My FRIEND’S QUERY CAUGHT ME OFF guard. After a spirited drive in her Mazda RX-7 with me at the steering wheel, she asked if I had ever considered writing for a car magazine. I'd never thought about it before. It's not that I don't like cars. Along with the 17 motorcycles I’ve owned over the years have come some memorable automobiles.
SO WE'RE STANDING THERE, LATE Braker Williams and I, talking to the young sales manager of Rick’s Cycle Center in Bound Brook, New Jersey, and suddenly Williams gives us the answer to the question everybody in the motorcycle biz is asking: Why aren’t the kids buying motorcycles?
A LONG TIME AGO IN A FARAWAY land called Iowa, I pulled into the driveway of a farmhouse flanked by cornfields to visit my old friend Jim Wargula. The surrounding landscape was what songwriter Greg Brown would call “flat stuff,” section roads dividing farmland with the geometric regularity of a Purina checkerboard.
In his August editorial, “Too tough to tame,” about the current state of affairs in grand prix racing, was David Edwards speaking to Kenny Roberts, GP team boss or Kenny Roberts, linoleum salesman? In every Roberts interview I’ve previously read, Roberts has made it clear that he is against grand prix meddling of any kind.
BELL SPORTS, THE AMERICAN company that for years was the undisputed world leader in motorsports helmets, soon will cease U.S. production of most of its motorcycle helmets and use the resulting production capacity to build bicycle helmets.
Italian Update: News From Cagiva, Aprilia and Ferrari
Italy discovers standards: It’s been some time since the Italians copied Japanese styling trends, but two of Italy’s leading manufacturers recently introduced new, unfaired 125cc street bikes as a direct result of the unexpected sales success of the standard-style Honda NSR125.
FILLING A WINNER'S SHOES IS no easy task, just ask KTM. The Austrian firm's new 300 E/XC was designed to be a direct replacement for that company's popular, but aging, 350 E/XC enduro mount. The 350 has been an immensely successful machine, but no one's going to miss it in the least after riding the 300.
TRYING TO DETERMINE THE identity of the first true Japanese superbike has the potential of leading into lots of arguments, and one of those arguments might be that the first machine to truly deserve that title was Suzuki's incredible X-6 Hustler, a road test of which was featured in Cycle World's October, 1965 issue.
FOR SO MANY OF US, THE POINT of touring has less to do with giant mileage totals than it does with finding spectacular scenery. And for spectacular scenery, it's hard to beat the Canyon-lands area of Utah. There're lots of incredible vistas spread over thousands of square miles, but for a sheer concentrated quality, head for a town called Moab.
UP: To TV’s “Hard Copy,” for showing both sides of a thorny issue. The nationally syndicated news-magazine show tends towards the sensational, so when a recent show contained a report on off-road use of the California desert, we expected the worst.
TAKE A LOOK AT THE ZX-6. GO FOR A RIDE ON IT. YOU JUST MIGHT COME away thinking that Kawasaki knows a thing or two about making mid-sized motorcycles that nobody else has figured out. With its sleek, stylish fairing, the ZX is certainly handsome enough to make it as a showroom star. And in some classes, that might be enough; but not when you’re talking 600s. So Kawasaki’s engineers created an overachiever of a powerplant that sets new performance standards for the class, and got together a chassis and suspension that was nearly as performance-oriented, yet capable of maintaining a high degree of comfort. In short, Kawasaki has raised the ante in the 600 sportbike class. It has come up with a bike that is, by a wide margin, the Best 600cc Streetbike of the year.
EVERY SO OFTEN THERE COMES along a motorcycle that causes us to rethink and readjust our riding preferences. Honda's ST1100 is just such a machine. Certainly there are motorcycles of similar intent that predate the ST. But none of them is as refined as the Honda, and none of them offers its complete mix of comfort, handling and mile-eating performance. Additionally, no other Open-class bike this year has broken such interesting ground. In its own unorthodox way, the ST1100 puts an unexpected accent on performance-touring, an accent with a European lilt. Think of the bike as a blend of dedicated sportbike and full-boat touring rig. The ST1100 can be both or it can be neither; it's your call. And for being capable of that, we'll call it the Best Open-Class Streetbike.
