Archive for the ‘ Motorcycle History ’ Category

Triumph Motorcycle History

Triumph Motorcycle History
Triumph is a privately-owned British company with over 100 years of history. Triumph has always had its own distinctive character and a history of creating bikes that become design classics since they first came to market in the 1900s. Like the rest of the British motorcycle industry, Triumph went out of business by the 1980s. But the brand was resurrected in the 1990s by British industrialist John Bloor who has built a lineup of cutting-edge sportbikes to nostalgia-themed throwbacks.

* 1883 Siegfried Bettmann moves to Coventry, England from Nuremberg, Germany.

* 1884 Bettmann starts an import-export company. He imports German sewing machines and also sells bicycles badged with the name “Bettmann.”

* 1887 Bettmann changes the name of his company to New Triumph Co. Ltd. (Later it will be changed again to Triumph Cycle Co. Ltd.) His principal investor is John Dunlop, a Scottish veterinarian who, albeit briefly, holds the patent for the pneumatic tire. Nice idea, too bad he didn’t really have it first! (Another Scot, R. W. Thompson, was the real inventor.) In any case, Dunlop is the first to successfully commercialize the invention.

A German engineer, Mauritz Schulte, joins Triumph. He convinces Bettmann that Triumph should design and produce its own products.

* 1888 The company buys an old ribbon-making factory in Coventry and sets it up to make bicycles.

* 1895 Schulte imports one of the first “practical” motorcycles, made by Hildebrand and Wolfmuller, to study the machine. Triumph considers making it under license, but under English law, powered vehicles are subject to a 4-mph speed limit. A man must walk ahead of each vehicle waving a red flag. This is bound to limit commercial appeal, and Triumph chooses not to get into the motorcycle business.

* 1902 With the repeal of those onerous sections of the Locomotive Act at the end of the 19th century, Schulte sets out to design his own motorcycle. First Triumph is produced – known as No. 1. This is basically one of the company’s bicycles, fitted with a 2-hp Minerva engine made in Belgium.

* 1903 Triumph opens a subsidiary in Germany to build and sell motorcycles there. Better engines are sourced from JAP (the initials of James A. Prestwich.)

* 1905 Triumph produces its first motorcycle completely in-house. It’s powered by a 3-hp engine and has a top speed of 45 mph.

* 1907 Annual production reaches 1,000 units. A new 450cc motor makes 3.5 hp.

* 1908 A new model comes with a variable pulley to help with difficult inclines. To change gears, the rider comes to a complete stop, gets off the bike and moves the belt by hand. Jack Marshall wins the single-cylinder class at the TT (on the old Peel course) averaging about 45 mph. It’s not known if he stopped to change gears or just pedaled his ass off, too.

* 1910 Triumph makes a big advance with the ‘free engine’ device (basically, the first practical clutch), which allows the user to start the engine with the bike on its stand and ride away from a standing start. There are two models in the lineup, and sales hit 3,000 units!

* 1911 Most bikes are fitted with footpegs only, not pedals.

* 1913 Schulte builds a prototype 600cc vertical Twin.

* 1914 Despite its strong connection to Germany, Triumph is chosen by Col. Claude Holbrook to supply the Type H motorcycle for military Allied military service. Triumph will sell 30,000 motorcycles to the military over the course of WWI.

* 1919 Schulte leaves the company, with a (very!) generous severance package. He’s replaced by none other than Col. Holbrook.

* 1920 Triumph produces the 550cc Type SD, the company’s first bike to feature a chain-driven rear wheel. SD stands for Spring Drive – it’s an early version of a cush drive.

* 1921 Bicycle-style rim brakes are replaced by drum brakes. The new bikes need better brakes, as they now make a lot more power – especially the prototype 20-hp Model R, with four-valve head. It is known as the “Riccy” after one of its designers, Frank Ricardo.

* 1923 The 350cc Model LS is the first Triumph with an oil pump driven by the motor. (Until then, the rider had to pump oil by hand.)

* 1925 The 500cc Model P is affordable and a commercial success – at first. Triumph sells a heck of a lot of them, but owners are disappointed by poor build quality and the company’s reputation is harmed. Towards the end of the year, Triumph improves things.

* 1927 Production hits 30,000 units.

* 1929 Wall Street stock market crashes. Triumph sells its German subsidiary.

* 1930 Under pressure from creditors, Bettmann is deposed as head of the company. A small two-stroke, the Model X, is the first Triumph with unit construction.

* 1932 The noted engine designer Val Page joins the firm. Page quickly creates several new motors, including a 150cc two-stroke and 250, 350 and 500cc four-strokes.

* 1933 Page’s first attempt at a 650cc Twin is a commercial failure; the public seems to want V-Twins.

* 1935 A foot-change gearshift is available as an option on 650 Twins.

* 1936 Triumph’s car and motorcycle businesses are split. Jack Sangster, who had owned Ariel, buys the motorcycle business and immediately hires Edward Turner (who had previously created the Ariel Square Four) as chief designer. Sangster reinstitutes Bettmann as the company chairman.

* 1937 Turner unveils the 498cc Speed Twin (T100) that has a top speed of over 90 mph. It is the definitive British motorcycle and establishes a pattern for Triumph bikes that will last more than 40 years.

* 1938 Bill Johnson buys an interest in British and American Motors, a bike shop in Pasadena. (Johnson Motors will later distribute Triumph motorcycles across the American West.)

* 1940 All motorcycle production is geared towards the war effort. With a new bike in the works, the Triumph factory is demolished in the blitz of Coventry.

* 1942 A new plant opens in Meriden, England.

* 1945 Over the course of the war, Triumph has sold 50,000 motorcycles to the military. With the return of peace, the company focuses on three models, the Tiger 100, the Speed Twin and the smaller touring 349cc 3T. All models feature a telescopic front fork.

* 1946 Ernie Lyons wins the Manx Grand Prix on a redesigned Tiger 100, using a lightweight all-alloy motor that Triumph designed for use on aircraft during the war. (The motor powered a radio generator.)

* 1947 A rear “sprung hub” is optional.

* 1949 The off-road 500cc TR5 “Trophy” and big-bore 649cc Thunderbird are released. The Trophy is named in honor of the British team that uses the bike to win the ISDT. It’s powered by a version of the “aircraft” motor.

* 1950 Triumph sells more bikes in the U.S. than any other market, including Britain.

* 1951 Jack Sangster sells Triumph to BSA for £2.5 million.

* 1953 The 149cc OHV Terrier is released.

* 1954 The Tiger 110 is released, which is basically a tuned (40+hp) version of the Thunderbird, with a rear swingarm.

Marlon Brando rides a ’50 Thunderbird in the film “The Wild One.”

* 1955 Johnny Allen goes 193 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in a streamliner powered by a tuned 650cc T-bird motor.

The TR6 “Trophy” is the first Triumph built expressly for the U.S. market. It will prove popular with desert racers.

* 1957 The exquisitely styled 350cc “Twenty one” may be an aesthetic success, but it proves a commercial failure.

* 1958 Mike Hailwood teams with Dan Shorey to win the Thruxton 500, which is one of the most important races in the UK, from a commercial perspective.

