Hooniverse Asks – At What Point Do You Consider Motorcycles to Have Become ‘Modern?’

1965 Honda CB77 Super Hawk — museum piece or viable transport?

Yesterday, Robert posed this question about Cars. For Two Wheel Tuesday, we turn to bikes: At what point in motorcycle history do bikes go from pretty, dangerous pieces of antiquated crudeness to something you’d actually rather blast around on than sit and stare at?

For me, it’s the 1969 Honda CB750. And no, it’s not because of that 4-cylinder motor, even though it was fast and technologically advanced for it’s day. It was also a huge step forward in electrical and mechanical reliability, but that’s not why, either. It’s the disc brake up front.
Sure, there were vintage Grand Prix bikes that had massively strong 4-leading-shoe drum brakes…as long as you had the grip strength of full-grown gorilla. And, yes, early ’70s disc technology — massively thick, rigidly mounted discs squeezed by single-piston calipers — is a fairly weak recipe in comparison to modern 4- and 6-piston stoppers and floating wave rotors. But I’ve never ridden a bike with a well-sorted disc that made my butt pucker when I grabbed the front brake lever the way that any number of drum brakes have. For me, drum-brake-equipped bikes belong in museums; disc-braked bikes are for riding.
Then, of course, there is the aesthetic/appearance side of the equation. Even the oldest disc brakes still appear reasonably modern. Drum front brakes from the ’60s didn’t look much different than drum brakes from the ’40s, and can therefore make a bike look even older than it is.
How about you? Perhaps your comfort zone starts more recently, with rising-rate monoshock suspension, radial tires, spar frames or inverted forks. Perhaps it’s much earlier, with the dawn of rear swingarms and foot shifting. Then again, probably not.
[Images: flickr.com, Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan

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29 responses to “Hooniverse Asks – At What Point Do You Consider Motorcycles to Have Become ‘Modern?’”

  1. Alff Avatar

    I'm not particularly qualified to answer this question, as the only bike I've owned was a dual shocked 360cc two-stroke single with a wet weight somewhere in the vicinity of 470 lbs. From my novice perspective, the modern era of motorcycles began with Honda's introduction of V-Four Sabres, Interceptors and Magnas in the early 80's.

  2. OA5599 Avatar

    I also pick 1969, but from a different approach: Easy Rider.
    <img src="http://brammofan.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/easy-rider-ws.jpg&quot; width=500>
    For societal reasons, not mechanical ones.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      Wait a minute…a '51 panhead with no rear suspension and no front brake is "modern?"

      1. OA5599 Avatar

        Those are mechanical details, irrelevant in my analysis, as stated.
        But suspension and brakes are overrated, and V-twins still are a common powerplant on modern bikes.
        <img src="http://www.worldsstrangest.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-o-matic/wscache23/65f4a_4r5ye54trgergerg.jpg&quot; width=500>

        1. ptschett Avatar

          Part of me wants to snark that the most common form of a V-twin-powered bike built this year is a bike that's trying very hard not to be modern.
          But, this snark is coming from a guy whose bike was in production almost unchanged for 21 years, and was low-tech even when it first came out…
          <img src="http://i34.tinypic.com/6h407o.jpg&quot; width="500"/>

  3. Feds_II Avatar

    Disk brakes are probably the only distinction you can make on motorcycles.
    Seeing as I ride a 400 single with wire wheels, a carb, and a manual choke… that I bought new in 2007, there really isn't widespread adoption of "modern-ness" in motorcycles to this day.
    Outside of the sport bike/sport touring scene, the whole motorcycle movement could be seen as a quest for ludditism.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      I get what you're saying, but I'm not sure I agree totally. If you rode that Super Hawk in the first photo, you'd find that the suspension components are positively stone-aged compared to whatever 2007 model you ride.

