Honda GL1500 Gold Wing

When it comes to sheer size, superbikes don’t come any bigger than Honda’s GL1500 Gold Wing. The leviathan of the two-wheeled world is the ultimate in motorcycling comfort, designed solely to transport two people in as much style and luxury as is possible.

The Gold Wing has been around for two decades, during which time it has evolved from a fairly basic naked tourer into an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink machine for the discerning traveler. It began life as a 1000cc flat-four, grew to an 1100cc flat-four, a 1200cc flat-four, and finally into a 1500cc flat-six. Yes, six cylinders power this mighty beast, producing 98 bhp at 5200 rpm and a massive 110ft/ lb of torque at 4000 rpm. Despite weighing in at a hefty 800lbs dry, the ‘Wing is capable of top speed of 130 mph, although it takes its time getting there.

But top speed isn’t what the Gold Wing is about. Smooth, effortless power delivery, luggage carrying capacity, and supreme comfort, are what the Gold Wing is all about. And it is justly famous for achieving its purpose. The barn-door-like fairing is large enough to keep the wind and rain off the rider (although internal vents in the fairing allow you to direct cooling air at yourself when the weather gets hot). The saddle is a masterpiece of the furniture makers’ art, coddling the behinds of rider and pillion, and adding to the almost total absence of vibrations from the engine to give the smoothest ride known to motorcycling.

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Harley-Davidson Dyna Glide

The Dyna Glide features Harley-Davidson’s latest chassis, which Harley themselves proudly claim is the result of computer aided design (CAD). But it’s a far cry from the exotic aluminium beam frames favored by the latest Japanese race replicas. This one’s steel, good ol’ US steel, a direct spiritual descendent of an earlier generation of America iron horses.

But the frame is, in its modest way, a new departure for Harley-D as they progress ever-so-cautiously into the future. First seen on the 1991 Sturgis model, it features a refinement of the system of rubber engine mounting previously fitted to Glide and Low Rider models. And for the first time, it is possible for a normal person to ride a Harley at sustained speed without going numb from the wrists down.

Purist might frown. The essence of any Harley is that pounding V-twin beat. Unlike the anodyne whirr of Japanese multis, you’re supposed to feel it. Dyna Glide’s endeavor to offer the best of both worlds: you can tell there’s 80 cubic inches of Milwaukee muscle down there, all right, but it doesn’t put your circulation in a sling.

To ride, these are the smoothest Hogs yet, by a margin. Even sensitive souls will use power outside the Evolution engine’s hitherto rev-range without worrying that the entire bike’s about to fail to bits. Now you can happily ride at low revs where other Hogs quake and shudder. Or at high revs where your fillings used to be in danger of shaking out. Without laying a hand on the engine, rubber mounting has effectively widened the big Vee’s power band.

Triumph 900 Speed Triple

When Triumph rejoined the motorcycle manufacturing fray in the early 1990s the two wheeled world was impressed. And old and revered name had been applied to a thoroughly modern range of motorcycles and was being sold at prices that allowed Triumphs to compete directly with the Japanese factories.
A few years down the line Triumph have expanded and revised their range, dropping models that didn’t sell well and introducing new ones they hoped would. The speed Triple is one such machine, one which has been received with open arms by the motorcycling fraternity.
Whilst some manufacturers have gone all out at the retro market, aiming traditional looking machines at the born again biker, Triumph have taken a different approach. With speed Triple they have taken an existing Superbike from their range, the Daytona 900, taken off the fairing, and tidied up what is underneath to the point where it is aesthetically pleasing (not an easy thing to do with a modern water cooled motorcycle). The result is one of the leanest, meanest looking bikes around, a café-racer for the ‘90s, not a lash-up of bits and pieces designed to look like something from the mid-1970s.
The engine of the Speed Triple is the same excellent unit that powers a whole variety of Triumphs, from the Trophy 900 to the Daytona 900. it is a water cooled DOHC 12-valce in-line three cylinder that puts out 98 bhp and 60 lb/ft of torque, enough to dispense with one of the usual six gear rations. Not massive numbers for a 900, but sufficient to give Speed Triple a top speed of 140 mph.

Yamaha XJR 1200

When Yamaha decided to enter the retro-bike market with a big, unfaired four-cylinder roadster, the perfect powerplant was already close to hand. The FJ1200 sports-tourer had been hugely popular for years due largely to its superbly tractable air cooled, 16-valve engine. This faith brute of a motor was detuned, its cylinder fin-tips were polished, and it was put on display at the heart of twin-shock musclebike called the XJR1200.
Yamaha lacked the four-stroke tradition of Kawasaki and Honda, whose Zephyr and CB1000 models the XJR, was created to challenge. But the new bike’s lines contained a hint of the 1978-model XS1100 four, and its all-black color scheme echoed that of later XS1100S Midnight Special. Maybe the lack of an illustrious predecessor was an advantage, because the clean, simply styled XJR was an undeniably good-looking machine.
The 1188cc motor was placed in a new round-tube steel frame which, like the square-section FJ frame, incorporated a bolt-on lower rail to allow engine removal. Forks were conventional 43mm units, at the same time as at the back the XJR had a twosome of remote-reservoir shocks from Ohlins, the Swedish suspension professional firm owned by Yamaha. A pair of board 17-inch wheels, the front holding big 320mm front discs with four-piston calipers, completed a purposeful profile.
Japanese riders were the first to discover this first-hand, as the XJR was introduced as a home-market bike in 1994, before being released elsewhere a year later. Most of those who rode it were impressed. Inevitably, the XJR1200 shared the limitations of every big naked bike, in that the exposed riding position soon made using the engine’s top-end performance tiring.