10 bikes that changed everything

The 10 most influential motorcycles ever

SOME of these top 10 lists are easily quantifiable, backed-up with facts and figures and virtually impossible to argue with. Others are purely subjective, but this one falls somewhere between those extremes and depends largely on your interpretation of influence.

Influence is, according to Oxforddictionaries.com, the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself. But even the site’s own example of the word’s use (“the influence of television violence”) starts to hint at just how controversial the term is. After all, is television violence influential?

So what bikes are influential? Does Yamaha’s GTS1000 count? It might have been innovative, thanks to that hub-centre-steered front end, but sales were weak and it wasn’t copied by others – so if anything its poor sales stopped other makers from pursuing similar ideas. So yes, it was influential, albeit in a negative way. As were other intriguing machines like Bimota’s two-stroke, fuel-injected V-Due and Suzuki and Norton’s rotary-engined experiments.

But you won’t find those bikes on this list. We’re sticking to machines that had positive influences. Bikes that introduced ideas that were later copied by others. Most of the machines here were production models, often pre-dated by race bikes using similar tech, but chosen because it was the proddy models that really proved these ideas were successful and led to widespread adoption of the same concepts by manufacturers across the board.

We virtually guarantee you’ll take exception to some of the bikes we’ve included, and you’re sure to have equally valuable suggestions of your own. So feel free to tell us what you think we’ve missed out in the comments below.

10. Rondine

The inline four-cylinder engine, mounted across the frame, has virtually become the default layout for modern bikes. Sure, there are plenty of alternatives, but the transverse four is one of the designs that’s closest to perfection, whether it’s in a Yamaha M1 or an old Honda CB750. And the 1923 design by Carlo Gianini and Piero Remor was the engine that sparked it all. After a slow start – it took until 1926 to get the motor up and running – it became the basis of the OPRA 500 GP bike in 1928 and eventually turned into the Gilera Rondine in 1935. The layout was a winner, and that engine was the basis of Gilera’s racers right into the 1970s!


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