A Century of Motorcycling | The 1970s

By Motorcyclist Staff, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

No sooner had Americans gotten their heads on straight following the sordid ’60s, then they were presented with a whole new set of challenges: The first Energy Crisis and subsequent 55-mph national speed limit. Tricky Dick’s Watergate scandal and eventual resignation. Terrorism at the Olympics. And the “reality TV” that was Apollo 13. Yet there were good times, too: Star Wars debuted as a movie, not a missile defense system. And another film, On Any Sunday, helped make motorcycling mainstream.


Dick Mann wins the Daytona 200 on Honda’s new CB750 Four.

Harley-Davidson introduces the XR-750 dirt-tracker.

Don Vesco’s Yamaha sets a land-speed record of 252 mph at Bonneville. Cal Rayborn’s Harley goes 265 mph one month later.

Clean Air Act passed.

Kent State shootings occur during student protests.


Dick Mann wins Daytona 200 again, this time for BSA—the last four-stroke to win until 1986.

Bruce Brown’s On Any Sunday is released.

The 26th Amendment is passed, setting the minimum age of voters at 18 nationwide.


Kawasaki’s $2495, 903cc Z1 debuts, proving that Honda isn’t the only Japanese maker that can produce a superbike.

Paul Smart wins the Imola 200 on a Ducati 750cc twin, elevating the Italian firm from a humble maker of small-displacement singles.

Mike Goodwin promotes the inaugural Superbowl of Motocross at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which would eventually become Supercross.

Kenny Roberts gets his AMA Expert license.

Petersen Publishing Company buys Motorcyclist.

Motorcycles sold in the USA: 1.7 million

Terrorists take hostages at the Munich Olympics.


Norton takes over BSA/Triumph, forming NVT—the beginning of the end for the British motorcycle industry.

Honda’s CR250 Elsinore two-stroke production motocross bike appears.

Jim Pomeroy becomes the first American to win an FIM Motocross Grand Prix.

Arab oil embargo.


Richard Nixon resigns the presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Honda’s GL1000 Gold Wing, the first production touring bike, debuts.

Ducati’s 750SS, the road-going version of the Imola-winner, finally appears for $3500.

Yamaha sells the fearsome TZ700 four-cylinder two-stroke to roadrace privateers.


Kenny Roberts wins the Indianapolis Mile aboard a Yamaha TZ750.

NVT ceases production.

Suzuki’s RE5 Rotary is released.

BMW introduces the R90/S, proving 34 years before the S1000RR that Germans speak sportbike, too.

Don Vesco’s Yamaha goes 304 mph—the first motorcycle to exceed 300 mph.


Steve McLaughlin’s Butler & Smith BMW R90/S wins the very first AMA Superbike race at Daytona. Teammate Reg Pridmore wins the inaugural AMA Superbike Championship.

Pat Hennen becomes the first American to win an FIM 500cc Grand Prix roadrace.

Jay Springsteen wins the first of three consecutive AMA Grand National Championships.


Yamaha announces its 650 and 750 Specials— the first Japanese factory cruisers.

Star Wars debuts in theaters.


Steve Baker claims the FIM Formula 750 crown, becoming the first American to win a roadracing world championship.

Kenny Roberts wins the first of three consecutive 500cc world roadracing championships.

Honda’s CBX, Suzuki’s GS1000 and Yamaha’s XS1100 are introduced, heating up the horsepower wars.

Mike Hailwood comes out of retirement to win the Isle of Man TT on a Ducati. Pat Hennen suffers career-ending head injuries shortly after turning the first sub-20-minute lap of the 37.73-mile Mountain Circuit.


Honda begins racing the oval-piston NR500, unsuccessfully.

Honda begins building motorcycles in the USA at its Marysville, Ohio, plant.

“Fast" Freddie Spencer wins the AMA 250cc Grand Prix Championship, earning a factory ride with American Honda for the following season.

Iranian students take Americans hostage in the embassy.

Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

By Motorcyclist Staff
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