Motorcycles of the 80s – 25 Iconic Bikes of the Decade

Last Updated on 17/04/2021

For me, the standout memories of the motorcycles of the 80s was the fascination with turbo bikes, improved (faster) two stroke machines and the Japanese manufacturers stepping on Harley Davidsons toes with their own cheaper V-twin cruiser models.

Kawasaki 80s Motorcycles

As it was for all the big four Japanese motorcycle companies, the 1980’s were great times for Kawasaki. The decade started with Eddie Lawson beating Honda’s Freddie Spencer to the SBS championships and their bikes started to take on a modern design approach.

Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R

The first Ninja motorcycle was introduced in 1984 and was the first production bike with a top speed above 150mph. The inline four cylinder, 16 valve, liquid cooled engine was also the first of its kind.

It was the poster bike for the original Top Gun movie and if you feel the need, the need for speed – then a decent condition Ninja GPZ900R can be had today for around £2500.

Kawasaki GPZ750 Turbo

Released in 1984, it was the the fastest of all the turbo bikes with a top speed of 148mph. It was also the last of the 1980’s Japanese turbo experiment. The inline four cylinder, 112bhp powerhouse had a tendency to blow up so there aren’t many still on the road. Expect to pay around £13,000 for a GPZ750 Turbo model in decent condition.

Kawasaki Vulcan 750

The Kawasaki Vulcan 750 was introduced in 1984 and was Kawasaki’s first ever cruiser style motorcycle. The 750cc engine was also their first V-twin. The production run lasted over 20 years and the design remained more or less unchanged until production finally ended in 2006. Today Kawasaki still use the Vulcan name for all its cruiser models.

As a cheaper alternative to the big Harley’s and Indians, the Vulcan 750 was a popular bike in 80s America. As such, today you can pick up an early Vulcan machine for around $1000.

Honda 80s Motorcycles

Honda spent the 1980’s pushing the boundaries and the design of their motorcycles benefited from the R&D they ploughed into their track bikes.

Honda VFR750R RC30

One of the greatest bikes of the 80s, just 3000 Honda FVR750R motorcycles were made. That’s 3000 race bred machines with lights thrown on to make them road legal and sold to the public. The first batch of 1000 sold out instantly and Honda had to speed up production of the next batch destined for countries where distributors had a list of deposit paid buyers anxiously waiting for their sport bike.

With a top speed of 153mph the V-four powered RC30 was one of the fastest sports bike of the decade but it was the track proven frame that meant it handled like a genuine racer. It also had a soundtrack to die for and was absolutely beautiful.

Prices for the RC30 model today start at around £25k for ridden examples but if you can find a mint one with zero miles on the clock (yes, they are out there) your opening offer will need to be around £50k. In America, ridden examples sell for anywhere between $25k and $50k dependent on the condition.

 Honda CX500 Turbo

Released in 1982 and only in production for a year, the CX500 Turbo was Honda puffing out its chest and showing its competitors what they were capable of. It was a 500cc twin V cylinder turbo capable of 120mph and looked like it belonged on the Star Trek set. It makes the list as it is generally regarded as being responsible for the 1980’s arms race between the Japanese big four manufacturers.

Despite only being made for a year the Honda CX500 Turbo appreciation has been poor. Expect to pay between £5,500 and £7,500 while in the States they can be had for anything from $4,500 to $8,000

Honda Shadow 750

Honda entered the Cruiser segment in 1983 with the Shadow 750. Like the Kawasaki Vulcan, the Honda motorcycle had a V-twin 4 stroke engine in the hope of making it more attractive to American bike buyers. The Honda Shadow continues to this day and at various times has been available from a 125cc version and up to an 1100cc engine displacement.

Early Honda Shadow 750 bikes have not retained value and can be purchased from $1000 to $3,500.

Honda GB500 TT

Was this the first Honda retro bike? Honda released the GB500 TT to the American market in 1989. It was designed to resemble the old british single cylinder bikes of the 50’s and 60’s – machines such as the Manx Norton and the BSA Gold Star.

As Motorcycle News put it at the time – “Nostalgia minus the bump and grunt.”

Honda certainly weren’t subtle with the bikes name – GB as in Great Britain and TT as in the Isle of Man TT – leaving nobody in any doubt as to what it was supposed to look like.

Honda GB500 bikes don’t come up often as most are cherished by their owners rather than in the hands of collectors and investors. If you find one for sale expect to pay around £8k in the UK and the same $8k in America.

