Honda CB 750 Four

THE 750 HONDA has got to be on everyone’s mind when thinking of classic Japanese motorcycles, so we’ll start here.

First unveiled at the 1968 Tokyo show after years in the rumour mill, this classic Honda motorcycle instantly became a sales leader with its novel across-the-frame, in-line four, over-head cam engine. It also featured a hydraulically actuated front disc brake, never before seen in a production motorcycle. While powerful for the time and pretty fade-resistant, it still sucked in the rain. Ah well, can’t have it all.

As well as the bragging rights that come with the engine and brakes on the big 750, Honda painted these babies some pretty funky metal-flake golds and blues that were just right for the times, but looked very dated by the eighties and nineties, when there were still many of them around.

What kept them around was/is their bulletproof reliability, durable electrics and the fact they usually stayed oil-tight for years. Nowadays a good original metal-flake gold single-overhead cam Honda CB750 is a rare sight indeed and a true keeper.

The 750/4 was the very first motorcycle deservedly given the moniker “superbike”, and the machine most responsible for kicking the venerable British motorcycle industry over the edge to an early grave.

It's just too bad the Brits didn't keep up, because they had the edge in style, that's for sure!

Kawasaki Z1, Kawasaki KZ900, Kawasaki KZ1000

Kawasaki had been developing a transverse four cylinder 750 for several years secretly in the States and had been testing a version for production in 1968 when Honda dropped the bombshell CB750 on the world. Shocked and dismayed, Kawasaki stopped development and went back to concentrating on the 2-stroke triples. But the writing was on the wall since the Environmental Protection Agency in the US was getting increasingly strict with emissions belching 2-strokes.

Banking on the premise that no manufacturer was likely to trump a 900cc motorcycle, Kawasaki upped the ante and developed what became the King of bikes, the 1972 KZ900. See much more by clicking the above link!

1977 kawasaki kz1000

Yamaha XS 650

Born in 1968 as the XS-1, the Yamaha XS650 parallel twin was a production mainstay for Yamaha all the way up to 1985! And although there were up to forty different versions internationally over the years, the motor itself changed very little.

A case of getting it right the first time. In fact the engine is a study in consistency and reliability. It hated leaking oil and it hated to blow up.

Even when tuned to the edge of common sense by flat-track mechanics, the big twins' parts stayed pretty close together for the most part. A versatile machine, the 650 Yamaha appealed to commuters, racers, and those with a taste for café racers, chopper bikes and bobbers.

Didn't hurt at all that so many were sold, especially in the US, that parts and used machines are easy to come by and cheap and as a result it's not suprising that you see so many modified XS650s on the road today.

So if you like your Japanese bikes in the British style, the Yamaha XS650 is the way to go!

Above you see a stock Yamaha XS650. Here you see the flip-side. Did this clever builder just take the old monkey-bars and turn them upside-down? Looks like it to me. And frankly I think it's ingenious!

I wonder how this cafe handles though. Just seems weird and maybe not much of a turning-circle. But still, you gotta hand it to this builder. I think it's a case of using what you have.

Toss in a side-slash exhaust pipe, minimalist seat and mirrors from god-knows-what and you got yourself an unusually together look and a crazy look. Go figure!

The Yamaha xs650 was built and sold in so many iterations over the years that many have survived. The engines are remarkably durable (if a bit shaky!) so they have become a favourite among specialty builders.

Mostly cafe racers and bobbers but board-trackers, and "steampunk" bikes are popping up all over the place.

Find one that's running and get the hacksaw out. Or restore one to its' original glory!

Suzuki GS1000

Beginning with the Honda CB750 in 1969, and the Kawasaki KZ series in 1963, these two manufacturers were the only players in the big-bore in-line four market. Yamaha was lagging behind with the successful but underpowered twin XS650. Suzuki was basically nowhere to be found, offering up old-school two-strokers whose days were clearly numbered.

But Suzuki had an ace up its sleeve in the form of the GS series of four stroke in-line fours. In 1976, the Suzuki GS400 and GS750 debuted. Soon the SG550 and GS1000 models would round out the lineup. Suzuki was back in the game big-time by releasing their own versions of what would become known as the Universal Japanese Motorcycle.

Suzuki made sure their GS's would be at least competitive by making them fast, affordable, reliable and well equipped. Styling was conservative yet handsome, especially the big GS1000 with its stylish quarter-fairing. The DOHC motors proved quiet, smooth and trouble free. On top of that, they came with rare fuel level indicators and unheard-of gear indicators. And handling was among the best of the bunch along with a general feeling that the Suzuki GS750 and GS1000 were stress-free bikes when ridden at speed.

Suzuki had in essence produced an instant line-up of classic Japanese motorcycles and in the process firmly joined the Big Four in the soon-to-be raging superbike wars.


Story by Ben Wilkins for Classic Motorcycle Mechanics

The CB900 has always played second fiddle to its CBX1000 big brother. But this was Honda’s production racer for the biking masses...

If ever a bike has lived in the shadow of another it’s the Honda CB900F. When the CB900 was launched in 1979 the press, and public alike, had their attention firmly fixed on the headline grabbing six-cylinder CBX1000. 31 years later it’s still the CBX that is the bike most fans of big Hondas favour. But with prices of CBXs occasionally crossing the £10,000 mark they’re now the preserve of those with serious amounts of cash. Just looking through the classifieds in CMM though you can pick up a tidy standard CB900F for less than £1000 and a tastefully modified CB900 Spencer replica could be yours for less than £3000. That’s far more easily within the reach of the majority of 70s muscle bike fans. And despite the common perception it doesn’t mean you’re getting a second rate bike. Honda certainly didn’t think so...

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