There was never a period for motorcycles quite as wild as the 1970s.
Manufacturers were ready and willing to try anything to capture the imaginations of the motorcycling public, from giant road-going two-strokes to Wankel rotary engines.
It’s no secret that we love our vintage bikes here at Timeless 2 Wheels, and some of the most legendary classics in motorcycling were born from the 1970s.
We’ve put together a list of the 27 most legendary bikes to come out of the 70’s from every discipline from the tarmac to the dirt track.
1970s Harley Davidson Motorcycles
Harley Davidson Super Glide
The Harley Davidson Super Glide was released in 1971, billed as the first “factory custom” motorcycle ever produced.
Up until its release, if you wanted a motorcycle with the “custom Harley” look, you had to chop and swap various parts between the “big twin” bikes of the time period and the “small twin” models like the Sportster.
Initially the Super Glide was a sales flop due to its strange rear fender styling and half-split seat, but Harley stuck with the Super Glide, tweaking the styling over the next several years.
By the end of the 1970’s the Super Glide had achieved icon status, thanks in no small part to one of the most controversial special editions ever made, the 1977 Super Glide “Confederate Edition”, which came from the factory with Confederate battle flag decals on the tank fenders.
Harley Davidson XLCR
The Harley Davison XLCR was another Harley introduced in the 1970s that initially was a total flop, but over time became a certified collector bike for its rarity and unique styling.
Arguably one of the most stylish HDs ever produced from the factory, the XLCR was half cafe racer, half dirt-tracker, and 100% attitude.
These bikes were only produced from 1977-1979, and were equipped with a cafe-style front fairing, a low-slung flat handlebar, and were only available in a single-seat configuration.
All models received a full “black-out” treatment as well that included gloss black bodywork with a frame and swingarm to match, black engine casings, black wheels, and a black two-into-two split exhaust.
The styling was clearly ahead of its time, but what’s left of the 3,133 models HD produced are now going for a mint, with low mile examples selling at auction for well over $20,000.
Harley Davidson XR750
Arguably the most iconic Harley Davidson of all time, the XR-750 dirt tracker debuted in 1970 and went on to become the winningest-bike in AMA history.
The XR750 was initially an engineering flop on the race track due to the notorious overheating problems of its iron heads. It was common to see an XR start at the beginning of the pack, but rare to see one finish a race, yet alone win one.
Harley engineers got the memo, and by 1972 had managed to fully update the heads and cylinders to an all-aluminum construction. This design stood the test of time for decades, taking 29 AMA Grand National Championships, the last one on record being as recent as 2008.
The XR has remained a style icon since its introduction, and inspired countless other production and custom motorcycles including the criminally underappreciated XR1200 Sportster.
Readers may also recall the XR was a favorite of legendary daredevil Evel Knieval, who jumped everything from cars to Greyhound busses on an XR750 before finally hanging up his star-studded leathers in 1977.
Italian 70s Motorcycles
MV Agusta 750 S
A vision in red, white, and blue, the MV Agusta 750 S is widely considered to be one of the most attractive sporting machines to come out of the 1970s’.
From the delicate cooling fins on its cylinders and crankcase to its shiny red frame and matching red leather seat, the MV Agusta 750 S will be unmistakable should you happen to actually come across one.
You’ll probably never see one on the road, because even though the 750 S was in production for five years, MV Agusta was only able to manufacture 583 units due to financial limitations of the time.
That’s a shame for most of us but a blessing for collectors, who have spent untold amounts of money tracking down and restoring these beautiful machines.
If you’re interested in owning a piece of motorcycling history from the final golden years of the MV Agusta, we’d advise you go ahead and start saving now. On the rare occasions these hand-built Italian beauties are sold at auction, they often break well into the six-figure range before the gavel drops.
MV Agusta 750 Sport America
The MV Agusta 750 Sport America was hands down one of the fastest machines to come out of the 70’s, which is quite a feat considering inline four-cylinders of the time were still trying to compete with some of the fire-breathing two-strokes you’ll find further down this list.
