How it all started with 750cc
To the younger generations, the concept of the superbike—with the racy fairings, indecent speeds, and equally indecent insurance costs—seems like a fairly modern one. However, the 90s didn't invent the superbikes; the 70s did. The notion of what makes a bike super has since evolved and the 750 displacements have doubled over the course of the last four decades.
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The aura and character of the original supers, however, have never quite been replicated and to this day, nothing really compares to these models that have made history. John Naish of Classic Bike Magazine teamed up with Brightside Media to produce this short and sharp documentary that reviews some of the most iconic superbikes from the early 1970s. Any vintage bike enthusiast—or any bike aficionado really—should take ten minutes out of their day to watch this!
A look at some of the models highlighted...
The CB750 Four is the original superbike. It was the first time that speed and power had been mainstreamed and made available to amateur riders. Introduced in July 1969, fitted with a transversal overhead camshaft inline four-cylinder block producing at the time 67 hp, the CB pulled the carpet from under Kawasaki's feet who was also working on a similar model. Sales of the CB750 exploded in the US and the initial forecast of 1,500 units sold in a year skyrocketed to 3,000 units rolling out a month.
Two years later, Honda introduced a smaller version of the CB, the 500 Four. For the riders who didn't see the appeal of such a big engine as the 750, the 500 was the perfect alternative.
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After the introduction of the brutal H1 500 and H2 750, Kawasaki upped the ante with the "New York Steak", the code name for what would eventually become the very first Kawasaki Z. The Z1 resurrected the one-liter engine concept and some will debate that it is the real first superbike.
A bit of an anomaly, the Z1 combined modern-day technology with an aged chassis that didn't support the engine's rumbunctious personality too well and many modifications were made to the model, especially for racing. The Z lives on in the modern Kawi lineup. The new Z900 RS and RS Cafe are a nudge at the model's history.
Suzuki GT750 Le Mans
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This water buffalo is as docile as they come. The GT750, marketed at the Le Mans in North America, was Suzuki's answer to the Honda CB750 and Kawasaki H2. Heavy (507 lb dry) and not nearly as agile as its counterparts, the GT750 gained instead a reputation as a stable, predictable, and overall enjoyable tourer. Softer suspension and a low center of gravity made the GT a very decent road companion, compared to its more hot-blooded competitors.
Introduced in 1972, the model didn't live up to the press' expectations, but it didn't take long for the buyers to find value in what it had to offer. Powered by a two-stroke, liquid-cooled, three-cylinder engine that produced a respectable 70 hp, the GT turned out to be the "grown-up" version of the early-day superbike.
Sources: Honda World, Motorcycle Classic