1960s Classic Motorbikes

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide

For all their glamour, not many bikes have made it into the movies! One that swanned serenely across the 'silver screen' was made by Harley-Davidson - Electra Glide in Blue being the title of the film. It was a suitable model for such a starring rôle, since the Electra Glide was an iconic machine which encapsulated the free-wheeling spirit of Harley-Davidson. Arguably, the king of the long-legged tourers, the Electra Glide was American to its apple-pie core - built to go places, however distant. 'It is a big country', as that line from another movie succinctly states.

Stylistically, the Glide is pure Harley-Davidson. Big everything, basically! Big fenders, big tyres, big tank - and 'big attitude', to boot! Love them or loathe them - and there are plenty of both - nothing does 'machismo' like a Harley. If you do not like being looked at, do not even think about getting on one. When you are riding a Harley, you are the star of the show! Some people would pay through the nose for that kind of kudos - and do not Harley's accountants know it? Still, they built up the brand from a shed in Milwaukee, so the bikes must have something going for them.

The Electra Glide's motor is massive! The '65 version was 1,198cc, with a 100.6mm stroke - torque on tap, in other words. A top speed of 95mph was plenty quick, and getting there was even quicker! Mind you, the Glide needed its 'pulling-power' - 770lb was a serious amount to shift. But the Glide is a star, so it is not 'fat', it is 'full-figured'! And those folks who disagree - the'Harley-haters' - if they were offered one on a plate, would they turn it down? That is about as likely as Texas running low on steak and fries - ain't gonna happen, bud! The Harley-Davidson Electra Glide will see to that - do not mess with it!

Harley-Davidson XLCH Sportster

Harley-Davidson XLCH Sportster

Bikes-wise, what is the most memorable model of all? You would be hard-pressed to top the Sportster. It first hit the highways of America in 1957 - and is still 'pumping iron' today. By current standards, it is something of a misnomer, in that it is hardly the 'sportiest' machine out there - but back in the Sixties, it was pretty lithe, and even now could give many a quicker bike a surprise, in the hands of a skilled rider.

It is history which is the lifeblood of the Sportster. In 883cc guise, it has given many an afficionado his or her first taste of the Harley lifestyle. Slight of stature physically - certainly set against some of its over-sized siblings - the model has attracted many an ardent admirer over the years. For Harley fans in their droves, first love was a Sportster. In terms of performance, the class of '62 was very well-behaved...its motor served up 55bhp from only 5,000rpm, thanks to a pair of tall V-twin cylinders. A top speed of 110mph was enough to confound many a Brit biker...and there were plenty of them in the good ol' USA at the time. Prior to the XLCH, British-made machines were the only way to travel...at any sort of speed, at least! The Sportster changed all that at a stroke - a 96.8mm one, to be precise!

Such 'poke' was belied by the bike's petite proportions. Flabby, it was not! It tipped the scales at 485lb - by no means bantamweight, but light enough to cruise through corners with ease. Looks-wise, all is prim and proper. A small, but perfectly-formed tank is the focal point of a design which is free of flummery and flim-flam. No redundancy in the styling department! Everything is there for a reason, in true sporting style. Complementing the gas tank were a diminutive headlamp and low-set 'bars, and the single seat and slender fenders were in keeping with the no-nonsense format. In short, there is more to this motorcycle than meets the eye. An iconic machine if ever there was one, Harley-Davidson's Sportster is the bottom of the range bedrock of a marvellous marque. Long may it continue to be so!

Honda CB 750

Honda CB 750

Since it was the world's very first road-going superbike, Honda's original CB750 was a genuinely historic machine. Its arrival heralded new horizons for motorcycling, and it represents the point at which the modern era really began. Strictly-speaking, the CB 750 entered into the world in 1969, but its prescence suffused the '70s in so many ways, that it cannot but be grouped with bikes of that decade. Though Kawasaki's Z1 is commonly (and rightly) considered a formative superbike, the CB 750 was first out of the blocks - and by a clear four years, at that.

Motorcycling's 'new era' is written all over the CB 750 - most notably, in the engine department. Those four, across-the-frame cylinders make it crystal-clear that there is a new kid in town. The quartet of silencers serve merely to hammer home that message. The rest of the CB 750 is suitably solid. The petrol tank, in particular, is sleek and stylish, while packed with poise and purpose. High handlebars and a well-padded seat are tailor-made for long journeys - and, indeed, the bike was primarily pitched as an all-rounder. A set of elegantly louvred side-panels finish off a nice line in bodywork. Paintwork and chrome compete for attention - with neither quite getting the upper hand. The spoked wheels are a latticed delight - the front one almost eclipsing the technically groundbreaking disc brake.