The America was based off the 750 S mentioned above, and while it doesn’t share the svelte lines or track history of its Italian market cousin, it did inherit the same incredible inline four-cylinder engine.
American importers ordered their 750 with an increased bore, which bumped the capacity up to 789cc and boosted output by three horsepower.
It cost about three times as much as the smash-hit Honda CB750 of the time, but the Sport America achieved its aims of outperforming it at any cost as well.
As a performance-focused machine, American importers also had their MV specced with larger diameter Ceriani forks and replaced the original front drum brake with dual 280mm disks. The Sport America doesn’t get quite the love and admiration as its Italian predecessor, but it’s no stranger to seeing six-figure prices on the auction block itself.
Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans
Introduced in 1976, the Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans was Italian manufacturer Moto Guzzi’s contender in the raging sportbike wars of the time.
The large 844cc longitudinally-mounted V-twin was unmistakably Italian, as was the sleek bikini fairing and bright red livery.
The large motor produced a competitive 71 horsepower at the rear wheel, and propelled the 850 Le Mans to a competitive 130 mph top speed. Performance was solid, but the large displacement twin had its drawbacks as well.
Most notably, the spinning forces of the uniquely-mounted engine created a noticeable flexing of the frame on acceleration, which was severe enough to give some riders pause when pushing the bike to its limits.
Still, the Guzzi was largely a success, both in popularity and on the racetrack, selling over 7,000 units and taking multiple 1st place finishes in AMA Superbike for both the 1976 and 1977 seasons.
The Le Mans model evolved over the years, staying in production until 1992, but the Mark I and Mark II models produced during the 70’s remain the most significant and sought after of the series.
Moto Guzzi V7 Sport
Before the aforementioned Le Mans hit the scene, the Italian motorcycle to have was the Moto Guzzi V7 Sport.
By expanding the displacement from their popular V7 700 engine to 748cc, engineers at Moto Guzzi were able to coax a full 70 horsepower out of their unique V-twin.
The new engine was shoehorned into an all-new lightweight frame, 220mm double-sided drum brakes were fitted, and sporty clip-on handlebars topped off the new design, making the V7 Sport the first factory cafe racer Moto Guzzi ever produced.
A stark contrast to the comfortable touring machines Moto Guzzi was known for at the time, the V7 Sport was praised for its power, excellent handling, and top-notch brakes.
Despite its high sticker price, the new V7 Sport sold well and ultimately became the blueprint from which Moto Guzzi conceived the 850 Le Mans five years later.
The V7 Sport design has remained popular with collectors ever since, and its lines later inspired the V7 Special, a retro-inspired factory custom introduced by Moto Guzzi in 2008.
Ducati 750 GT
Nothing screams “Ducati” like a 90-degree L-twin engine (except maybe desmodromic valves), and the Ducati 750 GT was the first production bike to sport the legendary two-cylinder configuration from the factory.
Brainchild of design legend Fabio Taglioni, the 748cc air-cooled engine was built to compete with the high displacement multi-cylinder designs coming out of Japan at the time.
Interestingly enough, the production model 750GT did not incorporate the Desmo heads that would become synonymous with the brand.
Of course that didn’t stop Ducati from equipping the now-infamous 750 Imola Desmo race bikes with the trademark cam-actuated valve train.
These race-prepped Ducati 750GTs went on to secure first and second-place finishes at the 1972 Imola 200 at the hands of Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari. The legendary race pushed the new L-twin design into the public eye, and effectively secured Ducati’s future in showrooms and the track world alike.
Smart’s iconic 750 racer also went on to inspire the metallic silver bodywork and trademark blue frame of the highly collectible Paul Smart 1000LE in 2006. The 1000LE got a modern drivetrain and chassis, but bodywork and styling was 100% vintage racer.
Ducati Super Sport
Following the success of the 1972 Imola 200 win, Ducati decided to produce a factory race bike based on the radical 750cc racer, and in 1974, produced what is widely considered to be the most collectible Ducati ever built.
