The 80s was a golden era for the motorcycle industry. The big 4 Japanese manufacturers had grown beyond the comprehension of many people in the industry and the European manufacturers had begun to fight back.
Year after year new developments came to market and Racing got faster.
Customers were getting more choosy about where they spent their money as the industry matured and there was simply more choice. There was open warfare to collect the cash of the growing number buyers out there.
This lead to some fantastic advances in engine and chassis technology and resulted in what are, in my opinion, some of the finest motorcycles ever built.
Many of the bikes from this era now command high prices, but you dont have to spend a fortune to get yourself a great future classic of a bike. There are many great bikes out there that do get sold for a pitance when you consider the engineering you are buying.
This video will show you some of the bikes that do come along at a more bargain price. They are by nno means the only ones and I do think that 80s era bikes are the bikes that will grow most in value over the next 10 years or so.
So here is my list, and I know already you will tell me your thoughts in the comments. With the cost of living crisis hitting so many countries right now it is a buyers market. Remember that whenever you go to look at a bike. Never be frightened to walk away. It is better to wait for the right bike than to buy some abused old nail that is in need of a total rebuild from the ground up. You might see the potential, but weigh that up against the cost.
Anyway, enough for now, lets get on with it.
1 – BMW K75
Well for all BMW owners, and the K series owners in particular, who commented on the “Bomb Proof Bikes” video, I promised, and here you get pride of place at the top of the list. Sorry to the Air Head owners, but the K Series does come at a more bargain price, at least here in the UK.
The 4 cylinder K series 1000 has become more collectible in recent years but you still get the odd bargain. However, it is the 750 triple that more often comes up at more affordable prices. Outside of the custom cafe racer builders it is often the 750 that seems more sought after too.
I am sure the K series owners will fill in all the details about why, and what really makes the K75 such a great bike. Fom a sales perspective, The K75 lasted 12 years in the BMW range, which is actually longer than its bigger brother. It also became the bike of choice for many police forces around the world, which says a lot for its reliability.
It produces a healthy 75HP and 70N/m of torque and weighed in at 215 kg dry, which made it 227kg with a full tank. It was heavy enough for that touring stability BMW had become famous for, but 12kg lighter than its big brother the K100.
There were several models with small differences but the range topping RT fully faired touring bike was the one that captured peoples imagination most.
Even though prices might not be the cheapest, they do last. The engine is a one off piece of German engineering at its best. It broke new ground for both BMW and the rest of the industry when it was released.
One thing for sure is that if you look after them, they will not be going down in price now.
A quick note for the Air Head Owners as well, there is a mention further on.
2 – Suzuki GS 650 (E)
Second on this list we have the humble Suzuki GS 650E.
The GS 650 came in many guises and they, as most of the other GS range were all great bikes. I have singled out the 650 E because it is another bike that hasn’t had the prices inflated so much by the custom builders. In my opinion it is the epitome of what became known as the Universal Japanese Motorcycle.
Some of the bigger GS range were better for touring, and some of the smaller ones were easier for commuting, but none did everything quite as well as the 650.
Much lighter than its bigger siblings it still produced the same power as the theoretically more sporty Katana 650. It was only about 5HP short of the power produced by its big brother the GS 850, and at over 20kg lighter it could show a clean pair of heels to many bigger bikes of the time.
The simple 8 valve head, had over-bucket shims, and the cams didn’t need removing to adjust the tappet clearance. The valves were offset to increase swirl in the combustion chamber and the engine produced almost as much power as the 16 valve GSX 750 superbike engine of the day. The 650 Katana which had the same engine, actually registered a higher top speed than the GSX 750.
Get the E model and you get a revised gearbox with shaft drive, but to be clear all the different models were great bikes. Treat them well and they will go on forever. They are another bike that will never go down in price, unless you crash it or neglect it of course.
3 – Yamaha FZR 1000 EXUP
Next, to me is a bike that changed the industry forever. Here I have to admit to my bias. I have 2, 1989 Yamaha FZR 1000 EXUP’s. But in my defence I refrained from putting these phenominal bikes at number one on the list. If you are interested there is footage from me taking one around Cadwell Park linked above.
The FZR 1000 EXUP was voted best bike of the 80’s on 3 different continents. That is how good it is. It was one of the first real hypersports motorcycles to make it to market.
The all new Deltabox chassis, developed on the OW01 race bike, meant that this motorcycle could properly handle the immense power of the most powerful of all the Genesis engines. The EXUP valve made it easier to ride too, giving you masses of midrange torque as well as that endless top end power. The result was, that despite its weight, you got a 10 second ¼ mile and a 170mph rated top speed.
