1980’s Pinups – The Most Beautiful Motorcycles Of The Decade

Motorcycle History -


1980’s Pinups - The Most Beautiful Motorcycles Of The Decade

The 1980s was a decade of the future. No new model release was considered good enough unless it completely reinvented its segment. Those unlimited possibilities extended to the two-wheeled market, which utterly remade itself during the course of the decade. These are the bikes that made it all possible; they are the five most beautiful motorcycles of the 1980s.

Suzuki Katana
Suzuki Katana

Suzuki Katana

When Suzuki set about reinventing the performance motorcycle in the late 1970s, it took the then-unprecedented step of hiring an outside, European design firm — Germany’s Target Design. Its significance cannot be overstated. Before Katana, motorcycles had round headlights, flat seats, distinct tanks and plastic side covers behind the motor. The Katana integrated style and function, adding modern aerodynamics without simply covering the motorcycle in plastic panels. After Katana, motorcycles had tall tanks with the visual weight shifted forward and tall, separated seats. If the Katana looks futuristic today, imagine seeing it at the Cologne motorcycle show in 1980. This was the start of plastic motorcycles.

Honda RC30
Honda RC30

Honda RC30

Designed to return the superbike championship to its rightful home at Honda, the RC30 represented the culmination of everything the largest motorcycle company on earth knew about making a motorcycle. It wasn’t built to a price, and it wasn’t built to win sales. But it was built for the singular purpose of being the best motorcycle ever made. And, for a time, it was. Its utterly purposeful design grew from that goal; it wasn’t so much penned, as it was simply the logical result of perfect engineering.

Ducati 750 F1
Ducati 750 F1

Ducati 750 F1

The 750 F1 is sort of bridge between the Ducati superbikes of old (like the 750 and 900SS) and the first modern Ducati, the 851. It combined the former’s frame and motor and the latter’s plastic melded into one beautiful bike. The 750 F1 was very much a motorcycle of its moment, at once both modern and classic.

Yamaha FZR 400RR SP
Yamaha FZR 400RR SP

Yamaha FZR 400RR SP

This bike was one of the first aluminum beam frames housing a high-tech, 399cc inline-four. The SP enhanced that basic rightness with a tapered aluminum swingarm, a single seat and a faired-in headlight. Simple, primary-color graphics emphasize the bold lines, which just scream purpose.

Piaggio T5
Piaggio T5

Piaggio T5

With a digital tachometer and fuel gauge hiding behind the tiny, smoked screen and a square headlight, the T5 was almost impossibly futuristic for 1985. An aesthetic completed by its clean, geometric shapes and disc wheel covers. Ultimately, it was unable to supplant the iconic Vespa form, but the only scooter the company’s made since that looks more futuristic is last year’s 946.

If you could put any one of these five in your garage, which would you choose and why?

  • HammSammich

    I absolutely love the Suzuki. It’s a step toward early sportbike design with the underlying UJM charm still intact.

  • Robotribe

    Oh, Katana. My dream 80s retro bike (even though it’s a fattie).

  • gravit8ed


    I’d love to have any of these in the garage. But I’ll have to settle with my ’83 KZ1100A3. Maybe not as sporty as the Katana, but great for longer trips and showing up the squids at the strip. ^_^

  • katesy

    Ha! I like that the T5 was included. I have a friend who’s turned one into a pretty little track racer. Wouldn’t mind having my own to do the same.

  • nick2ny

    Give us a better angle of that RC30! Sure, that’s the bike alright, but it looks commonplace from that perspective.

  • http://statesofmotion.blogspot.com/ FastPatrick

    Those mailbox rear fairing sections from 1980s Yamahas are as dated as dated can be, but that FZR400RR is all kinds of primal want. Wow. Please and yes and now and oh thank you God.

  • Speedo007

    Except for that Honda RC30, those are the dark years of automobile and motorcycle design.

    • Justin McClintock

      Totally agree. Some folks are ga-ga over that Katana. I think it looks horrible.

    • KeithB

      Same for most cars!!
      Dark days indeed.

  • E Brown
  • Lee Scuppers

    So the Katana is the moment when bike design fell off the cliff.

  • Richard Gozinya

    Just a shame Harley never sacked up and put that Lucifer’s Hammer hellbeast into production, or it could be on this list too. 286 lbs powered by 104 bhp.

  • Larry

    My first bike was a 79 Suzuki DS50, and in 1982 all I wanted was an RM80. It still looks perfect to me, like a proper full size bike built to scale.



    • Rooster

      Ah yes, the 1982 RM80. It was such a step up from the 79 I had before it. The 83 KX I got the next year was even better IMHO, but my favorite still from that era was the 81 Suzuki RM 125 with the single lower radiator.

  • Kevin
    • ThinkingInImages

      I’m not 100% sure about the Pacific Coast, in terms of aesthetics. I understand what Honda was trying to do – make a two wheeled appliance. They succeeded in that.