The new Ducati Super Sport was the closest thing to a street-legal production race bike that had ever been produced at the time.
Expensive bevel-driven desmodromic valves were equipped on each of the 401 examples built that year, and combined with massive 40mm Dell’Orto carburetors, made for a popular and powerful club racing bike around the world.
Unfortunately the Super Sport’s popularity as a track bike took its toll on surviving numbers as motorcycles were modified, crashed, and upgraded beyond repair.
The handful of original “round case’ Super Sports remaining are some of the most sought-after bikes in the world, reliably bringing $150,000 or more at auction for well-preserved examples.
1970s Kawasaki Motorcycles
Easily one of the most legendary sportbikes to emerge from the 70s’, the Z1, or the “New York Steak” as it was known, was Kawasaki’s answer to the ever-popular Honda CB750, and answer it did.
At the time of its introduction, the Kawasaki Z1 was the most powerful 4-stroke motorcycle ever, cranking 82 horsepower out from its 903cc powerplant.
The year before its release the Kawasaki Z1 was setting world records at a Daytona endurance race and on release was an instant hit, and was praised for doing everything well from track to touring. It was fast with a top speed of 130mph, comfortable, and smooth, with a well-designed chassis and powerful brakes.
Although the Z1 name only sold for two years from 1973-1975, the “Z” formula was a clear winner. The “UJM” blueprint would continue to live on well into the motorcycles of the 1980s as the Z1100R, and its tasteful design queues can still be seen to this day on bikes like the 2021 Z900RS.
Kawasaki Z1000 (aka KZ1000)
As the final evolution of the 1970’s Kawasaki “Z” bikes, the Z1000 was big brother to the infamous Z1 “New York Steak.”
The Kawasaki Z1000 shared its styling with the Z1, but received a larger displacement engine (1015cc), disk brakes front and rear, and several factory model variations including an optional shaft drive.
The “Z” design remained popular for over a decade, until finally being replaced by liquid-cooled technology in the form of the Ninja GPZ900R in 1984.
Technically the Z1000 is one of the longest continuously running motorcycles ever produced, as Kawasaki continued to manufacture them for police use as the “KZ1000P” model up until 2005.
Smaller displacement sibling to the original Z1, the Kawasaki Z750 (also referred to as the Z2) was popular in its own right.
Fueled largely from the hype of the dominant Z1, the 746cc air-cooled four outsold every other 750 on the market in its first year of sales including Honda’s legendary CB750.
Although often overshadowed by the “New York Steak,” the Z2 was a great performer, squeezing 69 horsepower out of its downsized engine which propelled the bike up to around 120mph.
The Z2 was primarily produced for the Japanese market, as indicated by its high-speed “warning” light that comes on if you take it over 80mph.
The idea in Japan was to “shame” riders into backing off the throttle after reaching this point, but we can only guess at how effective the “social rev-limiter” worked in the US and UK markets.
Successor to the Z2 above, the Kawasaki Z650 replaced the outgoing 750 model as the middleweight “UJM” in Kawasaki’s lineup in 1977.
In a sense, the real significance of the Z650 is that it marks the beginning of Kawasaki’s middleweight marketing strategy: Wait for the competition to release a middleweight bike, then build your own with slightly higher performance for around the same price.
It was simple but genius, and the Z650 reliably stole sales from the CB400 and GT550 crowd all day long.
Fast, comfortable, and affordable, the Z650 was a reliable sporting machine with big bike looks, perfect for customers who wanted performance, but weren’t ready to step up to the 750cc and higher platforms just yet.
1970s Yamaha Motorcycles
If you were a teenager in the 1970’s chances are your first serious bike had a 250cc two stroke engine.
Tough choice, but ultimately when it came to style and performance, the Yamaha was the clear choice for many.
It’s thoughtfully designed parallel twin engine featured “Torque Induction” technology, which used the same reed valve induction port found on many two stoke motocrossers today to boost low end torque without sacrificing high end power.