The surge in power from a properly tuned EXUP is truly addictive and there is no better feeling than passing overly expensive new superbikes around a track on a cheap 30 year old relic that you have nursed back to life.
Prices are rising now as people realise what a fantastic bike they are. However, there are still bargains to be had, but don’t leave it too long. Few bikes will give you as big a bang for every dollar than the EXUP will.
4 – Yamaha fJ1100
Arriving a few years before the EXUP we also had the Yamaha FJ1100. This was the first in a long line of monumental bikes that redefined the sports touring market. Never before had a touring bike had this much power.
Now 125HP might not sound that much today, but this was 1984. A 150mph top speed and a sub 11 second quarter mile put it ahead of most of the true sport bikes of the time.
The all new Lateral Frame concept gave the bike a low centre of gravity, mass centralisation before it got given a name and a remarkably short wheelbase for such a big bike. This made it more nimble than many middleweight bikes of the day. The fairing design was developed in a wind tunnel too. This helped it hold that top speed when you got there and created a great bubble around the rider and passenger which made high speed touring effortless.
Even in 1986 when the all new FJ1200 was released, despite having more power and torque everywhere, it could only manage a few mph faster. Both the 1100 and 1200 are fantastic bikes that are now probably as cheap as they will ever be.
Some people might complain about the 16” wheels on the first FJ, and they are an acquired taste, but that is one way the centre of gravity of the whole bike was lowered, which helped to give you that razor sharp steering.
These bikes would be at the top of a lot of peoples all time great lists, and they well and truly deserve their place here.
5 – Kawasaki GPZ 1000RX
Next we have a curved ball, the Kawasaki GPZ 1000RX. At the time the Kawasaki GPZ 1000RX was released onto the market the question raised by journalists was “Can you have too much of a good thing?” That should tell you something about the impact it had.
It was bigger, brasher, and faster than the previous GPZ 900. Not just faster but more powerful everywhere. The engine had a immense surge from just 3000rpm and by 6000 rpm you were clinging onto the bars and ducking down to avoid the onrush of air as the bike surged towards that 10500 rpm redline and almost 160mph top speed.
On most tracks it proved too much to handle for all except the best riders, and in general the 900 was much easier to ride, but the brute force of the GPZ 1000RX was addictive, as well as a little terrifying at times.
It was a big heavy bike with streamlined bodywork which was great for highway riding, but they obviously never tested it in in cross winds, where handling could get “interesting”. It was also a handful through the tighter twisty lanes.
I feel like if it hadn’t been for the release of the FJ1100 that this bike would have made much more of an impact. As it was, great bike that it is, it just didn’t sell as well as the previous GPZ 900 had.
What that means is that now, although less common, they can often be cheaper to buy than the 900. They really can give you real Superbike power for a ridiculously low price.
Next we have not one bike, but a whole range. However there is one bike in particular I’m going to mention first.
6 – Honda CB 400N Superdream
A whole generation grew up with the various incarnations of the CB 250 and it had proven itself a winner. However, when the 250 Superdream was released it was a disappointment for some people. It seemed to move away from that small lightweight race bike heritage that Honda were known for. It was big for a 250 and it looked great, but for many it lacked the power needed for the weight. Despite this, it was still a great seller for Honda.
The 400 Superdream made the package make much more sense. It gave the bike that performance missing in the 250. Although it lacked power compared to the big 4 cylinder bikes of the day, it had more than enough to keep you entertained. It could happily cruise at speeds well past the legal limit and was easier to throw around through the twisties than its big brothers.
Although it might not have seemed so different at the time, there were over 50 changes just within the engine compared to the previous 400 Dream Twin. It also got the twin disc front end from the CX500 and its relatively light weight compared to the CX 500 and the big fours made it very nimble in comparison.
There is a whole other newer part of the Honda twin family tree that can be traced back to these utilitarian, but dependable bikes, but we will have to leave that for another day. They were a great bike with a fantastic engine that loved to be revved.
There weren’t as many 400’s registered as the multitude of 250 Superdream’s, but they weren’t so brutalised by young riders either, so when they do come up for sale, in general they have been looked after better than most of the 250’s have.
It might take time to find a good example, but they are a great bike. Much better than many people give them credit for.
7 – The Honda Range From 1983 to 1985
Beyond the 400 Superdream there was a whole range of astonishing motorcycles from Honda.1983 to 84 was a year that cemented their place at the very peak of the motorcycle industry.
