Here is an attractive little trail bike, built by Harley’s former Italian subsidiary, Aermacchi. Oddly, virtually nothing has been written about this model in the American moto-press. Your scribe has looked many places, and could not find a single road test. More than a dozen Harley histories are on my shelves, some of which never even mention the Italian connection, which went from 1960 to 1978. There is reasonable reportage on the four-stroke Sprint models, less on the two-stroke Rapido 125 and Baja 100, so I am making do with what we have.
Harley should be proud of the Italian connection, because it provided the company with four international GP racing victories when Italian road-racer Walter Villa won the 250 class in 1974, ’75 and ’76, doubling up in 1976 by winning the 350 class as well — riding a parallel-twin two-stroke built by Aermacchi with Harley-Davidson writ large on the fairing.
The name Aermacchi comes from combining the two words from the previous company, Aeronautica Macchi, with which Giulio Macchi began producing airplanes in 1912. However, being on the losing side in World War II, the company had to stop making airplanes and instead moved into basic transportation — the motorcycle. Early models used a four-stroke single from 175cc to 350cc with the cylinder lying forward, almost flat.
In 1960 Harley, aware of the popularity of bikes like Honda’s small OHC twins, looked at its own small bikes, a couple of rather antiquated 165cc two-strokes that had begun with the 125 Model S in 1948. Which was based on a German DKW bike, the designs for which had been given to the U.S. as part of war reparations. Now the Milwaukee suits tapped on the door of another WWII foe and cut a deal for half the company. In 1961 the first 250 models, called Wisconsins, arrived at dealers — shortly after which it was noted that this bike had nothing whatsoever to do with Wisconsin, and the name was quickly changed to Sprint.
In 1965 the first Italian-built two-stroke came into the country, a little 50cc model that the Harley dealers really objected to. Two years later that grew to 65cc, which did not help much, while the last of the DKW-based two-strokes vanished. Then the 125cc Rapido two-stroke came along in 1968, which was anything but rapid.
1969 was an interesting year for Harley, as an outfit called American Machine Foundry bought the motorcycle company. AMF was best known for selling golf carts and bowling equipment, and thought its sporting knowledge would work well with a motorcycle company. It did not. We won’t get into the Harley-Davidson snowmobile.
For 1970 the little Baja 100 two-stroke appeared, an off-road bike that appealed to quite a few riders. And it won its class in the 1971 Baja 1000 race. This was a serious effort by Harley to build a great desert racer and enduro machine, and they got a lot of help from the racers themselves. The engine was a Rapido cylinder sleeved down to 98cc. An automatic gas-oil mix was developed to simplify fueling.
Obviously AMF thought that this two-stroke connection was good, and bought the entire Aermacchi Company in 1974. Aermacchi could still pursue its European market, with Walter Villa’s racing, while the profits would go to Milwaukee. The following year was the last for the lone remaining four-stroke, a 250 Sprint.
And it was the first for the SXT-125, a well-designed trail bike that was meant to appeal to the rough-and-ready folk who had liked the Baja 100. The engineers at the Aermacchi plant in Varese built a slightly oversquare engine, with a 56mm bore, 50mm stroke, using piston-port induction. The cast aluminum cylinder liner had a chrome-plated bore, which was quite useful considering the rather serious 10.8:1 compression ratio, providing some 13 rear-wheel horsepower at a little over 7,000 rpm. Kickstart only.
An oil container under the gas tank held a little more than three pints; this had no sight window and the rider had to look carefully into the opening up by the steering head to see if more needed to be added. A Mikuni pump pushed the oil into the intake to mix it with the gas flowing through a 27mm Dell’Orto carburetor. Oil metering was controlled by the throttle, with one cable running to the pump, another to the carburetor.
Electrics were simple enough, with a flywheel-alternator charging a 12-volt battery, and easily adjusted points. Turn signals were mandatory. Up on the dash were two round instrument cases, one being the speedometer. The other, which did not hold a tachometer, served to house the ignition key and lights for high beam and ignition.
Gears took the power from the crankshaft to the wet clutch, then through a five-speed transmission with its own oil supply. The transmission sprocket had 14 teeth, the rear sprocket, 61. A useful primary starter allowed the bike to be kickstarted in gear after pulling in the clutch.
The frame used double downtubes, with a cradle running beneath the engine and serving as a sort of skid plate. A Ceriani fork did a good job up front, with Betor shocks at the back, adjustable for spring preload. Wheels were a 3.00 x 19 at the front, 3.50 x 18 at the back, both with five-inch, full-hub drum brakes. Wet weight was a respectable 240 pounds.
Seat height was almost 30 inches, with a saddle long enough to move about comfortably. No passenger footpegs. Good-looking machine, with an upswept muffler and 2.7-gallon gas tank. But dealers were not pushing them, and sales did not meet expectations. So what did AMF do? Sell the whole shebang in 1978 to an Italian company called Cagiva. And the “Cagiva HD SXT 125” became a bestseller in Europe.