* 1959 The very popular T120 Bonneville 650 is introduced. It’s an evolution of the Tiger, fitted with twin carbs – something American dealers have long been asking for. It will remain in production until 1983.

* 1961 Bert Hopwood moves from AMC to Triumph, where he conceives a three-cylinder motor.

* 1962 Triumph design staff is further strengthened with the arrival of Doug Hele, from Norton. He finalizes the design of the Triple motor (though it will not appear for several years). Hele also designs a stiffer, double-cradle frame for the Bonneville, but it was not adopted.

* 1963 All the 650 Twins now feature unit construction. With the encouragement of Johnson Motors, a stripped-for-racing version of the Bonneville is produced for the U.S. market only. The T120C “TT” will become one of the most sought-after Triumphs of the period.

* 1966 Buddy Elmore wins the Daytona 200 on a factory-prepped 500cc Tiger. The Gyronaut X-1, a streamliner powered by two Triumph 650cc motors, goes 245 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

* 1967 Gary Nixon proves that last year’s Daytona 200 win was no fluke by repeating the feat.

* 1968 The 750cc Triple finally makes an appearance, powering both the Triumph Trident and the BSA Rocket 3. Although the motor is powerful by the standards of the day, it is too little, too late. Within weeks, the world will be buzzing with news of the Honda 750-Four, which has overhead cams, a front disc brake and electric start to boot.

* 1969 Malcolm Uphill wins the Production TT on a Bonneville. In the process he puts in the first-ever lap over 100 mph on a production motorcycle.

Rob North, an expatriate Englishman based in San Diego, designs a stiffer frame for the Triples, just in time for Daytona.

* 1970 Uphill wins the proddie TT on a Triple, which is nicknamed “Slippery Sam.” Not because of its well-designed fairing, but because it leaked oil all over Uphill’s boots.

* 1971 A new frame appears for the Bonneville. It is a Rob North design based on the Trackmaster dirt-track frame and it carries the oil in the large-diameter top tube.

* 1973 The BSA group, which includes Triumph, posts a huge financial loss. The decision is made to shut down BSA and focus resources and energy on Triumph. Craig Vetter’s freelance “American hotrod” design for the Triple, which was to be a BSA model, is produced as the Triumph X75 Hurricane.

Bert Hopwood designs a modular engine based on an overhead-cam, 200cc Single that can be produced as a 1,000cc across-the-frame Five. It will never see the light of day.

By the end of the year, the writing is on the wall for the British motorcycle industry. Triumph merges with Norton and is put under the control of financier Dennis Poore.

* 1975 This is the final year of production for the Trident. Bonneville production continues after the workers form a co-op to keep the Meriden factory going.

* 1977 NVT goes bankrupt. The Meriden Co-op introduces the Bonneville Jubilee Special in honor of the Queen’s 50th birthday. It’s 750cc and has cast wheels.

* 1980 Although the British government is willing to write off a substantial debt, the Meriden factory is still deep in the hole. There are a few interesting bikes on the drawing boards but no capital to develop them, nor is there any reason to think the work force could or would produce machines capable of rivaling the ascendant Japanese manufacturers, which are going from strength to strength.

* 1983 After some lean years, the Meriden factory closed its doors. English property developer John Bloor bought the remains later that year, saving the Triumph name. Bloor licensed the Triumph name to a small shop that continued to assemble a couple of Bonnevilles a day until 1985.

* 1985 Bloor, an unlikely savior, builds a subdivision on the site of the old Meridan factory, but he also acquires a new site, in nearby Hinckley. There, he outfits a new factory with new prototyping tools.

* 1987 The first “new Triumph” motor, a 1200cc Four, runs on the test bench.

* 1989 Bloor stakes at least $60 million of his own money on new mass-production tooling for the Hinckley plant.

* 1990 Triumph unveils six new models at the Cologne Show in September: The unfaired Trident 750 and 900 Triples, the touring Trophy 900 Triple and 1200 Four and the sports-oriented Daytona 750 Triple and 1000 Four. The machines are, by and large, better than most industry pundits expected. That said, they’re a step or two behind the best that Japan has to offer.

* 1994 The Speed Triple is introduced. It’s not trying to be a Japanese bike, and it’s the first of the new Triumphs to earn several unqualified positive reviews. The under-rated Tiger “adventure bike” also appears this year. Triumph Motorcycles of America is founded.

* 1995 Exports of new Triumphs to America begins.

* 1997 The 50,000th new Triumph is produced.

* 1998 The fine Sprint ST sports-touring bike is launched.

* 1999 Triumph serves notice that it will enter the ultra-competitive 600cc supersport market by creating the TT600. It will be good, but not quite good enough.

* 2002 A massive fire guts the main Hinckley assembly plant. The smoke clouds definitely have a silver lining, however. The company’s insurance claim funds a “do over.” The design and R&D shops are undamaged and continue new-bike development while the factory is rebuilt and refitted with state-of-the-art tooling. Triumph releases the four-cylinder Daytona 600 supersports bike.

* 2004 The Triumph Rocket III is released, which is the first production motorcycle to displace over 2000cc. It works better than most test riders expect it will. Still, it’s an answer to a question that few real motorcyclists are asking.

* 2005 Triumph bores out the Daytona 600 to 650cc. The change bars the bike from competition in the 600 Supersport class, but it was not having success there, anyway, despite a popular win at the Isle of Man in 2003.) The change makes the bike a great “real world middleweight,” especially for taller riders.

* 2006 The Daytona is re-released as an all-new 675cc triple. It’s class-legal in European supersport racing (and in Formula Xtreme here in the U.S.). With this bike, the new Triumph company has truly come of age.


BMW Motorcycle History

BMW Motorcycle History

The legendary German marque that is so well known for its automobiles actually has its roots in motorcycles. BMW’s first motorcycle, the R32, debuted in 1923, and its Flat-Twin engine layout is still used in its current lineup. The BMW name is known for premium motorcycles that can go long distances, although its current offerings are also geared toward younger and faster riders.

* 1913 Bayerische Motoren Werke is incorporated. The company produces aircraft engines.

* 1918 The Prussian army orders 2,000 BMW model IIIa aircraft engines

* 1919 A plane powered by an updated model IV engine sets an altitude record at over 32,000 feet.

Just a few weeks later, the Treaty of Versailles is signed and Germany is forbidden to manufacture airplanes. BMW turns its focus to motorcycles.

* 1920 The 2-stroke 148cc Kurier motor is developed.

* 1921 The M2 B15 is developed. It’s BMW’s first flat-Twin – aka ‘Boxer’ – motorcycle. The motor is based on an earlier aircraft design.

* 1922 The first light-alloy cylinder head is developed.

* 1923 Legendary BMW designer Max Friz sequesters himself in his house and draws the plans for an all-new motorcycle. The 486cc R 32 is shown at the Paris “Salon.” It is a big improvement over the M2 B15 and reaches a top speed of about 60 mph.

* 1925 A racing version of the R 32 – the R 37 – is introduced. Also, the R 39 debuts and front brakes are added to the R 32.

* 1927 BMW develops the R 47, which would go on to replace the R 32, R 37 and R 39.

* 1928 BMW releases its biggest motorcycle to date – the 750cc R 62, with a top speed of 71 mph.

