The other day I was wondering to myself, which motorcycle was most influential regarding design, technology, innovation and even concept.
Here is the list that I came up with. Of course there are lots and lots of more bikes, but I narrowed it down to the most that influenced mainstream – street and sport motorcycles.
As you can see I had to put in the Vespa scooter cause I really think it’s an immortal exemplar. You are welcome to vote (see the poll on the left side) or add your own candidates or remarks in the comments below.
Honda CB 750 Four (1969) – The Honda four was the last nail in the British motorcycle industry coffin. The Honda had everything the Triumphs and Nortons didn’t have – ergonomics for start… but it was also faster, with better brakes, reliable electric system, smoother ride, with good finish and comfort, and… it didn’t leak oil.
Vespa Scooter (1946) – What can be said that haven’t been said. This scooter started as a cheap means of reliable transportation in the 1940’s. The Vespa did it all, on paved road or muddy trails (legs stayed clean too!). The Monocoque pressed steel design was so ingenious, and the adorable looks made it sell like hot buns. It had it all – it was cheap, very simple to maintain and fix, and practical.
Triumph Bonneville (1959) – The Triumphs of the 60’s ruled the streets as the fastest motorcycles around. The Bonneville’s had a 650-750 cc parallel twin engines with a 360° crank – both pistons are always in the same position as each other and move in same direction. This leads to an even working cycle every 360° (like two singles…). However few advantages in the intake area and simplified ignition system, the balance of this engine design was pretty bad, and the Triumphs as well as the Nortons are notorious for being quite a vibrators and for good reasons. But with all the disadvantages of this design we now see in retrospect (and the also “famous” Lucas electrical components, sometime referred to as “Lucas, Prince of Darkness”), the Triumphs were maybe the first modern motorcycles around, and their high collectability value proves they played an important part in motorcycle evolution.
Yamaha V-max 1200 (1985) – You might hate Japanese bikes, you might even be a twin only freak, but you gotta respect the Max. Launched back in 1985, the old max is still one of the strongest and fastest bikes around. It has all the right ingredients to make it a cult motorcycle: a 1200 CC V four with a V-boost system, and a MAD MAX unique look, unlike any other, even today.
In 2008 Yamaha launched it’s new 2009 Max called “Yamaha Star VMAX”. The new model now has a 1,679cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke DOHC 65 degree V4 engine. Personally I think it is one step forward and half a step backwards. The new MAX does not accelerate faster than it’s older Brother, it gained quite a lot of weight, and it’s in-your-face-muscle-look design is, for me at least, too much. None the less the MAX, at least the first model, will remain one of the most unique motorcycles ever built.
Suzuki GSX-R750 (1985) – The Suzuki R did in 1985 what the Ducati 916 did in 1994. The R series took sport riding into a new level with strong engines, light weight aluminum frame, short wheel base and a new race looks, with the famous “R” on the fairings. The 750 put out 100 BHP, on 176 kg of body weight and with 6 speed transmission, reached speeds of 240 kph.
Honda Goldwing (1975) – The GoldWing is maybe the first comfort-tourer. It started as a 999 cc flat four engine (“Boxer”), and throughout the years grew to 1800, 6 Cylinder flat engine. Since it’s debut, the GoldWind has evolved into the ultimate tourer with all kinds of features. Just a decade after its launch, The GoldWing was equipped with an electronic fuel injection, auto leveling rear suspension, driver-passenger intercom system, cruise control, a sound system, rear seat stereo speakers, marker lights and cornering lights, sophisticated instrument panel, and a trip computer. It also had an increased alternator capacity, allowing even more electronics to be added to the bike.
Ducati 916 (1994) – Making its debut in 1994, the Ducati 916 was an instant seller, because of its new design and outstanding technical features. It was fast, exotic and made the Japanese engineers scratch their heads. It was a balance between function and form. The single-sided swing arm was beautiful, but also made wheel changes faster during races. The underseat exhausts may have (or not) improve aerodynamics, but, and maybe more important, gave the 916 it’s unique look (although underseat exhaust have been used earlier on the Honda NR)
Kawasaki Z1 (1972) – After producing 2-stroke beasts (like the H1 Mach III – a 2-stroke triple!) , Kawasaki decided to built it’s first four stroke sport bike, but was beaten to it by the Honda CB four. It was then decided to design a better machine and the Z1 was born. It was an Era of push rods and vibrating engines, and the Z1 900 cc inline four was about to change that, along with the Honda CB.
