Suzuki GSX-R1100G

50 Years of the Superbike Part 1

Well, we say almost because as we deal with classics ‘ere we didn’t want to cover the last decade 2009-2019, but instead remind you lovely people of the bikes that spawned from that first, seminal superbike: Honda’s CB750.

So, despite ‘nostalgia not being what it used to be’ we’ve decided to put together a list of the bikes that moved and shaked our lives for the first four decades of the superbike, starting here with the first 20 years. For the footy fans we’ve even reminded you who won the ‘title’ that year and for those that like music, we’ve even decided to remind you about who was Christmas Number One from a time when that actually mattered.

1969 to 1989 would see the rise of the four-cylinder motorcycle and power outputs almost double, while weight effectively stayed the same. Old steel frames would give way to ally beam frames, tyres would get wider and become radials and brakes – discs from the CB750 – would improve to become extremely effective. We will mainly be looking at the mass-produced big-bore bikes here – so don’t take offence when you don’t see the homologation specials such as the Honda RC30 or Yamaha OW-01 listed…

So, lower your rose-tinted visor now as we head into the first two decades that defined biking.

1969 Honda CB750 Four

Honda CB 750 Four KThe machine that started it all and effectively buried the British bike industry! Yes, we’d seen plenty of smaller capacity Japanese manufactured bikes before, but not like this. Four cylinders (count ‘em) disc brakes, electric start. It went, it handled and it was reliable. Biking was never the same after the big Japanese bike invasion and this was the machine which started it. Today the rare, pre-production CBs have gone under the hammer for more than £100,000… madness!

Price: £680

Power: 68bhp @ 8000rpm

Weight: 240 kilos

Top speed: 120mph

Christmas No.1: Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys (ahem!)

League champions: Leeds United

1972 Kawasaki Z1

Kawasaki Z1 900You’ve got to feel for Kawasaki: they were working on a 750 until the CB arrived, then they realised they had to outgun it. But outgun it, they did when along came the Z1 with a full 903ccs and around 15bhp more than the Honda. The big Zed – along with the two-stroke H1 and H2s – cemented Kawasaki’s reputation for a manufacturer of motorcycles with monster motors: just a shame the handling wasn’t quite up with that engine! These demand crazy money today: £20,000+

Price: £1088

Power: 80bhp @ 8500rpm

Weight: 230 kilos

Top speed: 130mph

Christmas No.1: Little Jimmy Osmond – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool

League champions: Derby County

1975 Honda GoldWing

Honda GoldWingSurely worthy of a brief mention is the 1974-launched (for the 1975 model year) Honda flat-four Gold Wing. This started off as 999cc sportsbike (honest) before growing in capacity over the years, sprouting two extra cylinders to become a 1500cc flat-six in 1988 but becoming a hyper-tourer way before that. Interesting fact: Honda actually began developing the Wing in 1972 and it had a 1470cc, liquid-cooled flat-six motor…

Price: £1600

Power: 82bhp @ 7500rpm

Weight: 295 kilos

Top speed: 120mph

Christmas No.1: Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

League champions: Liverpool

1978 Honda CBX1000

Honda CBX1000Honda’s 1978 CBX featured a 1047cc, six-cylinder motor with 105bhp on tap and deserves a place in this list for being a very special motorcycle. Sadly the ‘clean’ original Z-version didn’t last long: instead the machine was strangely pushed towards the touring side of the market – which Honda was already sewing up with the GoldWing. So, the bike lasted from 1978-1982 and the tour-oriented Pro-Link came in during 1981. Interesting fact: during development the codename for the CBX was ‘The King.’

Price: £2750

Power: 105bhp @ 9000rpm

Weight: 247 kilos

Top speed: 136mph

Christmas No.1: Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord – Boney M

League champions: Nottingham Forest

1978 Suzuki GS1000

1978 Suzuki GS1000It seemed to take Suzuki a while to gear up to building a superbike… instead they tinkered with two-strokes like the water-cooled GT750 ‘Kettle’ and almost knackered themselves financially with the strange RE5 Rotary, which was a commercial flop. They soon learned from their mistakes, mind. By 1976 they had produced the very excellent GS750, which led to the sublime GS1000, which kicked sand into the face of the now beefed-up Z1000 and Yamaha’s lardy XS1100. Suzuki were in the superbike fight…

Price: £1725

Power: 88bhp @ 8200rpm

Weight: 255 kilos (wet)

Top speed: 137mph

Christmas No.1: Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord – Boney M

League champions: Nottingham Forest

1979 Kawasaki Z1300

Kawasaki Z1300Like Gillette or Wilkinson Sword thinking ‘the more blades the better’ on a razor, motorcycle manufacturers were thinking that more cylinders could a better bike make… Obviously Benelli began this in 1972 with their 750 Sei – the first six-cylinder superbike ever, we’ve heard of the Honda but it was Kawasaki’s Z1300 which impressed more, with its liquid-cooling, shaft-drive and (eventually) fuel-injection. Not only was it wheelied by the likes of clog-wearing Arto Nyquist, it stayed in the Kawasaki range until 1989.