* 1929 Paul Köppen wins the 500cc class at the famed Targa Florio road race in Sicily. BMW will win the next two years’ races, as well.

Ernst Henne uses a supercharged, 750cc “kompressor” (supercharged) on a closed stretch of Autobahn to set a new land-speed record of over 134 mph.

* 1930 An economic downturn in Germany leads BMW to produce a smaller bike, the 198cc R 2. This commuter bike was the first to use a one-piece ‘tunnel’ crankcase. Smaller motorcycles (under 200cc) did not require licenses in Germany, and the R 2 went on to sell more than 15,000 units.

* 1932 The R 4, with a 398cc single-cylinder overhead-valve engine, is released.

* 1933 The German army commissions BMW to produce R 4s, helping the company to stay in business despite the Great Depression.

* 1935 The 745cc R 12 is introduced. It is the first production model with hydraulically dampened front forks.

* 1936 The R 5 is introduced, which is BMW’s first bike with rear-plunger suspension. Also, the 500cc R 7 is released, which can reach 87 mph.

Otto Ley wins the Swedish 500cc Grand Prix on another “kompressor.” The supercharged BMWs will be the dominant force in Grand Prix racing until WWII. (After the war, the FIM bans forced-induction motors. Some people interpret the rule as punishing the Axis, since the most successful supercharged racing motorcycles were German and Italian. The single-cylinder bikes favored by British manufacturers were conventionally aspirated.)

* 1937 A Bavarian motorcycle cop and off-road racer, Georg Meier, tries a BMW road racer and pulls off after a few laps, saying he’s afraid to go fast.

* 1938 Beginning with the R 61, BMW has introduced rear suspension on all production models. Six new models are introduced this year, including the R 23, R 51, R 66 and R 71. The R 71 is the last BMW bike to feature a side-valve engine.

* 1939 Georg Meier wins the Isle of Man Senior TT on a BMW.

With the start of World War II, BMW turns its attention back to airplane production.

* 1941 BMW introduces the R 75, which was designed for war use. Weighing a whopping 925 pounds, the R 75 featured 750 cc engine, large gas tank, two seats and a sidecar. It could also be fitted with a machine gun.

The U.S. Army is impressed with the R 75 and similar Zundapp models. Captured German bikes are sent back for Harley-Davidson and Indian to copy. Up to 1,000 prototypes are built, but those motorcycles never see action.

* 1946 With the war over, BMW is forbidden to manufacturer motorcycles and turns its attention to making bicycles. To add insult to injury, German patents are taken in war reparation, and the French company CMR (later known as Ratier) begins making a BMW clone.

* 1948 BMW begins motorcycle manufacturing again with the R 24. The company’s first post-war bike, the R 24 is powered by a 250cc engine, the maximum allowed at the time.

* 1949 BMW introduces the R 50/2 and R 51/2. Both are seen as inferior as the main rear bearing had been moved into the crankcase and needed to be replaced every 10,000 miles.

* 1950 The R 25 with plunging rear suspension is introduced.

* 1952 BMW produces the 600cc R 67, outfitted with a sidecar.

* 1953 BMW begins production of the RS Series, which features a swinging arm rear suspension and Earles forks. Also, the R 25 is redesigned and released as the R 25/3.

The RS54 Rennsport production racer is unveiled.

* 1954 The team of Wilhelm Noll and Fritz Kron win the sidecar World Championship. Their victory marks the start of an incredible run; BMWs will win 19 of the next 21 world titles!

* 1955 The R 50, which also features a rear swingarm and leading-link front fork, replaces the R 51/3.

* 1956 Walter Zeller finished second in the 500cc World Championship, behind John Surtees; it is BMW’s best “solo” result in the modern era.

* 1957 Motorcycle production falls from 23,531 in 1955 to just 5,429 in 1959 due to an economic decline.

* 1960 The classic R 69 S is introduced. It is the fastest Boxer available at the time, reaching a top speed of 109 mph. Also, the R 27 is released, which features a rubber-mounted engine to cut down on vibration.

* 1967 Special United States export versions of the R 60 and R 69 are built, but no new models are released from 1961 through 1968.

* 1969 The /5 Series is launched and features electric starters. The R 50/5, R 60/5 and R 75/5 are all released with telescoping front forks.

* 1973 BMW celebrates its 50th anniversary and the 500,000th BMW motorcycle rolls off the line. The R 90 S is released, featuring a 900cc engine. The /6 Series is also introduced, with 600, 700 and 900cc variations.

* 1974 For the first time, BMW offers five-speed gearboxes on production motorcycles.

* 1976 BMW introduces the /7 1000cc R 100/7. The R 100 RS is also released, featuring the same 1000cc engine and a top speed of 125 mph. It is the first production bike to feature a full fairing.

Helmut Dähne wins the Isle of Man Production (1000cc) TT.

Reg Pridmore becomes the first-ever winner of the AMA “Production Superbike” championship, on an Udo Geitl-tuned R90S entered by Butler & Smith, the U.S. BMW importer.

* 1977 The R80/7 is introduced and becomes a favorite of police forces.

* 1978 The luxury-touring R100RT is introduced and features a full-touring fairing. The 473cc R 45 is also introduced.

* 1980 The 800cc R80G/S is introduced, which features a single-sided swingarm. The initials stand for Gelände/Strasse, which is “offroad and street” in German.

* 1981 Hubert Auriol wins the third edition of the Paris-Dakar race on an R80G/S prepared by HPN, a German specialist tuner that is still in the business of equipping BMWs for rough country.

* 1982 BMW introduces a road version of the R80G/S – the R80RT.

* 1983 The K100 is introduced – the first of the water-cooled K series. It is the first production bike with electronic ignition and fuel injection and has a top speed of 132 mph. A racing version called the K100RS is also introduced.

* 1985 BMW designs its first three-cylinder motorcycle – the K75. This bike shares much in common with the K100 but consumes less fuel and is has more nimble handling.

* 1986 BMW re-launches the R100RS with Monolever rear suspension and a 60 hp engine.

* 1987 The R100RT is re-launched with Monolever rear suspension and a smaller engine. BMW also debuts its double-jointed single-sided swingarm Paralever system this year. The 1000cc K100LT luxury cruiser is also introduced.

* 1988 The R100G/S goes into production and is known as the ‘largest dirt bike in the world’ thanks to its 463-pound weight.

* 1989 The K1 goes into production. At the time, BMW was obeying a voluntary 100-hp limit on engine power. In order to maximize performance without exceeding that limit, the designers create a striking, all-encompassing aerodynamic body that allows the 600+ pound machine to reach 140+ mph. It features the first ever digital engine electronics system on a production bike. It’s far too strange for BMW’s (then) conservative riders, and as a result it will be was discontinued after a few years of underwhelming sales.

* 1990 A four-valve version of the K100RS is introduced. ABS is now standard on all K series bikes.

* 1991 The 1,000,000th BMW motorcycle is produced – a three-cylinder K75RT. BMW begins outfitting its motorcycles with three-way catalytic converters. BMW also re-releases its R100R.

* 1993 The R1100RS sports tourer is introduced. The bike is powered by a fuel-injected, eight valve, twin-cylinder engine.

