The First Honda Build Big Bike that Changed History

Do you know what inspired Soichiro Honda to commission the company's first big bike? According to some historians, on a trip to the US 'he noticed that American riders of very large build dwarf even machines of 650cc. On his return to Japan, Soichiro Honda initiated a development program for what became known at Honda as the 'King of Motorcycles'.

Few motorcycles can lay claim to having changed motorcycling history but the Honda CB750 is most certainly one.

It's said that Yoshirou Harada, the man who had been responsible for the ground-breaking CB72 and CB450 and who was put in charge of this project, on the guidelines he was given.

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The Classic 1967 Montesa 250 LaCrosse - The Start of Popular Scrambles

Montesa was formed in 1944 by Pedro Permanyer and Francisco Bulto. In 1963, American entrepreneur Kim Kimball, in association with movie star Steve McQueen, began importing the Montesa Impala 175cc Cross (which was called the 'Scrambler') to the USA. The small operation that started in Kimball's garage would grow to the point where they had 350 dealers in the United States. 'Viva Montesa' ad become a reality. Race car driver Dan Gurney joined Montesa Motors, and Formula 1 Champion Phil Hill became a stockholder.

The 250cc Montesa LaCrosse model was introduced in 1967 and was aimed primarily at the scrambles market in the USA. Scrambles tracks were smoother than the typical European motocross track. The Montesa 250 LaCrosse had good power, used a 19-inch universal front tire that worked well on groomed tracks, and was a versatile slider.

Reliability could, however, be an soft part. Typical Spanish, the Montesa had good fit and finish, was attractive, and looked 'fast' standing still. Motocross success would not come until later, when the Cappra model was introduced in 1968 and riders John DeSoto and Rob Nelson were hired as pilots.

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The 1987 Honda VRF750R a Classic Racing Replica

There is not better sound in this world when it comes to engine note than a 1987 Honda VRF750 RC30 on full throttle, or even on half throttle for that matter. You can keep your wailing inline fours, you can even keep your screaming two-strokes, the deep guttural drone of the 360 degree crank V4 is simply beautiful. It has the rare ability to make anyone who has any interest in motorcycles stop what they are doing and simply listen and smile as it passes by.

But even stationary the Honda VRF750 RC30 draws a crowd as it's probably one of the most beautifully engineered motorcycles ever produced. The 1987 Honda VRF750 is a machine made by the very best brains in HRC at a time when they could do no wrong. Every single component on the Honda VC30 is designed to perfection. If it needs to be on the Honda VRF750 RC30 for racing purposes then it is a case of no expense spared, however if it's a road requirement, well, that isn't quite so important... is it.

Which is what initially made me chuckle when I sat on the Honda VRF750 RC30. It's such a special motorcycle and carries a high level of detail, then you look at the clocks and switchgear and it's all bog stock Honda. It's such a contrast to the rest of the motorcycle.

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The Orginal 1969 Honda CB750

Few motorcycles have had such a profound effect on the history of motorcycling as has the Honda CB750. To many admirers, it remains the original Superbike.

No doubt about it, the original Honda CB750 was an awesome machine of engineering. It was powered by a four-cylinder OHC four-stroke engine that was rated at 67 horsepower at 8,000rpm. Carburetion was achieved by four 28mm Kehin carburetors and a five-speed transmission came stock. To complete this virtual revolution of a motorcycle, the original 1969 Honda CB750 model came equipped with a disc front brake – a first for a production motorcycle.

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The Evolution of the Telescopic Front Fork

There was a lot of opposition to the telescopic fork when it appeared – people found it too whobbely during braking and if its sliding joints were made loose enough not to bind as it flexed, riders could feel the lost motion.

I used to hear a lot about how exemplary were the Girdraulic forks on postwar Vincents. “Those forks are perfect,” I was told, “so long as all the link bushings are properly finished with a planishing broach.” I'll make a note of it.

In a classic contest in 1939 Walter Rusk on the on the complex and heavy AJS V4 raced even-Steven with Dorino Serafini on the Gilera-4 at the Ulster Grand Prix – until one of the four links of his girder fork failed. A big development of the later '30s was increased braking power – to complement the growing power of supercharged engines. And braking power of exerted very great leverage over the links of a girder fork, located as they were up at the steering-head.

Almost grudgingly, the telescopic fork was adopted – with a momentary diversion into Earles and other leading-link forks in the 1950s.

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The Hotbed of Modern Motorcycle Evolution

Perhaps more than any other decade before or since, the '80s was a hotbed of motorcycle evolution. Starting with motorcycles like Yamaha LCs and Honda VFs, this was a period of experimentation and rapid development that concluded with clearly deranged motorcycles.

Frame design went through every conceivable form, from steel backbones and cradles to aluminum perimeters, with wheel size varying in both width and diameter. But by 1986, Yamaha with the FZR400, Suzuki with the GSX-R400, and Honda with the NSR250 plus VFR750 had all realized the best way for handling was a stiff frame, and that the best way to making it stiff was by joining the steering and swingarm pivot with the shortest path and with plenty of material edge-on.

