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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?