Familiar four

In the past, this was the future…

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY Oliver Hulme

WHEN HONDA UNVEILED their CB750 four in 1969, the Superbike was born.

In a world where a big bike mostly meant a high capacity pushrod twin, the CB750 was so far ahead of the game that it sent the British motorcycle industry into a tailspin.

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Four-pipe four. Stuff of dreams in the early 1970s

It is often considered to be the bike that killed a whole industry, stunning pretty much everyone who saw it for the first time, but there were plenty of people who saw it as overcomplicated and almost too refined. While Honda was selling CB750s by the tens of thousands, the Norton Commando was still winning the ‘Machine of the Year’ title in the UK year after year. The mighty Honda never managed to achieve that accolade. It took Kawasaki’s Z1 to knock Norton off their pedestal.

It seems a touch unfair to blame Honda for the British industry’s shortcomings – it’s not as if Honda went out and built the CB750 with the intention of closing Meriden and Small Heath. They just wanted to build the best motorcycle the world had ever seen. New owners of CB750s suddenly had a disc brake, a hi-tech single overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine, an electric start, five gears, reliable electrics, fine switchgear and a reliable and comfortable ride, and found themselves derided as having bought a ‘two-wheeled car’, as if there was something wrong with a bike that had all those things. Honda’s sales were unaffected by the nay-sayers. They sold 500,000 of these two-wheeled cars during their lifespan and the design set the tone for motorcycle design that lasted two decades and beyond.

Read more in the March issue of CBG – out now!

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