Were the 1980s the Decade of the Motorcycle?

It seems that each year, every bike company is getting ready to unveil their latest products for the new model year.

But does the excitement and anticipation exist to the level it once did? There were some fantastic bikes in the 70’s and we saw the development of the superbike in the 90’s, at least as we know it now- the R1, the Fireblade etc, as well as genres, such as adventure bikes, maturing. The 1980’s, however, were another story altogether. Right at the start of the decade, we saw the XS1100s, GS1000s, CB71000s, and Z1000s. Compare those to the 1989 flagships. We went from a time when 130mph was considered fast to another time where 170mph or faster was on the cards. In only six years, we went from the twin-shock, air-cooled CB1100 to the RC30. That’s some impressive progress! The 80’s weren’t limited to the performance flagships, however, in the debate over which decade was the greatest for the motorcycle. There was indeed a fantastic degree of diversity. The 250cc two-strokes were in their prime, and then there were the NS400R and RG500. We also saw miniature engineering bikes such as the VFR400R NC30 being introduced. And the wonderfully small 250cc four-cylinder machines from Japan were everywhere. Air cooling was omnipresent at the beginning of the 80’s but had virtually disappeared into oblivion by the time the 90’s came around. The four-valve-per-cylinder four-strike engine was the exception but would become the rule.

Weird and (sort of) wonderful

Despite all this, designers managed to find the time, and manufacturers found the parts, to create some weird and wonderful models. Turbocharged bikes, such as the XN85, CX650 Turbo, GPz750 Turbo, and the XJ650 Turbo might not have gone anywhere but they undoubtedly added some colour. Honda did the majority of its work on the NR oval post tech in the 80’s, too.

Okay, so there were some strange models and some costly engineering and R&D mistakes but the 80’s also saw the development of most of the bike genres that we see today. As the beginning of the decade, there were no four-cylinder, 600cc sports boles and there were no ‘adventure’ or dual sport’ bikes.

Still relevant

In fact, there weren’t really many sports-tourers or dedicated tourers, either. By the end of the decade, we had the BNM GS, the CBR600, the VFR750, and six-cylinder Goldwings. We also had numerous mainstream bikes that still hold some relevance today.


To put it another way: there are numerous bikes from the 80’s that many bikers would still love to own and regularly take out for a ride today, even rely on. There may be some from the decade before it that biking enthusiasts would love to own but they probably wouldn’t expect to get on it every day or at least cover some serious distance on. Looking back, it seems the 1980s were very definitely the best decade for the motorcycle. You might think differently but it makes a compelling argument.

About the author