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martes, septiembre 19, 2023
HomeCars10 Iconic Motorcycles That Defined The 1980s

10 Iconic Motorcycles That Defined The 1980s

The 80s was a time of motorcycle reinvention. Manufacturers the world over were trying new concepts, entering classes they weren’t previously in, and even creating whole new segments. Kawasaki entered the cruiser segment with the Vulcan, Yamaha built a new power-cruiser called the VMAX and BMW gave a very odd bike that went on to define its own segment almost 10 years after it first launched. Most of these motorcycles have continued to stay in the market. While some of these stayed relatively the same over the years, some are now unrecognizable. Some, like the Suzuki Katana, are even coming back as all-new motorcycles complete with new engines and modern designs.

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There were so many incredible machines that launched over those 10 years that it is almost impossible to list them all without exceeding our word count. So instead, we decided to list down 10 of the most iconic of those motorcycles which, coincidentally, also happen to be 10 of our favorites from the 80s. Now, yes, this is a Japanese-heavy list, but that is because the Japanese bike manufacturers kept pushing out something new almost every year.

Related: 10 80s Motorcycles That Are Still Great To Ride



10 Yamaha VMAX

Black VMAX


Perhaps one of the biggest names from the 80s has to be the Yamaha VMAX 1200. A true power-cruiser in every sense of the term, the V-Max (as it was originally spelled) set the industry standard for performance cruising. The reason for this was the potent 1,197cc liquid-cooled V-four engine that produced a whopping 145 horsepower. With that many ponies strapped to a low-slung rocket, you’d expect handling to go out the window. And, you’d be right. The question was, however, would you rather carve mountains or be the fastest down the quarter mile? With 120 horses at the rear wheel and a 10-second quarter mile, the VMAX would take on any other cruiser that looked at it sideways.

9 Kawasaki Vulcan

2006 Kawasaki Vulcan 750

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A front three-quarter shot of a 2006 Kawasaki Vulcan 750

First introduced in 1984, the Kawasaki Vulcan was then known for two things. It was the first cruiser to come out of the Japanese manufacturer’s stable, and it was also their first V-twin. Now, when it first launched in the United States, the Vulcan featured a 699cc because of the tariff restrictions on motorcycles above 700cc that were imported from Japan. These restrictions were lifted in 1986 and the Vulcan then received the 749cc engine that duty in the rest of the world. Even today, the average Vulcan owner continues to love their ride with very few willing to trade in. Those who do, however, usually talk about the more modern Vulcan 800 or 1000.

Related: 2023 Kawasaki Vulcan 900: Performance, Price, And Photos

8 Yamaha Virago

Yamaha Virago studio shot

Yamaha Virago in black, facing right

The Virago first appeared in 1988 as a smaller, novice-friendly cruiser from Yamaha’s stables. Essentially, the little sibling to the XV750 and XV1100, the Virago was purpose-built and aimed squarely at competing with cruisers already servicing the US motorcycle market. The Virago’s engine may not have been the most exciting, at least at the top-end considering V-twin’s 38 horsepower output, but it certainly was engaging when riding day-to-day thanks to the meaty midrange. Then you had the short seat height which meant shorter riders and women found it to be an especially friendly bike. All of this, along with its gentle handling characteristics made the Virago one of the best first big bikes for many riders.

7 Honda Africa Twin


Vintage motorcycle standing in white room facing right.

Yes, the Africa Twin was more iconic in the 90s, but there is no denying the fact that it was the 1988 XRV650 that paved the way for the Africa Twin as we know it today. This was based on the Dakar-winning NXR750 and if there is anything you need to know from these races, it’s that the bikes are built to take massive amounts of thrashing. Everything from the sculpted fairing to the engine components were purpose-built with one sole idea in mind: Go anywhere, do anything. Of course, a year later, Honda also gave us the XRV750, the second generation to hold the Africa Twin title. The XRV650, today, is extremely difficult to obtain outside the collector’s market making them that much more valuable.

