's 1,299cc engine was the biggest in a sports bike, up to that point. Its ram air set-up did just that - forcing increasing amounts through the carbs, the quicker the bike went. The result was a high-octane 173bhp. The Hayabusa was also quite light - weighing in at 473lb dry. Not slimline, as such - but less than you would expect for a bike of its size. The third item on Suzuki's must-have list was good aerodynamics. The bike's bulbous-looking bodywork was not to everyone's taste. But - aesthetic considerations aside - it was a lot more slippery than it looked. At any rate, designer Koji Yoshirua's primary goal had been to make a strong visual statement.

The Hayabusa's 1300 engine was, basically, a bigger version of the GSX-R1100 unit. Each iteration of Suzuki's flagship model had refined its core components. So - by the time the Hayabusa came along - the package was pretty well primed. All of which resolved to 194mph, at full chat. That was enough to knock the Super Blackbird off its high-speed perch. Mission accomplished, then, for the Suzuki Hayabusa. As it happens, Yoshirua claims the intention was not to make it the fastest road bike on the planet. But, that can probably be taken with a generous grain of Japanese salt!

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 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!

Honda Fireblade

Honda Fireblade 1990s Japanese superbike

The launch buzz around the Honda Fireblade was electric! It was released in '92 - to rapturous applause, from press and public alike. In the unlikely event that you saw one stationary, it was sure to be engulfed in a gaggle of onlookers. Months of speculation had induced a feeding frenzy of interest in the new Blade. Tadao Baba was the boffin in charge of its development. The Fireblade - or CBR900RR - was the first Honda to sport the 'RR' nomenclature. The bike's racing traits had been duly declared!

The Fireblade screamed street-fightin' bike! Squat - and barrel-chested - it looked like it would be up for a ding-dong at the drop of a hat. Steep steering geometry - and a super-short wheelbase - meant the Blade cut corners to ribbons. Suspension settings were decidedly 'firm'. 407lb dry was no weight at all for a bike of its size. Factor in 113bhp - at 10,500rpm - and the results were always going to be explosive. Top speed for the Blade was 167mph. How much the holes in its fairing helped is not known!

Visually, too, the Blade was well up to speed. Blessed with eye-catching graphics - and a super-big tank - it was a brilliantined bobby dazzler of a bike! A beefy twin-spar frame - and braced swing-arm - visibly signalled the strength of the cycle parts. The sunk-down seat - and bulbous tailpiece - lent rock-solid support. Too solid for some, no doubt. Padding was minimal. Very minimal! But then, comfort was never the name of the Blade's game. The Fireblade was a single-minded superbike. High-speed hats off to Honda!

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!

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!