Search for the new daily: 80s Superbike Style

customized Z1-R from bull dock japan kawasaki custom(heavily customized Z1-R from Bull Dock Shop out of Japan)

In sharp contrast to FXRs I talked about in the last post about my new daily rider search, the 80’s super bike style is a complete 180 in design, style and personality. Originally I was focused on the Kawasaki Z1s, KZ900s and KZ1000s but in my obsessive googling I’ve found a few other models to lump into the general search, which is why I’m categorizing them all as superbike styled. That said, any conversation needs to start with the Z1 as it really the fuse that ignited the style of the late 70s – early 80s superbikes. The exciting thing about the Z1 (specifically the Z1-R) is that it’s damn gorgeous straight off the floor of the factory. Squared off tank, bikini fairing, strong lines and a hint of café racer inspiration all make for what I think is a beautiful stock bike. A few mild tweaks /modifications and she’s an absolutely stunner. Many will be more enamored by the insane amount of power it has – which is why this bike still has the reputation it does; but for me it’s all about the looks. The KZs retained a similar style, and certainly didn’t relent in the power department, so I’ll lump them all together.

73z1PM.jpg 1917100.jpg bulldock_01.jpgkawasaki_z900_a4.jpg sanctuary-z1.jpg Kawasaki_KZ_900.jpg
(Z1/ KZ900/1000 examples, click for bigger)

All that said; I’d rarely tap into the scary fast power cradled into the 4-cylinder beast. Bombing through traffic at 140mph for extended periods of time is just not my riding style. Sure, I’d grab a fist full of throttle and ring her out from time to time – what self-respecting moto-nerd could resist that – but I’m not planning on challenging Rossi anytime soon, so most of it would go unused (or get me into trouble with my already increasing insurance premiums). I’m looking for solid all-around performance and out of the factory good looks – or at least an easy to modify platform that can be made to look good without extensive modification. There are a lot of bikes from this era that can be made to that fit the bill, but two jump out at me, and they’re both from Honda.

CB_01-0001.jpgmonk11_01.jpg honda_cb750_cafe_racer1.jpg CB750.jpg

(CB750’s from Wrench Monkees and a stock CB750)

You can’t have this conversation without talking about the CB750. Rock solid motor, readily available, tons of aftermarket parts and cheap to get into. You can easily find a running (but maybe not pretty) CB750s for under $1000, many times much less (there is so many of them out there that many old widows just want them out of their backyard). You can find close to pristine ones for $2-$3k. That said, the out of the showroom aesthetics need improvement for my tastes. This is fairly easy to achieve with so many aftermarket parts available – from fairings to seats to tanks – it’s not hard to completely change the look and style of the bike by simply swapping out a few bits. But some of my favorite CBs are the ones that look like they’ve gone through simple changes, but have actually been extensively modified to look right. Perfect examples of this are the bikes coming from the WrenchMonkees shop. Simple hooligan machines that look as though they’ve been stripped to the bone and tossed on the road to pound out miles. Look deeper and you’ll see that the devil is in the details and the modifications are much more than bolting on some bits and tossing away unnecessary components. While I fully embrace that kind of thinking, I’m not looking for another project. I’m looking for a buy it and ride it deal. A dependable daily, not another shop project. The CB750 is a strong contender but another Honda unexpectedly caught my eye….

Honda Nighthawk CB700s750S_Australia.jpg 1985-cb700sc_nighthawk.jpg cb700_nighthawk.jpgmichael_700s(large).JPG Nighthawk700sc.jpg
(Stock Honda Nighthawk CB700s / CB700sc)

That’s the Nighthawk CB700s (or SC depending on where you live). That’s right, a Nighthawk – a bike I usually associate with MSF Riding School and have never associated with “cool”. I’m sure I’ve seen one of these before, but just assumed they were customized CB750s – little did I know. Produced from 1984-86, 700cc (to avoid the Harley tax going on at the time), hydraulic lifters, 16” front wheel and the beautiful styling and bodywork straight from the factory. It reminds me of the ZRX1100, which is a damn good looking bike and even the Z1/KZ900 a little bit. They’re not as ubiquitous as the CB750 (having only been produced for a few years) although they’re still reasonably priced. Same bulletproof motor design as the CB750 with even less maintenance because of the hydraulic lifters. The shaft drive – while it requires less looking after - is not my preferred final drive (I’ll take a chain or belt thanks). But the beemer I sold had a shaft and it was smooth and didn’t bother me. Good looks, solid, proven motor, and reasonably priced – throw it on the short list.

There is always a give and take with any bike. Things you love, things you could do with out. In the case of all these models and the others that I didn’t mention but are similar (GS850 for example) having to deal with four carbs instead of one or two can be a major pain in the ass. The rasp of a 4 banger doesn’t have the grunt or thump of a 2 cylinder, but certainly it can be made to sound raw. And one thing that is neither here or there is the seating position. Compared to the FXR or my sporty, these bikes have a sitting position that is more on top of the bike (than “in” the bike) – which is similar to my BMW. That’s not a pro or a con, outside of the realm of wanting to try something different than what I had last.

So there you have it – option 2 on the short list for the next daily rider. Up next: the Hinckley Triumph.

4 Responses to “Search for the new daily: 80s Superbike Style”

  1. MadRiverMoCo says:

    I dig where you’re going with this - I loved my nighthawk (I even had a 450 (I think that is what it was) Nighthawk for a bit) but the Z1 was an object of fear and envy when I was real little. You should hit up SMCD - he seems to know where things like a z1 put away immaculately hide

  2. Scott says:

    Hey man,

    Love the 80’s superbikes. I recently stumbled across a couple of neat suzuki’s. Check out the GS700es and 750es half-faired models. They have a ton of power and are not crazy heavy like most lumps from the eighties. There was a GS550es also with twin carbs but it is super rare.

  3. grail21 says:

    Scott - those ES bikes are cool, they have a bit of a Bōsōzoku thing going on. I prefer a smaller fairing, but those fit OK on that bike.

  4. Clutch says:

    I just sold a CB700sc and wish I did not have to. But needed the $ to finish my build. One of the best bikes I have owned. It is a great bike!

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