A Century of Motorcycling: The 1970s

Motorcyclist Magazine celebrates 100 years with highlights from the '70s.

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.

1970

  • 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.

1971

  • 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.

1972

  • 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 magazine.
  • Motorcycles sold in the USA: 1.7 million
  • Terrorists take hostages at the Munich Olympics.

1973

  • 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.

1974

  • 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.

1975

  • 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.

1976

  • 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.

1977

  • Yamaha announces its 650 and 750 Specials— the first Japanese factory cruisers.
  • The sci-fi blockbuster Star Wars debuts in theaters.

1978

  • 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.

1979

  • 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.
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