6 Ducati 851

Ducati 851 studio shot

Ducati 851 in red, facing right

The Ducati 851 was perhaps one of the most exciting sportbikes of the year when it launched in 1988 thanks in part to the financial injection provided by the then-new owner, Cagiva. This directly resulted in a new 93 horsepower-producing 853cc V-twin liquid-cooled engine. The 851 was pretty to look at exuding the Italian design that it is known for even today. Yes, the 916 that came almost 5 years later is probably more fondly remembered, but the 851 is the one that paved the way for the Ducatis that we know and love today.

5 Suzuki DR Big

 Suzuki DR750 Blue on White Background
Suzuki Motorcyles

Side view of the Suzuki DR750 finished in blue 

Here, we have the Suzuki DR Big, aptly named due to its gargantuan proportions. The DR Big was the best performer when it came to other ADVs in its class, but a lot of the features that you first saw on this motorcycle, you see even today. Take for example the beak: the DR Big is the first bike to sport one. Then there is the tall seat that comes on every ADV today. And finally, the absolutely massive 30-liter fuel carrying capacity. The DR Big also had one of the largest single-cylinders the world had ever seen – a full 727cc power plant producing 51 horsepower.

Related: Is The Suzuki DR Big Making a Comeback?

4 Kawasaki GPZ900R

1984 Kawasaki GPZ900R Rear
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This auction bike has a set aftermarket exhausts to further amplify your riding experience

Do you like Top Gun? Yea, us too, so we may be biased, but the Kawasaki GPZ900R had quite a few things going for it. For example, when it launched in 1984, the first ever Ninja became the first production bike to break the 150-mph mark topping out at 151 mph. It debuted the world’s first 16-valve inline-four engine. This was also used as a stressed member in the frame which allowed for lower weight and better maneuverability. Within three months of its first unveiling, three GPZ900R bikes were entered into the Isle of Man TT where they won first and second place. And, Tom Cruise rides it! What more do you need to make it ionic?

3 Honda VFR750R RC30

Blue and Red Suzuki VFR750R
Ronald Saunders via Flickr

Race Replica Suzuki VFR750R parked

Another race-derived machine in the 80s was the Honda VFR750R RC30. Soon after its launch in 1987, the VFR750 RC30 went on to win the first two World Superbike Championship titles back-to-back in 1988 and 1989. Now, when we call the RC30 a ‘production’ bike, we use the term fairly lightly and that’s because only 3,000 units were ever produced. Additionally, a lot of the components on the RC30 were high-performance competition parts. For example, it had titanium connecting rods, intake and exhaust valves, fully adjustable Showa suspension, a single-sided swingarm, and a slipper clutch.

2 Suzuki Katana

Silver Suzuki Katana 1100

Side view of the early Katana 1100, demonstrating the unique style it introduced.

If retro is cool today, in the 80s futuristic was the way to go in the motorcycle world. And, no other bike did that better than the Suzuki Katana. Designed by the Target Design team from Germany, the Katana has been an inspiration for many sportbike designs for years to come. According to Suzuki, the Katana was also the fastest mass-production motorcycle thanks to its 1,075cc transverse V4 engine. Today the Katana is back with an all-new engine, but the original sold right up till 2006 and while it is rare in the used market, the 1,000cc race editions are more difficult to find.

1 BMW R80 G/S

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Perhaps the most iconic motorcycle of the 80s has to be the BMW R80 G/S. This bike single-handedly created an all-new segment today revered as the go-anywhere adventure tourer. But when it launched, the R80 basically failed in the eyes of the media. It was big and burly and didn’t quite fit either on the streets or the off them. But the balance was evident. The R80 gave up a little street performance to do well in the dirt and vice versa. The R80 G/S went on to become one of BMW’s best-selling models and continues to do so despite the numerous revisions to everything from the engine to its design.

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