Honda, Triumph, and the Race For the 750 Superbike

An era of innovation and daring was spurred by the race between Honda and Triumph to bring the first 750cc motorcycle to the market.

| October 2013

  • In "Superbikes and the 70s" (Panther Publishing, 2013), David Sheehan's vivid storytelling brings to life a turbulent era of horsepower wars and innovation.
    Cover Courtesy Panther Publishing
  • The competition between Honda and Triumph to debut the first consumer-ready 750cc bike helped usher in the modern era of superbikes.
    Photo By Fotolia/fotoklaus

Detailing an exciting and turbulent era of a motorcycle arms race, Superbikes and the 70s (Panther Publishing, 2013) brings an era of escalating horsepower arm races and dueling motor companies. Author Dave Sheehan delves into a decade of bikes and horsepower culture, as an economic age of full employment brought these chromium-plated, polychromatic motorcycles to costumers around the world. Excerpted from “Honda and Triumph,” this selection details the tipping point of the horsepower war.

You can purchase this book from the Motorcycle Classics store: Superbikes and the 70s.

The Black Bomber

In 1966, Honda’s sales in the US had begun to drop. As a result, Yoshirou Harada visited America the following summer to learn more about the US market and promote Honda’s flagship, the CB450, the bike he had designed to satisfy dealers’ demands for something bigger than Honda’s phenomenally successful CB77 305cc ‘Hawk’. Launched in 1965, the CB450 was Honda’s largest capacity motorcycle prior to the arrival of the CB750. However, despite a CB450 holding the distinction of being wheeled off the production line by Soichiro Honda himself in January 1968, to mark his company’s 10 millionth motorcycle, sales of the Black Bomber — dubbed so by a UK advertising agency because,

like Henry Ford’s Model T, it only came in black (although, in truth, its bodywork sported silver accents) — had been disappointing, and not just in the US. A Honda dealer in Leicester repainted some of his inventory of 450s red in an effort to shift them off his showroom floor. Changing the bike’s livery, however, could not disguise the CB’s styling or its ungainly ‘tuna-shaped’ fuel tank.

Yet, in spite of Harada detailing to staff at American Honda the 450’s clear advantages over the British 650s — it was more powerful, more reliable and technically superior to its English and American competitors (its short stroke engine boasted a five-speed transmission, an electric start, torsion-controlled valves and double-overhead camshafts; its twin 36-mm constant velocity carburettors were a first for a production bike; and it developed a claimed 43 horsepower and a top speed of 112mph) - the US dealers kept asking Harada: ‘Why make small when you can do big?’

Honda’s own authorised history summarised what Harada’s US visit had revealed: ‘The majority of American riders, it seemed, did not judge motorcycles simply by how fast they could go. They also wanted responsive torque performance so that they could get the power they needed without downshifting.’

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