P.S. Should any readers have information about this bike, please contact us at [email protected]
In December 2019, Triumph announced a partnership with EON Productions, the company behind the forthcoming 25th James Bond Film, “No Time To Die.” To celebrate this iconic collaboration, Triumph is proud to introduce the first ever official motorcycle directly linked to the Bond franchise.
The 2020 Scrambler 1200 Bond Edition is a limited-edition Scrambler 1200 XE motorcycle featuring a unique 007 design scheme and limited to a production of just 250 models worldwide, with only 30 marked for the United States and a mere five for Canada.
The Scrambler Bond Edition features distinctive 007-themed paint and bodywork, including a real leather seat with embossed logo, a unique TFT instrument startup screen, blacked-out finishes with special accents and an Arrow silencer with carbon fiber end caps. As a limited-edition model, it also has a numbered plaque and comes with a special Bond handover pack.
Otherwise, this is a top-spec Scrambler XE model, with six ride modes including Off-Road Pro, IMU-based cornering ABS and traction control, an assist clutch, keyless ignition, heated grips, cruise control and Öhlins suspension with 9.8 inches of travel are all standard.
The 2020 Scrambler 1200 Bond Edition is available at Triumph dealers now at a U.S. retail price of $18,500.
Remember UJMs? If you were a motorcyclist in the ’70s, or have a soft spot for bikes from that era, then you remember them well. Honda kicked it off in 1969 with its groundbreaking CB750, the first mass-produced motorcycle with a transverse in-line four-cylinder engine and an overhead camshaft. It was an air-cooled four-stroke with a five-speed transmission, a front disc brake, an electric starter and an upright seating position.
Honda created the formula and other Japanese manufacturers followed it. Kawasaki launched the mighty 903cc Z1 for 1973, Suzuki introduced the GS750 for 1976 and, late to the party but the biggest reveler in the room, Yamaha brought out the XS1100 for 1978. Similarities among these and other Japanese models of varying displacements led “Cycle” magazine, in its November 1976 test of the Kawasaki KZ650, to coin what became a widely used term: “In the hard world of commerce, achievers get imitated and the imitators get imitated. There is developing, after all, a kind of Universal Japanese Motorcycle…conceived in sameness, executed with precision, and produced by the thousands.”
Those UJMs, and the standards of performance and reliability they established, revolutionized the world of motorcycling. Decades later, descendants of those progenitors carry their DNA into the modern era. To see how well the formula holds up in the 21st century, we gathered examples from Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki for a neo-retro comparo. (As much as we would have loved to include Yamaha for a proper battle of the Big Four, its contemporary XSR900 is powered by an in-line triple that colors too far outside the lines of the UJM formula.)
Honda’s CB1000R, like its granddaddy, has a transverse in-line four, but it’s a more highly evolved one featuring liquid cooling and dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder — a configuration shared by all three bikes in this comparison. Derived from the pre-2008 CBR1000RR sportbike, the CB’s 998cc engine has been tuned for low- to midrange power and its 6-speed transmission has an assist-and-slipper clutch. Like the others, the CB1000R’s standard equipment includes ABS and traction control, but it’s the only one here with throttle-by-wire and riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain and customizable User), which adjust throttle response, engine braking and traction control.
A round headlight and an exposed engine are about the only styling traits shared by the “Neo-Sports Café” CB1000R and the CB750. Kawasaki’s Z900RS, on the other hand, is a spitting image of its forebear. Round mirrors on long stalks, bullet-shaped analog gauges, a teardrop tank, a bench seat, a sculpted tail and gorgeous Candytone Green paint with yellow stripes are all inspired by the original Z1. Even the flat spokes of its cast wheels are designed to look like spoked wheels of yore. Derived from the Z900 streetfighter, the Kawasaki’s 948cc DOHC in-line four has revised cam profiles, lower compression, a heavier flywheel, a second gear-driven balancer and narrower exhaust headers for a mellower feel, and its stainless steel 4-into-1 exhaust has been tuned to deliver an old-school four-banger growl.
Jenny’s Gear Helmet: Shoei RF-1200 Jacket: AGV Sport Helen Pants: Joe Rocket Alter Ego Boots: Sidi Gavia Gore-Tex Tail Bag: Nelson-Rigg
Suzuki’s entry in this contest is the new-for-2020 Katana, a modern interpretation of the iconic 1981 GSX1100S Katana, which revolutionized motorcycle design by treating the bike as a whole rather than a collection of parts. Originally conceived by Hans Muth and reimagined by Rodolfo Frascoli, the Katana has a small fairing and windscreen, and, like the CB1000R, a stubby tail section. Based on the GSX-S1000 naked sportbike, the Katana is powered by a 999cc DOHC in-line four derived from the 2005-2008 GSX-R1000, tuned for street duty with milder cam profiles and valve timing, steel rather than titanium valves, lighter pistons, a stainless steel exhaust and a 6-speed transmission with an assist-and-slipper clutch.
