Some superbikes of yore have risen into the hallowed halls of motorcycling, but their more frumpy siblings have lagged behind. However, correspondent Patrick van Sleight writes that a quick spit-and-polish can restore the pride of many maligned superbikes.
By Patrick van Sleight
Bikes like the original Suzuki Katana and Honda CB1100R are arguably at the forefront today of an (old) school of sought-after bikes from the eighties and seventies. They were fast and exotic, and collectors would kill for good, clean examples. But there are bikes that sit just one rank lower, that are usually overlooked by collectors. They lived in the shadow of their more glorious siblings, yet offered similar performance, for less cash and image.
Collectable or not, these old bikes - especially the Japanese ones - are sneeringly referred to as "dinosaurs". In the fast-moving world of the modern superbike, they have become the forgotten heroes. With their dated technology and slow handling, they are looked upon with a certain measure of disdain today. For the younger generation that has no point of reference for these bikes, they are suicidal machines with their weak frames, poor brakes and suspension, and are therefore best avoided. But for the middle-aged brigade they present an opportunity to perhaps relive a romantic past; while for the 30-somethings (and others in the know) they offer an opportunity to realise childhood dreams.
And if you buy wisely, these bikes offer usable, reasonable performance and low maintenance cost and effort, with practicality to rival any late model today, depending on what the bike is used for.
The bikes profiled here are just outside the collector's spotlight (because they are either still too young or/and were not landmark models), and are therefore considerably cheaper than their stable-mates. The prices indicated are a rough guide only and bikes advertised in Gauteng seem to be an average of 10 per cent more expensive than bikes in Cape Town.
1978 - 1989 Suzuki GS1000: 997 cm3, DOHC eight-valve inline-four, 67 kW, 217 km/h, 242 kg wet
The 1977 GS750 was Suzuki's first attempt at building a four-stroke, and it was enlarged to a 1000cc a year later. In this guise it introduced fully adjustable front suspension, and being a superbike at the time, it was famous for being better, faster and more powerful than the Kawasaki Z1000. Over-engineered (like the Kawasaki's they were based on), they still run well today, and the odd one with an engine that has never been opened are still to be found. They are an abusers dream; engines running on just a sniff of oil without seizing are common! Even the shape mimics the Kawasaki Z1, and it falls gracefully on the eye with that tear-drop shaped tank. The shaft-drive G-models are favourites with tourers, and the sports S-model is very sought after by collectors. However, very high-mileage examples are known to need rebores.
1978 - 1983 Yamaha XS1100: 1101 cm3, DOHC eight-valve inline-four, 71 kW, 212 km/h, 272kg wet
This was Yamaha's first 4-cylinder bike, and the styling of this bike was a decade old at its launch already. It had no sporting pretensions, but the bike had - and still has - a dedicated following; the huge, torquey engine was softly tuned and super-smooth, making for effortless long-distance cruising. There were numerous limited edition models that are sought-after. The made-to-order Formula 1 Replica with its three stages of performance modifications (including a conversion to chain-drive) was the stuff of dreams, and was built to commemorate Yamaha wining the South African Superbike Championship.
1979 - 1984 Honda CB900F: 901 cm3, DOHC sixteen-valve inline-four, 72 kW, 217 km/h, 233kg wet
Honda made a few attempts at building another superbike after its watershed CB750; like the 1975 Gold Wing with its flat-four cylinders and the across-the-frame six-cylindered CBX1000 in 1978. But these huge machines, bordering on technological overkill, never really caught on in the sporting stakes. But the 900F has the poor reputation of wrecking cams, cam-chains, tensioners, conrods and clutches, especially if any modifications are attempted. But well-cared for examples can be reliable, and buyers seem content to risk the odd rebuild; perhaps because as with most Hondas, the bike feels well put together and slick. Honda was the last of the Big Four to put a double-overhead camshaft in its four-cylinder engine for the road, but the first to give it four valves-per-cylinder. Like today, superbike racing then made the street models very popular at the time, and in the showroom, the bike traded off its racing prestige. Honda also had numerous wins in endurance racing, particularly the Bol d'Or 24-hour with its purpose-built RCB and RS 1000cc's. The road-going CB models were named in commemoration of the 24-hour Bol d'Or with its purpose-built RCB and RS.
1980 - 1988 Suzuki GSX1100: 1075 cm3, DOHC 16-valve inline-four, 75 kW, 220 km/h, 252kg
The GSX1100 was essentially a GS1000 with a 16