Price: £2500

Power: 130bhp @ 8000rpm

Weight: 297kilos (dry!)

Top speed: 139mph

Christmas No.1: Bright Eyes – Art Garfunkel

League champions: Liverpool

1982 Suzuki GSX1100 Katana

Suzuki GSX1100 KatanaThe first Japanese bike that matched ground-breaking looks with technology, well, OK, maybe not, but the Kat still looks good today. Under the Jan Fellstrom-designed bodywork lurked what was basically a parts-bin special (same as 2019’s ‘new’ Katana, really.) The motor was a typically solid and beefy affair. The 1100 Katana spawned a family of machines, including the 1000S homologation racer, a flip-up headlight 750, 400s and even a 250! So popular was the Kat back home in Japan that it was in production in various forms until 2006…

Price: £3299

Power: 110bhp @ 8500rpm

Weight: 243kilos

Top speed: 137mph

Christmas No.1: Renée and Renato – Save Your Love

League champions: Liverpool

1984 Kawasaki GPz900R

Kawasaki GPz900RHere was a real game-changer. This was the machine which really addressed the width issues of an across-the-frame inline four. The 900 Ninja featured wet-liners, instead of a water-jacket, cam-chain at the end of the crankshaft, alternator above the six-speed gearbox and four-valves per cylinder to aid breathing. It trounced the opposition despite having less cubic capacity and became the fastest production bike in the World, won Proddie TTs and outlived its two successors. Nice trick. Shame it’s still a bit unloved in classic circles, but this makes them great value 35 years on…

Price: £3199

Power: 115bhp @ 10,400rpm

Weight: 228kilos

Top speed: 155mph

Christmas No.1: Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?

League champions: Liverpool

1985 Suzuki GSX-R750

Suzuki GSX-R750We would say that the CB750 is the most influential bike of modern times, but that said we think this machine could lay claim to the title ‘second most influential.’ Think about it for a moment: without the GSX-R, we wouldn’t have the race-replica craze we still enjoy today. And no gorgeous (oh and awfully bodged) streetfighters either – or Kevin Schwantz! The GSX-R was developed from Suzuki’s XR41 Endurance racer and it looked like it fell off the back of the race transporter. It has since spawned a host of imitators in race-replica circles. Interesting fact: this wasn’t the first GSX-R:  that claim to fame goes to the GSX-R400 which was built for the Japanese market in 1984.

Price: £3499

Power: 100bhp

Weight: 179 kilos

Top speed: 145mph

Christmas No.1: Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas, Everyone

League champions: Everton

1986 Suzuki GSX-R1100

Suzuki GSX-R1100GThe 1100 has to make this list… Following on from the 750 the 1100 was a complete monster! Over the years the engine went from a 1052cc oil/air-cooled motor through to an 1127cc motor to a 1074cc water-cooled mill at the end of its life. It’s fair to say the machine did do a bit of a ‘Kerry Katona’: putting on weight, losing it and putting it on again, all while getting prettier and losing its looks depending on what model you actually loved most. Us: we’d go for one of the first models, thanks…

Price: £3299

Power: 130-155bhp

Weight: 197 kilos (1986) 230 kilos (1993)

Top speed: 160mph

Christmas No.1: Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson

League champions: Liverpool

1987 Yamaha FZR1000R Genesis

Yamaha FZR1000The FZR1000 carried the race-replica theme into the litre class, with a series of race-derived elements which would finally make the superbike a carefully balanced and blended machine. In came the aluminium Deltabox ‘beam’ frame and a slanted-forward motor for those down-draught carbs. Originally the bike was a 989cc four-cylinder, but this grew into the 1003cc EXUP-equipped machine which was so much more refined and handled better than any GSX-R11 could… It would eventually be beaten by the Honda FireBlade – but that’s for part 2!

Price: £5750 (1989 model)

Power: 125bhp @9,500rpm

Weight: 230kilos (wet)

Top speed: 160mph

Christmas No.1: Pet Shop Boys – Always on my Mind

League champions: Everton