And while the RD (that’s short for “race developed,” by the way) started out with a classic swooping metallic paint scheme, it wasn’t long before Yamaha gave it the “speed block” white and black treatment. If there had been any misgivings about the RD’s track pedigree before, it was unmistakable by 1976.
The Yamaha YZR500 was introduced to the Grand Prix circuits in 1973, marking the beginning of Yamaha’s 500cc two stoke widow-makers culminating in the release of the RD500LC in 84.
The YZR’s track history is long and storied, and has carried more than its share of famous pilots to the top of the podium.
Giacomo Agostini. Kenny Roberts. Eddie Lawson. Wayne Rainey.
The list goes on, and the YZR remained competitive for nearly three decades before finally being retired in 2002.
With 150 horsepower weighing at just over 200 pounds, the YZR was never for the faint-hearted. Yet under the skilled control of Kenny Roberts, the YZR became the bike that took American racers over to Europe and allowed them to actually compete.
And compete they did. Kenny Robert’s dominant three-year Grand Prix streak from 1978 to 1981 was one of the most legendary exploits in race history, and continues to inspire racers around the world to this day.
Few bikes have made as much impact in the world of motorcycling as the Yamaha XT500.
The XT started out in Yamaha’s lineup in 1975 as a big, burly four-stroke, single cylinder engine off road bike, built for the sandy deserts and vast wildernesses of the American West Coast.
It was notoriously reliable, lightweight, and fast, which quickly made it as popular in the dirt as it was on the road. This true dual-purpose motorcycle arguably created the “adventure bike’ genre, although Yamaha didn’t know it at the time.
The rugged character of the Yamaha XT inspired then president of Yamaha Motors France, Jean-Claude Olivier, to take the bike rally racing through the expansive deserts of Saharan Africa.
It was a natural contender for the first-ever Paris-Dakar rally in 1979, and by the time the dust settled at the end of the 6,000 mile race, the XT500 riders stood on the podium in both first and second place.
The Yamaha XT would continue to evolve over the years, eventually inspiring the legendary YZE750T Super Tenere, which even the latest 2021 Tenere 700 draws its own styling cues from.
1970s Honda Motorcycles
Honda Gold Wing
The Honda Gold Wing, undeniably the most successful touring motorcycle ever made, actually started from humble beginnings.
The original ‘Wing, the 1974 GL1000, was a naked bike, had zero fairings or windshield to speak of, and came from the factory without luggage of any kind.
It had the same horizontally opposed motor configuration that modern Goldwings have today, but lacked two of the cylinders and about 800cc’s worth of displacement that motorcyclists enjoy today.
Still, the engineers at Honda had found a sweet spot in the touring market, and with a comfortable seat, quiet engine, and oodles of power, American’s couldn’t get enough. During its first year in the states, over 13,000 units were sold in the US.
Honda’s gamble had paid off, and the Gold Wing became one of the longest-running models under the Honda moniker.
Quite possibly the most important motorcycle ever made, the Honda CB750 was a collection of firsts:
- The world’s first modern superbike, kicking off the large-displacement inline-four craze.
- The first of the UJM’s, igniting a horsepower war of overhead camshaft, four-cylinder copycats between the big-four alongside Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki.
- The first large displacement, high-speed bike to come from Japan, who up until that time had been overshadowed by the big British twins coming from Triumph, BSA, and Norton.
- It was also the first affordable four-cylinder sportbike.
Before the introduction of the CB750, race fans could only dream of owning of a big-inline screamer as they watched outrageously-expensive MV-Agusta road racers zip around the track like nothing else.
But in 1969, Honda saw their opportunity and went for it.
Using modern mass-production techniques, Honda cut costs by simplifying their engine designs, using a single overhead cam rather than the cutting-edge DOHC designs of the time. They also threw out the gear-operated cams of modern made for track machines and engineered a simple but reliable chain-driven design.
