DE­sIgn TREnDs

The sec­ond part of the se­ries in which de­sign guru Glynn Kerr re­views mo­tor­cy­cle de­sign de­vel­op­ment and evo­lu­tion over the last half a cen­tury

Bike India - - CONTENTS -

AS THE FLARED TROUSERS AND plat­form shoes of the 1970s gave way to big hair­dos and shoul­der-pads, the ’80s brought along their own val­ues. If the ’60s were about lib­erty and rev­o­lu­tion, the ’70s were a de­vel­op­ment of those move­ments. by the ’80s, free­dom of ex­pres­sion was a given and open to com­mer­cial ex­ploita­tion. the rad­i­cal thinkers, in­stead of phi­los­o­phiz­ing in pot-smok­ing cir­cles, were now run­ning cor­po­ra­tions. gor­don gekko told us, ‘greed is good.’

While progress dur­ing the pre­vi­ous decades was more vis­i­ble, the ad­vances in com­puter tech­nol­ogy dur­ing the ’80s meant that much of the new tech­nol­ogy was un­der the sur­face. Sure, we ben­e­fited from the ar­rival of the home com­puter, even if the early ones were rather lim­ited; my Sin­clair ZX81 had an un­think­able one Kb of free mem­ory and, no, that’s not a typo. the mo­bile phone ar­rived, too, even if it was the size and weight of a house brick. CDS took over from vinyl discs in the

au­dio world, while Vhs bat­tled it out with Be­ta­max for video dom­i­na­tion. But how these things ac­tu­ally worked was be­yond the un­der­stand­ing of the av­er­age con­sumer. re­pair­ing this elec­tronic wiz­ardry be­came nearly im­pos­si­ble and cer­tainly not cost-ef­fec­tive, so con­sumer goods be­came in­creas­ingly dis­pos­able. as this tech­nol­ogy found its way into trans­port, your lo­cal me­chanic sim­ply re­placed com­po­nents rather than mend­ing them.

Com­puter tech­nol­ogy made a grad­ual im­pres­sion on the mo­tor­cy­cle world, first through elec­tronic fuel in­jec­tion which made its début on the 1980 Kawasaki Z1000h and Z1000 clas­sic in the us. de­spite be­ing listed at 20 per cent over the price of the sim­i­lar car­bu­ret­tor-fit­ted Z1000 ltd and weigh­ing marginally more, the Clas­sic im­pressed with its fault­less fuel de­liv­ery and lack of man­ual choke. even so, it was mainly over con­cern for fu­ture emis­sion leg­is­la­tion that Kawasaki went down the EFI route. to­day it is the in­dus­try stan­dard.

By 1988, BMW had in­tro­duced the first mo­tor­cy­cle ABS as an op­tion on the K100 se­ries. as with EFI, ABS has since be­come wide­spread across the mar­ket and is now fit­ted as stan­dard to all BMW mod­els. Im­pend­ing leg­is­la­tion is set to make it com­pul­sory in many coun­tries for mo­tor­cy­cles above 125 cc.

an­other marker of the ’80s was the tran­si­tion from twin rear springs to the monoshock. With the ex­cep­tion of a few trail bikes from Kawasaki and Yamaha, my 1980 all-model mo­tor­cy­cle cat­a­logue de­picts twin rear springs through­out. By the 1990 cat­a­logue, the only re­main­ing dou­ble-dampers were mostly to be found on tra­di­tional clas­sic or cus­tom bikes. the few com­pa­nies that hadn’t moved with the times, such as Moto Guzzi, re­ally stood out.

one short-lived ’80s trend Guzzi did un­for­tu­nately in­dulge in was the 16-inch front wheel. the promised sharp­en­ing in han­dling could be bet­ter ex­pressed as ner­vous­ness and the habit was short-lived (al­though the honda CBr900rr fire­blade made a brief suc­cess of it dur­ing the 1990s). even­tu­ally, al­most ev­ery­one, honda in­cluded, agreed that 17-inch was the bet­ter choice for street bikes.

In terms of gen­eral trends, mo­tor­cy­cles started to be­come wider in the 1980s, tyres in­cluded, cre­at­ing that elu­sive third di­men­sion the ear­lier bikes lacked. the cat­e­gories be­came more di­verse with more fo­cused sub­di­vi­sions, such as the ad­ven­ture tourer group, which boomed thanks to events such as the Paris-dakar rally. Wins in 1984 and 1985 by the Bel­gian, Gas­ton rahier, who was barely taller than his bike, helped sales of the r80 G/s, which, dur­ing its later stages of de­vel­op­ment, went on to be­come the tar­get model for all would-be com­peti­tors. By the end of the decade, honda’s XrV650 africa twin and Yamaha’s XtZ750 su­perténéré could be added to the list of multi-cylin­der ad­ven­ture tour­ers.

