Modern day motorcycling arrived with Honda's CB750, which offered a new level of performance and sophistication when it was released in 1969. The CB750 was the first mass-produced four-cylinder bike, a fact emphasized by its impressive array of chromed tailpipes, and it incorporated an electric starter, disc front brake, and five-speed gearbox, all at a competitive price. The CB750 dominated the early 1970s, became known as the first superbike and had a great influence on machines that followed.

The CB750's major attraction was its 736cc, four-cylinder engine, which was smooth, reliable and produced an impressive 67bhp. Although the four-pot motor was an SOHC, two-valves-per-cylinder design, its development could be traced to Honda's racing exploits with high-revving twin-camshaft fours in the 1960s. The CB750 was a big and rather heavy bike with high handlebars, intended as an all-rounder. But it still whistled to a top speed of about 125mph (20lkph), handled reasonably well and sold in huge numbers worldwide.

Honda CB750 (1969)
Engine Air-cooled 8-valve SOHC transverse four
Capacity 736cc (61 x 63mm)
Power 67bhp @ 8000rpm
Weight 218kg (480lb) dry
Top speed 125mph (201kph)

In the 1970s, Honda did relatively little to uprate the CB750, which meant that it lost ground to newer rivals including Kawasaki's 900cc Z1, which arrived in 1973. The Honda actually lost some performance, as its engine was de-tuned to reduce emissions. When it was given a facelift to produce the CB7590F in 1976, the new bike's flat handlebars, racier styling, vivid yellow paintwork and four-into-one exhaust System were let down by a top speed of below 120mph (l93kph). The DOHC, 16 valve CB750K of 1979 had an unreliable engine and poor handling, all of which seemed a far cry from the brilliance of the original CB750.

Although the CB750's engine formed the basis for many specials and racebikes throughout the 1970s, the Honda made less of an impact on the track than in the showrooms. One racing highlight was veteran American star Dick Mann's victory at Daytona in 1970, which did much to boost the four's image. Some of the most successful straight-four racers were the RCB endurance bikes of the mid-1970s, which dominated long distance events in the hands of riders such as French duo Christian Léon on and Jean-Claude Chemarin. The CB750's success inspired Honda to produce several smaller fours in the 1970s, starting with the CB500 that arrived in 1971, and which was in some respects an even better bike. Its 498cc, 50bhp engine gave a top speed of just over 100mph (l60kph), and the CB500's reduced size and weight gave improved handling and maneuverability. Honda produced another winner in 1975 with the CB400. Designed mainly for the European market with flat handlebars, sporty styling and a neat four-into-one exhaust system, the CB400 was much loved for its blend of lively performance and taut handling.

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August 8, 2003, 10:50 am
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