* 1994 BMW’s first single is released in 30 years, the F650 Funduro, plus the first four-valve GS, the R1100GS.

* 1995 This is the last year that the two-valve traditional Boxer is produced.

* 1996 The powerful four-cylinder, liquid-cooled K1200RS is introduced.

* 1997 BMW introduces its first chopper/cruiser – the R1200C. It’s the choice of James Bond, but that’s not enough to make it very popular. It will be discontinued a few years later.

* 1999 Richard Sainct wins the Paris-Dakar on a race-tuned 650cc single-cylinder “Funduro.” Officially, the bike’s designated the F650RR. The only stock part on the entire machine is the taillight!

* 2000 BMW releases its R1150GS, as well as a new luxury-tourer, the K1200LT.

* 2004 An all-new, lighter and more powerful Boxer Twin motor equips the R1200GS.

The K1200S is a radical new machine for the venerable manufacturer. It features an across-the-frame four-cylinder motor making a claimed 167 horsepower. It is the first time in years that BMW has shown a willingness to compete head-to-head in the marketplace with the world’s biggest motorcycle companies.

* 2007 The company leaks news of the S1000RR, a four-cylinder literbike that it plans to race in the 2009 World Superbike Championship.

KTM Motorcycle History

KTM Motorcycle History
KTM Sportmotorcycles has a deeply rooted motorsport tradition, building race-ready motorcycles for competitive and recreational riding. More than 130 world championship titles, victories at Dakar and countless national championships are proof of the company’s great technical expertise. Recently, the company has entered into the streetbike category with a variety of sporting and adventure-touring road-going machines.

* 1934 Austrian engineer Hans Trunkenpolz opens a metal-working shop in Mattighofen, Austria. The name of the business is Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen

* 1951 The company’s first motorcycle is developed – the R100.

* 1953 The company becomes officially known as ‘Kronreif, Trunkenpolz, Mattighofen’ (KTM). A team of 20 employees is producing three motorcycles per day.

* 1954 The 100th KTM motorcycle is delivered.

* 1955 A businessman, Ernst Kronreif becomes a sizeable shareholder of the company, which is renamed Kronreif & Trunkenpolz Mattighofen.

KTM Tourist (125cc) model is developed.

* 1957 KTM builds first sports motorcycle – the Trophy 125cc.

* 1959 Motorcycle production ceases. First KTM Pony scooter and moped are introduced.

* 1963 The Comet moped is introduced.

* 1966 The 10,000th Comet rolls off the line.

* 1968 The cross-country Penton Six Days dirt bike is produced and exported to the United States.

* 1970 KTM begins producing its own engines. (Previously, many of the dirt bikes had been equipped with Sachs motors.) New 250cc motocross bike is developed.

* 1973 KTM begins production of the 250 Cross and Enduro bike.

* 1974 Production of the KTM Hobby III begins.

* 1975 KTM introduces the road model Comet Grand Prix 125 RS.

* 1976 KTM produces its own 125cc engine.

* 1978 KTM America Inc. established in Lorain, Ohio. 50cc product range extended.

* 1981 Production of first water-cooled 125cc motocross bikes.

* 1982 Motocross models outfitted with new Pro Lever rear suspension. Company develops its first 4-stroke engine with water cooling.

* 1986 KTM becomes the first manufacturer to offer front and rear disc brakes on an off-road machine.

* 1987 Production begins on the KTM 4-stroke engine – single cylinder, 560cc, overhead camshaft.

* 1988 KTM stops production of scooters.

* 1989 Hans Trunkenpolz, founder, dies.

* 1991 KTM files for bankruptcy. The company is split into four independent arms – radiators, motorcycles, bicycles and tooling.

* 1992 Newly formed motorcycle division opens – KTM Sportsmotorcycle GmbH.

* 1994 KTM Sportsmotorcycle GmbH renamed KTM-Sportsmotorcycle AG. Production of Duke series of road models begins.

* 1995 Company acquires Husaberg AB and takes over White Power Suspension (NL).

* 1996 Production begins for KTM LC4 engine with electric starter.

* 1997 LC4 Supermoto road model is introduced. Also, KTM’s first adventure bike – the LC4 Adventure – is introduced.

* 1998 PDS Linkless suspension system is developed for 2-stroke models. Also, new 125 and 200cc engines and new Z design are introduced.

* 1999 Production begins on new 4-stroke engine – RACING 400/520. Also, the first KTM engines with separate lubrication (125 and 200cc) are introduced.

* 2001 Fabrizio Meoni wins the Dakar rally on an LC4 660R. KTM completely dominates the motorcycle class for the future of the event, which runs for the last time in 2007.

* 2003 Company introduces 950 Adventure and presents 990 Duke.

Backed by Red Bull, the company enters the 125cc World Championship. After a couple of challenging years developing the machine, Mika Kallio will finish second overall in ’05 & ’06.

* 2004 KTM launches the 990 Super Duke and introduces the 990 RC8 Venom and the 950 Supermoto at the Intermot in Munich.

After earlier agreeing in principle to supply motorcycles to two out-of-work actors, so they can make a documentary about a trip across Eurasia and North America, KTM abruptly drops the project. Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman get BMWs instead, and make “The Long Way Round.”

* 2005 KTM launches the 950 Supermoto and introduces the 990 Adventure and the 950 Super Enduro R.

The company announces a strategic partnership with Polaris, with the goal of shared R&D, and more importantly shared distribution networks. The plan is to try this relationship out for two years and, if it proves fruitful, to merge the two companies.

* 2006 The partnership with Polaris is dramatically downgraded. KTM announces that from now on, the company will simply supply Polaris with a few motors for ATVs.

* 2007 The company supplies all the 125cc motorcycles for the Red Bull Rookies Cup.

Kawasaki Motorcycle History

Kawasaki Motorcycle History
Kawasaki emerged out of the ashes of the second World War to become one of the big players from Japan. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Kawasaki built a reputation for some of the most powerful engines on two wheels, spawning legendary sportbikes like the Ninja series and a line of championship-winning off-road bikes.

* 1896 The company is founded by Shozo Kawasaki. His firm will come to be known as Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Over time, the company’s principal areas of activity will be shipbuilding, railroad rolling stock, and electrical generating plants. Motorcycles will become a small part of this diversified industrial conglomerate.

* 1960 Kawasaki signs agreement to take over Meguro motorcycles, a major player in the nascent Japanese motorcycle manufacturing business. Meguro is one of the only Japanese companies making a 500cc bike. In England and the UK, Meguro’s 500 – which bears a strong resemblance to the BSA A7 – is derided as a cheap copy. But in fact, it is a pretty high-quality bike.

* 1961 Kawasaki produces its first complete motorcycle – the B8 125cc two-stroke.

* 1962 A series of the two-stroke models from 50-250cc is released. The 250cc disc-valve ‘Samurai’ attracts notice in the U.S.

* 1966 The 650W1 is released and is the biggest bike made in Japan at the time. It’s inspired by the BSA A10. Over the next few years it will get twin carbs, and high pipes for a ‘scrambler’ version.