  • James Monroe

    Any of the air and oil cooled GSXR-750s……Has to have a seat cowl though :)

  • Kevin West

    NOT the most beautiful, but how about the most ’1980′s’ bike of the 1980′s:

    • runnermatt

      What is it?

      • Eric

        BMW K1

    • 480272

      so much of this kind of design was influenced by TRON. (1982). we still await the true light cycle…… And Akira of course.!

      • 480272


    • Dan Sciannameo


  • Robert Horn

    Which one? The 750F1. Because it would look good parked between a Pantah 600SL and an 851.

  • dinoSnake

    With respect, the Hans Muth-designed Katana?! That was one of the most controversial motorcycles ever made – either you weren’t there (in the ’80′s) or you’re looking through rose-colored glasses. It was a sales, critical and public acceptance flop. Almost everyone HATED that bike in the 80′s. They (reviewers) also considered it miserably uncomfortable…hmmm, maybe there IS some future think in regards to where they’ve brought supersports to since then, thanks to the Katana?

    The RC30? Sure, yep, I’ll go for that one – was an envymobile of the time, for sure.

    I’ll put in a few:

    1982-1983 Honda CX500 / C650 Turbo

    Design looks ahead of its time; our sporttourers all look like this, now

    1982 Kawasaki GPz550

    So good that Kawasaki seems to continuously recycle the look

    1984 Kawasaki ZX900 Ninja

    Arguably created the look of modern Japanese sportbikes

    1988 Ducati 900 SuperSport

    Italian. Need we say more (especially in the 80′s)? Created a look that kept Ducati alive and everyone else wanting desperately, spawned Monster line when fairing was removed.

    I’m skipping some of my personal favorites and just sticking to looks that seem timeless, bikes that influenced many bikes thereafter.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    All of these

  • michaelse

    The original Katana’s design may have been polarizing, but I still think it looks better than the ugly, bulbous mess it turned into.

  • GTsuperheros

    BSG 1980

    • Robotribe

      I was about to counter this move with the flying moto bikes from MEGAFORCE, but who am I kidding? Those were awful in any decade.

  • ThinkingInImages

    The 80′s were a brilliant time for motorcycles. You could walk into a dealer and see rows of unique motorcycles. Some made it to the 90′s and beyond. Others were ‘experiments”.

    Since we’re limiting this to “the most beautiful “my choice would be the Katana. Mechanically, there was nothing mechanically extraordinary about it. It broke free of the idea of what a street motorcycle had to look like. It’s almost KTM-like. From fairing to the back of the seat it reinterpreted the entire flow of lines. The rectangular headlight was always awkward. If they re-released it with two small projector lights the design would still work. It’s timeless.

  • PeteN95

    I like the Katana so much I had two of them. It was my first street bike (I know) and my first race bike.


  • Chris

    85 Honda NS400 R V3 2 stroke.

  • Dan Sciannameo
    • dinoSnake

      That was on my “I’m skipping personal favorites” list that I mentioned…

      I love Guzzi LeMans styling, first bike I fell in love with was the V50 Monza.

    • ThinkingInImages

      That’s a classic beauty.

    • Davidabl2

      except for the square headlight it doesn’t seem very “80′s specific”..Guzzis are kinda more timeless than anything else.

      • Dan Sciannameo

        First non round engine fins on guzzi to follow angular lines. The straight lines versus curves were all the rage. Guigario took over guzzi and other Italian auto cos then and all had these lines. I am more of a curve man and like the LeMans (I) lines better but this is a better bike. I only have about 5000 miles on it. New shocks, Enduralst charging system and electronic ignition. LaFranconi Competizione exhaust. It’s a beast.

    • John

      Take off that fairing and drop a round headlight on her and it would look totally up to date. Well, maybe a fake radiator……

  • Eugene

    It’s funny how that Katana’s lines are almost more similar to the big ADV bikes of today. A pretty forward thinking and beautiful design that could almost only be appreciated in retrospect (although a brown leather seat would’ve really set the silver off nicely). Sweet as it looks now, it really didn’t end up passing down that many design cues to its descendants. It’s also sad just how badly the Katana evolved. I don’t know too much about those original models, but the “Can of Tuna” nickname that mechanics have for the more ubiquitous later models is pretty fitting.

  • timdnml

    Vespa all the way.

  • kawatwo

    A few of my favorites from the 80s that haven’t been mentioned yet. The Ducati Paso and the Yamaha 700 Fazer and my all time favorite best looking bike the 1986 250 Ninja.

  • bbradsby

    OK, we can’t leave the BMW K75s out of this

  • anthony
  • John

    With the exception of the Katana, I’m starting to wonder if you were even alive during the 80s. The CX500T. The Sabre. The Nighthawk S. The Interceptor. The VT500F. The CB1. The Hawk GT. The Magna. Honda was on fire during the 80s. But then you have the V-Max. Assorted BMWs.