A Century of Motorcycling | The 1960s

It was the Age of Aquarius, and Americans let their hair down as hippies experimented with mind-altering drugs and free love. Rock-‘n’-roll became a legitimate art form, elevated by musicians like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Citizens rallied behind President John F. Kennedy as The Cold War reached its terrifying climax with the Cuban Missile Crisis, then mourned his assassination at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald. America’s space program also reached its pinnacle, as Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first earthlings to walk on the moon. On the motorcycling front, the established British and American manufacturers were starting to feel the pinch of the upstart Japanese brands, especially the “Nicest People” people, Honda.


Number of motorcycles registered in the USA: 575,000

Civil Rights sit-ins begin.


Kawasaki merges with Meguro, and begins building complete motorcycles.

East German MZ rider/engineer Ernst Degner defects at the Swedish Grand Prix, joining Suzuki and introducing Walter Kaaden's cutting-edge two-stroke technology to Japan.

Velocette sets first 100-mph 24-hour record.

The Daytona 200 moves from the old beach course to the new superspeedway. Roger Reiman wins for Harley-Davidson.

Honda’s Kunimitsu Takahashi wins the German GP, becoming Japan’s first winner. Honda claims both the 125cc and 250cc world championships—the company’s first.

H-D's Carroll Resweber wins his fourth-straight AMA Grand National Championship.


Motorcycles registered in the USA: 646,102

"You Meet The Nicest People on a Honda" ad campaign debuts.

Honda’s 305cc CB77 SuperHawk appears, making 27 horsepower at a then-unheard-of 9000 rpm.

Dave Ekins and Bill Robertson ride Honda CL72 Scramblers the length of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, demonstrating the reliability of the then-unknown Japanese machines.

Bill Johnson’s Triumph streamliner sets a 224-mph speed record at Bonneville.


President John F. Kennedy assassinated.

Suzuki’s American subsidiary opens.


Yamaha introduces the self-lubricating, rotary-valve two-stroke.

Germany’s NSU ceases production.

The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, to the delight of teenage girls everywhere.


Bagnall Publishing purchases Motorcyclist.

Harley-Davidson introduces the Electra Glide, its first motorcycle with electric start.

Motorcycles registered in the USA: 1,382,000


Kawasaki begins selling motorcycles in the USA, starting with the 250cc Samurai.

Bob Leppan’s Triumph-powered Gyronaut X1 goes 245 mph at Bonneville.

The first full-face helmet, the Bell Star, is introduced.


Honda withdraws from GP racing after winning 18 world championships and 137 races in just nine years, to focus on Formula 1 auto racing.

**1968 **

Honda’s groundbreaking CB750 inline-four debuts at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Yamaha launches the DT-1 Enduro, kick-starting the dual-purpose trend that explodes in the ’70s.

Honda pays “Mike the Bike” Hailwood the equivalent of $1.2 million not to race for another team. He takes up auto racing instead.


Kawasaki releases the $999 Mach III, a 500cc two-stroke triple capable of mid-12-second quarter-miles, soon dubbed the "Widowmaker."

AMF buys Harley-Davidson.

Apollo 11 lands on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Woodstock is billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music.” Performers include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Santana and The Who.

Easy Rider becomes the third-highest-grossing film of the year, behind Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate.

Motorcycles sold in the USA: 660,000