Vincent Black Shadow

The first superbike



The Black Shadow

Image: Mecum Auctions


It has been 70 years since Vincent released the Black Shadow and it is still a favorite for the many who appreciate just what a significant bike it was. It was the bike to aspire to for most performance enthusiasts but like a Ferrari in the car world, it was out of reach for all but the well heeled few. The model came in three different versions, the standard Rapide, the more highly tuned Black Shadow and the racing Black Lightning. The performance of these machines was astonishing. A standard Black shadow could hit 125 mph in an era when doing a genuine 100 mph was considered a feat.


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Honda CB750

The big game changer



The Honda CB750



This is probably the most significant motorcycle of all time! Think about it, it marked the end of British big bike domination and began the Japanese multi cylinder revolution that continues to this day. Honda had already built an excellent reputation with smaller capacity bikes and racing successes before dropping this bombshell that floored the opposition. It had excellent build quality, superior performance and brakes, an electric start, a smooth running engine, didn't leak oil and you could ride it anywhere with the confidence that it would get you back again. What's more, it would start first time after you pressure washed it.


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Triumph Bonneville

Classic Symmetry



The Bonnie



The new model Bonnevilles coming out of Hinckley are a good bike, they are also Triumph's bestseller, but appearance wise they could have been better. They are pretty close but they lack that purity of line and perfectly balanced visual proportions of the old Meriden bike. It's this visual purity that has, more than anything else, won this bike countless fans over the decades and is still winning them today. The tank is perfect, the seat blends in with it beautifully, the header pipes follow the line of the down tubes and the mufflers that make Triumph bikes recognizable anywhere, are slightly upswept to make a superbly proportioned package. And then there's the engine in all its British glory. One of the best looking engines made. Visual correctness, for want of a better description, is something that goes directly to the roots of passion and passion describes the emotion that enthusiasts feel when they look at the Bonnie.


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Yamaha RD350

Performance for the masses



The RD350
Image: J. Thulead


Yamaha got the formula right, and the formula was simplicity. The TR and TZ race bikes had been dominating their respective classes for years and Yamaha wanted to profit from it. Yamaha produced the RD350 from 1973 to 1975. It evolved directly from the piston port (pre-reed valve intake tract), front drum-braked, five-speed Yamaha 350 cc "R5". The engine had a six-speed gearbox although in some markets, such as the UK, the first model was sold in five-speed form. The stock bike produced 39 bhp, 32 bhp at the back wheel at 7500 rpm. This, combined with the lightweight package, made it a quick bike. It was to gain the attention of many racers in the years to come. American tuner-racer Don Vesco in an 18-foot-long streamliner powered by twin TR2 350cc racing engines, set a speed of 251.924 mph on the Bonneville salt flats in 1970. The RD is a direct descendent of the TR2.


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Suzuki GSX1100

The Suzuki performance machine



The GSX1100
Image: Bike Pics.com


From their humble beginnings up to the present day, the Japanese manufacturers have always built strong engines. They were fast and reliable. Knowing what it took to make a bike handle though was a different matter. It took a long time before the chassis package was a match for their powerful engines and many riders, both on the track and on the road, complained that their bikes had a "hinge" in the middle. Aftermarket British and Italian frame builders were selling expensive chassis kits for Japanese engines to address the problem. The manufacturers were either too focused on the engines to give it the attention that it needed or simply didn't know what to do. These days their bikes handle as well as anything on the road or track, in some cases, better. They've come a long way but it took a while.


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Ducati 750/900SS

Italian style and performance



The 750SS


Although the superb 750ss was the first of the Super Sports Ducatis, it was the 900 that really established Ducati as a big bike player in the marketplace. This was mostly due to the fact that it could offer more performance for not a lot more money, the two bikes were virtually identical otherwise. Kawasaki had also introduced the 900cc Z1, upping the capacity stakes to a new level. The original 750ss is absolutely beautiful, with its sleek half fairing, curvaceous fibreglass tank with see through panel, imposing round case engine, gorgeous upswept Conti mufflers and unique silver and blue-green colour scheme, it vies with very few others for the title of best looking bike of all time. This hand built and blueprinted gem is the most coveted of all Ducatis and collectors will pay more than $130,000 to get one. The 750ss is rare, it was only made in small numbers (400 I believe), the 900, while not common, is easier to get hold of.


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Norton Commando

Timeless British style



The Norton Commando. This one is a Roadster with an Interstate tank
Image: Wikipedia


Early British bikes have a timeless beauty about them; Italian and some American bikes are similar. When you look at them, it's easy to imagine a person designing and building them. Japanese bikes, with their generally superior technology, do not evoke the same feeling. The Japanese manufacturers have, from the very beginning, tried to engineer out as much human involvement as possible. It is this fundamental approach that has led them to be able to produce sophisticated products at highly competitive prices. Other manufacturers have had to try and streamline their manufacturing, or get left behind. The people who build Japanese motorcycles are just as passionate as anyone else, it's just that the processes involved somehow seem to leave less visible traces of this.


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