Suzuki 80s Motorcycles

Suzuki seemed to spend the entire 1980s trying to escape the UJM label by designing futuristic looking machines.

Suzuki Katana GSX1100S

No other motorcycle of the 80s looked like the Suzuki Katana
Suzuki Katana was one of the motorcycles of the decade but not to everyone’s taste

When Suzuki Motorcycles approached Hans Muth of German company Target Design the instruction was to come up with something so outrageous it could not be ignored. Well done Hans, mission accomplished.

Under the Target Design styling though you will find a standard 16 valve GSX1100 engine. The inline four produced 109hp and thanks to the riding position and ergonomics the Katana model was capable of a top speed of 140mph. Despite this, the Katana GSX1100S remains an icon thanks mainly to the work of Target Design.

There was also a limited edition 1000cc race version Katana with a shorter stroke and smaller bore to lower the cubic capacity for the AMA series.

In 2019 a new Katana was released based on the GSX-S1000.

The styling of the original Katana has made it one of the most desirable motorcycles of the 1980s. This beautiful 1884 Katana 1100 is currently on the market here for £9991.

Suzuki RG500 Gamma

The road legal version of the race bike that Barry Sheene rode to 2 world titles, it was released in 1984 and snapped up by eager wannabe racers. A screaming liquid cooled square four cylinder two stroke engine that craved high revs and was best suited to the track rather than roads.

Due to the USA emissions rules the two stroke RG500 Gamma never made it into America, at least not by the normal routes. My lips are sealed as to how any made it into America but it’s said Mounties still have open files on at least 2 classic Gamma bikes.

Expect to pay between £10,500 and £14,500

Suzuki XN85 Turbo

1983 Suzuki XN85 Turbo
“Suzuki XN85” by Rainmaker47 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

With less than 1200 of these motorcycles made, the XN85 Turbo is the rarest of all the turbo bikes built during this forced induction mad decade.

Released in 1983 and designed to be a mini Katana, it had the dropped bars, rear sets and the same fairing as its bigger brother. It didn’t perform any where near as well as the Katana on the road though and was only in production for 2 years.

It makes this ‘bikes of the 1980s’ list mainly for its rarity – I managed to find just one machine for sale at a dealers in Italy for £9,000.

Suzuki GSX-R750

The GSX-R750 is often cited as the first street legal racer. It wasn’t, as there were a few before it but the Gixer was another level up on those. It weighed in at just 180kg, the engine produced 100 ponies and it had a 55° leaning angle. Many of the parts were developed on the Suzuki endurance racers and the factory Formula 1.

The GSX-R750 was nothing more than a production version of the works GS1000R racer model which kind of explains why it was such a popular sports motorcycle of the 80s.

Since its introduction in 1985 the GSX-R750 has been a constant model and even today it remains true to its racing 80s roots.

Expect to pay between £4k to £5k for a 1980s GSX-R750 which is more than early 2000 models which are currently swapping hands for between £1k and £3k.

Suzuki GSXR 1100

1989 Suzuki GSX 1100
This 1986 GSX-1100 is for sale at $10,700. Find it here at Iconic Bike Auctions

A year after the GSX-R750 was unveiled, they gave us the bigger Suzuki GSXR 1100. More power from the larger engine and like the GSX-750 it had the aluminium box frame, fairing, full floater rear swing and an air cooled four stroke inline four engine.

The new Gixer motorcycle was capable of 155mph and produced 125bhp. It was its slim weight of 197kg though that made it a genuine road legal racing machine.

A few years ago prices shot up on original Gixers so you’ve missed the boat if you are looking for a classic motorcycle investment. If you are looking to buy for emotional reasons then go for it, prices will continue to rise so you certainly won’t lose money.

There is currently a 1989 in showroom condition with 15,000 miles on the clock for £9995 and another 1989 model in very good condition for £5k.

Yamaha 80s Motorcycles

Yamaha spread their net wide in the 1980s. They continued to produce track proven bikes to the public but also entered the power cruiser race as well as taking on Harley Davidson with a cheap V-twin cruiser.

Yamaha RD500LC

The Yamaha RD500LC was a liquid cooled 499cc V-four two stroke sport bike produced for just 2 years, from 84 to 86. Another genuine racer adapted for the road and public ownership. Including lights to make it road legal was ok, losing around 60bhp and gaining 45kg on the racing version that Kenny Roberts was throwing around the tracks, not so much.

Still, it was a GP replica and looked cool as and was as close as you could get to riding the racing YZR500 version, short of becoming a test rider for Yamaha.

