Whats not to love about the 70's, lairy cars, crazy dress-sense, hairy women (forget the last bit). TWO feature looking at 70's biking
Barry Sheene was advertising Brut 33 on TV, kids everywhere were scuffing their knuckles on mum's lino winding up Evel Knievel toys, the height of paddock fashion was a Polyester jacket emblazoned with sew-on patches, and Harley-Davidsons were winning two-stroke Grand Prix! Hell, at the start of the decade that made John Travolta a star and Starsky and Hutch the coolest men in a Ford Torino anywhere, you didn't even have to wear a crash helmet here in the UK. Far out. Welcome back to the 1970s, man.
If you're too young to remember when leathers were flared and knee sliders hadn't even been invented, read on and find out what you missed. If you're in your mid-30s and starting to sag, you'd best have a hanky at the ready because you'll be shedding tears of nostalgia by the end of this groovy feature my friend.
The 1970s saw the death of Burger King himself, Elvis Presley. Star Wars, Jaws and Grease dominated cinema screens and bikers everywhere drooled over Suzi Quatro - now to be found playing dingy bars at the TT and somewhat more wrinkled and shrunken than in her heyday.
Yes, they were heady, long haired, patterned wallpaper days when track safety wasn't all it should have been and Mike Hailwood was still winning TTs.
So don your Lewis Leathers (body armour forbidden), buckle up your courier-style 'race' boots, spin a David Essex LP on the turntable and settle back as we race down the time tunnel to re-discover what motorcycling was all about three decades ago.
(or at least drooled after down the chippie)
At the dawn of the 70s, the bike to have was still Honda's revolutionary CB750, the machine usually accredited with being the first 'superbike.'
Although it was launched in 1969, no-one had bettered it as the new decade began. Rival manufacturers tried to fight back with a range of multi-cylinder two strokes like Kawasaki's evil 500H1 triple and Suzuki's GT750 'Kettle' but four cylinder, four strokes were proving the way to go, not least because of new, stricter emissions laws.
In 1973, Kawasaki released its own four cylinder, four stroke Honda-beater in the shape of the £1,088 Z1. At 900cc, it may have been bigger and faster than the Honda but it still handled like a piece of shit - a problem with most bikes throughout this flower-packed decade.
In a bid to stand at least a fighting chance of getting their bikes round corners, owners of lardy, wobbly Jap fours turned to aftermarket firms who specialised in taking reliable Japanese engines and fitting then in a chassis that actually worked. Bimota, Van Veen, Rickman and Seeley were just a few examples. It's hard to imagine today that you could buy a top class superbike which didn't handle but that was the absolute norm in the 70s so consider yourself lucky, and relatively safe, now young man.But it was still a pretty cool decade for technical developments and one we should still be thankful for. No Suzuki GS1000 then would have meant no GSX-R1000 now, and that would be shite.
Disc brakes, alloy wheels, radial (as opposed to cross-ply) tyres, adjustable suspension and even full fairings were all born out of the 70s even if full-on race replicas were still a decade away. But who cared about real race reps when you could have a Yamaha RD400? The RD was the king of the chip shop in the mid 70s and was the first production bike to have alloy wheels instead of the old spoked models. But they were an option and would set you back an extra £61 over the bike's £599 list price in 1976. Advertised as a bike capable of 103mph (snigger snigger), the ad carried a rider which stated that this was only possible when the laws and conditions allowed. That'll be never then since track days had yet to take off. But the rider didn't affect kids all over Britain who raced each other with glee on urban tracks, usually having a finish line in front of the chippie where there were greasy, cod-munching girlies to impress.
One promising idea which never really took off was the Wankel (snigger, snigger, again) rotary engine designed by German engineer Felix Wankel. The engine offered a high power to weight ratio (in the 1950s, a 49cc rotary-engined bike managed to clock more than 120mph!) but proved to be too much of a gas guzzler. Suzuki's RE5 rotary, launched in 1975 and deleted just two years later, returned less than 30mpg from a 497cc engine.
But if you were going to have a rotary and your middle name was Minted, you couldn't have done any better than the incredible Van Veen OCR1000. Outrageously priced at £15,000 (or £65,747.86 in today's money...), the 100bhp handbuilt twin was launched in 1976 and oozed quality and exclusivity from every nut and bolt. It was an incredible bike, just a shame nobody except John Travolta and maybe Barry Manilow could afford one.
Honda and Kawasaki built prototype rotaries but never put them into production and the idea which had promised so much was effectually left for dead. Big bore Japanese fours were taking over. By 1977, not only had Elvis passed on whilst passing a king-sized stool, but Suzuki had launched the incredible GS1000 which was good for 135mph and handled better than its other Japanese rivals, relatively speaking. And at £1,725, it was infinitely more affordable than a Van Veen rotary.
Now even Leo Sayer could get in on the action. In the same year, Kawasaki had increased the capacity of its Z1 to 1000cc creating the Z1000 and upped capacity again the following year with the launch of the Z1300.
Bigger was better and Honda, as ever, had its own ideas. In 1975, the firm created a biking legend which is still in production today, though in a totally unrecognisable format. The first Goldwing to be launched was a 999cc four cylinder machine, Honda having rejected its flat six prototype for production. But it wasn't always covered in panniers and slabs - the first bike was as naked as the stars of Emanuelle. But aftermarket panniers became popular with Wing owners and Honda eventually incorporated them as standard along with cake mixers, teasmaids and vacuum cleaner extensions.
Honda eventually went back to the six cylinder formation for the Wing in the 1980s........but that's another story.
Adding panniers to a bike is one thing, chopping it up and customising it is another but that was the new craze which took off in the 70s, particularly in the United States. The classic 1969 biker film 'Easy Rider' kickstarted a massive interest in customising bikes, mostly Harley-Davidsons which peaked in the 70s. Stretched forks, ape hanger bars, tassles, peanut tanks and wacko paint jobs were all considered cooler than the Fonz himself and although Americans had stripped no-essentials away from their bikes as far back as the immediate post-war period, this new faze was all about style rather than function. So those who could did, and those who couldn't wore 'Ride to live, live to ride' T-shirts. Or badges. Or bandanas. Or rings.
Many choppers were inspired by the work of American bike artist Dave Mann and the demand for ever more excessive parts sparked up an entire aftermarket industry which still thrives today.
Another invention of the 70s which we now take for granted today was the appearance of full fairing on production bikes. Although race bikes had used full bodywork for years (most notable the luvverly all-enclosed dustbin fairing), and after market fairings were widely available, the first standard production bike to feature one in the 70s was BMW's R100RS.
The year 1971 was an important one for Ducati as it marked the first use of Desmodromic valve gear on a road bike, even though it was a single. Then in 1973, the firm basically lumped two singles together and created its first 90 degree V-twin. The Desmodromic twins would go on to dominate in a championship which was still 15 years away from being Bjorn.
By the end of the 70s, production superbikes were capable of doing 140mph but, unless you bought exotica like Bimotas, they still weren't up to it in the handling stakes. That would have to wait until the next decade.
Posted: 16/05/2009 at 01:03
Posted: 16/05/2009 at 09:55
Posted: 16/05/2009 at 11:46
eojmo wrote (see)
Saw a show recently called Life on Mars, it was set in the UK back in the 1970's. Had to laugh at those scruffy outfits and ratty long haired yobo's with fags hanging out their mouths.
Posted: 16/05/2009 at 23:46
Posted: 27/10/2010 at 17:05
Posted: 29/10/2010 at 11:32
Posted: 29/10/2010 at 12:34
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