IN SIMPLEST TERMS, A SUPERBIKE IS a motorcycle that renders you unable to utter anything after riding it but, “Wow!” Kawasaki’s ZX-11 doesn’t leave many doubts about its superbike qualifications. Ride it, you’ll definitely say, “Wow!” Then you’ll ask, “When can I ride it again?” The ZX-11’s engine helps uphold Kawasaki’s reputation as King of Horsepower Hill by pushing the bike to 176 miles per hour, the fastest top speed ever measured by Cycle World for a production machine. But there’s more to the ZX than brute force, for mated to that engine is a chassis that delivers the sure, surgically precise handling required to make this bike one of the most exciting and satisfying rides ever to come our way. Superbike of the year? The ZX-11 might just turn out to be the Superbike of the decade.
CHILDREN, CAN YOU SAY, “CONSISTENT?” KAWASAKI CAN, FOR THAT’S THE word that defines the performance of the EX500, Big Green’s tidy little twin-cylindered sportbike, which cops the honor as Best Under-500cc streetbike for the fourth straight year. The EX500 was a terrific bike when it was introduced in 1987, and it still is. With its rev-happy, Ninja-based engine, slick good looks, genial riding position and nimble chassis, the EX just hasn’t required much in the way of updating over the past four model years. It is able to provide vigorous performance without being intimidating, and provides it at a very reasonable price. Don’t think of this bike as “just a 500” or “only a Twin.” Think of it as one of the 10 best motorcycles of this year—and the past four years.
IT MIGHT JUST BE THE SHADE OF THE BIKE’S LUSCIOUS RED PAINT. IT MIGHT be the high-tech look of its single-sided swingarm. Or perhaps it’s just that engine. Actually, it’s all those things, and more, that point us towards the Honda VFR750 as the year’s best 750cc sportbike. The VFR isn’t the fastest in its displacement category, and it won’t set the quickest lap times around the nearest racecourse. What it will do, with its balance, poise and deftness, is give its rider the best all-around motorcycle in the business. Yes, it’s more expensive than most of its competition, but it’s half the cost of an RC30 while carrying many of that bike’s most important and desirable attributes. A pretty good deal; in the 750cc class, in fact, the best of the year.
GL1500 Gold Wing
IF YOU’RE IN THE MOOD FOR A TWO-WHEELED MAGIC CARPET, LOOK NO FARther than the Gold Wing, a motorcycle with predecessors that reinvented touring. Sure, there have always been touring bikes, but until the first Gold Wing Interstate rolled into the world of long-distance riding, many of them forced their riders and passengers to make compromises. Not the Gold Wing, and most especially, not the Wing in its current form. With its velvet-smooth six-cylinder engine, plush suspension and seats, terrific weather protection and massive luggage capacity, all the Gold Wing requires of its riders is the desire to go somewhere. Once you’ve toured on a bike like this, you’re spoiled, and that’s why, for the seventh straight year, the Gold Wing gets the nod as Best Touring Bike.
FOR AN ALL-AROUND FUN RIDE, IT'S TOUGH TO BEAT A STANDARD MOTORcycle, and when the subject is standards, it's tough-no, make that impossible-to beat the 1990 Harley-Davidson FXRS-SP. A Harley as a standard? Trust us an this: We rode the big Harley in company with nine other standards, and we're sure. The FXRS-SP is the pick of the litter, even in the face of such stirring competition as Suzuki's new VX800, Honda's Hawk GT. BMW's K75 and Kawasaki's new Zephyr 550. Unadorned by some of the more radical styling affectations seen on other Harley-Davidsons, the FXRS-SP uses its simplicity to go about the business of delivering a thumping good time every time it is ridden. And if in the bargain it’s got that familiar ca-chunking exhaust cadence and a solid-as-a-Sequoia feel, well, that’s just icing on the cake.