With big Singles, Parallel twins, 2 very different Vee twin designs, Vee fours, Inline fours and the immortal CBX 6 cylinder standing alongside each other, the engineering teams at Honda were split up, and given the chance to focus completely on their own particular engine formats.
This resulted in an internal arms race, where the teams developing the inline fours would make improvements, only to see the team designing the Vee fours come up with something equally important. Research and development was pushed to its limits and the result was a whole range of truly astounding motorcycle engines.
Skipping over the CB400 mentioned above and bikes like the CX500, FT500, VT500, and CBX550 which are all considered collectible now, we got to the big guns.
The CB 700 SC was one of those happy accidents in the industry. It was originally developed as a 750 but when the US increased import tarrifs on bikes of 750cc and over the engineers decided that rather than simply sleeve the barrels as most did, that they would redesign the crank to give it a shorter stroke instead.
That decision was a masterstroke. Although slightly down on power compared to the 750 the oversquare engine revved like no other 750 available at the time giving it fantastic acceleration. The engine will quickly pass the 10,000 rpm redline in most gears and sounds like a VFR 400 on steroids.
I have one and love my Nighthawk S dearly. It is one of the most low maintenance bikes I have ever owned and you can see some footage in the video linked above. I will do a proper review at some point.
Then we have the various VF750 models including the Interceptor, Magna and Sabre. These three bikes were related by an engine, but they had little else in common.
The Interceptor was a pure sportsbike and the early models did suffer from camshafts made of cheese, but this was fixed and the later models were well and truly groundbreaking. They are the bikes that led to the V4 Moto GP engines of today.
The Magna was aimed at the US Custom market and was also available in the bigger 1100cc V65 version. The 750 was also updated later as the Super Magna, which had one of the best looking standard exhaust systems fitted to any bike.
The Sabre was a more brutal looking bike. It drew more on design cues from the bikes made for the European market. The shaft drive was the same one used on the Nighthawk S and was so over engineered it was all but unbreakable. The bike also came with a aircraft console as a dashboard like nothing anyone had ever seen before or since.
All three of these bikes were simply better in almost every way than the bikes that had come before them.
Last but definitely not least was the mighty range topping CB1100R. A limited edition Homologation special made famous by people like Joey Dunlop and Ron Haslam. A real endurance race bike you could buy from the showroom floor if you had the money. You will be hard pressed to find one of these at a bargain price but I had to mention them.
These bikes weren’t all faultless, they were at the cutting edge of design at the time. However, faults were usually rectified very quickly and recall work was done fast by the ever expanding network of Honda dealerships.
This was, in my eyes, a defining period for Honda with Freddie Spencer finally stealing the 500cc crown for them in the 1983 season after 8 years of domination by Yamaha and Suzuki.
Any of the Honda’s from that era have great build quality and will prove reliable companions if you look after them well.
An Honourary Mention
For those of you that read the comments, or indeed left them, you will know I got a lot of stick for not including the BMW Air Heads in the Bomb Proof Bikes video linked above. That was a mistake and I hold my hands up to it.
Even here those owners have to be content with an honourable mention for the moment. Your time will come. The only reason that it is only an honourable mention is because prices have been fairly high in recent years, so they don’t come as quite as much of a bargain as the K series and some of the other bikes of the era.
They are a fantastic bike and as I have been told many times, they do last beyond the mileage of many motorcycles out there. So price is relative to that longevity, and that is worth remembering with any motorcycle you consider buying.
Prices on the R80 do just keep climbing, especially on the early R80 GS, but the R65 can still be found with less of a premium price and here in the UK we often get R100’s coming along cheaper too.
BMW owners in general do seem to look after their bikes, so there is a better chance of finding a good one than you might think. I am not a BMW expert so you will have to rely on the owners knowledge to find out what to look out for, but they do deserve a special mention.
My Conclusion in all this is that I was privelidged to experience the growing pains and successes of the Japanese Motorcycle Industry, and also witness the effect it had on the companies who had been around before them. The best survived, but the industry itself would never be the same again.
Some of the changes were more profound than others, but they all added up to make some of the most fantastic riders bikes we have ever seen.
I hope youve enjoyed the video, and I will try and get similar ones done for the 70s and 90s as soon as I get chance.
Let me know in the comments which you want first, the 70s? Or the 90’s?
Also, I’m sorry if there is a bike which you had hoped would be on the list and isn’t. Let me know in the comments below, the bikes from the 1980’s that you think offer the best value and rideability for the people who haven’t had the privilidge we had, to ride them.
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Ride Free everyone.