Yamaha FZR1000

Any motorcycle capable of lapping the Isle of Man TT course at over 117 mph has got to be special. When the machine in question is a standard roadster, complete with lights, generator and pillion seat, and has since benefited from a further five years of development, it is clearly very special indeed. This is just part of the pedigree of Yamaha’s stunning FZR 1000.

The big four began life in 1987, immediately capturing the imagination of the motorcycling public and becoming a best seller. In 1989 it received an extra dose of desirability with the arrival of the EXUP version, and then reveled in a further revamp for ‘94’. Throughout it has enjoyed substantially the same ‘Genesis’ engine technology: a liquid cooled four with dual overhead camshafts and no fewer than five (three inlet, two exhaust) valves per cylinder.

Long gone are the days when the Japan built superb engines which utterly outclassed their chassis. Tying the FZR together is huge aluminium ‘Deltabox’ frame, stiff as a bridge but infinitely lighter. A huge aluminium swing arm is similarly rigid. The latest versions of the FZR were ultra stiff Ohlins ‘upside-down’ front forks, and a high specifications rear monoshock. Both are adjustable for spring pre load and damping to suit different riding styles and conditions.

Suzuki GSX-R1100

When it comes to ultimate super bikes, they don’t come much more ultimate than this, Suzuki’s GSX-R1100 is one of the biggest, most powerful, and awe inspiring superbikes ever built. Unveiled back in 1986 to enormous acclaim, the GSX-R1100 (like its pioneering smaller siblings, the (GSX-R750) has undergone many changes over the ensuring years.

At its launch the big GSX-R was light, very powerful and wickedly fast. And over the years the Suzuki, pressured by competition primarily from Yamaha’s FZR 1000, piled no more and more power. But the trade off was more and more weight gained, and by the early 1990s the GSX-R1100 had become a muscle bound monster. Putting out 145 bhp in stock (but unrestricted) trim the GSX-R scaled over 500 lbs fueled up. That’s a lot of bike producing a lot of power.

But now the GSX-R1100 has undergone another transformation and although it is still big heavy and fast, it is no longer the bad mannered behemoth it once was. Gone is the wayward handling and peculiar steering, replaced by an altogether more docile beast. What happened was the Suzuki was that Suzuki radically uprated the GSX-R1100’s motor, turning it from an oil-cooled to a water cooled affair.

They did the same thing to the GSX-R750 in 1992 and the result was a biker that was better than ever, but not by much. The main cause for adopting water cooling is that it’s more competent, but because it’s quieter an important consideration in these days of increasingly stringent noise regulations.

Yamaha V-Max 1200

By the mid eighties, motorcycle design had come a long way. From the early, over-powered and ill handling Japanese superbikes, had evolved machines which took their cues from the racetrack and had tyers, suspension and steering to match. Suzuki’s GSX-R750 and Yamaha’s FZ750 typified the new breed. But there will always be those who are less concerned with all around performance than with sheer, brute power and thrill of violent standing start acceleration. The Yamaha V-Max was designed just for them.

When it was first introduced in 1985, the V-Max caused a sensation, as much for its styling as its potential performance. The high speed barred, low slung look was based on the American cruiser style bikes made for showing off an illegal sprints on impromptu drag strips on public roads. Real drag bikes had already evolved into long wheelbased, front heavy machines designed specifically for speed. Cruiser style puts the emphasis on looking fast, lots of noise and ability to leave long strips of burnt rubber off the start line are more important than actual times.

The V-Max is completely dominated by its engine. At the time its V-four layout was a high tech departure from the in line fours that powered most Japanese motorcycles. It featured a novel carburetor arrangement which meant each cylinder was fed by two carburetors, and then a gate moved to allow those same two carburetors to fill a different cylinder, thus eliminating the ‘dead’ time that usually occurs during a bike’s combustion cycle. And once on the move, the slightly lumpy power delivery, and the sheer amount of power it delivers – distract attention from the bike’s handling.

Yamaha GTS 1000

When it comes to bringing technological innovation to mass produced motorcycles, Yamaha leads the way with its revolutionary GTS 1000. The GTS was the first mass production Superbike of the present age to use a front suspension system that didn’t employ a couple of telescopic forks and a chassis that doesn’t run more or less in a straight line from the steering head to the swingarm pivot.