When it was all said and done, the CB750 went on sale in the US for just under $1,500, and between its four cylinder power plant and modern front disk brake, was just too good for the public to pass up.
Honda CBX 1000
As the UJM craze starting with the Honda CB750 grew to a fevered pitch at the close of the 1970s’, Honda decided to up the ante.
No, they didn’t just bump the displacement on their flagship bike (although they did that later with the CB900F), they also bumped up the cylinder count. To six.
The inline arsenal of six shiny exhaust headers jutting out from the Honda CBX1000 is as distinct as they come.
The CBX broke the 100 horsepower mark with 175 ponies at the crank, and was the fastest motorcycle ever ridden by Cycle World at the time, being the first to break the 130mph mark during testing.
For all its muscular bravado, Honda ultimately decided to convert the CBX platform to a sport-tourer. The engine was detuned, a large front fairing was fitted, and a heavier frame became standard to accomodate factory luggage.
Still, the CBX legacy lives on, and the curb appeal of the distinctive engine has become a favorite for cafe-customs all over the world.
Like so many Honda race machines before and after (See: Honda RC166, Honda RC211V), the NR500 was a feat of engineering brilliance designed to take full advantage of grey areas in racing rules of the day.
After dominating GP racing with their infamous RC166 250cc six-cylinder, Honda was pushed out of the sport in 1968 when new regulations limited competing machines to four cylinders.
The NR500 was Honda’s attempt to build a four-stroke bike that could compete with the dominant 500cc two strokes of the era, and marked Honda’s first return to the Grand Prix in over a decade.
In typical Honda fashion, the engineering team attempted to take advantage of a rule stating machines could only have four “combustion chambers,” and built the NR500 as a V8 engine, with two pistons a piece sharing oval shaped combustion chambers to meet this requirement.
Ultimately the bike wasn’t reliable enough to be competitive on the GP circuit, and the decision was made to move on to the four stroke NS500 in 1981. Still, the oval piston design was conceived, and would return in 1992 as the NR750, one of the most collectible sportbikes ever made.
The father of modern four-stroke dual sport bikes, three years before the large displacement Yamaha XT500 took over the scene, Honda was paving the way with their 250cc four-stoke off-roader that also happened to be street legal.
The Honda XL250 was also the beginning of the immensely popular “XL” series of motorcycles, which actually still survives to this day in the form of the tried-and-true XR650L.
The little enduro was an instant hit among offroad enthusiasts, who found it ideal for weekend trail riding and rally racing alike due to its low 288 lbs curb weight and punchy 24 horsepower engine, which was also the first mass-produced four-valve engine ever offered to the public.
Simple, reliable, and effective, the XL250 stayed in Honda’s lineup with minimal changes for 15 years before finally being replaced by the NX250.
The Honda CB400F was a breath of fresh air for many at its debut in 1975.
The UJM craze was in full swing, and it was getting more and more difficult each year to find a bike with a style of its own in a sea of copycat sporting standards.
A few distinctive styling cues made the CB400F unique: it traded the popular high-rise handlebars of the day for a set of cafe-style low and short bars, and had a unique four-into-one exhaust system that swept across the engine before tucking neatly away beneath the kick starter.
The stylish 400 got positive reviews in the press, but unfortunately the American market had no taste for the streamlined cafe-look, and before the second year of production ended, Honda decided to update the model with higher bars and more forward controls to cater to American tastes.
Other Notable 70s Motorcycles
Affectionately referred to as the “Water Buffalo” in the US and the “Kettle” in the UK, the Suzuki GT750 (or Le Mans) goes by a few different names depending on where you’re standing, but its technological impact was universal.
While other Japanese brands were focusing on the popular air-cooled four-cylinder bikes of the period, Suzuki took a different route, and chose to develop this liquid-cooled 739cc two stroke triple instead.
At its launch in 1971, the GT750 was the first Japanese motorcycle ever to feature liquid cooling technology. Needless to say, liquid cooling would go on to become the gold standard in the decades to come, but at the time it was a premium feature that sweetened the deal on an already fantastic-looking touring bike.