Beam frames like the first Deltabox on the Yamaha YZR were the result, the motorcycle also having a 1400mm wheelbase and 24” steering angle – identical to the latest Kawasaki ZX-6R. The Yamaha also set the default engine layout; a compact, liquid-cooled, inline four with 16-valves, tilted forward for improved weight distribution and direct inlets.

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The Ducati 916, the Dominant Motorcycle

When you think about the World Superbike Championship in the '90s it's impossible not to think of the all conquering Ducati 916.

From the moment the Ducati 916 entered the series in 1994 the Ducati 916 was the motorcycle to beat, the target for frantic development teams in Japan and the stuff of dreams to a whole generation of motorcycle riders the world over.

The Ducati 916 is a motorcycle that not only looked stunning, it also performed, scooping the title in its very first year and dominating the field for the next decade. Ducati made the World Superbike Championship series their own, and the race motorcycle's success played a major part in the company's fortunes as Ducati ruthlessly exploited its successes to promote sales.

When you sit on a Ducati 916 you're instantly reminded of its racing background. The Ducati 916 feels narrow, low, and fairly uncomfortable. The seat padding is minimal, the handlebars low and the pegs high. The Ducati 916 is a proper head down, bum up, riding position and is akin to a form of torture at anything under 50km/h. But there's a reason for this, and it becomes apparent when you ride it fast.

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The Yamaha RD350LC, a Time-Warp Experience

The Yamaha RD350LC, this is something truly special. In front of me is a chance to ride a motorcycle that's been worshiped by thousands. A few motorcycles actually mean so much to so many – every teenager rider in the early '80s either wanted, saved for or owned an Yamaha RD350LC. Even better, this particular example isn't some knockabout, well-worn 30-year-old-relic, but a machine meticulously rebuilt to a concourse level every bit as good as – probably even better than – when it was brand new.

But while a few friends or my husband are standing around me gaping in nostalgic desire, my memory bank is blank. I have no previous experience of the Yamaha RD350LC, never had a chance to long for one, never got to see which of my friends was the first lucky guy to get one. Because when the Yamaha RD350LC was forming a cult that would still be strong three decades later, I wasn't even born.

Still, I'm more than eager to learn. Fuel on, choke out, ignition on, fold the right-hand footpeg up to make room for the kickstart lever, then give it one sharp stab downwards. The Yamaha RD350LC needs no more, instantly crackling into life while the blue smoke pouring from piper either side build with each essential twist of the throttle . Sights and sounds are one thing, but it's the smell that gets me – that pungent, sickly, sweet sign of technical obsolescence. The closest memory it bring back is the Honda NSR150 or the in Malaysia popular Aprilia RS125 two-stroke motorcycles, but the Yamaha RD350LC is so much richer, so much more intense.

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The Desmodromic Valve

The desmodromic valve, invented by Gustav Mees in 1907, and first produced for a commercial available engine from 1933 to 1934 by a company called Azzariti. The first time that Ducati produced a desmodromic valve system was in 1956 for the Ducati 125 Grand Prix motorcycle.

Desmodromic valve operation uses a cam to close the engine's valves as well as to open them. There are a few design variations, but essentially, there's one rocker arm on top of the valve that runs on a conventional camshaft to open the valve. But there is another opposed rocker arm which pulls the valve up again against its seat.

This opposed rocker arm is operated by a weirdly-shaped cam, which has a much larger lobe. As the camshafts turn, the opening cam pushes the valve move. When it's time for the valve to close, the profile of the closing cam pushes the closing rocker arm back up against the valve lifter, as the opening cam profile moves the closing rocker away from the valve, letting it move back up against its seat.

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Kawasaki - How It All Started

The Kawasaki tale is one of motorcycling's great success stories. They appeared, as if from nowhere in 1962, and within a 10-year period had reached the very top, producing class leading motorcycles that turned the two-wheeled world on it's head. Following the success of the Kawasaki Z1, the time was right to back that up with an equally impressive middleweight motorcycle. Ben Inamura, the designer of that superbike, was single-handedly given the task of creating the new motorcycle and in typical style he chose a capacity long since lost.

The real reasons for this switch from the obvious 750cc category may never be known, but several ideas can be thrown around to make sense of it. Back in 1968, Kawasaki had a 750cc motorcycle already nearing production when Honda announced the CB750, thus prompting Kawasaki's return to the workshop and the subsequent Z1's birth. Suzuki had been developing the GS750, albeit a straight take off of the Kawasaki twin overhead camshaft, roller bearing crank, design. These may have been the catalysts that prompted the new Kawasaki to be a smaller engine than the rest but one thing is for certain, by the mid 80's the middleweight class had become the center of attention for all motorcycle manufacturers.

A 650cc motorcycle was, like tis 900cc big brother; different enough to grab attention, stylish and fast. The Kawasaki Z650, launched in 1976, was the first Japanese motorcycle to have a formal press launch, something we take for granted now-a-day.

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