Definitive Motorbikes of the 1980s


The eighties in bike culture was a story of Japanese dominance and technical innovation. European brands suffered greatly from the explosion in popularity of fast, reliable and colourful machines coming out of the far east, which were rooted in high tech engineering.

The cheapness and accessibility of Japanese machines meant a whole new generation in Europe and America was able to get on their bikes – and the proliferation and broadening of choice made biking a much more colourful proposition than it had been in previous decades.

For the first time in the eighties, buying into bike culture wasn’t about just being a generic, leather clad ‘biker’. It was about being the sort of biker you wanted to be.


17 Responses to “Definitive Motorbikes of the 1980s”

  1. Oh dear I had a CZ…great idea, but they did not work great and my engine gave it very quickly and in fact caught on fire in Horsham Carfax.

  2. You’ve forgotten one of the most important 80’s bikes or bike models of them all…..the Yamaha RD…LC series. They were simple, cheap, infinitely tuneable, smelled great (2 stroke), went like stink and EVERYBODY had one…I think they came free in Cornflakes or something??

  3. Don’t forget the 70s and80s were the time of the sports moped, I am a bit old to have been involved but remember millions of the things buzzing about. FS1Es and AP50s mostly.
    I had a BMW K100rs.

  4. Steviedell

    Think the bikes mentioned are totally wrong as most of the cars were, Yamaha RD and LC, sports mopeds? Kawasaki Z’s, come on if you’re gonna do it get it right.

  5. So the ’80s was the decade of Japanese bikes. The title pictures are 2 BMW K series – German. Row 1 has 2 japs and an Italian MotoGuzzi, row 2 2jap and a BMW from Germany, row 3 has one jap, a Vespa and a Jawa from Czech. That seems to me to be 5 Japanese and 6 European, at least there were no Milwaukee tractors. To my mind that makes it a decade of european bikes

  6. The best and at the same time worst bike was the Norton Rotary. I had one as a Police patrol bike. When it was working it was fantastic. The only problem was it didn’t work very often..

  7. Hey K75 Kid; thanks for the observation: I think it’s an undoubted truism that it was in the eighties that the Japanese came to dominate the bike market – but that doesn’t mean they made our particular faves. We make no claim to represent platonic truth here: it’s all about subjective opinion.

  8. I think if you talk to most people who were around at the time the first iconic 80’s bike they’d mention is the RD, fast, simple and tunable (good call GD-Shaw), the superdream was never widely loved but was a bulletproof bike and led so many people to greater things – Kawasaki Z650 usually – the Yamaha DT’s were also iconic – monoshock – ooh errr brill. I bet 90% of the 80’s teenagers had at least 1 of the aforementioned……Mark A

  9. I think the RD250 was a 70s bike I think the Honda’s were market leaders with the 250 & 400 dreams
    machines I had a CB250RS which looked better and was a little faster than a dream some other bikes I remember CB900 RD350LC 550GS 1100GS

  10. Bio_mechanic

    The Japanese 80s bikes were great, it is quite interesting how Japanese manufacturers profitted when the British and european manufacturers collapsed in the 70s and 80s, my grandad remembers giving a tour to a bunch of japanese engineers in the 70s, apparently it was common place and every engineer ive spoke to from the era recognises that they effectively went back to Japan and copied the factories, layout and all, the Japanese had their union strikes in the 50s, so when we had ours in the 80s, they were in a position to capitalise! I must say i love the colours though!

  11. Cbgregory

    You say the Japs dominated the eighties, but I had a jap bike registered in 1965 it was a Honda C95 twin cylinder 150cc 4 stroke, which in those days no-one else was building ( they also made a C92 125 twin ). My bike had been prepared for track racing and had a 125 head fitted to the 150 barrel and 12;1 high compresion pistons, this was at a time when Honda spares were very difficult to get hold of, it was much faster than anything else on the road size for size, the nearest british equivalent at the time was the Triumph Tiger cub, the Honda was far quicker than that. I wonder what today’s insurance companies would have made of it ?

  12. vipertruck99

    what about the laverda 1200,saw one when i was about 8,silver and owner had silver leathers,made a big impression on a madmax obsesssed youngster