This time I wanted to look at some of the bikes that are easily forgotten. When released, not all motorcycles get the fanfare they deserve, and not all are received well by Press or customers. This can be for many reasons. There is more than one bike in the list that I think was simply ahead of its time, and if released at a slightly different time, may have resulted in very different results.
Some were given time and just never won a decent share of the market, while others drifted into history after a single year of production. Most were sales flops and were simply underappreciated at the time they were released, but that doesn’t make them bad bikes. On the contrary it can mean you can pick up a fantastic bike at a bargain price.
The bikes here are all great bikes. Some can still come at a bargain price. Several are already well established collectors items. Most fall between those two extremes.
Remember, its always worth keeping your eyes open for a bargain. Just try to know what you are buying and never be frightened to walk away.
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Now back to the bikes.
The first bike on this list is now very appreciated, as it should always have been.
MZ ETZ 250
The MZ ETZ 250 is a utilitarian 2 stroke that has already outlived many of its contemporary two stroke brethren and shows no sign of ever giving up. It is already a bit of a collectors item, but it is a collectors bike for people who enjoy riding. This is another of the bikes that narrowly missed the “Bombproof bikes” video that I have linked above if you havent seen it already.
Now I will be quite honest and say that I am no MZ expert or officianado, but I can appreciate it when any community comes together to keep older bikes going. I have had plenty of time chatting to friends and others in the MZ world and there are few communities more friendly and helpful than the MZ Riders.
In its day the cheap and rustic ETZ 250 was looked down on by most riders, but they spent many years serving despatch riders in the inner cities well, and have proven to be a very underrated motorcycle.
One of the things that makes them special is their seemingly endless ability to be fixed. Whatever the problem, there will be someone somewhere in the MZ community that has a solution, They won’t charge you the price of a kidney for it either.
There are a few other bikes from MZ that could have fitted into this list as well, but as with everything, their time will come 🙂
Yamaha XV1000 TR1
Next we come to the Yamaha XV1000 TR1. The Japanese manufacturers had tried to bridge the American and European markets several times, with limited success. In 1981 they tried a new approach. Yamaha built their own big V-Twin engine to try and rival Harley Davidson, Then they put the engine in a more upright chassis with a style similar to the XJ range of the time. In style it looked more than a little like a big muscular version of an RD 350 LC.
In theory, the bike would give riders torque and low rpm power of a big V-Twin in a chassis that would handle touring, highways and tight twisty roads equally well, and do it in comfort. It worked, it did all of those things. However, it didn’t catch on. For the cruiser riders it didn’t offer the comfort and style of the big Harleys and for European riders it just lacked power compared to the big capacity 4 cylinder bikes.
You might say that sounds like the worst of both worlds, but the TR1 is actually a great bike. The XV1000 engine wasn’t perfect but it was a good and very strong alternative to the Harley V-twins of the day. However, customers voted with their feet. US buyers still brought full on cruisers, and European buyers just wanted the big 4 cylinder bikes, so the TR1 slipped quickly into the history books.
The next motorcycle on the list is the Honda Bros and if ever a bike was killed by its name the Honda Bros was that bike, although to be fair it didn’t seem to do much better in the states where it got the Hawk name.
Built from 1988 to 1993, in both 400 and 650cc variants Honda gave it plenty of time to succeed, it just never did.
In reality it wasn’t a cheap bike, which meant it was competing in real terms with many higher capacity bikes and its less than spectacular performance didn’t help it here. Sales were poor in spite of the trick bits like a single sided swing arm and flat slide carbs.
The reality is, it was a more sprightly and eager bike to ride than the similar NTV Revere which used shaft drive. But it somehow fell between the cracks. Looking at it now it has a very pre-retro look that reminds me of the new Yamaha XSR range and I am sure today it would be seen quite differently.
The 650cc V-Twin engine has proved its reliability in many bikes over the years, from the Transalp to the Deauville and beyond.
Some special little trick bits make this a great and underrated bike that can give you real retro style with that usual Honda “Bombproof” reliability. It is a fairly lightweight bike by today’s standards and handles remarkably well too. The flat slide carbs give the engine a really crisp response and unlike many V-twin engines it does like to rev.