* 1969 Dave Simmonds gives Kawasaki its first World Championship, in the 125cc class

The striking Kawasaki H1 (aka Mach III) a 500cc three-cylinder two-stroke is released. Although its handling leaves something to be desired, the motor is very powerful for the day. It’s one of the quickest production bikes in the quarter-mile. The Mach III establishes Kawasaki’s reputation in the U.S. (In particular, it establishes a reputation for powerful and somewhat antisocial motorcycles!) A wonderful H1R production racer is also released – a 500cc racing bike.

Over the next few years, larger and smaller versions of the H1, including the S1 (250cc) S2 (350cc) and H2 (750cc) will be released. They’re successful in the marketplace, and the H2R 750cc production racer is also successful on the race track, but Kawasaki knows that the days of the two-stroke streetbike are coming to an end.

The company plans to release a four-stroke, but is shocked by the arrival of the Honda 750-Four. Kawasaki goes back to the drawing board.

* 1973 The first new four-stroke since the W1 is released. It’s worth the wait. The 900cc Z1 goes one up on the Honda 750 with more power and double overhead cams. Over the next few years, its capacity will increase slightly and it will be rebadged the Z-1000.

* 1978 Kork Ballington wins the 250cc and 350cc World Championships with fore-and-aft parallel-Twin racers (Rotax also built racing motors in this configuration. Ballington will repeat the feat in ’79. In 1980 he will finish second in the premier 500cc class. Anton Mang takes over racing duties in the 250 and 350 classes, and he will win four more titles over the next three years. This is the most successful period for Kawasaki in the World Championship.

Kawasaki’s big-bore KZ1300 is released. Honda and Benelli have already released six-cylinder bikes by this time, but Kawasaki’s specification includes water cooling and shaft drive. To underline the efficiency of the cooling system, its launch is held in Death Valley. Despite its substantial weight, journalists are impressed.

Over the next few years, the KZ1300 will get digital fuel injection and a full-dress touring version will be sold as the ‘Voyager.’ This model is marketed as “a car without doors”!

* 1981 Eddie Lawson wins the AMA Superbike championship for Kawasaki after an epic battle with Honda’s Freddie Spencer. He will repeat as champion the following year.

Kawasaki releases the GPz550. It’s air-cooled and has only two valves per cylinder, but its performance threatens the 750cc machines of rival manufacturers. This is the bike that launches the 600 class.

* 1983 The liquid-cooled four-valve GPz900R ‘Ninja’ is shown to the motorcycle press for the first time at Laguna Seca. They’re stunned.

* 1985 James “Bubba” Stewart, Jr. is born. Kawasaki supplies his family with Team Green diapers.

* 1989 The first ‘ZXR’-designated bikes reach the market. They are 750cc and 400cc race replicas.

* 1990 The ZX-11 is launched and features a 1052cc engine. It is the first production motorcycle with ram-air induction and the fastest production bike on the market.

* 1991 The ZXR750R begins a four year run as the top bike in the FIM Endurance World Championship.

* 1993 Scott Russell wins the World Superbike Championship, much to Carl Fogarty’s dismay.

* 2000 The ZX-12R is released – the new flagship of the ZX series.

* 2002 Bubba Stewart wins AMA 125 MX championship.

* 2003 Stewart is AMA 125 West SX champ. “What the heck is he doing on the jumps?” people wonder. It’s the “Bubba Scrub.”

In a daring move that acknowledges that only a small percentage of supersports motorcycles are ever actually raced, Kawasaki ups the capacity of the ZX-6R to 636cc. Ordinary riders welcome a noticeable increase in mid-range power, and the bike is the king of the ‘real world’ middleweights.

* 2004 Stewart wins the AMA 125 East SX title, and the 125cc outdoor championship. There are only one or two riders on 250s who lap any faster than he does on the little bikes.

Just when we thought motorcycles couldn’t get any crazier, the ZX-10R is released. OMG, the power!

* 2007 Although his transition to the big bikes hasn’t been as smooth as many expected it to be, Stewart wins the 2007 AMA SX championship.

Suzuki Motorcycle History

Suzuki Motorcycle History
Suzuki is another member of the “Big Four” from Japan. It began manufacturing motorcycles in 1952 and has become well known around the world. Its off-road bikes and roadracers have won world titles, and its street machines range from the cruiser Boulevard series to the legendary GSX-R series of sportbikes. It, along with Honda, is unique in that the company also builds automobiles.

* 1909 Michio Suzuki founds the Suzuki Loom Company in Hamamatsu, Japan. He builds industrial looms for the thriving Japanese silk industry.

* 1937 To diversify activities, the company experiments with several interesting small car prototypes, but none go into production because the Japanese government declares civilian automobiles “non-essential commodities” at the onset of WWII.

* 1951 After the war, Suzuki (like Honda and others) begins making clip-on motors for bicycles.

* 1953 The Diamond Free is introduced and features double-sprocket wheel mechanism and two-speed transmission.

* 1955 The Colleda COX debuts, a 125cc bike equipped with a steel frame. It features a 4-stroke OHV single-cylinder engine with three-speed transmission.

* 1961 East German star Ernst Degner defects to the west while racing for MZ in the Swedish Grand Prix. He takes MZ’s most valuable secret – knowledge of Walter Kaaden’s expansion chamber designs – to Suzuki.

* 1962 Using MZ’s technology, Suzuki wins the newly created 50cc class in the World Championship. The company will win the class every year until ’67, and win the 125cc class twice in that period, too.

* 1963 U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp. opens in Los Angeles.

* 1965 The T20 is released (aka Super 6, X-6, Hustler). This two-stroke, street-going Twin is one of the fastest bikes in its class. The ‘6’ in its name(s) refers to its six-speed gearbox.

* 1968 The T500 ‘Titan’ is an air-cooled parallel-Twin two-stroke.

* 1970 Joel Robert wins the 250cc World Motocross Championship for Suzuki. This is the first year of a three-year streak.

* 1971 The GT750 2-stroke surprises people with its three-cylinder liquid-cooled engine. In North America, it’s nicknamed the Water Buffalo; in the UK they call them Kettles. Although the bike is quite advanced in many ways and inspires a line of smaller air-cooled triples (GT380 and GT550), it’s clear that pollution control legislation will limit the use of two-strokes as street motorcycles. Even while the GT750 was in development, Suzuki had signed a licensing deal with NSU to develop a motorcycle with a Wankel (rotary) engine.

The TM400A motocrosser goes into production, a 396cc bike designed for 500cc motocross races. Roger Decoster wins the 500cc World Championship on the factory version of this bike and will dominate the class, winning five times from 1971-’76.

* 1972 The Hustler 400, a street version of the TM400, is released. This bike features a double-cradle frame and 2-stroke single-cylinder 396cc engine.

* 1974 The RE5 is the first Japanese motorcycle with a rotary engine. It cost a fortune to develop and, while not bad, it’s a commercial disaster. After two years, the company abandons the project, and there are rumors the tooling was dumped into the sea so that Suzuki managers would never have to see it again.

* 1975 The RM125, with an air-cooled 2-stroke single-cylinder 123cc engine, is a production motocrosser

* 1976 With the GS750, Suzuki finally builds a 4-stroke, four-cylinder road bike.

* 1978 The GS1000E becomes the flagship model of the GS series – it’s Suzuki’s first literbike.