Three bikes, three editors, two days. Before hitting the road, we strapped on soft luggage. None have centerstands, and only the Kawasaki has a steel gas tank that accommodates a magnetic tank bag, which carried our tools, flat repair kit and air pump. Its long, wide bench seat also has room for a good-sized tail bag. With their short tails and small pillions, the Honda and Suzuki only have space for small tail bags. Because the Suzuki’s bodywork is more stylish than functional, the Honda and Kawasaki are completely nude and none have hand guards or heated grips, we were exposed to the elements. We bundled up in layers for our mid-January test and pointed our wheels north, taking freeways and back roads up California’s Central Coast.
With their refined, Swiss watch-like in-line fours, these modern-day UJMs are impeccably smooth. Snicking their transmissions into sixth gear and cruising at a steady speed is a sublime experience, with minimal vibration or unwanted perturbations. None have cruise control, but with fuel capacities ranging from 3.2 gallons on the Suzuki to 4.5 gallons on the Kawasaki and as-tested fuel ranges between 130 and 173 miles, the need for gas will likely precede the need for wrist relief. Upright seating positions and windblast on the chest keep weight off the wrists on all three, but there are notable differences in legroom. The Honda and Suzuki have the tallest seat heights (32.7 and 32.5 inches, respectively) as well as the highest footpegs, putting much more bend in the knees — especially on the Honda — than the comparatively spacious Kawasaki. Even though the Kawi has the lowest seat height (31.5 inches) and lowest pegs, on none of these bikes did we find ourselves dragging pegs in tight corners.
It’s in those tight corners that these bikes further distinguish themselves. With only 10 pounds separating their curb weights and modest differences in chassis geometry, their engine performance, brakes and suspension are what set these bikes apart. In terms of outright horsepower and torque, the Honda and Suzuki, both of which have sportbike-derived engines, come out on top. The Suzuki is the strongest, churning out 142.1 rear-wheel horsepower at 10,300 rpm and 75.9 lb-ft of torque at 9,200 rpm on Jett Tuning’s dyno, though its advantage over the others is mostly above 8,500 rpm. The Honda peaks at 125.5 horsepower at 9,800 rpm and 70.6 lb-ft at 8,300 rpm, but it’s much weaker than the Suzuki and Kawasaki below 7,500 rpm, a deficiency that’s obvious on corner exits and roll-on passes. Although the Kawasaki generates only 100.1 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 67.5 lb-ft at 8,500 rpm, in the midrange it gives the Suzuki a run for its money and leaves the Honda in the dust.
With their more compact cockpits and high-revving power, the Honda and Suzuki lean more toward the sport end of the sport standard spectrum. Their smoothness makes them sneaky fast, and their stock suspension settings are firmer than the Kawasaki’s. All of these bikes have fully adjustable upside-down forks and preload- and rebound-adjustable single rear shocks (KYB on the Kawasaki and Suzuki, Showa on the Honda), but the Honda’s suspension, especially its Separate Function-Big Piston fork, is the most compliant. Sportbike-caliber front brakes, with pairs of radial-mount monoblock 4-piston opposed calipers clamping large discs, deliver serious stopping power across the board, but the Honda has a slight edge in feel. Adding to a sense of confidence on the Honda are its Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21 radials, which have noticeably more grip (but likely less mileage in the long run) than the Dunlop radials on the Kawasaki and Suzuki.
Despite being down on peak power and more softly sprung, the Kawasaki is by no means a boat anchor or a couch on wheels. It’s plenty fast, but its mission is clearly different than that of the Honda and Suzuki. The Z900RS stokes the flames of nostalgia while providing a more spacious, relaxed and comfortable riding experience, with every potentially rough edge sanded smooth. The Katana, on the other hand, is essentially a GSX-S1000 with plastic bodywork and a more upright riding position. In isolation there’s little to complain about when riding the Suzuki, but compared to the Honda and Kawasaki, it feels less refined, with more driveline lash and less precision during gear changes.
UJMs were the first motorcycles to be called “superbikes,” a name that came to be more appropriately applied to the racer replicas that proliferated in the late ’80s. These modern-day UJMs fall into the more mundane-sounding “sport standard” category, but there’s nothing mundane about 100-plus rear-wheel horsepower, high-spec brakes and suspension, standard ABS and TC, and a level of capability that’s truly impressive. For sheer power and sporting prowess, the Suzuki gets top marks, but its small 3.2-gallon gas tank and high price ($13,499) make it a tough sell. Priced a bit lower at $12,999, the ultra-smooth Honda has a strong top end as well as throttle-by-wire, riding modes and the best suspension and tires, but its weak midrange and high footpegs limit its overall appeal. A relative bargain at $11,199, the Kawasaki won us over with its throwback styling, spacious and comfortable seating, strong midrange, seductive sound and decent fuel range. If you do what we did — strap on some luggage and explore some of your favorite roads for a couple of days — you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Isn’t that why we ride?
