The 80s was a strange time for fashion, as many will testament to – whether you lived through it, or just gaze back in wonder and ask that immortal question: “Why?” But the strange attempts at a futuristic style occasionally lined up for some true classics that set the standards for years to come. Clean lines, bold colours and unique shapes mean that the best bikes of the 80s are easily among the best-looking in history.
It’s not just the style that makes it a decade to remember: by the 80s, British and American firms had begun to raise their game to fight back against the Japanese industry dominance. The motorcycle arms race that ensued made for some truly spectacular models that pushed limitations to way ahead of their time – a huge amount of developments took place in just ten years.
We’ve been thinking about 80s bikes a lot recently – this year marks our 30th birthday, and you can head back to the neon-coloured decade by clicking the big purple button on our homepage – it’ll bring an 80s-style smile to your face! Meanwhile, join us for a quick trip down memory lane as we take a look back at the best bikes of the 80s:
Few superbikes are as legendary as the RC30, surely? Favoured by Joey Dunlop among many others, the RC30 was Honda’s attempt to reclaim the title of superbike champions, and it worked – while still being surprisingly road-legal. Perfectly engineered, they still handle like a red, white and blue dream to this day – while looking utterly iconic to boot.
The Katana must stand up as one of the greatest bikes of all time, not just of the 80s. Japanese firm Suzuki contracted parts of the design out to the German Target Design, making the Katana a rare early marriage of Japanese and European design and engineering. It doesn’t look quite as stunning today as it did back in 1980, but that’s simply because it set standards for years to come.
The 80s were a turbulent time for the Harley brand, with corporate shakeups having some serious effects on productivity. However, they still produced some incredible bikes that were worlds away from the sleek, colourful sport designs being produced in Japan. The XR1000 is underrated by many – expensive at the time, and yet to pick up a great deal of value compared to the 70s’ XR750 – but it had plenty of raw power. A sportster that was at home on the track or on the streets, it’s as classic an American bike as they come.
Kawasaki Ninja 900
The GPZ900R, popularly known as the Ninja 900, was the first entry in one of the most iconic motorbike lines in history, staying in production for nearly 20 years from 1983 to 2004. The Ninja was revolutionary, setting the standard for modern sport bikes that many manufacturers still struggle to meet. The world’s first 16-valve liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder motorcycle engine was years ahead of everything else on the market, and allowed the Ninja to earn the added distinction of being the first road bike to top 150mph. Released in 1983, two models stormed to first and second place in that year’s Isle of Man TT, ensuring the Ninja’s legacy for life.
Last but not least, the Yamaha RD350LC. Not the biggest, fastest or flashiest bike of a big, fast and flashy decade, but the humble RD350LC regularly comes out surprisingly high up the list of “best bike” polls. It was refined and developed constantly during its production history of 1980 to 1986, leading to incredibly popular models such as the Banshee, and the innovative YPVS power valve system, which was a game-changer for the two-stroke engine. The RD350LC just shows how far motorbikes came in the 1980s. It wasn’t just about the high-end models – the industry was revolutionised at every level.