* 1979 Wes Cooley wins the AMA Superbike Championship on the new GS. He’ll repeat the feat in ’80 before submitting to Eddie Lawson.

* 1980 The GSX750E adopts Twin Swirl Combustion Chamber (TSCC) structure and a DOHC engine upgraded to four valves. Also, a new Anti Nose Dive Fork (ANDF) system is adopted for the front suspension.

Somewhere in Japan, Suzuki appoints a Vice President of Acronyms for Suzuki’s Success (V-PASS).

* 1981 German designer Hans A. Muth, styles the GSX1100S Katana. It boasts an output of 111 hp at 8,500 rpm.

Marco Lucchinelli wins the 500cc World Championship for Suzuki.

* 1982 Franco Uncini wins the 500cc World Championship.

* 1983 The RG250 is Suzuki’s first ever race replica. This bike features the AL-BOX, square aluminum frame, 16-inch tire and Anti Nose Dive Forks (ANDF) at the front.

* 1985 The RG500 “Gamma” features the same square-Four cylinder layout as the as the factory Grand Prix bikes. Other racy features are the square-tube aluminum frame and the removable cassette-type transmission.

* 1986 Although the rest of the world got the GSX-R750 a year earlier, the most important new motorcycle in a decade finally arrives in the U.S. in 1986. Kevin Cameron, reviewing the machine in Cycle World, rhetorically asks, “Where will we go from here?”

The new GSX-R1100 covers ¼ mile in 10.3 seconds and boasts a top speed of over 160 mph. That’s where we go from here.

* 1989 Jamie James wins the AMA Superbike Championship of the GSX-R750.

* 1990 The 779cc DR-BIG has the largest single-cylinder engine in living memory.

* 1991 The GSX-R750 switches from oil-cooling to water-cooling and gains weight.

* 1993 Kevin Schwantz wins the 500cc World Championship. “I’d rather not win it this way,” he says, referring to the career-ending injury of his arch-rival Wayne Rainey.

* 1995 The much-loved 16-valve, 1156cc air/oil-cooled Bandit 1200 appears on the scene.

* 1996 Suzuki calls the new GSX-R750 the ‘turning-point model’ thanks to its twin-spar frame instead of the older double-cradle frame. The engine is also redesigned and featured 3-piece crankcases, chrome-plated cylinders and a side-mount cam chain as well as Suzuki Ram Air Direct (SRAD) system.

* 1997 The TL1000S is the first Suzuki sportbike with a V-Twin engine. It will be followed a year later by a racier R version, with a dodgy rotary vane damping system in the rear shock. Suzuki equipped the TL1000R with a steering damper, but it was still prone to headshake and customers approached it with caution, if at all.

* 1999 Mat Mladin wins the AMA Superbike Championship, beginning a run of unprecedented dominance. Mladin will win five more times, and Suzuki will win 8 of the next 9 titles.

With sport bikes getting more and more sharp edged, the company is one of the first to recognize what might be called the ‘semi-sport’ market, as opposed to the supersport market. The SV650 features an aluminum-alloy truss frame and a liquid-cooled 90° V-Twin DOHC 4-valve engine.

Suzuki calls the Hayabusa the ultimate aerodynamic sportbike. It’s powered by a 1298cc liquid-cooled DOHC in-line 4-cylinder engine that becomes the darling of land-speed racers. The name means “peregrine falcon” in Japanese.

* 2001 Based on the compact GSX-R750, the GSX-R1000 is powered by a liquid-cooled DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder 988cc engine, which features narrow-angle valves and downdraft individual throttle-body fuel injection.

* 2005 Suzuki’s original 4-stroke motocrosser, the RM-Z450, is equipped with a 4-stroke 449cc engine, which features the Suzuki Advanced Sump System (SASS).

Troy Corser gives Suzuki its first and only (so far) World Superbike Championship.

* 2006 The M109R, Suzuki’s flagship V-Twin cruiser, is powered by a 1783cc V-Twin engine with 112mm bore and 90.5mm stroke. It has the largest reciprocating pistons in any production passenger car or motorcycle.

* 2008 The B-King is launched, powered by the 1340cc Hayabusa engine, the B-King is Suzuki’s flagship big ‘Naked’ bike. Suzuki says it has the top-ranked power output in the naked category.

Yamaha Motorcycle History

The Japanese company was well known for its musical instruments, but in 1955 it began producing motorcycles. It began with simple and inexpensive machines but has grown to its position as a powersports powerhouse, offering some of the best sportbikes, cruisers and off-road bikes on the market. It ranks second only to Honda as the leader among Japanese manufacturers.

* 1851 Torakusu Yamaha is born. He will train as a watchmaker and make his first reed organ in his mid-thirties.

* 1890 He incorporates Nippon Gakki Company Limited, for the purpose of making pianos and organs. The company’s origins as a musical instrument maker are still reflected in its logo, which depicts three interlocking tuning forks. It becomes the world’s largest musical instrument maker.

* 1916 The founder passes away.

* 1955 In the years after WWII, the company’s president Genichi Kawakami realizes that if Japan is to rebuild, the country needs affordable transportation (more than pianos!) The first Yamaha motorized product is the YA-1 Motorcycle. It’s a 125cc, 2-stroke, single-cylinder streetbike patterned after the DKW RT125 (as were both the BSA Bantam and the Harley-Davidson Hummer.) The YA-1, aka “Red Dragonfly,” is so successful that Yamaha incorporates a subsidiary, Yamaha Motor Corp.

* 1957 The 250cc twin-cylinder YD-1 is an improved version of another German bike, the Adler.

* 1958 The first Yamaha motorcycles are sold in the USA by Cooper Motors, an independent distributor. The models are the YD-1 (250cc, 2-stroke, twin-cylinder streetbike) and MF-1 (50cc, 2-stroke, single-cylinder step-through streetbike).

* 1959 The YDS-1 mounts a tuned-up version of the YD-1 motor in a double-cradle frame (the earlier version was built on a pressed-steel spine). The YDS-1 establishes the pattern for the next 20 years of sporty Yamaha two-stroke Twins.

* 1960 Yamaha International Corporation began selling motorcycles in the USA.

* 1964 Phil Read gives Yamaha its first-ever World Championship, in the 250cc class.

* 1966 The YDS-3 is the first Yamaha streetbike to really capture the American imagination.

* 1967 The Yamaha TD1C 250cc production racer is released. Though the factory racers have been effective for years, this is the beginning of a brilliant run of proddie racers. More than any other manufacturer, it is Yamaha that forces out four-strokes engines from Grand Prix racing.

* 1968 The DT-1 Enduro is introduced. It’s perhaps the world’s first dual-purpose motorcycle.

* 1970 Yamaha’s first 4-stroke motorcycle model, the XS-1 (650cc vertical Twin) is introduced.

* 1973 Kenny Roberts wins the AMA Grand National Championship, racing a Shell Thuett-tuned 650 Twin on the dirt tracks and a 350cc two-stroke Twin (later TZ700 and 750 Fours) on road courses. He’ll repeat the win the next year, despite the 650 being outgunned by the Harley-Davidsons on the dirt tracks.

The fine RD350 middleweight sports bike is released. Its air-cooled 350cc parallel-Twin two-stroke motor is fitted with reed induction and produces an impressive 35 horsepower at the rear wheel.