      1. Feds_II Avatar

        No arguing that bikes today are vastly superior to bikes from yesterday.
        I ride a DRZ-400SM, aside from the stone age engine, it does have disk brakes (all hydraulically actuated), inverted forks, and an ally frame.
        With bikes, there seem to be two major camps: the aggressively static (Harley, half of triumph, all kinds of metric cruisers, Royal enfield, etc…) wherein old tech and styling prevail, and the sport bikes where savings of ounces and single-hp gains are sought at in a cost-no-object fashion.
        Cars have been forced by safety and emissions standards to modernize homogeneously. Bike makers seem to choose between being cutting edge, or not evolving at all.
        That's actually what appealed to me about the DRZ: reasonably recent tech in the stopping and turning department, and a chintzy motor to keep it affordable. I'd love a fuel injected 500 v-twin, stress-mounted at a weird angle, but then it would be a KTM, and priced accordingly.

        1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
          Peter Tanshanomi

          Or an Aprilia SXV.

  4. IronBallsMcG Avatar

    I also believe the introduction of the '69 CB750 is the start of the new era. Maybe not at that moment, but definitely through 40-plus years of retrospection.
    It was the beginning of the end, temporarily, for the Brits, and the beginning for Japanese dominance. It showed that a motorcycle could have dominating performance and anvil-like reliability.
    It re-defined the industry.

  5. muthalovin Avatar

    If you do not have to work on it weekly, it is modern.

    1. rocketrodeo Avatar

      True enough; you may not HAVE to. But if you do NOT work on it weekly, you are probably not using it to its potential. As someone who has put six figures of mileage on his last couple of bikes, I may be somewhat of a statistical outlier–but I sure hope you're at least checking the tires, brakes, air, oil, and chain weekly. A week's maintenance gap on a daily rider can be fatal.

  6. IronBallsMcG Avatar

    Definitely a game changer.

  7. CptSevere Avatar

    I've always had older bikes, nothing newer than 1974. Every one of them has been something that you can kickstart, see through, and touch the sparkplugs while sitting on it. Not too many modern bikes meet these criteria. Other than dirtbikes, I seriously doubt that, other than the Enfield, you can even find a new bike anymore that has a kickstarter.

  8. Joe Btfsplk Avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    When the first HONDA rolled off the assembly line…..

    1. Feds_II Avatar

      Please expand your reasoning…
      <img src="http://www.indiaon2wheels.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/honda-dream-d-type.jpg&quot; width=500>

    2. Black Steelies Avatar

      Sounds like an old school Harley man.

  9. SSurfer321 Avatar

    In order for a bike to be considered Modern, it must have a large enough seat to fit an average American male and a reverse gear.
    /ducks and runs for cover

    1. Smells_Homeless Avatar

      You say that snarkily, but there have been many times when I truly longed for a reverse gear.
      /VTX 1800R

  10. Black Steelies Avatar

    On board 'puters and fuel injection.
    It is interesting to ride with my friend because he went out and bought a brand new 2007 R6 for his first bike last year [it sat in the dealership for awhile and depreciated]. He took the MSF course at the local Harley place and got his license. This spurred me to get serious about my hunt for a motorcycle. I settled for a 1982 Ascot with a 500cc thumper, though perhaps 'settled' isn't quite right because it's plenty of bike for me and I'm pretty satisfied with it. The contrast between my carbeurated single and his fuel injected I4 is beyond stark. Quadruple the power of mine, sounds like a vaccuum cleaner and clad in shiny bodywork. The Ascot sounds just like my lawnmower at around 3k rpm and you can see every mecahnical bit on it, as well as the oil seeping out from the head!

  11. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    Not just pretty, but definitely a new-gen game changer.

  12. Ju1iet_C Avatar

    Electric starters.

  13. Pinkerton1 Avatar

    I'm not a motorcycle guy, don't own one, but know to ride. Very early motorcycles were literally a pain. The 1928 Moto Guzzi GT500 Norge introduced the rear swing-arm suspension, making motorcycles much more usable.

  14. sam Avatar

    first modern bike was the cb750. first bike with inline 4, front disc, electric start, smooth running reliability and handling.