This darn coronavirus is just mucking everything up. Virtual unveilings and press releases just don’t have quite the same impact as dramatically pulling a sleek black sheet off a new model, bright lights and flashbulbs popping off the paint, at an international auto or motorcycle show. Honda had originally planned to unveil its CB-F Concept, a CB1000R-based homage to “Fast” Freddie Spencer’s ’80s superbike, at the 36th Osaka Motorcycle Show and 47th Tokyo Motorcycle Show, both of which have been canceled.
Don’t fret, Honda, we still think this is a gorgeous machine, and we hope it becomes more than just a concept bike. Continuing the CB’s 60th anniversary theme, the CB-F Concept hearkens back to the classic air-cooled inline four CB900F and CB750F (famously raced by Freddie Spencer), complete with a cool white, silver and blue livery that should look familiar to anyone who remembers Freddie’s Daytona race bike.
Of course, this isn’t an old-fashioned tubular steel-framed, carbureted, air-cooled machine; it’s based around the potent CB1000R, with its 998cc DOHC, 4-valve-per-cylinder inline-four, high-tensile steel mono-backbone frame, single-sided aluminum swingarm and inverted fork.
What do you think? Should Honda turn this CB-F Concept into a production bike? Let us know in the comments below.
The Japanese were selling a lot of “street-scramblers” in the late 1960s, but these were merely street bikes with upswept pipes. Yamaha, in particular, was advertising three twin-cylinder “scramblers” in 1968, the same year it brought out the DT-1 Enduro 250 single, soon followed by the AT-1 Enduro 125. That enduro nomenclature made a bike a little more serious about bad roads, but still, it was a compromise, doing neither street nor dirt extremely well.
Despite its imperfections, the 125 changed the world for a lot of Americans. With a gallon of gas in the small 1.8-gallon tank this little charmer weighed in at about 220 pounds, light enough that just about anybody could pick it up. When buyers scooped up all the AT units that first year Yamaha understood it was on to something profitable.
Move along to 1974, minor improvements were made, and model codes were changed. The bike was redesignated the DT125 — the DT now denoting all of the enduros, from 125 to 400. The 125 chassis was quite conventional, with a cradle-style tubular-steel frame, dual shocks at the rear and a pair of 18-inch wheels.
For 1977 a new version of the DT125 appeared known as the DT125 MX, instantly recognizable as it came with a single shock rear end, just like the Yamaha’s YZ Monocross racers. As they liked to say those many years ago, “That looks really cool!” Image has always been important in the motorcycle world, and this had great image. Like the racers it used a cantilever-style swingarm, with a long DeCarbon hydraulic shock running all the way to the steering head, under the gas tank. The lengthy damper proved to be excellent for shock absorption, allowing the rear wheel to follow the bumps and dips rather than bounce over them. A dose of nitrogen gas made sure the shock would not bottom out.
Wheels were a 21-incher on the front with a 2.75 Yokohama trials tire, and an 18-incher at the back, with a 3.50 tire. The Takasago wheels each had a rim lock, a hint as to the expectation of a goodly amount of abuse. The five-inch drum brakes on both wheels were adequate in the dirt but rather weak when used on the pavement. The tubular frame cradled the engine/transmission, with a large backbone concealing the shock absorber. The subframe elevated the saddle to some 32 inches above the ground, the suspension allowing for 10 inches of ground clearance. The center-axle 31mm fork had 30 degrees of rake, five inches of trail, providing some seven inches of travel. Almost 53 inches ran between the axles.
The engine was semi-new, still with an oversquare 56 x 50mm bore and stroke totaling 123cc, but now with radial fins on the cylinder head for better cooling. A 24mm Mikuni slide carburetor using reed-valve technology fed gas and air into the crankcase, while Yamaha’s Autolube sent oil to where it should go. An aluminum sleeve fit into the cylinder, utilizing a five-port induction system, with a compression ratio of 7.2 to 1. Power was on the discreet side, with some 10 horses at 7,000 rpm, but that might have enhanced sales, as it was not enough to get into serious trouble.
The Autolube oil container, holding a little more than a quart, was discreetly concealed behind the left-side panel, and once the panel was removed the reservoir could be swung out and refilled. A little light went on in the instrument cluster when the oil got low. The oil-injection system did vary the amount going into the engine depending on throttle load, which served to reduce oil usage as well as prevent fouling the plug.
