Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki H1 1960s Japanese classic motorcycle

Kawasaki built its first bike – a 125cc two-stroke – in 1960. From the outset, Kawasaki was synonymous with high-performance sports bikes. Bikes like the H1, for instance. Technically, it was released at the tail-end of the Sixties. But, it is one of those machines which make lovers of Seventies superbikes come over all misty-eyed. That was the decade in which the H1 was most often seen – being ridden hell for leather – along the highways and byways of Britain. And, indeed, other locales – usually in the same high-spirited fashion. It was what two-strokes were made for, basically. And, if the H1’s handling was a tad imprecise – at least as compared with bikes of today – hey, it only added to the fun!

The H1’s 500cc three-cylinder engine output 60bhp. The ‘stroker’ motor screamed all the way to a top speed of 120mph. It did so in a way that induced mile-wide eyes – and smiles – in those brought up on a strict ‘Brit bike’ diet. Heck, the sound alone was worth the asking price! The H1’s slimmed-down weight of 383lb only added to its searing acceleration. Revs peaked at 7,500rpm – with a noticeable surge as they hit the power band.

Kawasaki’s first forays into motorcycle manufacture had been influenced by BSA. By the time of the H1, though, the Japanese giant had forged its own style. Middleweight though it was, the H1 passed muster among the big Seventies ‘muscle bikes’. Naked aggression more than made up for its diminutive dimensions. The Kawasaki H1 hurled bodies and souls into two-stroke hyperdrive. Some ’70s bikers never fully recovered!

Suzuki T20 Super Six

For Suzuki, bikes like the T20 Super Six were a long time in the making. Originally, silk was the route to success for the Japanese company. Specifically, silk looms. In 1909, Michio Suzuki founded a firm to produce said items. It was not until ’54 that Suzuki became … well, Suzuki! For, it was in that year that it built its first bike – the 90cc Colleda. It was taken – hot off the production line – to the Mount Fuji hill-climb, where it saw off all-comers. The motorcycle world would never be the same again.

Fast forward to ’66. It was a great year for two reasons. England, of course, won the World Cup … oh, and Suzuki served up the Super Six. Suzuki went global with the the T20. It was named Super Six after its 6-speed gearbox. But, innovative engineering did not stop there. Its 2-stroke engine featured the Posi-Force lubrication system. And – holding the engine securely in situ – was Suzuki’s first twin-cradle frame. That – combined with a dry weight of just 304lb – meant the T20 handled with aplomb. The parallel-twin motor made 29bhp. Top speed was 95mph. Suffice to say, the Super Six sold by the shedload!

The T20 was a good-looking bike. Lustrous paintwork – plus gleaming chrome – made for a notably fetching finish. Festooned around it were neat design touches. The front-end, especially, was drafted with panache. What with an intricately-spoked wheel, finely-crafted forks and elegantly raised ‘bars, the T20 did not stint on detail. So, a landmark machine, from one of the all-time greats. Suzuki’s T20 Super Six mixed speed and style – to most impressive effect!

BMW R60/2

The ’60’ in R60/2 referenced the bike’s 600cc engine capacity. BMW released it in 1960. It proved to be a popular addition to BMW’s roster of rugged, reliable machines. The R60/2 was no athlete. Well, in fact, it was – but its athleticism was of the long-distance kind. Heavy steering – and soft suspension – rendered the R60/2 far from flickable. Point it at some far-flung destination, however – and you would be there soon enough. Stability-wise, having a side-car attached helped. The R60/2 adapted well to three wheels. That was good – because, for many families, at the time, the motorcycle was often the sole form of transport.

The R60/2’s stamina was provided by a ‘boxer’ flat-twin. Though far from the most finely-tuned engine ever built, it was, nonetheless, strong and relatively smooth. That was seen to by its simple, reciprocal layout – the two pistons ‘punching’ steadily in and out. The power that produced was well-documented. In the ’30s, Ernst Henne had set speed records on streamlined, supercharged BMWs. Schorsch Meier was the first foreign rider to win an Isle of Man TT. That was the ’39 Senior – aboard a half-litre boxer BMW. And – in ’56 – Walter Zeller was runner-up in the 500cc world championship. BMW’s forte, though, was side-car racing. Between ’54 and ’74, they notched up 19 out of 21 world championships, in the category.

Top whack for the roadster R60/2 was 87mph. That, from a mere 26bhp. Weight, though, had been pared down to just 430lb. So, the shaft drive set-up was still able to deliver a reasonable return of speed. Leading-link Earles forks oozed comfort. And, the R60/2 was pleasantly enough styled – in a ‘solid’ sort of a way. If you craved a machine, then, to set your pulse racing, the R60/2 probably would not have been it. If, though, travelling the world without missing a beat was what was needed … well, BMW had built the bike for you!

Honda CB750

There is a case to be made for considering the Honda CB750 to be the point at which motorcycling’s modern age began. Technically, it was released in ’69 – but its presence so suffused the Seventies that it cannot but be grouped with bikes of that decade. Kawasaki’s Z1 is often thought of as the first Japanese ‘superbike’. Timeline-wise, though, it was the CB750 that was first out of the traps – and by a full four years, at that.

The CB750’s four across-the-frame cylinders were a clear signal there was a new kid on biking’s block. The shiny quartet of chrome exhausts reinforced the message. The CB750 was a muscular-looking motorcycle. But, it was stylish muscularity. The rounded tank was sleek and shapely. The multi-spoked wheels were a latticed delight. Paintwork and chrome vied for attention. At the time, the CB’s front disc brake was technologically advanced. Highish handlebars – and a well-padded seat – were tailor-made for long journeys. So, it made sense for the 750 to be pitched as the perfect all-rounder.

Unsurprisingly, the CB was a big success in the showrooms. That was only to be expected from a bike which topped out at 125mph – and also handled well. Honda’s rivals duly fell over themselves to try to match it. Over time, then, the CB750 furthered motorcycling’s cause. By setting a benchmark, it forced manufacturers worldwide to follow suit. In the form of the Honda CB750, the day of the modern Jap classic had dawned!

Norton Commando Fastback 750

Unlike some of its ‘Brit bike’ brethren, the Norton Commando Fastback 750 was a smooth and comfortable ride. Well, by 1960s standards, anyway. That was due, in no small part, to Norton’s proprietary engine-mounting set-up. Made up mostly of rubber, it was dubbed ‘isolastic’. The Commando’s motor was a parallel twin – not a layout synonymous with seamless power delivery. The isolastic system, though, duly dialled out the worst excesses of the inherent engine vibrations.

Norton had long prided itself on its bikes’ handling prowess. The Commando turned out to be no exception. In ’73, the bike was taken to the toughest road test of all – the Isle of Man TT race. Norton’s road-holding claims were upheld. Peter Williams – the Commando’s rider – took the Formula 750 trophy.

The road-going Fastback’s performance was almost as impressive. Its 745cc motor put out 58bhp. And with the Commando weighing in at just 418lb, that meant a top speed of 117mph. With so much all-rounder status in its pocket, the Commando was bound to sell well. Sadly, though, not well enough to save Norton from its date with financial destiny. For its uncommon blend of style and substance, however, the Commando Fastback 750 will be forever revered by classic bike enthusiasts!

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