TAKE AN EXTREMELY LIGHT, rigid frame, add high-quality suspension at both ends, then mix in an engine that provides power delivery over a rev range as wide as Nebraska, and what you’ve got is the KTM 300E/XC. Based on the company’s all-new-for’90 250 MXer, the E/XC is a sure bet to give the Open-class bikes a run for their money anywhere it’s entered, but most especially on the tight trails of the eastern U.S. Its super-smooth engine allows the bike to be ridden at low speeds like a trials bike; but whack the throttle open, and the E/ XC leaps for daylight just like a proper motocross mount. With its crisp steering, fine balance and narrow chassis, the 300E/XC is going to be hard to beat. And in the race for Best Enduro Bike title, it couldn’t be.
IN CHOOSING THE SUZUKI DR650S for inclusion in Ten Best list, the Cycle World staff makes clear its preference in dual-purpose bikes, rejecting, at least for the purpose of these awards, thinly disguised streetbikes clad with almost-knob-bies, as well as underpowered dirtbikes that are simply street-legal. What we want is the best of both worlds. Yes, we might be inviting compromise, but that’s what dualpurpose bikes are about in the first place. At least the Suzuki DR650S makes its compromises with a certain rugged elan, and if it isn’t particularly at home on tight, narrow trails, it is an absolute blast on fire roads, while providing a large helping of street usability. Dual-purpose bikes do come in other flavors, but the big Suzuki is the one that makes our mouths water.
WHEN IT COMES TO MOTOCROSS, EVERY RACE IS A WAR, AND FOR THIS year, the best weapon the 250-class racer can have in his arsenal is the Honda CR. First, there's that engine. Honda's engineers have endowed it with smoothness and flexibility, and with nearly as much horsepower as Open-class bikes made just a few years ago. They've given it a solid chassis that offers a good balance between corner-to-corner quickness and straight-line stability; a positive-and light-shifting transmission; and controls that just feel right. So, is that enough to give this bike the title of Best Motocrosser, Any Displacement? We’re convinced it is. Until someone figures out how to make Open bikes this agile or 125s this powerful, the CR250R is still motocross’s top gun.
Because as orderly thinkers we prefer nice, round numbers, we work with 10 categories, and these may or may not be modified from year to year, as the need arises. This year, for instance, there is no Cruiser category, as the interest in these bikes seems rather less intense than it is for other styles of motorcycles.
WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE CAN'T HURT you, right? Well, if you believe that, you shouldn’t apply for a job at a nuclear powerplant. You probably shouldn’t ride dirtbikes, either. There are, you see, lots of invisible forces that have negative effects on the way dirtbikes handle.
BEHOLD, THE F1, A MOTORCYCLE WHICH SIGNALS THE return of Norton to the high-performance arena. Out of business in 1975, the legendary British motorcycle manufacturer is in the midst of a revival that once seemed about as likely as the reemergence of England as a colonial power.
OH, YOU THOUGHT THE NAME NORTON WAS A synonym for motorcycle? Sorry, old boy, it just isn’t so. Though bikes like the Commander and now the F1 are bringing the company back into motorcycling’s spotlight, Norton’s core business these days is the production of rotary engines to power military target drones.
A crack team of performance commandos infiltrates the 250 MX class
WE'LL ADMIT IT. WE'RE greedy. There's an inescapable principle governing interactions between human beings and motorcycles. The more we get, the more we want. So the better a motorcycle is, the better it has to be. You want examples? Take a look at the motocross world.
SOMEWHERE IN THE OXYMORON HALL OF FAME, BEhind the wing devoted to "Military Intelligence," next to "Low-Pressure Salesmen," "Political Reasoning" and "British Reliability," there's bound to be a section devoted to "New Harleys."
LOYALTY BREEDS SUCCESS. AT LEAST THAT'S true when you consider the increasing good fortune of Harley-Davidson. With approximately 51.4 percent of the 650cc-and-up market in the U.S., Harley hangs a lot of its success on remaining loyal to its customers.