reg­u­lar street tour­ing mod­els were also find­ing their own niches. the honda Gold Wing, which started life in the 1970s as an over­sized naked bike, sprouted a full fair­ing, hard side pan­niers and a top-case, as did harley-david­son’s elec­tra Glide. the full dress tourer was a par­tic­u­larly amer­i­can in­ven­tion, de­signed for com­fort on the long open roads with barely a bend in sight. han­dling was a more im­por­tant fac­tor for the euro-tourer, which had to nav­i­gate moun­tain passes as well as carry two peo­ple and their lug­gage. again, BMW were the lead­ing player in this arena, with the ex­ist­ing r100 rs and rt be­ing de­vel­oped into the four-cylin­der K100 equiv­a­lents. early plans had the en­gine in a boxer con­fig­u­ra­tion, but the ar­rival of honda’s Gl1000 put an end to that di­rec­tion.

the cat­e­gory that re­ally took off, though, was the su­per­sport group. al­though a hand­ful of bikes with race­track looks had ap­peared dur­ing the ’70s, these had been low-vol­ume and fairly spe­cial­ist mod­els that had failed to start a real trend. how­ever, the ever-in­creas­ing out­put of Ja­panese multi-cylin­der en­gines was not matched by their han­dling, so a hand­ful of com­pa­nies, such as spon­don, har­ris, egli, Moto Mar­tin, and, ul­ti­mately, Bi­mota, de­vel­oped a lu­cra­tive busi­ness build­ing sturdy frames to carry the ex­tra power. With them came a road rac­ing look that was as close to the track bikes as was legally per­mis­si­ble.

Just as with Craig Vet­ter’s tour­ing fair­ings, it didn’t take long for the orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers (OEM) to fig­ure out they could do this them­selves and Ja­panese frames be­gan to im­prove, thanks in par­tic­u­lar to ex­truded alu­minium sec­tions. the 1983 honda Vf750f (V45 In­ter­cep­tor in the us) was one of the ear­lier at­tempts to ad­dress frame stiff­ness while si­mul­ta­ne­ously mak­ing the frame an im­por­tant styling el­e­ment. But the whole game was upped sev­eral notches when suzuki in­tro­duced the GSX-R750 at the 1984 Cologne IFMA. While the honda was es­sen­tially a sports tour­ing de­sign, the suzuki was unashamedly a full race bike for the street, based loosely on the Gs1000r works racer. to em­pha­size the con­nec­tion, the base model was com­ple­mented by the GSX-R 750 rac­ing, start­ing off the whole the “rr” nomen­cla­ture in the process.

the GSX-R is widely rec­og­nized as hav­ing started the whole race replica cat­e­gory. It was the first se­ri­ous pro­duc­tion model of this type of­fered by a ma­jor OEM, pro­vid­ing re­li­a­bil­ity and a wide­spread dealer net­work at an af­ford­able price. But it had one more pro­found im­pact on mo­tor­cy­cle de­sign in gen­eral. It de­fined a su­per­sport bike as hav­ing, by ne­ces­sity, a di­rect vis­ual

link to road rac­ing. from then on, any­thing else was clas­si­fied as a sports tourer.

Part of the race replica im­age was a track-like colour and graph­ics scheme, all bar the spon­sors’ lo­gos. this has a knockon ef­fect across the in­dus­try. soon, mo­tor­cy­cle graph­ics had be­come more com­plex and so­phis­ti­cated, ne­ces­si­tat­ing a whole new genre of graphic de­sign­ers to han­dle the task.

two-strokes were al­ready be­com­ing a dy­ing breed at the turn of the decade. By the end, Yamaha were the only ma­jor payer above 125 cc, sol­dier­ing on for five more years with the TZR 250 and RD/RZ 350. the two-stroke went out in a blaze of glory, how­ever, with three of the ma­jor Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers in­tro­duc­ing their own manic race repli­cas. honda in­tro­duced the ns 400 r, suzuki the rG500 Gamma, and Yamaha the rd500. only Kawasaki bowed out, de­spite their ear­lier suc­cess with two-stroke triples, the 250-cc Kr1 be­ing their most pow­er­ful model dur­ing this era.

an­other short-lived phe­nom­e­non of the ’80s was the turbo craze, which saw all the big four fall­ing over them­selves to outdo their ri­vals. honda had the CX500/650 turbo, Kawasaki the Z750 e1/GPz turbo, suzuki the Xn85, and Yamaha the cu­ri­ously styled XJ650 lJ/seca turbo. how­ever, the ap­peal of a mid-size bike with full-size power was never truly re­al­ized, with weight, heavy fuel con­sump­tion, and added com­plex­ity be­ing among the com­plaints. the big­gest is­sue was turbo-lag, mak­ing these bikes a hand­ful when rid­den en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. In­surance com­pa­nies viewed them all as ac­ci­dents wait­ing to hap­pen and priced poli­cies ac­cord­ingly. the larger, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated bikes got faster and lighter, mak­ing the turbo mod­els re­dun­dant. as quickly as they ap­peared, they were all gone.

