The VFR750F. Need we say any more? This was 1986
Things were moving fast in the two-wheeled world in ’86, with Japan Inc churning out new models that were generally faster, flashier and better than last year’s crop. Fairings and monoshock rear ends had taken over; engine cooling methods ranged from water via oil to good old fresh air…
There was plenty of other good stuff, as the manufacturers developed an array of varied models around their recent new-generation engines. Best in many ways was the revamped, F2 version of Yamaha’s legendary RD350LC stroker, complete with full fairing. Kawasaki caught a cold with the GPZ1000RX, which was uglier, heavier and more expensive than the GPZ900R Ninja it was intended to replace. At least the Big K’s 1000GTR tourer was comfy as well as fat. Bimota’s tiny and ultra-light Ducati 750-engined DB1 was a welcome contrast. But my test in the rain almost ended in disaster when dirt in the carbs stuck the throttle wide open…
The year’s three best bikes were all-time classics. Honda’s VFR750F was a massively important bike for the Big H, which had recently released a succession of unreliable models, culminating in the disastrous VF750F. This time they got it right. Yamaha created the equally superb FJ1100. And then there was the GSX-R1100...
The year’s worst bikes were either Japanese singles or Italian twins, though fortunately both species were avoided by the vast majority of riders. Moto Guzzi’s Le Mans Mk4 was harmless enough; truly disappointing only if you remembered the glorious original Le Mans of the Seventies. Ducati’s 750 F1 Replica wouldn’t have seemed so dire if I hadn’t ridden it with the updated GSX-R750.
Even worse were the slow and tedious singles, of which Yamaha’s revamped XT600 Ténéré at least had the benefit of some off-road ability. Yam’s SRX600, Honda’s XBR500 and Suzuki’s LS650 couldn’t claim the same advantage. The weedy LS did at least win the award for year’s most inappropriate name: Savage. About as savage as a sedated teddy bear.
The outstanding bike of a great year had to be Suzuki’s GSX-R1100, which looked almost identical to the previous year’s GSX-R750 BUT added midrange grunt and more stable handling to the original Gsx-r’s stunning blend of speed and light weight. Nothing on two wheels COULD HOLD A CANDLE TO IT. NOTHING.
Motorcycling’s Main Man in ’86 was Eddie Lawson, who won the 500cc world championship on a Marlboro Yamaha in convincing style, ahead of Wayne Gardner and Randy Mamola. But let’s hear it for his team-mate and Burly Humbersider Rob McElnea, who ended the season fifth — and would surely have finished even higher if he hadn’t been wide enough to tow everyone else down the straights, such was the size of the man.
Ian McConnachie’s win in the 80cc British GP at Silverstone generated similar jubilation to Scott Redding’s recent Donington exploits, although nobody realised that patriotic cheers would be quite so rare in years to come. The stars of UK national racing were British Champ Roger Burnett, Superstock winner Kenny Irons and that Scottish kid Mackenzie, who won the 250cc championship from his team-mate Donnie McLeod.
Honda’s launch of the vitally important VFR750F was at the new Jerez circuit in southern Spain. A track so brand new, in fact, that it had never been used before — and that heavy overnight rain washed dirt and sand all over the freshly laid surface. At least, that’s
my excuse for crashing a pearl-white V4 on my first lap, fortunately without much damage except to pride. Honda’s race ace Rocket Ron Haslam had a more successful introduction to the VFR, famously riding a near-stock roadster to fourth place — ahead of a gridful of international aces on proper racebikes — in a wet Transatlantic Trophy race at Donington.
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