To get rid of that troublesome need to occasionally set timing, as well as check points, the DT125 was blessed with a magnetically triggered capacitor-discharge ignition system, better known by its abbreviation, CDI. This benefited the engine by offering a quicker spark, reducing the possibility that any of that oil and gas mixture in the combustion chamber would foul the plug. The magneto also served to keep the small six-volt battery charged.
The exhaust system was well designed. Enduro bikes tend to fall over on occasion, and the idea is that the rider disentangles him- or herself, gets up, lifts the bike, pulls in the clutch, gives a kick and away they go. Presuming no damage to the header pipe or muffler. The DT125 header went up and back under the right side of the tank, and then crossed over to the muffler and spark arrestor on the left side, tucked away behind frame members. Very protected, very efficient.
Getting power to the rear wheel was done via helical gears running the ponies back to a five-plate wet clutch and a very good six-speed transmission, where the top two gears were actually overdrive. A minimalist chain guard covered the chain, with sprockets having 15 and 49 teeth allowing for a solo rider to exceed the 55 mph national speed limit. The relatively comfy saddle was capable of seating two friendly riders. High fenders kept mud-collection problems away, and turn signals kept the feds happy, along with a speedo and tach, indicator lights and a horn.
And to ride? Fun! Within reason. Turn the petcock, pull the choke knob if cold, turn the key and kick to start. The little engine did best, of course, when a rider weighed less than 200 pounds, but it was happy scrabbling in the dirt. With a few minor changes this model lasted through 1981, after which two-stroke street bikes became illegal in the U.S.
Nobody seems to remember the company hired by Suzuki to advertise the Laredo model, but it certainly pulled out all the stops. The town of Laredo had a deserved reputation as a tough border crossing in Texas back in the late 1800s, and is rich in history. As well as a song called “The Streets of Laredo,” which is all about a dying cowboy; not sure that would be the proper way to tell people how much fun riding a motorcycle is, as motorcyclists were being called modern-day cowboys.
Suzuki had done a good deal of serious work in approaching the American market. At the start of the company’s business in the U.S., 1962, it offered a relatively ponderous 250 designed in the late 1950s, which had an electric starter, turn signals and a hydraulically actuated rear brake. All quite useful on a practical commuter bike.
However, the next version, the 1966 X-6 Hustler, was quite different, with performance being the issue. The X-6 touted its six-speed transmission, the six gears focused on being able to stay in the narrow powerband that the two-stroke twin enjoyed. The all-new, perfectly square (54 x 54mm) parallel twin engine was rated at 29 horses at 7,500 rpm, which was quite astounding for a street-going 250. The heavy electric starter was dispensed with, and weight was an extremely modest 300 pounds wet, resulting in a top speed of 100 mph. Good bike, albeit a tad fragile, with busted gearboxes, slippy clutches and holed pistons high on the list.
As some riders may remember, this was when the AMA was trying to impose four-speed gearboxes on all models in national racing competitions.
Change is good, especially the kind that might attract customers. For 1968 the company upsized the engine to 305cc by boring the cylinders out to 60mm, adding 58 cubic centimeters to the cylinder capacity. The resulting 305cc bike came out in two versions, the low-piped T305 Raider and the street-scrambler styled TC305, with high pipes, knobbyish tires and a skid-plate. Not that such mods made much difference when on seriously dirty dirt, but the rugged look sold — rather like today’s adventure bikes.
More essential changes involved making the tranny tougher by almost doubling the size of the gears. And slightly decreasing the compression ratio from the 250’s 7.3:1 to the 305’s 6.7:1. As well as enlarging the clutch plates and using thicker cork (when is the last time we saw a clutch with cork inserts?) to give the much-abused plates added longevity. These improvements added some 20 pounds to the heft of the engine/tranny unit. Overall wet weight, with 3.7 gallons of gas in the tank and almost half a gallon of oil in the Posi-Force reservoir, was almost 340 pounds.
This had all the essential Suzuki modernizations, with that Posi-Force oil injection system making sure that the oil got to the important lubrication points, rather than just mixing with the gas and hoping for the best. More importantly, the buyer that Suzuki was looking for had no interest in the messy business of personally adding oil to the gas tank. A vacuum petcock did away with the need to turn off the gas when stopped, a ritual the older generation was quite familiar with.
The 305 used the Vol-U-Matic induction system, a porting technique that allowed for a reasonable amount of grunt, or torque, to be generated by this middling-small engine. That was helped along by heavier flywheels, which served to make the engine less touchy when plunking along a dirt road. Tractable was a word often used by reviewers. Rotary valving was becoming much the rage in the late 1960s, but Suzuki liked the traditional piston-port design.
The 305 was produced with a pair of rather large 32mm Mikuni carbs, compared to the 24mm ones on the 250. The engineers had realized that if they left the intake port the same size as on the 250, with the same stroke, the bigger carbs would allow for rapid filling of the crankcase. And the big gulps of air assisted in quickly jamming the fuel mixture through the ports and into the hemispherical combustion chambers. An amusing side effect was that this system, useful when dawdling along, created a major intake boom when the rider chose to twist the throttle all the way open. As one magazine put it, “…the roar is enough to rattle your very bones.” But 37 horsepower was claimed by the manufacturer.
