Motorbikes have a long, rich history, dating all the way back to the second half of the 19th century. Over time they became more advanced and a culture developed out of an appreciation for design. Various models have been developed for different eras. But when was the golden age of motorbikes? When was the time that motorcycles became entwined with popular culture?
There was a time when British motorbikes such as the Triumph Bonneville dominated the market. The image of the outlaw biker developed in 1950s America. During the 1970s, Japanese superbikes took over. All of these eras were influential, and we’re examining each one to find out if there was truly a golden age.
The British Invasion
From the earliest days of motorbikes, Britain had been an industry leader. Expansion grew rapidly and by 1913, 100,000 motorbikes were registered in the UK. World War One forced manufacturers to develop stronger and more reliable machines. In the 1920s, Britain produced motorbikes at a rapid rate, with the peak year being 1929. 147,000 motorbikes were made in 1929.
In the next few decades Britain developed a variety of memorable machines like the Norton Commando and Triumph Bonneville. The latter became arguably the most popular British motorbike of all time, breaking many speed records. Some people might say the heyday of British classics came around during the 1950s and ‘60s.
After World War II, the phenomenon of the motorbike outlaw took off in the United States. With counterculture films like The Wild One and Easy Rider, it could be argued that this was the point when motorbikes entered popular culture. Motorbikes became a symbol of freedom and rebellion for a new generation.
While Britain and America had been producing popular motorbikes for decades, Japan steadily improved. Companies like Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki were experimenting with smaller, speedier machines. Honda led the way for the Japanese revolution with the CB750.
It came with a 736 cc transverse, straight-four engine that changed the industry. The kind of technology the CB750 offered had never been available for an affordable mainstream motorbike. It became the first superbike and other innovative models followed. These included the Kawasaki KZ650 and Yamaha XS Eleven.
Japan’s dominance came about from a number of factors, such as the public’s changing taste in motorbikes. Small, two-stroke machines were becoming the norm. Today, Japanese bikes have maintained their supremacy.
Based on overall production numbers and popularity, it could be argued the golden age of motorbikes occurred during the 1970s with Japanese models. Yet ‘golden age’ is a relative term. Everyone has their own vision of the perfect motorbike and the time it was created.
When do you think the golden age of motorbikes occurred? Let us know by commenting on our Inside Bikes Facebook page.