The Z1 had a winning combination of a strong 903cc engine (80+ hp), dual overhead cams, high performance and civility at moderate riding speeds, created a motorcycle of a type that had never been seen before and plant the seed which would later bring us the GPZ and ZX family.
Britten V1000 (1990s) – A hand built race motorcycle designed and built by John Britten and a group of friends in New Zealand during the early 1990s. The bike went on to win the Battle of the Twins in Daytona, USA and set a number of world speed records. The Britten has many innovations, one of them is that it’s a frame less chassis motorcycle. The Engine acts as a supporting part for the swingarm and the rest of the bike’s systems. The radiator is a small one, but cleverly was located under the seat. I remember an interview I’ve read, with John Britten, in which he said that it’s ridiculous to put a giant radiator in front of the bike, and then have the engine behind it, block all the air that’s coming in. Why not put a much smaller radiator under the seat and use the low pressure on the back of the motorcycle to draw in fresh air through it? Genius no? This and other innovations made the Britten a master piece of engineering, on top of it’s unique looks.
Ducati Monster (1993) – Here’s a secret: the 2-Valve Monster 1000, is one of my favorite bikes ever. The first Monster family included the M400, M600, M750, M900 . Later came fuel injected models- the 696 2 valve, 1000 2 valve and the S4R 4 valve.
The monsters in general are light, powerful, relatively practical, easy to maintain (at least the 2 valve models, given you know how to adjust Desmo valves) and very unique. Ducati sold 100,000 Monsters from 1993-2000. It’s one of Ducati’s best sellers, and for very good reasons.
Buell XB family (2003) – Buell was established by a Harley ex engineer Erik Buell. Since day one, Buells brought a different and innovative approach that separated them from the rest of the herd. The XB family used innovations like fuel in frame, oil in swing arm, brake disk mounted on the rim, an under-body exhaust and a unique design. Almost all Buells are powered by a modified Harley Davidson engine. Unfortunately, Harley Davidson , the full owner since 1998, has decided to discontinue the Buell line.
Yamaha RD350 (1970s) – This motorcycle can be described in three words: FUN FUN FUN. The RD is Yamaha’s 2 Stroke fun motorcycle. It started as an air cooled reliable twin cylinder and evolved into the RD350 YPVS (liquid cooled) and His big brother, the RD 500. I’m fortunate to say that I’ve ridden the 350 LC and it’s the most fun bike I ever experienced. It had 18 ” Wheels, 6 speed, was light as a feather with a smooth powerful 2 stroke engine that made you want to wheely all day long. The 350 YPVS made a 59 bhp on 148 kg dry weight, and was capable on reaching 180-190 kph easily.
Ducati 1098 (2007) – The 1098 is the return of Ducati to the big league. The 1098 is a quantum leap forward and whoever ridden this bike (I have :)) knows what I’m talking about. Yes, men’s testicles will fry from the underseat exhaust but in most cases it’s probably worth it. The 1098 has a mighty engine, the kind that wants to rip your arms out when accelerating. The kind to put a silly smile on your face. Its components are top of the shelf, with light weight rims, totally wacky brakes (an overkill?) and a design that turns all heads. Not recommended for shy guys (or gals). Never the less, it handles like a well behaved pussycat at low speed riding, and if it weren’t for the extreme riding position and exhaust heat, it even could of been a cool urban commuter (but for that, you might as will go for the S4R Monster).
Ducati Paso (1986) – One image I won’t forget is seeing two Paso’s riding together. It was back in 1987 but I still remember it. They looked like two motorcycles from another planet. For me, the Paso is the connecting link between the OLD Ducati that brought us the SS, the Mike Hailwood replica, F1 and more, to the NEW Ducati.
I’ve ridden the Paso again, a couple of years ago and I can tell you it’s a fine motorcycle to ride even after 2 decades on the asphalt. Yes, the Weber carb is weird (although if tuned, works well), and the 16 ” front tire is rare to find, but its smooth engine and fine handling (once you get used to the 16″), and the Ducati twin exhaust rumble, make it a fun bike to ride. And it’s also a nice looking motorcycle too, at least to my liking.