The engine/tranny unit sat in a full-cradle frame, the tubular members making a full U as they came down from the steering head to go under the engine and loop up to the saddle, to meet with the three tubes running back under the gas tank. The 51 inches between axles provided for good control at slow speeds, and still reasonably capable when pushing the century mark on the speedometer. Though the rider might need a bit of downhill to attain 100 mph, as road tests of the era showed 95 to be about top. The fork was said to be a bit on the stiff side, while the rear shocks seemed soft. Probably much depended on whether one lightweight was on board, or two heavyweights. Good ground clearance was provided, with even the centerstand neatly tucked away.
Good bike, well received, but Suzuki obviously felt the need for something new. The Laredo was only on the market for one year, with a few leftover Raiders sold in 1969. Replacing it was the Rebel 350…nice number, but the 305 engine had only been bored out another 2 mm, adding just 10cc, for a grand total of 315cc, not 350cc. Truth in advertising?
When Royal Enfield unveiledto the world its pair of all-new 650 twins, the Interceptor 650 and Continental GT, at EICMA in November 2017, the anticipation was already buzzing. We’d just visited its sparkly new state-of-the-art UK Technical Center on the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, near Leicester in central England, where the new twins had been wholly conceived, engineered and tested. We had to wait nearly a year, until September 2018, before we were able to swing a leg over each bike and take them for a spin through the redwoods at the global press launch in Santa Cruz, California (Rider, January 2019 and here), and it was shortly afterward that an example of each showed up at the Rider garage for a complete test.
Identical except for styling details, the Interceptor 650 and Continental GT share an all-new air/oil-cooled 648cc parallel twin, a chassis designed in conjunction with Harris Performance and standard Bosch 2-channel ABS. After a few rides we determined that both bikes not only look and feel the part, but considering their attractive price tags ($5,799 for the Interceptor and $5,999 for the GT) and three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty with free roadside assistance, they were also worth a serious look as “keepers.” The question at the forefront of everyone’s mind, however, was reliability. So we hung onto the GT for about seven months, with rides ranging from easy cruises down the coast highway, to full-on thrashing in the tortuous twisties of the Santa Monica Mountains, interspersed with stretches of just sitting in the garage as other deserving bikes got their test rides.
And it never missed a beat. The GT’s riding position is compact and sporty and the seat is about as comfortable as it looks (the Interceptor is a better choice if comfort is a priority), but leaning through the gentle curves of Highway 1, heading west out of Malibu into the setting sun, the Enfield just felt right. Goldilocks would understand. As Milwaukee-based Royal Enfield North America gradually builds a support base, the number and proximity of dealerships is the only concern for prospective new buyers, but if you’re lucky enough to have one close by, the new 650 twins are the genuine article.
The motorcycling world looked upon this machine in absolute amazement — a cruiser putting out more than 100 horsepower. Unheard of! Sure, sportbikes like Honda’s CB1100R were knocking out that many ponies, but those were for riders who liked leaning into corners at insane speeds. But a cruiser with feet-forward pegs and wide handlebars — and a shaft drive no less? This was nutso!
If this bike could be put in a category, it would be Power Cruiser. Harleys were the standard cruisers of the day, and they were lucky to get 55 horses to the rear wheel, using a pushrod V-twin that had been around for the better part of half a century. Whereas this bruiser was a V-4 with two overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. And liquid cooling to boot, so no worries about overheating when cruising down Main Street on a crowded Saturday evening. Except for that mildly unaesthetic radiator up front.
What was Honda thinking? The company had a whole bunch of bikes in the showrooms that year, 40 different models covering all the bases, from shopping-friendly Passports to huge Gold Wing touring platforms. Even a V-twin cruiser, the 750 Shadow. And a second V-4, the 750 V45 Magna, introduced the year before.
This all began with Soichiro Honda’s wanting to again be celebrated for putting an entirely new machine on the market. The world remembers (although this may be news to some of the younger generation) when he introduced the overhead camshaft, in-line four back in 1969, beginning the evolution of the UJM — Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Now the V-4 would do it again…he hoped.
But the backroom boys wanted to create a jaw-dropper, knock the American public back on its heels, as they used to say. The 750cc V45 was just a starting point for creating a machine the likes of which the motorcycle crowd had never seen. The V65’s majorly oversquare engine, with a 79.5mm bore and 55.3mm stroke, would cheerfully rev to 10 grand, with maximum rear-wheel power of 105 horses coming on at 9,500, redline at 10,000. A lot could go wrong with 16 valves popping up and down 10,000 times a minute, but Honda’s engineers made sure nothing untoward would happen.
