Fifty years ago, many of the features and technologies of motorcycling that we take for granted today did not exist. Matter of fact, quite a few of them were not even remotely dreamed of back then, even by the most imaginative of visionaries. But as motorcycling flourished in the Sixties and technology breakthroughs came in rapid-fire succession during the Seventies and Eighties, the sport saw more advances over a shorter period of time than ever before in its long history. And Cycle World was there to witness them.
Here are just a few worth remembering.
Liquid-Cooled Motocross Bikes
Liquid-cooled streetbikes were nothing new, some dating back to motorcycling’s early days, but the first MX “waterpumper” was the 1981 Yamaha YZ125 (pictured above). The factories had been racing liquid-cooled 125s for a year or so, and Cagiva had grafted a partial system onto a 125, but the YZ was the first full-blown liquid-cooled production motocrosser.
Long-Travel Rear Suspension
The increase in rear-wheel travel from just 3 or 4 inches to around 12 was a revolution that occurred gradually but gained momentum between late 1973 and early 1974. Maico lead the way with forward-mount dual shocks while Yamaha pioneered the modern single-shock concept. [Pictured above: 1975 Maico 250 GP]
With the first full-face Star in 1967,Bellforever changed the definition of “helmet.” The Star had to be custom-fitted, and its small faceshield didn’t flip up but instead had to be popped out of its rubber molding, but it offered the best overall head protection anyone had ever seen. [Pictured above: Gary Nixon]
Credit this game-changing innovation to the same company that pioneered radial car tires in the 1940s: Michelin. The French tire manufacturer started developing roadracing radials in the early 1980s and introduced the first pure radial streetbike tire in 1987.
Jofa Mouth Guard
A motocross mouth guard first used circa 1968 was based on an almost identical item made for the sport of hockey by the Jofa company inSweden. Though it did help prevent MX riders from looking like toothless hockey players, it was superseded in the mid-’70s by much more-protective devices. [Pictured above: Roger DeCoster]
This long-awaited feature was introduced not on a high-end, big-bore performance bike or an exotic European special but rather on the $1219, 34-horsepower 1976 Yamaha RD400C two-stroke Twin.
Cast Alloy Wheels
Chalk up another one for the 1976 Yamaha RD400C. With its seven-spoke cast hoops, it was the first production motorcycle to be fitted with aluminum alloy wheels as standard equipment. The 400C also arguably had the best seat ever put on a motorcycle up until that time.
Electronic Fuel Injection
EFI made its motorcycle debut in 1980 on, of all things, a 1000cc, high-handlebar, step-seat, inline-Four cruiser: the Kawasaki KZ1000G Classic. Many riders had serious concerns about the reliability and repairability of EFI, but injection today is the rule, not the exception.