* 1975 Yamaha pioneers the very first single-shock production motocross bikes.

Giacomo Agostini gives Yamaha its first 500cc World Championship.

In a desperate effort to keep the #1 plate, Yamaha encourages Roberts to try a TZ750-powered flat tracker. He rides it to an epic win in the Indy Mile, but says, “They don’t pay me enough to ride that thing!”

* 1976 The legendary XT500 is born. This thumping trailbike is the last nail in the coffin of the old British mystique. “The Japanese can even build a better 500 Single!” In its fourth year of production, an XT500 will win the first running of the Paris-Dakar.

* 1977 Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA, was founded in order to better appeal to the American market and establish a separate identity (from music & electronics) for Yamaha motorized products.

* 1978 The four-cylinder shaft-driven XS1100 is introduced.

Kenny Roberts becomes the first American to win the 500cc World Championship. He’ll win again in ’79 and ’80, proving that the first one was not a fluke.

The XS650 Special was introduced. This was the first production cruiser built by a Japanese manufacturer.

* 1979 YICS (Yamaha Induction Control System), a fuel-saving engine system, was developed for 4-stroke engines.

* 1981 Yamaha’s first air-cooled V-Twin cruiser, the Virago 750, is introduced.

* 1984 The RZ350 (sold elsewhere as the RD350LC, for “liquid cooled”) finally reaches the U.S. market. It was popular elsewhere from 1980 until the early ’90s but is only sold in the U.S. for two years. It’s fitted with an exhaust “power valve” that dramatically improves mid-range performance.

The hairy-chested RZV500 is introduced. With its water-cooled V-4 two-stroke engine, it’s a Grand Prix replica for the street, but it’s heavy and no match for Suzuki’s RG500 Gamma.

The first production 5-valve-per-cylinder engine is introduced on the FZ750.

Eddie Lawson wins the 500cc World Championship. He’ll do it again (on Yamahas) in ’86 and ’88.

* 1985 The V-Max 1200 muscle-bike hits the streets. Its 145 claimed horsepower sets a new motorcycle standard.

* 1987 Yamaha introduces EXUP, a new exhaust system for 4-stroke engines that includes a power valve to control back-pressure for optimizing the width of an engine’s powerband.

* 1989 The FZR750R homologation special briefly challenges the GSX-R750 for sportbike supremacy.

* 1990 Wayne Rainey wins the 500cc World Championship. He’ll do it again in ’91 and ’92, and is leading the 1993 championship when he suffers a paralyzing injury in mid-season.

* 1991 Thomas Stevens becomes the only person ever to win the AMA Superbike Championship on a Yamaha.

The FJ1200A sets the sports-touring standard and includes ABS.

* 1993 The striking GTS1000 features electronic fuel injection and hub-center steering designed by James Parker. Consumers failed to bite on the innovation and balked at the relatively high price.

* 1996 Yamaha introduces its first Star model with the 1300cc V-4 Royal Star.

* 1998 The YZ400F four-stroke motocross bike is introduced. This is the first mass produced 4-stroke motocrosser. Doug Henry won the AMA outdoor motocross championship with it while it was still a prototype in development. As soon as the public gets its hands on the production model, the two-stroke 250s are doomed.

The YZF-R1 sport bike is introduced to wild acclaim.

* 1999 The YZF-R6 is introduced.

* 2002 The R1 gets fuel injection, a first for a Yamaha sportbike.

* 2004 Valentino Rossi wins the MotoGP World Championship. He’ll repeat the feat the next year.

* 2006 The R6 gets YCC-T (Yamaha Chip-Controlled Throttle), a partial fly-by-wire system that is an industry first.

* 2007 The R1 gets YCC-I (Yamaha Chip-Controlled Intake), a system that varies the length of the inlet tract depending on throttle position and engine speed. The bike also gets a slipper clutch. Nori Haga uses the race version to finish second in the World Superbike Championship, just two points behind James Toseland. Haga and teammate Troy Corser combine to win the Manufacturer’s Championship for Yamaha.

* 2009 After an incredible run of more than 20 years, the Vmax is finally put out to pasture in favor of a new version powered by a monstrous 1700cc V-4 engine pumping out a claimed 200 horsepower.

Honda Motorcycle History

Honda was founded in the late 1940s as Japan struggled to rebuild following the second World War. Company founder Soichiro Honda first began manufacturing piston rings before turning his attention to inexpensive motorcycles. Mr. Honda always had a passion for engineering, and this became evident by the wild sales success of his motorcycles in the 1960s and by competing head-to-head against the world’s best on racetracks. Today, Honda is a juggernaut, offering class-leading machines in most every category.

* 1906 Soichiro Honda is born in Hamamatsu, Japan. His father owns a blacksmith shop that also repairs bicycles. As a young man, Honda is an apprentice in an automotive garage in Tokyo.

* 1928 Honda returns to Hamamatsu to open his own auto repair shop. Enamored with speed, he builds his own race car.

* 1936 Honda is injured in an auto racing accident.

* 1937 He forms a company to manufacture piston rings. After a shaky start (owing mostly to his complete lack of formal training in metallurgy) his company becomes successful. He is a key supplier to Toyota, which starts manufacturing cars at about the same time.

* 1946 Soichiro Honda sells his piston-ring business. Japan is struggling to regain some semblance of normalcy, after having been bombed flat at the end of WWII. Honda realizes the need for affordable transportation and begins grafting war-surplus two-stroke motors onto bicycles. (The motors had originally been intended for use on portable generators for military radios.)

* 1948 Honda Motor Co. Ltd is incorporated. Soichiro Honda focuses on the engineering side of the business, while financial operations are controlled by Takeo Fujisawa.

* 1949 The company produces its first real motorcycle, powered by a 98cc a two-stroke motor. When an employee sees the first one assembled and it is ridden outside the factory, he says, “It’s like a dream.” The name “Dream” was adopted for the bike, officially known as Model D.

* 1951 Mr. Honda is infuriated by the noise, smell and fumes from the two-stroke motorbikes (including his own) that crowd Japanese city streets. In response, the company creates its first four-stroke motorcycle, the Dream E (146cc).

* 1952 Despite the fact that he despises such “primitive” powerplants, Honda flirts with his original notion of auxiliary motors for bicycles. The Cub F (two-stroke, 50cc) clip-on motor is sold through thousands of independent bicycle shops across Japan. It is only manufactured for two years, but it introduces the “Cub” trademark, which will be popular for decades in various guises.

* 1953 The Benly J (4-stroke, 90cc) is released. At least some of these were sold with “Benly” tank-badges, and carried the Honda name on engine cases only. The Benly series also lasted a long time, and ushered in an era of improved performance. They were immediately popular with Japan’s amateur racers.

* 1954 Soichiro Honda shares his own dream, of success in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. He writes, “My childhood dream was to be a champion of motor racing with a machine built by myself. However, before becoming world champion, it is strongly required to establish a stable corporate structure, provided with precise production facilities and superior product design. From this point of view we have been concentrating on providing high quality products to meet Japanese domestic consumer demand and we have not had enough time to pour our efforts in motor cycle racing until now… I here avow my intention that I will participate in the TT race and I proclaim with my fellow employees that I will pour all my energy and creative powers into winning.”