  15. rocketrodeo Avatar

    I have owned five Honda SOHC 4s, when they were used bikes rather than vintage classics. I've also owned a couple of britbikes. While the CB750Ks were indeed game changers, they have plenty in common with older style bikes: fussy carburetion, spoke wheels with narrow tube tires, and questionable electronics featuring point-style ignitions. With the exception of disc brakes and a couple extra cylinders, they were more similar to than different from the BSA/Norton/Triumph sporty standards that defined the 1960s. Similarly, the Universal Japanese Motorcycle, best represented by the Honda CB750, defined the 1970s.
    I'm going to posit the early 1980s ('82-'84 specifically), when Honda introduced its first generation of V4s, as the time when bikes got "modern." Let's look at the V4 family. Like the SOHC 4s, they introduced a whole lot of high-tech that had not been assembled in one place before, but it's tech that's still recognizable–and reliable–today. Electronic ignition for reliability. Liquid cooling for longevity. Shaft drive for reduced maintenance. Variable rate monoshock rear suspension and antidive forks, both with damping adjustments for comfort AND control. Electronic instrumentation. Excellent brakes. Wheels sized for modern tubeless tires. And modern volumetric efficiency from the 360° V4s. The 500cc V4 made 64hp; the 750 made 82 to 86, and the 1100 made 116-121. More than 25 years later, these are still reasonably quick bikes. While the 1978 Suzuki GS1000S WCR was the first race replica, the 1983 Honda Interceptor was the real thing, a racebike for the street. It predated the GSXR750 by three years. Honda was into their second generation of V4s, these 180° instead of 360°, by the time the lightweight (but still aircooled transverse-4) Gixxers came along. So by the late 80s the race-rep sportbike paradigm was well-established.
    There were huge changes in the bike market between the early and mid-80s. Possibly the biggest change was the demise of the UJM in favor of more specialized machinery; cruisers, sportbikes, and sport tourers took the place of most of the do-everything bikes. Honda put that first-gen V4 in some very different bikes. But the change was complete in the 1980s. if you looked at Honda's streetbike lineup in 1981 and then again in 1988, there was a complete across-the-line model changeover. No sportbikes in 1982; no UJMs in 1988. Nothing at all carried over the decade — including the first-gen V4s.
    Those of us who were buying motorcycles in the late 70s and early 80s also remember the infamous Honda-Yamaha sales war that resulted in incredible model proliferation, massive overproduction, rampant dumping, and the beginning of the tech wars that prompted both tariffs on large-displacement Japanese bikes and proposed legislation to ban superbikes. It was the last time when sales were as bad as they are today; you could buy five-year-old bikes still in their crates for 2/3s off MSRP. By the time sales picked up again, maybe 1987, the specialization paradigm had set in and UJMs were a rarity.
    So, if you owned a 1960s British bike, a 1970s UJM, and a 1980s Japanese specialty bike, you would find much more in common between the 60s and 70s bikes than the 70s and 80s bikes. There's my case for the early 80s being the dawn of motorcycling modernity.
    Paradoxically, the early 1980s was also the beginning of the "modern" era for Harley-Davidson, as employees bought the company from AMF, introduced a series of engines that didn't leak and were significantly more reliable (if no more powerful) than their predecessors, and most importantly debuted a unique brand of marketing that manipulated scarcity and distinctly appealed to a lifestyle rather than a sport — i.e., non-riders. This model continues nearly unchanged to current times and continues to dominate the American road bike market, for better or worse.

  16. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar

    Modern changes time by time, flat twin BMW was modern way back then, I agree on Honda CB750 as new modern at it's time, as also was the CBR 900 RR from 1993
    <img src="http://www.bikez.com/pictures/honda/1992/9116_0_1_2_cbr%20900%20rr_Image%20credits%20-%20Undefeatable.jpg&quot; width="500">

    1. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar

      Correction 1992