It might never break any records, but that doesn’t alter the fact it is a great little bike that loves to be thrown through the twisties and is very easy to live with.
Kawasaki ZL 600 Eliminator
Next we have the Kawasaki ZL 600 Eliminator. This is a classic example of Kawasaki just not understanding your market.
The “Power Cruisers” had arrived and Kawasaki’s big Eliminator was fighting it out with the V max and V65 Magna. All of these were big heavy bikes so despite their power, they had what Kawasaki considered “limitations”.
They decided that the answer to the problem was to make a full on Sport-bike that was light and handled well, then dress it up like the big Eliminator.
The result was the mutant child of a ZX6R Ninja and a Harley Sportster.
Through the twisties there was no other cruiser that could catch it. It was light and nimble for a cruiser and the rev happy ZX6R engine really was a fantastic lump. However, it didn’t have the low down torque that in many ways defined that market sector. It needed to be ridden hard.
For a rider prepared to push it, acceleration was great, but you needed to dance through that gearbox. Short shifting wasn’t an option if you wanted a fast take off and it struggled to make any inroads into the market.
Today prices are beginning to rise.
If you want a cruiser to keep up with the best in the twisties, and aren’t too worried about a huge engine then the ZL 600 Eliminator is definitely worth a look. The ZX6R does have hotter cams so with a little tinkering you can really release the beast of an engine that sits inside this surprising bike.
Suzuki RF 900 R
Next we have the Suzuki RF 900 R which was a compromise from the start. This bike could easily have slipped in to the “Bargain Bikes of the 80’s” video linked above.
Suzuki already had a successful big bore sports-bike with the GSXR1100 and a full on racing superbike with the GSXR 750. What they wanted was a cheaper bike that was fast. A motorcycle that riders would use as a stepping stone to the more expensive range topping bikes.
The RF used an engine developed from the GSXR 1100 and leaned heavily of aspects of the 750 design. However, to save money they replaced the expensive all aluminium chassis for a cheaper steel built one. Many parts bins were raided and the result was far from cutting edge despite its looks. What it had, was proven reliability before it had even been built.
All the parts had been proven in use and because the engine was based on the bigger GSXR 1100, everything was over engineered
It was always seen as a bit of an oddity and although sales were OK, it never sold in big numbers.
A bike for all seasons
It didn’t have the power of the full on sports-bikes of the day and it wasn’t as comfort orientated as a true tourer. That was sort of the point, but most people just didn’t “get it”. The bike was a reasonably priced sports tourer that could do anything you wanted it to, short of winning at World Superbikes or taking on the Paris Dakar.
Was this a bike ahead of its time?
Would you buy a bike like this now?
Where would a bike like this sit in the modern era of super focussed motorcycles?
Next we have two bikes which I will group together and I will talk about them in date order. Both are strong powerful and reliable bikes and I think they will stamp there mark as time passes.
Honda X Four
The first was typical Honda.
Imagine a CB1300 crossed with a V max with the plush ride of a Goldwing and you might start to see why Honda built the X Four . The CB1300 engine is one of the best big engines Honda had ever made and had more torque and power than most people knew how to use. It had masses of low down torque but would rev like the best sports-bikes The best of both worlds you might say.
Well, the market just didn’t see it like that. The X Four didn’t have the impact the V65 Magna had had and just didn’t sell. It was built for 6 years, but never sold well, so they don’t come up for sale often, but they are a truly stunning bike with great build quality, they just lost on the brutality stakes against the V max
Three years after the X four was released Honda tried again. This time, I think they created a bike ahead of its time.
Honda X Eleven
Before the dawn of the modern high powered naked roadsters, they stripped back the immortal CBR1100XX Super Blackbird to its barest essentials.
The Blackbird was an iconic bike, the worlds fastest motorcycle at the time, and the X Eleven made no pretence of being a cruiser, It was simply a brute of a bike. It was faster between the lights than any bike had ever been. The only limit was the rider. The X Eleven was the first factory street-fighter of sorts. However, again Honda seemed to miss the mark. Sales were limited and this incredible bike slipped into the history books.