The CB 750 was a massive success, sales-wise - only to be expected from a bike which topped out at 125mph, and which also handled tolerably well. Bizarrely, subsequent versions of the bike weakened, rather than enhanced the original, but the influence that it had already brought to bear cannot be overstated. Other manufacturers fell over themselves to match it, and in so doing, furthered the cause of motorcycling. The day of the Jap Classic had dawned - though no-one yet knew it. At the time, it was merely clear that motorcycling modernity had hit new heights - Honda's CB 750 had risen to the occasion.

Honda CB 77

Honda CB 77

It may not be apparent that Honda and Harley-Davidson have that much in common - and for the most part, they do not. In one respect at least, though, they are two peas from the same pod...both of these massive multinationals started out in small sheds. But whereas Harley-Davidsons first hit the highway in Milwaukee, USA, the first Honda rolled out of its wooden womb in Hamamatsu, Japan. What happened to Soichiro Honda's company after that is the stuff of motorcycling legend...the ups and downs of the world's biggest bike manufacturer. But perhaps there was a foretaste of what was to come back at the beginning. A small shed it may have been...but it housed the Honda Technical Research Institute! That could be seen as a mission statement - if such a thing existed back in 1946.

So, no lack of confidence, then...but the boss clearly had the vision to back it up. It took three years for Honda to produce a proprietary machine, but after that there was no stopping it. That 98cc bike was dubbed the Dream - which was pretty much what the future held in store. Sales of the Dream and its successors were sound. That set the scene for two bikes which were to throw open the doors of the world to Honda - the CB 72 and CB 77. It was in 1963 that the larger of the two - the 305cc CB 77 - began its quest to change the face of biking. It was well-equipped for the challenge. Locked in combat with the Brit bikes of the time, the CB did not quite clock up the Holy Grail 'ton'...but at 95mph, it came mighty close. And of course, it is not just top speed that matters - it is how you get there as well. The CB's parallel twin motor revved out to 9,000rpm. It weighed in at 350lb dry. Enough said!

There were a few factors which gave the CB77 the edge over similarly-sized British bikes. A 180-degree crankshaft enabled its twin pistons to move up and down alternately. A well-balanced engine for starters, then. Added to that was a tubular steel frame - to which were attached telescopic forks, twin rear shocks, and a set of sure-stopping drum brakes. Suffice it to say that the CB 77 handled well. On top of all that, the bike was oil-tight and reliable. No wonder it was christened the Super Hawk in the States! Styling-wise, while it was no beauty, the CB had a respectably solid look to it. So, as an early '60s all-round package, you would have had to scout about somewhat to top the CB 77...but since you meet the nicest people on a Honda, why would you have gone to all that trouble?

Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki H1

The Kawasaki brand is so deeply embedded in motorcycle culture that you would be forgiven for thinking it had been there forever. In fact, it is a relative newcomer. It did not build its first bike until 1960 - a 125cc two-stroke. Saying that, Kawasaki Heavy Industries had been involved with pretty much every other mode of transport. Once its bike division finally kicked into gear, though, there was no stopping it. From the get-go, Kawasaki was synonymous with high-performamce, devil-may-care motorbikes. An early exemplar was the H1. Technically, it hit the streets at the tail-end of the Sixties. But it is one of those machines which will make lovers of Seventies superbikes come over all misty-eyed...for it was in the course of that decade that the H1 was ridden hell for leather on the highways and byways of the world. The bike's handling was a bit imprecise - but that probably only added to its appeal!

The H1 came kitted out for fun and games. Capacity was a modest 499cc - but that was where its middleweight status stopped. An output of 60bhp does not sound like much - and by the standards of today, it is not. But the stroker H1 screamed all the way to 120mph - and in a way that those brought up on Brit bikes could barely believe. The sound it made in so doing was better than Beethoven...well, Bill Haley and the Comets, anyway! The H1's meagre weight of 383lb was key to its blistering acceleration. Forward thrust peaked at 7,500rpm - with a noticeable surge in the latter stages. It was at around about this time that the word power-band first began to enter the biker's vocabulary.

The H1's three-pot powerplant is probably not the prettiest engine ever devised. But the distinctive slats of its cooling fins are definitely different...and a long way from the solidly-shaped metal of those afore-mentioned Brit bikes. Ironically, Kawasaki's first forays into motorycle manufacturing had been heavily influenced by BSA. Now the Japanese giant was forging its own style. The H1 was like many other machines of its era - not necessarily masterpieces of design, but possessing a bluff, rough-and-ready charm which defined a decade. The H1 passes muster among the big bruiser bikes built in the '70s. Naked aggression made up for its diminutive dimensions. A bike icon, Kawasakis's H1 stirred body and soul in equal measure.

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