Also released in the 1980s was the RD250LC and RD350LC, both screaming two stroke machines.

Being a limited edition motorcycle, the RD500LC is a rare and collectible machine. In 2017 Bonhams sold one at a Las Vegas motorcycle auction for $23,575 (£16,957). There is currently one bike listed for sale in the UK asking £26,995 so prices look to be very much on the up.

Yamaha V-MAX 1200

1985 Yamaha V-Max 1200 was the pick of the muscle bikes
Yamaha V-Max 1200

The Yamaha V-Max 1200 was the original hooligan motorcycle. A genuine big muscle bike, it was built to dominate the power cruiser market – which it did, comfortably.

The original V-Max 1200 had a near 20 years production run so there are still plenty available. A good condition machine will set you back $4K to $5K while well preserved bikes can pull $6-7k from enthusiasts. 

Yamaha FZR600

Yamaha FZR600
Yamaha FZR600

The FZR600 Genesis was Yamaha’s first Super Sport in the middle weight class. It was a huge success both sides of the pond for Yamaha and remained in production for 10 years.

In the showrooms at the end of the decade, it was light at 179kg and used the same Deltabox frame as the bigger FZR1000.

Good condition FZR600 motorcycles can be picked up anywhere from £2000 to £4000. Read more about th

Yamaha Virago 535

The Virago 535 was Yamaha’s move into the cruiser segment. Like the Vulcan and Shadow, the Virago had an air cooled V-twin engine that kicked out 38bhp and reported to touch 100mph. It was light, with a low seat height which made it a popular first big bike and with female riders. It was also great on fuel and looked cool so made an ideal commuter.

It first appeared in 1987 and lasted until 2003. Due to the numbers sold worldwide, they are plentiful on the second hand market and can be picked up cheap.

Because they are cheap and plentiful they are popular donor bikes for custom jobs and both Bobber and Cafe Racer kits can be purchased for them.

Yamaha FZR1000

1987 Yamaha FZR1000
Yamaha FZR1000

The FZR1000 put Yamaha at the top of the Super bike pile the moment it came out in 1987. It was improved in 1989 to do 0-60 in under 3 seconds. It was crowned ‘motorcycle of the decade’ and continued to impress until it was replaced by the YZF 1000 Thunder Ace in 1996.

A great ‘buy to ride’ 1980s icon. A very good condition FZR1000 could be yours for under £5k

BMW 80s Motorcycles

BMW R80 G/S

1980 BMW R80 G/S Paris Dakar
This BMW R80 G/S is up for sale in America for $20k. Details here

In much the same way as the British motorcycling industry was going to the wall, BMW found themselves with an unprofitable motorcycle department. The Japanese bike invasion was worldwide and BMW needed an idea and they needed it quick.

The story goes that one of their engineers was an avid off road rider and had actually done most of the groundwork on the R80 G/S.

Regarded as the first ever Adventure motorcycle the R80 G/S not only saved BMW, every modern Adventure bike built since pays tribute.

In 1981 the R80 G/S proved its capabilities by winning the Paris Dakar and the public took to the Adventure bike genre. By 1987 over 21,000 had been sold and the motorcycle division of BMW was safe.

The one pictured above is the much sought after 1980 Dakar special model and is for sale at $20,000 in Daytona Beach and it’s done 87,500 miles.

BMW K100

1983 BMW K100
“BMW K100” by mudmucks is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The BMW K100 motorcycle was another ground breaking machine. BMW needed a new design to replace the ageing air cooled Boxer. Some years earlier a BMW engineer had come up with the idea of laying a Peugeot 104 car engine on its side and fitting it lengthwise in a motorcycle frame. Connect it directly to the shaft drive and you’re good to go.

The prototype had been mothballed since 1977 but in 1983 it was revisited and the design was chosen for the K100. The car engine was replaced with a brand new design, including a double overhead camshaft and the ‘flying brick’ was born.

The BMW K100 has become a favourite donor for custom bike builders so the days of picking up a cheap K100 have gone. In fact, looking for a K100 for sale and the majority I’m seeing have been converted to flat trackers and Cafe Racers.

I did manage to find a standard 1988 K100RS model (sport) with very low mileage for £3000.

BMW K1

1989 BMW K1
BMW K1 Image via the K1 fan site which has a ton of info on the bike

The K1 was designed as a sports tourer with the intention of proving BMW don’t just make air cooled flat twin bikes. In truth, the style went too far and rather than produce a modern motorcycle they ended up with a futuristic looking bike.