The Water Buffalo developed a loyal following and remained popular throughout its six-year sales run. Ultimately it was discontinued alongside other large-displacement two stoke engines as emissions requirements became stricter and four strokes got faster, but Suzuki managed to sell over 70,000 of the big two stroke screamers before it was all said and done.
The Laverda Jota found fame in 1976 as the fastest production motorcycle in the world. The massive 981cc 3 cylinder at its heart was essentially a Laverda 3C with every possible part from the racing catalog bolted on from the factory.
The Laverda 3C was an Italian motorcycle, which had impressive performance figures of its own with a 133 mph top speed and 85 horsepower, but it was ultimately the British who made the “Beast of Breganze” the powerhouse it became.
Brothers Richard and Roger Slater were the official Laverda importers for the UK, and sold the Italian twins and triples from their shop Slater Laverda Motorcycles.
The brothers had made a market for these high-performance exotics by racing them in local events with great success. When it came time to build the Jota, the Slater brothers knew exactly what to do.
High-compression pistons, open exhausts, Dell’Orto pumper carbs, and massive cams boosted the large displacement engine to a record 90 horsepower and 146 mph top speed. Their success with the new 3C convinced the folks at Laverda to greenlight a new factory special, and the Jota was born.
Say what you will about the Hercules W-2000’s design, but you won’t mistake it for anything else in the world.
Only the 1970s could have produced the W-2000: A made-from-scratch motorcycle built entirely around a single fixture: The Wankel rotary engine.
It was the world’s first production rotary motorcycle, although to be fair, it looked like the motorcycle itself had been bolted onto the big single-rotor powerplant as an afterthought.
Production numbers were limited, as was demand for such an odd motorcycle, and just 1800 W-2000’s rolled off the line between 1974 and 1977.
As if mediocre performance (around 30 bhp) and an unproven engine (apex seals are notoriously short-lived) weren’t reason enough to steer clear of the W-2000, potential buyers had another surprise waiting for them when they tried to insure the Hercules.
Due to a miscalculation by insurance companies, the 294cc rotary engine was incorrectly classified as 882cc, which meant customers had to pay race-bike rates for pocket bike performance.
It’s one of the most distinctive BMWs ever made: Two-tone bodywork, a sleek bullet tail section, and a distinctive bikini fairing are all unmistakable BMW R90S.
The R90S was a bit of a shock to the motorcycling public in 1973, who were used to seeing nothing but big black standards roll out of the Berlin plant.
That shock was very much BMW’s aim, who went as far as to hire Hans Muth (responsible for designing the legendary Suzuki Katana) to overhaul their image into something less conservative.
With so much style, it’s no wonder the sporty parallel twin went on to sell over 17,000 units in its three-year run from 1973 to 1976. By 1977 the R90S evolved into the R100S, which kept the Hans Muth styling but increased displacement from 898cc to 1000cc. BMW’s focus, however, shifted to the new R100RS full fairing model, which… Well… Let’s just say its styling isn’t what you’d call “timeless.”
What do you get when you shoehorn an Ossa 500cc two-stroke twin into a hand-welded steel enduro frame?
That’s what John Taylor set out to accomplish when he commissioned and designed the Yankee 500z, an American-made desert sled that was as robustly built as it was short-lived.
The powerplant sourced for the Yankee Z was a 488cc parallel-twin with 360-degree crank spacing, which meant the two big cylinders fired together, providing big-single-like traction with multi-cylinder punch.
The engine was mated to a six-speed gearbox, which was turned by two separate crankshafts mated via a four-chain-driven jackshaft.
It was a unique setup to say the least, and succeeded in keeping the heavy weight of the large engine as low as possible, improving the offroad composure and handling of such a large bike.
Although the Yankee got rave reviews from everyone who rode it, ultimately it was axed before the end of its second year of production, and only around 750 units were sold.