A Century of Motorcycling | The 1980s

By Motorcyclist Staff, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

The 1980s got off to a rough start with a fuel crisis, a hostage situation and actor Ronald Reagan elected president. “Video killed the radio star” as MTV debuted, while New Wave music, neon colors and shoulder pads had everyone questioning everyone else’s tastes. The launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia signaled America’s return to space, and the Challenger disaster reminded us just how dangerous being an astronaut could be. Motorcyclist turned its attention entirely to streetbikes, and in honor of long-time editor Bob Green’s retirement, the phrase “titty-high” was retired from magazine parlance. We’ve come a long way, baby!

1980

Motorcyclist publishes its 1000th issue.

Peter Starr’s classic motorcycle racing film Take It To The Limit debuts.

Suzuki introduces the GS1000 superbike.

BMW’s R80 G/S ushers in the “adventure-tourer” genre. "King" Kenny Roberts wins third consecutive 500cc World Championship.

Art Friedman is named editor of Motorcyclist.

Mount St. Helens erupts.

1981

Last dirtbike appears on the cover of Motorcyclist as the magazine goes to an all-street format.

Harley-Davidson executives buy back the company from AMF.

Kawasaki unveils its first sportbikes, the GPz550 and 1100.

Americans dominate the Motocross des Nations, starting a win streak that lasts 13 years.

President Ronald Reagan is shot in an assassination attempt.

The Music Television Network (“MTV”) debuts.

The Space Shuttle Columbia is launched.





1982

Motorcycling’s “Turbo Age” begins with Honda’s CX500.

Motorcyclist's sister publication Dirt Rider debuts.

Californians Danny LaPorte and Brad Lackey become the first Americans to win the World Motocross Championship, claiming the 250 and 500cc titles, respectively.

Freddie Spencer, 20, wins the Belgian 500cc Grand Prix, the youngest-ever winner.

Suzuki debuts the radical-looking Katana sportbike, penned by former BMW designer Hans Muth.

Honda’s Gold Wing Interstate ushers in the “luxury-tourer” genre.

1983

BMW unveils the K100 “Flying Brick.”

Honda introduces the V45 Interceptor.

Erik Buell founds the Buell Motor Company.

The turbo-charged GPz-750 becomes the first 10-second production streetbike.

Triumph goes out of business.

Freddie Spencer wins his (and Honda’s) first-ever 500cc World Championship.

Kenny Roberts wins the San Marino GP and retires.

1984

Kawasaki releases the GPz900R, introducing the “Ninja” name.

Motorcyclist debuts its annual Motorcycle of the Year (MOTY) award.

The U.S. Government, pressured by Harley-Davidson, levels a 45 percent import tariff on all foreign motorcycles over 700cc.

Terry Vance becomes the first motorcycle drag racer to exceed 200 mph in the quarter-mile.

1985

Suzuki GSX-R750 debuts, changing the sportbike landscape forever.

Yamaha V-Max debuts, changing the musclebike landscape forever.

“Fast Freddie” Spencer wins both the 250 and 500cc World Championships—a feat never repeated.

Isle of Man TT legend Joey Dunlop is en route to the Island when his ferry sinks. Divers later recover his brother Robert’s racebikes from the bottom of the Irish Sea.

World awareness of famine in Third World countries spark “We Are the World” and Live Aid.

Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the final General Secretary of the Soviet Union.

1986

Suzuki GSX-R 750 debuts in America, showcased in the inaugral GSX-R Cup Final at Road Atlanta.

The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes on lift-off, killing all seven astronauts aboard, including civilian Christa McAuliffe.

Chernobyl (USSR) nuclear disaster.

1987

America reinstates the 65-mph national speed limit after more than a decade driving 55 mph.

Californian Wayne Rainey defeats Texan Kevin Schwantz to win the AMA Superbike Championship, sparking a rivalry that will continue into the ’90s.

Erik Buell releases the RR1000 Battletwin, his first Harley-powered sportbike.

The largest stock-market drop in Wall Street history occurs on “Black Monday.”

1988

Californian Eddie Lawson wins the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Laguna Seca Raceway, en route to his third 500cc World Championship for Yamaha.

Californian Fred Merkel wins the inaugural World Superbike Championship on a Honda.

Ducati unveils its 851 Superbike in limited-production Tricolore form.

BMW offers anti-lock brakes (ABS) for the first time on a motorcycle.

Human Genome project begins.

1989

Eddie Lawson wins his fourth and final 500cc world title on a Honda.

The Simpsons debuts.

The Berlin Wall falls, signaling the end of the Cold War.

Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska.

Pete Rose is banned from baseball for betting on games.

By Motorcyclist Staff
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