Honda was in the driver's seat in 1990. The entire CR line worked, and everyone knew it. But that didn't stop everyone from complaining, anyway. The suspension was the weak point on all three full-size models. So Honda made an unusual move by switching from Showa rear shocks to new Kayaba units-unusual, because the forks still are made by Showa, although they’ve been redesigned. The only significant engine change is the use of later-model Keihin carburetors. Little else is different on the 250, but the CR125 and 500 both get the larger airbox that was new on the 250 in 1990. Honda probably has the least changed MX lineup to come out of Japan. But that's really not very surprising. Frankly, the CRs didn’t need much.
This year, Kawasaki hogged the spot-light with the perimeter frames that came on the KX250 and 125. For next year, the KXs are laying low, waiting to see if anyone else will follow. So far, no one has; not even Kawasaki: The KX500 still has a conventional frame. But all three full-size KXs did get larger-diameter Kayaba forks, stronger front brakes and lighter wheels. Additionally, the 125 and 250 got stronger swingarms, lighter subframes and digital ignitions. Both models are claimed to have broader powerbands. The 125 got a revised rear-suspension rising-rate ratio and the 250 got a new exhaust. None of this is earth-shattering news. But the way Kawasaki looks at it, the company did enough earth shattering in 1990 to last for a while.
Not to be accused of copy-cat designing, Suzuki went from a Kayaba rear shock to a Showa, while Honda did the exact opposite. Up front, Suzuki also made the switch, so both the RM125 and RM250 have Showa suspension all the way around for 1991. Both models have a number of changes in the engine departments, as well. Suzuki’s exhaust-control devices have been altered, each bike’s dual radiators now are connected in parallel, rather than in series, pistons are lighter and the shifting mechanisms are changed. And on the 250, the reed valve now is a four-petal design, rather than a six-petal type. Odds and ends that are different on both bikes include new brake rotors and new swingarms. And, as for the past five years, the Open-classer isn’t changed—there isn’t one.
For the first time in years, Yamaha had a good season in professional motocross. Factory hotshoe Damon Bradshaw has won a lot of races in 1990, and Yamaha claims to have learned a lot during the season, using that knowledge to make the new YZs better. The 250 gets a longer stroke and a smaller bore for 1991, as well as a reshaped combustion chamber and a new exhaust system. Likewise, the power-producing parts of the 125 have been revamped, with new porting and a different powervalve system. Both models get a new shifter mechanism and new suspension. As for the 490? Well, it finally ran out of rope. It had remained in the line, unchanged, for years. But for 1991, no new 490s will be imported, although big-bore fans should be able to find leftovers easily enough.
WHAT A DECADE. THE LAST 10 years have added one outrageous chapter after another to the Great Book of Motocross History. It was the decade of liquid-cooling, disc brakes, progressive-rate suspension, exhaust-control devices, upside-down forks and on and on.
ONE OF OUR FAVORITE ALL-around motorcycles? Gotta be the Yamaha FJ1200, that venerable Open-class sport-bike that's as at home scratching over backroads as it is hauling you, your mate and a set of soft luggage on a sport-tour to a favorite getaway spot.
OOPS. I'VE REWARDED OUR FJI200 project bike for its mellow personality, stirring performance and generally friendly manner by dropping it, hard, in a freeway crash. A driver in front of me, in an adjacent lane, nails her brakes, cranks her steering wheel and slides, all four tires smoking, in front of me.
WHAT DO YOU DO AFTER you crash your customized, $25,000 Suzuki GSX-R1100? Most people would check into a depression clinic, but not Bob Buchsbaum. As disappointed as he was that the bike he had spent a small fortune on had been reduced to a glistening pile of scrap, Buchsbaum managed to shrug it off.
Does the three-time world champion still have what it takes to be a winner?
Clipboard Doug Chandler takes control
Rumors of a new race series for 1991
CAMRON E. BUSSARD
FREDDIE SPENCER SAT ON THE bed in the rear of his motor-home. The 28-year-old rider was disappointed, frustrated, obviously upset as he searched for the words to describe how he felt after mechanical failure dropped him out the Miami Superbike race, his first ride since aborting the 1989 GP season after 11 races.
I am currently restoring a 1975 Honda CB400 Super Sport, but when it comes to the choice of tires, I am at a loss. I’d like to install a set of modern tires, but would today’s tires cause problems with yesterday’s frame and suspension technology?