These horses came from using some appropriate fiddling inside the head, with the four valves having a rather narrow 38-degree included angle. This and the shape of the combustion chamber effectively put the fuel as close to the spark plug as possible, compressed 10.5 times. Bang, bang, bang, bang — and the crankshaft spins.
Four constant-vacuum 36mm carbs, by Keihin, were accessible by lifting the gas tank. These had an easily changeable paper air cleaner. Fuel consumption was less than 40 mpg, but range was no problem as most riders wanted to get off after an hour or so. And at the time the U.S. was blessed (cursed?) with the 55-mph speed limit, so highway riders on the V65 had an excuse for not going very fast. With the V65 ergonomics city traffic was preferable to the interstates.
Power ran via straight-cut gears back to a hydraulically operated clutch. This had a diaphragm spring as an essential part of the device, which the engineers knew would be much abused, with the single diaphragm offering more consistent control than a multi-spring unit.
The gearbox had five speeds plus an overdrive sixth. If the bike could have pulled 10 grand in sixth gear, its top speed would be better than 170 mph. A more practical (!!) top speed was 140 in fifth. If the rider could hang on!
A full-cradle frame, with double downtubes, held this unit-construction herd semi-firmly in place, as rubber mounts were used to keep any vibrations hidden away. Which were few as the 90 degrees between the two pairs of cylinders presumed good balance, enhanced by that short 55mm stroke. A shaft final drive went out the left side, so those Levi’s would be nice and clean on cruise night, not having to put up with an oily chain. An air-adjustable 41mm fork suspended the front end, with an anti-dive unit. Rake was a pretty lazy 30.5 degrees with more than four inches of trail, and while this was OK in town, it was best not to get too optimistic out on the twisties. At the back a pair of shock absorbers had all the adjustments: spring preload, rebound and compression damping. The fork had almost six inches of travel, the swingarm a little more than four inches. Axle to axle measurement was just shy of 63 inches.
Cast wheels were 18 inches at the front and 16 at the back, with two discs at the front and a single at the back, all three squeezed by twin-piston calipers.
This power cruiser was designed by the Los Angeles boys for the American market, because the rest of the motorcycling world was not much interested in cruiser styling, preferring standard or sport. Honda hoped that the numbers would blow the Harley riders into the weeds.
Which they did. Quarter-mile times? Don’t even think about them. The 1,338cc Harley was in the 14-second category, and couldn’t break 100 mph. While the 1,098cc V65? In the 10s!! At 125 mph! More numbers? At $4,000 this V65 was at least three grand less expensive than a Harley.
What Honda had failed to realize was that in the cruising world of the 1980s, style was far more important than performance. Power cruisers would be a passing fancy, whereas Honda’s Fury model of today is a V-twin.
One final note: apparently somebody in the 1980s was selling a supercharger kit for the V65 Magna. Boggles the mind!
When the original Bonneville Bobber launched back in 2017, we were smitten. True, it had some quirks — not enough front brake and a limited fuel range being the most noticeable — but overall we loved what Triumph had created: a factory bobber that delivered in both looks and performance.
Then the following year we got the Bobber Black, with dual front brake discs mounted to its fat front tire — quirk number one, check. In the meantime, Triumph released its first Triumph Factory Custom (TFC) model, the Thruxton TFC, and we swooned. Then earlier this year we got a look at the new Rocket 3 TFC and we salivated.
Now Triumph has announced its third TFC model, and guess what? It’s the Bobber.
The 2020 Triumph Bobber TFC will sport more power across the powerband, with 39% lower engine inertia resulting in a 500 rpm-higher rev limit. It’s also a claimed 11 pounds lighter (although that number is subject to change as the bike is homologated for the U.S. market).
As with all TFC models, the Bobber TFC is dripping with high-end components, including fully-adjustable Öhlins suspension front and rear, Arrow exhaust, dual front brake discs with Brembo M50 monobloc calipers and MCS radial master cylinder, an additional Sport riding mode (joining the standard Road and Rain) and an LED headlight with distinctive light pattern.
It gets unique clip-ons rather than a traditional one-piece handlebar, carbon fiber bodywork, a billet top and bottom yoke with numbered plaque, a real leather seat and special TFC badging throughout.
Only 750 Bobber TFCs will be built and sold worldwide, and like all TFC models it comes with paperwork signed by Triumph CEO Nick Bloor, a personalized custom build book, a Bobber TFC bike cover, a TFC document wallet and a leather TFC branded backpack.
More details will follow the Bobber TFC’s homologation in January 2020. U.S. pricing is also TBD.
The 1950s and ’60s were the era of the UBM — Universal British Motorcycle — a parallel OHV twin sitting upright in the frame, in the 500cc to 750cc range. The original UBM was the Triumph 5T Speed Twin of 1938, soon to be copied by half a dozen of the major British motorcycle companies. Matchless, which built its first motorcycle at the Plumstead works in southeast London around 1901, came up with its own version in 1948, the 498cc G9, with a 66 x 72.8mm bore and stroke. And a fully sprung frame, with a swingarm rear suspension.