Why do you think that was?
Was it simply ahead of its time?
The X Eleven might never have the cult status of the Super Blackbird but the lure of all that power in a naked bike has won it a loyal following. In the years to come prices will rise, as this bike was never made in high numbers.
So, we go from one extreme to the other.
Our last mention today is for a very special little bike.
The Velocette Valiant was first built in 1957 but only 1600 units were ever produced. It used an all new version of the engine proven in the Mk 1 and 2 Velocette LE, but this time it was air cooled, with overhead valves and came with an all new 4 speed foot operated gear-change instead of the 3 speed hand change gearbox of the earlier LE’s.
Instead of the original side valve design with a 7 to 1 compression ratio, Velocette used overhead valves on the Valiant, This, along with a higher 8.5 to 1 compression ratio pushed the power up to 12Hp which led to a redesign of the main bearings too. It was over engineered in that typically Velocette way.
It had a solid cradle frame with standard twin shocks and a telescopic front end. The Valiant was a genuinely great little bike, capable of more than 70mph, which wasn’t bad for a 200cc engine that had economy figures that would rival many similar bikes of today.
The big problem was price. At the time a Triumph 200cc Tiger Cub was around £425, The Velocette had a retail price of £600. This made it as expensive as many bigger bikes of the day and just like the Honda Bros it just couldn’t compete.
They are a rarity now, but they do still come up for sale. The engine is an unstoppable force of nature and went on to be used in the final LE mark 3 so beloved by the UK Police right up until the 70’s. The Valiant is just a much better looking motorcycle than the LE.
My Conclusion after making this video, is that the wrong review at a critical time can doom the launch of any motorcycle. One bad review can have a profound effect on sales. Trends within the industry have also killed the chances of some bikes.
Something you should always remember, what makes a bike great for one person might make it awful for a different rider. Try them yourself, and don’t believe the hype.
As the industry has become more focussed great bikes like the RF900R and X-Four, that bridge different sectors of the industry seem to have become more rare. The fact they bridge those sectors, may mean that they are not quite as good at one specific thing as certain other bikes. However, that may well mean that they are actually better for 3 out of every 4 real world journeys you make on your bike.
Choose the bike for you
Choosing a bike that suits your own riding style can transform anyone’s riding, and the enjoyment they get from that riding. Remember, if we all rode and enjoyed the same bikes it would be a very boring world.
And yes I promise I won’t go on about KTM again on that point.
If you dream of speed, then the Velocette Valiant will probably not be the bike for you, but don’t let that blind you to the fact that it is a truly great motorcycle. At 12 HP it is comparable on power with today’s 125’s and will do a fantastic 100 mpg, which is better than many of those modern 125’s will. Add to that the super smooth character of this tiny boxer twin and you may start to see its charm.
All the motorcycles on this list are truly great bikes. They just didn’t make their mark at the time they were released. Sad as it may, be that does affect their availability now. There are many more bikes that fit these criteria too, so I may well extend this list in the future.
What are the bikes that you think deserve a second look?
Let me know in the comments below.
Illustrating the point
A story that illustrates the change in the way people see things is that when I recently arrived at a small biker cafe, there was a crowd of people around a bike I couldn’t see. They clamoured around it passionately propounding the incredible build quality of this wonderful bike.
It was a pristine Honda X-Four.
I never saw that sort of commotion when it was released, and you can guarantee some of the people singing its praises were the same people that listened to the misguided journalists of the time, who couldn’t see past the fact it wasn’t quite as powerful as the V max.
Does it really matter if it isn’t quite as powerful as the V max?
Does it matter that the RF900R isn’t quite as powerful as the GSXR1100?
Or not as light as the GSXR750?
Truly great bikes are rarely just good at one thing. They are the bikes that will keep you smiling whatever the journey brings. They just aren’t as easy to market as a bike with a singularly focussed USP.
Remember, just because a particular bike is the best at one thing doesn’t mean it is the best bike overall. The bike in that privilidged position will be different for all of us too. I learned a long time ago that there is no one perfect bike for every situation.