It didn’t just have a futuristic design though, it came with ABS and a 16 valve head and could do 150mph. It would be another decade before these became standard on bikes so it was well ahead of its time.

A high price tag, a design not to everyones taste and a flooded super bike market meant only 6921 K1 bikes were sold (mainly to BMW fans) but it was successful in convincing the market the manufacturer could build competitive machines.

Today the K1 is seen as a ground breaking classic and as such a desirable bike for collectors and BMW fans alike. Very good condition late 80s and early 90s models can fetch around £9500. A decent condition K1 with plenty of miles on the clock (don’t let that worry you) can be had from £3K to £5K.

Other Notable 80s Motorcycles

Ducati Paso 750

1986 Ducati Paso 750
Ducati Paso 750 via Ducatipaso.org

The Ducati Paso was unusual for the time as it had full coverage bodywork and solid screen. It was the first Ducati built after the Cagiva takeover. The power plant was taken from the Ducati 750 F1 Sport and shoe horned into a Bimota DB1 frame. It was available from 1986 until 1988.

Ducati 851

1987 Ducati 851
This beautiful Ducati 851 was sold by Bonhams for £9k back in 2017

The full fairing continued with the 1987 Ducati 851 although thankfully the screen was now translucent. With investment from the Cagiva owners a new Desmo engine was designed for the 851. It was Ducati’s first water cooled, 4 valve engine per cylinder engine.

The 851 was built for the WSB series and it put Ducati back on the map. Suddenly their bikes were modern and twins were back in fashion. The more Japanese motorcycles the 851 overtook on the track, the more Ducati bikes left the showroom.

The Ducati 851 value is on the up and has been for a few years. Prices vary wildly with the lowest prices seemingly in Italy. I found an unrestored 1989 model with 40,000 kilometres on the odo for 10K Euro.

Norton Classic

The 1987 Norton Classic Rotary was a typical looking British roadster but at its heart was a Wankel rotary engine. This was a limited edition production run and only 100 were made which makes it the rarest production Norton and also one of the rarest factory produced British bikes ever. This together with the highly unusual power plant makes the Norton Classic highly collectible. So collectable in fact, that I couldn’t find a single one for sale.

Cagiva Mito 125

Cagiva Mito 125
“Cagiva Mito 92 model” by Ballini Matteo, Location: S.S.M. (MC) Italia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Cagiva Mito 125 was launched at the end of the decade and is still built today. A two stroke, 125cc single cylinder, 7 speed gearbox, full fairing racing bike with a beautiful Ducati inspired style that had every 16 year old bike fan drooling.

I found a Cagiva Mito 125 for sale for £5750. It’s a 1991 Lucky Explorer model that has been restored and then garaged for several years.

Triumph TR65 Thunderbird

1981 Triumph TR65 Thunderbird
“MoD TR65” by meriden.triumph is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It was 1981 when the failing Meriden Triumph company rolled the dice one last time and reintroduced a 650cc twin model. The Triumph Thunderbird was intended as an entry level motorcycle and came with black casings, 2 into 1 exhaust, single carb, rear drum brake and kick start only.

The single carburettor meant the TR6 was great on fuel, achieving around 57 mpg.

Despite a lower price than the 750cc Bonneville sales were slow so the MK11 quickly followed with a rev counter, polished casings and twin exhausts.

Around 400 had been went through the factory doors before Meriden closed them for the last time in 1983.

The Thunderbird TR6 was the last ever Meriden Triumph motorcycle and as such is sought after classic with Triumph collectors.

Harley Davidson XR1000

The HD XR750 had been cleaning up on the flat tracker circuit for over a decade so in the 1980s the company decided to try and cash in and make a road version. Demand was definitely there for a road legal flat tracker but the the Harley Davidson XR1000 failed miserably and only around 1700 were produced before the plug was pulled after only 2 years.

Based on the Sportster it was too heavy, suspension was none adjustable and it cost far more than a Japanese 4 cylinder bike but couldn’t match the performance.

They rarely come on the market and when they do they command a premium price. The XR1000 was HD stepping out of its comfort zone of producing cruisers and tourers and despite its short comings, it was a sporty machine.

Motorcycles of the 80s - 25 Iconic Bikes of the Decade
About Ancient Hippy 44 Articles
Ancient Hippy has been back in the saddle since 2017, having fallen for the Triumph Bobber. Mounts owned in a previous century include several pre-unit Triumphs, an old school chopper, an Honda CB750 Cafe Racer and an XT500 thumper.

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