It should be noted that in the 1930s Matchless bought the AJS marque and the company became Associated Motor Cycles, Ltd., or AMC, the major difference between the two brands being the lettering on the gas tank.
The G9 engine differed from other UBMs in that it had a third bearing on the crankshaft, between the two connecting rods, to give added strength. The engine’s dry sump lubrication system used the camshaft to run two oil pumps, one on each side of the crank, aiding in efficient lubrication; apparently these engines could go 75,000 miles before any major work was needed. Quite remarkable for a UBM of the era, when top-end jobs were often done at 20,000 miles, bottom-end at 40,000.
The two cylinders were separate, as were the heads, and while this seemed to work well with the 500, as the engine grew larger the lack of rigidity appeared to enhance vibration. During the 1950s most factories increased the size of the engine, with 650cc being considered the maximum reasonable size for a UBM, due to those vibratory concerns. In 1955 Matchless elected to bore out the engine to 72mm for an increase to 593cc — called a 600, designated as a G11. This was followed by the G11CS, or Competition Sprung, a street-legal scrambler with easily removable lights, and the G11CSR, a more roadworthy version, often called the Coffee Shop Racer. The CS models came with higher compression ratios and other performance enhancements…and often more problems. The frame used a single downtube to meet up with the full cradle holding the engine.
In 1958 Matchless offered 17 different models, including the first G12 650. The very important American market had been demanding that 650, the dealers needing it to compete with the Triumph and BSA 650s. Small problem: the engine could not be bored out any more. Solution: increase the stroke to 79.3mm, or 646cc. That was the G12, with the basic road-going model having valanced fenders and a reliable 7.5:1 compression ratio, and two sportier CS models with an 8.5:1 compression ratio and light alloy fenders.
The restroked engine required a new crankshaft, made of “nodular” iron, which flexed enough to reduce vibrations. It was also designed to incorporate a Lucas alternator, though still with six-volt electrics. A new frame with twin downtubes now welded to the full cradle was developed, which did help in reducing the vibration inherent in a 650 vertical twin using a 360-degree crankshaft, although the single-tube frame was also used. The motorcycle seen here, which was built from bits and pieces, has a 1961 G12 engine in a 1959 single downtube frame. An AMC Teledraulic fork is up front, a pair of Girling shock absorbers at the back.
Gas tanks varied in size according to the model and year, but this ’61 G12CS carried only two gallons, all you would need in a race, and was said to weigh 425 pounds with a full tank. And with 5.3 pints of oil in the reservoir.
Other changes occurred over the G12’s years, including 12-volt electrics, sending out decent visibility from the seven-inch headlight. The basic G12 had 18-inch wheels, while this CS was running 19-inchers. Distance between the axles was a little more than 55 inches. Brakes were single-leading-shoe drums, an eight-incher on the front, seven on the back.
One interesting bit of history is that the Matchless marque was originally sold in the U.S. by Californian Frank Cooper, who became the AMC importer around 1946. He did quite well selling singles to win desert races, though the twins were not as popular.
In 1953, AMC acquired financially troubled Norton, although Norton production and sales remained quite separate, the U.S. importer being Joe Berliner, or J.B. Then, in 1960, AMC bought the Indian Sales Corp., which had been selling rebadged Royal Enfields — this was to get the Indian dealers, such as they were, to sell Matchboxes rather than Royal Oilfields. And AMC summarily fired Cooper, after 14 years of good work.
However, AMC filed for bankruptcy in 1962 (Cooper must have laughed), resulting in Matchless being merged more closely with Norton, and Berliner having to deal with Matchless as well. In early 1963, J.B. Matchless Corp. put a full-page ad in Cycle magazine promoting the G12CS and G12CSR…along with the 750cc G15 Matchless, which looked surprisingly like the Norton Atlas model that had appeared in 1962. In 1963 that old 1952 Matchless/Norton arrangement, keeping them separate, changed drastically as bill collectors were pounding on both doors, and Norton production moved from its old Birmingham factory 100 miles southeast to Plumstead.
Not surprisingly, interest in the G12 waned considerably. The last Matchless ad I could find in a U.S. moto-mag was in Cycle’s July 1966 issue, featuring the Atlas-based G15, and mentioning one G12CSR and two G80 singles. At the time British bureaucrats, knowing nothing about motorcycles, thought they could save the industry by merging Matchless, AJS and Norton into the company of an affluent entrepreneur and racecar driver, Dennis Poore. Poore was already looking after the Villiers engineering firm, which made most of the British two-stroke motorcycle engines. The Matchless and AJS names dropped from sight, and the new company was called Norton-Villiers.