the 1980s were an ex­cit­ing time to be in­volved with mo­tor­cy­cle de­sign, but, at first, the rules weren’t at all clear. the 1980 suzuki Katana, cre­ated by tar­get de­sign, a trio of ex-BMW staffers, had turned the world up­side down by ad­dress­ing the en­tirety of the mo­tor­cy­cle rather than the var­i­ous el­e­ments in iso­la­tion. they also cre­ated the

down­force line which, to this day, re­mains the most dom­i­nant styling fea­ture on a mo­tor­cy­cle, cruis­ers ex­cepted. the lines slope down­wards to­wards the front, cre­at­ing a den­sity by the front wheel and giv­ing light­ness to the tail. the lines fol­low the en­gine’s cool­ing fins, which are the sin­gle most im­por­tant styling cue on a mo­tor­cy­cle and which, since the honda 750 four, have been slanted for­wards at vary­ing an­gles.

to­wards the end of the decade, the man­u­fac­tur­ers pre­dicted the end of the race replica craze, but it never hap­pened. honda’s pro­jec­tion be­yond pure rac­ing re­sulted in the oval-pi­s­toned nr750, while for sim­i­lar rea­sons, Yamaha com­mis­sioned me to de­velop Pro­ject hy­dra, which re­mained a styling study. In re­al­ity, the rr be­got the rr-r and the race replica con­tin­ues to this day.

the ’80s were in­fa­mous for the “yo­gurt pot” de­sign ten­dency when even the great Mas­simo tam­burini clothed his cre­ations with acres of plas­tic, with barely a me­chan­i­cal com­po­nent in sight. the ducati Paso was hardly his finest mo­ment. honda took it a step fur­ther with the PC800 “Pa­cific Coast”, but this was at least tar­geted at the tour­ing rider. the Paso was sup­posed to be a su­per­sport con­fec­tion, but the strict­ness of the race replica rules hadn’t kicked in yet. While the cat­e­gory def­i­ni­tion was sort­ing it­self out, the Paso joined the Katana in the what-am-I-try­ing-to-be games.

to an ex­tent, the ’80s were, per­haps, the hey­day of the mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try, with the Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers at their might­i­est and new re­leases an­nounced with reg­u­lar­ity. honda in­tro­duced nearly 40 all-new mod­els from 1981-4 alone, the com­pany’s ri­vals do­ing their best to com­pete. their fail­ures al­most out­shone their suc­cesses, but not quite. It would be an­other 20 years be­fore other na­tions threat­ened their lead.

Above: Kawasaki in­tro­duced elec­tronic fuel in­jec­tion in 1980Right: The 16inch front wheel was a short-lived fad, al­though Honda brought it back briefly in the ’90s

Left: Full tour­ing bikes like Honda’s Gold Wing re­placed Vet­ter fair­ings and cases with their own con­fec­tionsRight:The Suzuki GSX-R 750 Rac­ing, launched in tan­dem, gave the stock street bike added cred­i­bil­ity Above: The 1985 Suzuki GSX-R 750 was the first mass-pro­duced race replica

Top Left: Honda started the two-stroke RR fad with the NS400R Above: Race replica two-strokes were a short-lived grand fi­nale for the oil burn­ersLeft: Suzuki’s RG500 Gamma two-stroke Right: The Honda CX500 Turbo – and the later 650 up­date – was the only one not to sport a trans­verse four

Top Left: Yamaha RD500LC two-stroke was the ul­ti­mate de­vel­op­ment of the genreAbove: The turbo was an­other red her­ring of the ’80s, though much sought af­ter by col­lec­tors to­dayLeft Be­low: Straight-edged styling on the Yamaha XJ650T made an at­tempt to look fu­tur­is­ticBe­low: So far as per­for­mance was con­cerned, the Suzuki XN85 failed to live up to the hype

Top Left: The Kawasaki Z750 Turbo was ar­guably the most for­mi­da­ble of the bunchTop: Honda De­sign Chief Mit­suyoshi Ko­hama with his ear­lier cre­ation at the Paris show in 2003Above: The Suzuki Katana changed mo­tor­cy­cle de­sign for ever, even though it was not a sales suc­cess at the timeBe­low Left: Honda PC800 “Pa­cific Coast” ex­em­pli­fied the late 1980s’ “yo­gurt pot” de­sign trend, with ev­ery­thing shrouded in plas­ticBe­low: The Honda NR750 pre­dicted the end of the race replica, which never hap­pened

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