Boundary-breaking bikes that won’t break the bank
playing with the newest motorcycle technology is expensive, but yesterday’s breakthroughs—successful or not—are reasonably priced and are still brilliant to ride.
In 1977, BMW redefined the sporttouring market with the Hans Muthdesigned fairing on the R100RS. It enabled comfortable touring for hours on end at triple-digit speeds and unprecedented weather protection. The 980cc twin was reliable and easy to maintain. BMW made the usual evolutionary updates until production ended in 1993, but there are a few special versions to look out for.
First-year bikes are worth a little extra due to year-specific features like silver-blue paint, spoked wheels, blue anodized ATE calipers, and blue pinstriping. The most interesting year of production might be 1984; that’s when BMW announced it was departing from the boxer twin motor that had defined the company for decades. The German firm produced 250 Last Edition examples of the RS, but consumers pushed back and BMW decided to keep the flat twin engine in production, much to the chagrin of Last Edition owners.
In 1988, the RS came back to America with some updates, including a single-sided swingarm, upgraded Brembo brakes, and an engine tuned for torque at the expense of peak horsepower. Expect to snag a quality rider for $4,000 to $5,000. RS77S and some limited-edition models can command a 50 percent premium.
While the BMW appealed to riders who wanted smooth, reliable power, Japanese manufacturers were busy chasing the future with a raft of turbo bikes. Kawasaki was the first to enter the game with the Z1R-TC, but it worked and felt like an early effort, and the company built just 500 examples. Regardless, the appeal of forced induction was irresistible. In 1982, Honda released the CX500
Turbo with the promise of heavyweight power in a middleweight package.
Like the Kawasaki, the Honda had teething issues, and it was replaced by the entirely new CX650 Turbo after just a year. Still, it was an impressive technological package that featured liquid-cooling, a TRAC anti-dive front end, Pro-link rear suspension, and Honda’s first use of fuel injection. It also boasted an Ihi-built turbo that provided peak boost of 19 psi and nearly doubled the 497cc V-twin’s horsepower. Honda built just 2,833 examples, and their sparsity means prices are all over the place. With some patience, you should be able to find a lowmileage example for around $4,000.
Other manufacturers focused their efforts on controlling the power they already had. Telescopic forks have long been the standard, but manufacturers have experimented with “funny front ends” (FFES) for decades. The definitive modern effort is the Bimota Tesi, but you can get a much cheaper taste of the FFE life with the 1993 Yamaha GTS1000 sport-tourer. It boasted ABS, fuel injection, and an engine plucked from the FJR1000. The James Parker-designed RADD front suspension, though, is the star of the show. The design isolated braking from damping, which was meant to increase the performance of both.
Unfortunately, the design was expensive, and consumers weren’t ready for it. The bike was a commercial flop and only lasted through 1994 stateside, though it sold for a few more years outside of the United States. Current owners are very passionate and have developed communities to keep these machines alive. Parts are still available for the front end, and the rest of the bike is straightforward enough. They don’t come up for sale often, and when they do, you’ll need between $5,000 and $6,000.
Sometimes a motorcycle isn’t about one defining feature. The Honda NT650, or Hawk GT, was a sweetheart of a machine that debuted a decade ahead of its time. It was gifted the internal designation of Rc-31—which references HRC, or Honda Racing Corp.—and it earned that designation with trick features like a single-sided swingarm designed by Elf Racing, a Pro-link monoshock, and a twin-beam aluminum frame.
Yamaha’s Omega chassis was named for its resemblance to the Greek letter.
The CX500’S exhaust tells you everything you need to know.
The internal designation of the Hawk was RC-31, a very significant prefix within Honda.