1982 was a great year. The year Visordown's founder Ben Cope was born. But what else happened?
Was this motorcycling’s maddest ever year? Honda and Yamaha were in the middle of a civil war that resulted in some amazingly ambitious machinery - notably Honda’s CX500 turbo and first V4, the VF750s - plus some under-developed and unreliable rubbish. New technology was arriving with the likes of Kawasaki’s first single-shock GPZ550. But air-cooled beasts still ruled the roads, led by Suzuki’s stunning new GSX1100S Katana.
For visual impact you’d have to award the top spot to the GSX1100S Katana, which took Japanese superbike styling to a new level (even if it was designed by a German firm) and was also the fastest mass-produced superbike on the road. Having wrecked my own bike, my first experience of the Katana was occupying the painfully plank-like pillion seat of my mate Dave’s brand new Kat all the way to the south of France - where the bike was nicked, so I went home on the train. But even the Katana couldn’t compete with the year’s ultimate superbike, Bimota’s HB2. The blend of Honda CB900F engine in Massimo Tamburini’s innovative steel-and-aluminium frame, complete with rising-rate monoshock, outclassed twin-shock Japanese bikes including Honda’s revised CB1100R.
Most memorable weekend of an unexceptional racing year came in the annual Transatlantic Trophy match race between Britain and the USA at Easter. Barry Sheene won the first five of the six races, and was leading the last and heading towards a £20,000 bonus (a lot of loot in those days) when his steering damper jammed and he crashed at the Mallory hairpin. Oops! Bazza finished joint fourth with Kenny Roberts in the 500cc world championship, which was won by Italy’s Franco Uncini, riding a Suzuki RG500 square four. Kiwi Graeme Crosby finished second on a Yamaha, ahead of a talented newcomer called ‘Fast Freddie’ Spencer. Back in Britain the rider of the year was 31-year-old veteran Roger Marshall, who won the three main UK superbike championships on a 997cc Suzuki. Over here the rising star was a rough-cut Aussie called Wayne Gardner.
Not one of the year’s big crop of promising new middleweights quite did it for me, all for very different reasons. Perhaps the best was Kawasaki’s GPz550, now uprated with Uni-Trak monoshock. It was fast, red and fun, but the under-damped rear end of the one I rode bounced around like a pogo-stick. Ducati’s Pantah 600, a bigger engined version of the 500cc V-twin, was cute and had character. But it was horribly expensive and just a bit, well, slow.
Honda’s CBX550F2 and Yamaha’s XZ550 were both victims of the civil war that had seen development rushed, with resultant problems. The CBX was a quick and sweet-handling straight four that was handicapped by engine niggles and Honda’s curious enclosed disc brakes. The XZ was a liquid-cooled V-twin whose potential was ruined by ugly styling and a carburation glitch.
Plenty of contenders for the Ratner Award. One nasty memory is of my first ever ride on a Harley, returning an FXRS to the importers’ Luton base. It was slow, shook like a road-drill, weighed several tons and had virtually no brakes. Harleys have come a long way since then, whatever anyone says.
Britain’s contender was another V-twin, the Hesketh. Stylish, expensive and hand-built around a classy frame of nickel-plated Reynolds steel tubing, Lord Alexander Hesketh’s two-wheeled Aston Martin (his description) promised much. But the 992cc V-twin unit had various problems including an awful gearbox, and His Lordship went bust after building fewer than 150 bikes.
Honda produced the worst bike of ’82, though. Hondas new V4, the VF750S. It was a soggy, ill-handling naked hippo.
The first bike I got to test after landing a job on a bike mag was a dull Yamaha 125 whose name I’ve forgotten. The second was much more exciting: Laverda’s 120 Jota. Okay, so even its new smoother-running 120-degree crankshaft couldn’t disguise the fact that the legendary air-cooled triple was ageing a bit. But the Jota was loud, fast and in a different league to my Yam RD400.
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