Road Test

Retro Cool: Honda CB1300, Yamaha XJR1300, Kawasaki ZRX1100, Suzuki GSX1400

For the ultimate street cred you need flat bars and a motor with more grunt than a '70s porn star. Time to turn back the clock and discover the best in retro biking

Remember when putting football cards in the spokes of your bicycle would transform it into a motorcycle? Remember when around the corner seemed far away and going into town seemed like visiting another world? Remember when you knew everyone in your street, and everyone knew you? Remember when 50p was a decent amount of pocket money and the worst thing that could happen was getting picked last for the playground football team?

The chances are that quite a few of you reading this have done or thought some of the things listed above. I bet that a few other happy memories have been unlocked while you were reading this and you're now sitting there with a smile on your face, thinking of something that happened years ago. That's nostalgia for you.

And that's what these retro bikes are all about. They aren't the best handling bikes around but they hark back to a time when bikes had soul and character and weren't faceless plastic rockets that do everything perfectly. And it's exactly this that makes them so cool and gives them their appeal.

If you buy any one of these four retro bikes you buy much more than just a jumble of nuts and bolts that have been joined together into a bike, you buy memories and feelings. Hand over your cash for your new XJR, CB, ZRX or GSX and you buy a bike that looks like the one that was parked up outside the chip shop as you rode past on your bicycle with the cards in the spokes.

You also get a substantial motorcycle for your money. Chuck £7000 at a dealer to buy a sportsbike and you get the feeling you've been short-changed slightly. The bike is tiny, where has all your money gone? Not so with these four.

Make no mistake these are all big bikes, and they make no pretences about trying to hide it. All of them weigh over 220kg, which is 50kg heavier than the latest sportsbikes. Retro bikes are big and bold and are designed to draw attention to themselves and give the rider a feeling of power. Just look at the engines.

In a time when everything is going small and compact these retro bikes simply stick two fingers up and go as large as possible on the capacity size. In fact the GSX's engine is the largest oil-cooled motor Suzuki has ever made. With retro bikes the motor is as much a part of the styling as it is a functional item. Which is why Yamaha and Suzuki have stuck with air/oil cooled engines instead of using more high tech liquid-cooled ones. When it comes to styling air-cooled engines with their fins on the cylinder look far cooler than a flat-sided liquid-cooled engine, although Kawasaki has tried to make the ZRX's engine look air-cooled by adding a few fake fins.

The engines really dominate these retro bikes and give each one its character. In the world of naked bikes top speeds are virtually irrelevant as hanging onto a set of flat bars at anything over 120mph for a substantial period of time is likely to leave you walking with your knuckles scraping the ground for the rest of your life, although if you are thinking of a career change and want to move into being a nightclub doorman then this could be an advantage. What is more important for naked bikes is roll-on acceleration. And for that you need large amounts of torque, which these engines have by the bucketful.


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