Unforgettable international motorcycles of the 1970s

1970s – the decade often synonymous with bell bottoms and floral prints – was a bit more than that. The car culture was as strong as ever – presence of cars like Citroen SM, Lancia Stratos, De Tomaso Pantera, Lamborghini Countach and BMW M1 explain that. And then there was John Travolta’s very popular film ‘Saturday Night Fever’, which not just won hearts of dance lovers, the soundtrack by Bee Gees ensured it has, er, stayed alive, even after three decades! And the same can be said about the bikes of that era, some of which continue to rock, both as vintage collectibles and unique customs.

As archives mention, there was a shift from naked bikes to ones with full-fledged aerodynamics by the end of the seventies, which didn’t realise until the 80s. If you look at the bikes from the 70s, especially the Honda CB750, the Kawasaki Zeds, the BMW R90S, the Yamaha RD350, and even the Suzuki GS750 – there’s a distinct pattern being followed: clean design, upright riding posture, and big engines filling up the space in the chassis perfectly. The fuel tanks were thin, the handlebars set not too far from the rider, and while the race bikes stood out in terms of technology and beauty, there were also new entrants that were first for the respective bikemakers – like Harley Davidson Low Rider and Honda Goldwing (which we shall cover in part II).

Let’s quickly take a look at some of these machines:

1. Honda CB750

Honda CB750

Inarguably the most popular bike of the time, the Honda CB750 continues to stay relevant. The bike, launched in late 1960s, came powered by an inline four 736cc engine which made 68hp and about 60Nm of torque. Have a look at any website that features tasteful custom modified bikes (Bike EXIF etc.), and you’ll find the CB750 on the top of the list. A disc brake up front, a five-speed gearbox, and the ability to cruise for miles without proving to be a pain in the derriere (literally) or breaking down, set it apart from others.

2. Yamaha RD350

Yamaha RD350 (Motorcyclistonline)

(Image courtesy Motor Cyclist)

This one’s got an Indian connection as well. Yamaha, with the help of its then partner Escorts, brought the bike to India, hence opening the world of superbikes to the Indian rider. The RD offered a great combination of power (originally rated at a little above 40hp) and stability. The two-stroke bike came with a disc brake, which further strenthened its appeal. The Indian version however came detuned, and without the disc, its braking left riders wanting for more. Finding a well kept example might not be a huge challenge today, but pursuing the owner to sell his/hers would be.

3. Ducati Scrambler

Ducati Scrambler

Recently re-introduced (in a modern avatar), the Ducati Scrambler offered inexpensive motoring thrills even in the 70s. It was made for the American market, and was offered until the year 1974. And while the new one gets a 796cc L-twin, it featured engines up to 450cc back in the day. Easy riding position, high set handlebars, and spoke wheels – what could be better than that! In fact, the bike managed to gel well with the 1970s fashion, which is an achievement in itself.

4. Triumph Bonneville

Triumph Bonneville T120

(Image courtesy Joe Dick via the Bike Shed)

If we talk of classic bikes, how can the Triumph Bonneville be left out? The British bike is said to be available in two styles mainly – the regular version and the Scrambler. Powered by a 649cc twin-cylinder engine, the Bonneville produced a little below 50hp and came with a 4-speed gearbox. Its styling hasn’t changed since then, which is still a unique selling point of the bike, but the lack of features (like disc brake) is said to have hurt the desirability of the bike back in the seventies. The larger engined Triumph Trident T160 from the same period looked sportier and came better equipped, too.

5. Kawasaki Z


(Image courtesy Silodrome)

Kawasaki made three changes to the Z line up in the seventies. First was the 903cc Z1, followed by the Z900 and then the Z1000. The inline-four made 82hp (highest in class), and helped it rocket to a top speed of 120mph – which was essentially one thing that stood out for the bike. A 12.5-second quarter mile did competitors no favour either. In the end, there’s no replacement to displacement and all that…