Motorcycle manufactures have long searched for a method of suspending the front wheel of a motorcycle that doesn’t rely on conventional telescopic forks. ‘Teles’ are unsatisfactory for several reason, they are prone to flexing under braking and when corning, and then cause the front end of the bike to ‘dive’ under braking. The search for a realistic alternative has been the Holy Grail of motorcycle engineering.

Yamaha’s alternative front end, as featured on the GTS 1000, in a solitary sided front swingarm with hub-centre navigating not unlike one front wheel of a car. Separating the steering purpose from the suspension should, in theory, produce a bike that steers, corners and brakes better than a bike with conventional forks.

The GTS’s Omega chassis is different from that of a conventional bike because the front suspension removes the necessity for a headstock. The aluminium alloy frame is a squat box shaped affair which wraps around the engine, on to which are bolted the front and rear suspension systems, as well as the sub-frames necessary for the steering, seat and bodywork.

The result is a bike that has most sophisticated front suspension systems in production. The bad news is that, in the case of the GTS at least, this kind of suspension system offers no significant improvement over conventional telescopic forks. Being designed as a sports touring motorcycle the GTS is too long and carries too much weight to reap any benefits from the hub-centre steering other than the elimination of the front end drive under braking.

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.

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.

Egli Harley – Davidson

Former Swiss racing champion Fritz Egli has been building beautifully engineered bikes around his own chassis for over 25 years. When Egli adapted his traditional steel spine frame to hold a tuned, 1607cc Harley – Davidson V-twin engine, the result was an exciting machine that was outrageous by any standards, and especially those of environment-conscious Switzerland, notorious for its strict limits on motorcycles’ power and noise.
Big, basic and muscular, the first Egli Harley, built in 1992, hand an aggressive and vaguely classic look, thanks to bodywork fashioned from 1960s style unpainted aliminium. A huge petrol tank curved over the top of the grey finished Evolution engine. Large triangular sidepanels ran below a one-and-a-half-person seat. Front and rear mudguards were also made from bare alloy sheet.

The frame consisted of a main steel spine, which doubled as the oil reservoir, plus narrower tubes that held the motor in a conventional twin cradle. Egli himself built numerous parts, including the 38mm diameter front forks and their yokes. At the rear, the triangulated steel swing-arm worked a single, multi-adjustable White Power Shock Absorber.
The motor was far from standard, having been built by Egli to incorporate a long list of tuning parts including Cosworth pistons, Carrillo rods and Manley valves. Plumbed with a 36mm Mikuni carburetor and an Egli made exhaust system, the results was an increase in the V-twin’s capacity from 1340cc to a massive 1607cc, raising peak output to 120 bhp at 550 rpm.

When the big Harley burst into life, it did so with enough noise to start an avalanche. The view from the pilot’s seat was intimidating. There was a long stretch across the alloy tank to adjustable clip on bars that were set low and wide. Standard Harley clocks perched above the protruding fork tops, the tacho needle flicking across the dial with every blip of the throttle.
Riding the Egli Harley confirmed that it was no docile modern sportster but a big, old-fashioned bruiser of a bike that needed a firm hand to give of its best. Its wheel base was compact by Harley standards, at 60ins. But conservative steering geometry, an 18 inch front wheel and a high centre of gravity meant a good deal of effort was needed to change direction.
Suspension was firm and worked well on smooth roads, the forks feeling reassuringly rigid and well damped rear unit keeping the back end under engine was a tractable as any Harley motor. Crack open the throttle and the bike hurtled forward to the accompaniment of an increasingly frenzied barrage of sound from the exhaust.

Vibration from the solidly mounted motor added to the sensation of speed, too. Below 3000 rpm the big V-twin was smooth, giving a relaxed feel up to 60 mph in top gear. But the vibes arrived at that Egli stormed past 100 mph on the way to a top speed of about 130 mph, fast cruising was best limited to short bursts.
Rubber mounting the engine would have been one solution, but, as Fritz Egli pointed out, much of the bike’s appeal came from its raw feel, to which the untamed V-twin lump was a major contributor. At least there was no pretence with an Egli Harley. What you saw was a big, old-fashioned V-twin brute of a machine, and that was precisely what you got. Plenty of sports bikes were faster and more agile than the Egli. Few were more thrilling to ride.