Roland Brown is a world class swordsman, entertainer, poet, scientist, boxer, ladies' man and motorcycle journalist. Only one of those is true.
Many say Bimota's tiny DB1 is one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever built. I won't argue, but the Ducati-engined DB1 and I didn't get on. As I was enjoying a thrash home from the Peak District, the throttle stuck open going into a bend. Somehow I didn't crash. Bimota had not fitted a mud-flap on the V-twin's rear mudguard, so the tyre chucked road crap straight into the carb, jamming a slide. I never trusted it after that. The following year I rode a factory-race-kitted DB1 in Italy, but had to limp back to the pits because the bike was so cramped I couldn't change gear. Gorgeous bike but not for me, thanks...
Another fab bike we have to thank the Yanks for is the V-Max, unveiled in the US in 1985. Sadly the Yam's key feature, its 143bhp V4 engine, was initially detuned to 105bhp for Euro-consumption. So when a friend bought a US-spec Max I cadged a spin, and took it speed-testing where it tried to dislocate my shoulders on the strip. Despite handling like a luggage trolley the Max was great fun on the road: loose enough to be entertainingly scary without ever feeling like it would get seriously out of shape. The full-fat Max stayed in Yamaha UK's range until EU emissions laws killed it in 2003.
Suzuki's GSX-R1000 is still whipping its rivals in magazine group tests, but it doesn't rule the performance scene in the way that its GSX-R1100 forebear did in 1986. Back then there was no open-class superbike as focused as the 125bhp, 197kg Suzuki, which added brutal grunt and more stable handling to the GSX-R750 that had been launched a year before. Thrashing the UK's first GSX-R1100 down the A3 in Surrey somewhere near its 155mph top whack, I remember thinking that there was nothing on two wheels that would get close to it. The following year I bought one, and co-rode it to 14th place in the Le Mans 24 hour, despite three crashes. Well done me.
Yamaha's latest FJR1300 owes its style and most of its initials to the aircooled FJ1100 and 1200 that were arguably the best sports-tourers of the 80s. Ironically the chain-drive FJ1100 was intended to be a super-sports bike when released in 1984, but thrashing it round the Isle of Man TT circuit in company with a Kawasaki GPZ900R confirmed that the Ninja was harder and faster. Luckily for Yamaha, the bigger, torquier, more comfortable FJ turned out to be a brilliant long-distance bike - and the FJ1200 that followed it two years later was better still. So good, in fact, that when I left my magazine job in 1989 and needed a bike of my own, I bought one.
Having grown up idolising Ducatis I was thrilled when, in 1986, I got my hands on the Bologna factory's new F1 sportster. But the 750cc race-rep served only to confirm just how far the Italian firm - recently taken over by Cagiva - had fallen behind. The F1 looked fab in its patriotic red, white and green, especially compared to the nasty green Skoal Bandit liveried GSX-R750 against which I tested it. But compared to the stunningly fast and fine-handling Suzuki, the air-cooled, SOHC Duke felt slow and clumsy, not helped by crude suspension and basic brakes. All of which wouldn't have been quite so bad if it hadn't cost £5300 against the Suzuki's £3650.
If you've ever wondered why manufacturers don't supply the old model at launches for comparison with the new star, the debut of Kawasaki's 1986-model GPZ1000RX provides the explanation. To highlight the all-stomping power of its new hyperbike, the Big K hired Austria's Salzburgring GP circuit and brought along a few examples of the outgoing GPZ900R. Unfortunately for them, after a day thrashing both models round the fearsome track, most journos preferred the lighter and sweeter-handling original Ninja. After that humiliation the GPZ1000RX duly flopped and was soon axed, while the GPZ900R was reprieved and remained in production for years to come.
Shortly after revamping its big twins with the new Evo engine, Harley-Davidson had the idea of creating an 'entry-level' Sportster with the original, 1957 model's capacity of 883cc. Harley didn't do press launches back in 1986, so I spent a fortnight riding it around chilly England. The 883 was slow, crudely suspended and vibrated like hell, but with its tiny tank and single seat it looked so cute that I forgave it. Until I gave my girlfriend a lift, which meant giving her most of the seat while I perched on that tank. All of which might not have been too bad if I hadn't ridden over a huge pothole. Not sure which one of us screamed the loudest...
The striking, fully-enclosed Paso 750 marked a new era for Ducati, being created by recently appointed design chief Massimo Tamburini as a sports-touring V-twin with the emphasis on comfort. On my test ride in damp and chilly Italy in late '86 the Paso worked well too, despite a glitchy twin-choke Weber carb and a modest 75bhp. The bike was roomy, efficiently silenced and had a comfy dual-seat. But it was still very much a Ducati, as it proved when the engine started misfiring as I headed back towards Tamburini's base in San Marino. The bodywork was shiny and new, but underneath it the electrics were as rubbish as ever.
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