Mr. Honda attended the Isle of Man races as an observer that year, paying particular attention to the German-made NSU motorcycles that dominated the 125 and 250 classes. Although it is widely believed Honda “copied” these machines, it is not true; the NSU racers were singles with bevel-drive cams–nothing like the early Honda racers.

* 1957 The leading Italian manufacturers, including MV Agusta, Gilera, and Mondial announce that they will withdraw from World Championship racing, citing increasing costs. MV Agusta will renege on this agreement and continue racing. Honda buys one of the last Mondial race bikes. The Japanese company doesn’t copy the Italian bike, but it does use it as a source of inspiration and an example of the standard they need to reach.

* 1958 The Super Cub (aka C100, aka CA100, aka simply “the Honda 50”) hits the market. It features a pressed-steel frame, leading-link fork, step-through design and a 50cc four-stroke motor. It is destined to be sold under various names, and will later grow to 70cc, and finally 90cc. It will become the most popular motorcycle–indeed, the most popular motor vehicle of any kind.

* 1959 Honda enters the famed Isle of Man TT races for the first time. The company fields five machines in the 125cc “Ultra-lightweight” class. The bikes are 125cc twins, of the type raced the previous year in Japanese national competition. Naomi Tanaguchi achieves the team’s the best TT result, finishing sixth. Honda wins the manufacturer’s trophy in the class.

Honda opens American Honda Motor Co. in Los Angeles.

* 1961 Honda dominates both the 125cc and 250cc classes at the TT. Mike Hailwood wins both races, with Hondas finishing 1st through 5th positions in each case. The Isle of Man Examiner newspaper says simply, “It was a devastating win for the Orient.”

* 1963 This year, Honda focuses on F-1 car racing, and the motorcycle racing program suffers. Sales of street bikes remain strong, however: the Super Cub is awarded the French Mode Cup; Honda opens its first overseas plant in Belgium; Grey Advertising unveils the famous “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign. Early the following year, Honda buys commercial time in the Academy Awards for a “nicest people” television ad featuring the Super Cub.

* 1964 Two-stroke motors begin to dominate the smaller-displacement racing classes. In order to remain competitive in the 250cc classes, while still relying on four-stroke motors, Honda produces a six-cylinder 250, the 3RC164. This engineering marvel dazzles the racing world, but it is not enough to prevent Phil Read from winning the championship on his Yamaha ’stroker. In ’66 and ’67, however, Mike Hailwood will use the six to win the 250cc World Championship.

* 1968 19 years after the company’s first two-wheeler rolled out of the factory, Honda produces its 10 millionth motorcycle.

* 1969 Honda unveiled the CB750 at the Tokyo Motor Show in late ’68, but it didn’t hit the market until early ’69. It is impossible to overstate the impact this bike made, as the first modern mass-market four, and the first mass-market bike to come with a disc brake. Until well into 1970, CB750s were made with sand-cast, not die-cast engine cases. In truth, die-cast cases were lighter, stronger, and more oil tight. But it’s the sand-cast models that are prized by collectors.

* 1970 Honda entered four riders in the Daytona 200, but only one–Dick Mann–finished. The three DNFs were completely overshadowed by Mann’s victory. It was a huge win for Honda in America. That year, the 200 grid also included all-new triples from Triumph and BSA, and the first XR750 Harley-Davidsons. Although the factory bikes are often referred to as CR750 models, the CR750 was never sold as a complete motorcycle; it was only a kit of parts to be assembled on a CB750 donor bike. The factory racers were built by Honda’s Racing Services Center (the predecessor of today’s HRC) and officially designated “CB750 Racing Type.”

* 1972 Honda finally admits that in order to build a competitive 250cc motocrosser, the company has to make another two-stroke motor. CR250 “Elsinore” reaches the U.S. in early ’73. It is immediately the most effective production race bike in its class, and Gary Jones wins the AMA motocross championship on it in its first year.

* 1973 Soichiro Honda retires as the company President. He remains on the Board of Directors, which grant him the honorific title ‘Supreme Advisor’ in 1983.

* 1974 The first Gold Wing, the GL1000, is introduced at Cologne. It reaches the U.S. market in early ’75. The ’wing is the first Japanese production four-stroke to be water-cooled. It also features shaft drive and is one of the first production bikes to be fitted with a fuel pump. The pump is required because the “tank” in the normal position is actually an electronics bay and conceals the radiator overflow, while the real fuel tank is under the seat, to help keep the center of gravity low.

* 1978 In an effort to build a competitive four-stroke motorcycle for the 500GP World Championship, Honda produces the oval-piston NR500. It was effectively a “four-cylinder V-8, with 8 connecting rods and 32 valves. It is a technological tour-de-force, but manufacturing challenges prevent it from racing until late in the ’79 season. Honda persists with the machine through the ’81 season, but even Freddie Spencer can’t manage to win on it.

* 1981 Honda Gold Wing production moves from Japan to a new factory in Ohio.

* 1983 Freddie Spencer wins the 500cc World Championship. For the first time, Honda wins the “blue riband” championship. (The company first won the Manufacturer’s Championship in the 500cc class in 1966.)

* 1986 After a shaky start, the V-four “VF” series of road bikes is redeemed with the redesigned VFR750F “Interceptor”. Its gear-drive overhead cams once and for all banish cam drive and wear problems, and the model is generally acknowledged as being the “best all-’round road bike” for most of the next ten years.

* 1987 The CBR600F “Hurricane” is Honda’s first fully-faired, four-cylinder street bike.

* 1990 The VFR750R (aka RC30) finally arrives in the U.S., three years after it is first sold in Japan. It’s a true homologation special, and a genuine race bike for the street, selling for twice the price of a stock Interceptor.

* 1991 The company mourns the death of Soichiro Honda.

* 1992 200 units of the legendary NR (aka NR 750) are produced. This is a street-legal version of the ill-fated NR500 Grand Prix racer, which sells for a breathtaking $60,000. It’s loaded with ahead-of-its-time features including carbon-fiber bodywork, a digital dash, underseat exhaust, a single-sided swingarm, and fuel injection. In spite of lavish use of carbon and light alloy, it weighs nearly 500 pounds, and most of the people who have ridden it (still a small statistical sample!) are underwhelmed.

* 1993 The CBR900RR stuns the sportbike world. Designed by Tadao Baba, the “Fireblade” combines the power of an open-class motorcycle with the weight and handling of a 600.

* 1995 The radical EXP-2 (two-stroke 400cc) wins its class in the Granada-Dakar rally. The bike is the proof-of-concept for a cleaner burning and more powerful two-stroke engine concept that uses a pivoting “valve” to close the exhaust port.

* 2001 Valentino Rossi wins the last ever 500cc World Championship on the NSR500 two-stroke.

* 2002 All change. Or not. Rossi wins the first World Championship in the 990cc MotoGP era, on the five-cylinder four-stroke RC211V. Valentino Rossi wins the last ever 500cc World Championship on the NSR500 two-stroke.

* 2004 Honda prototypes a motorcycle powered by a fuel cell.

* 2006 The 50,000,000th Super Cub is sold.

* 2007 Honda is the first manufacturer to offer a motorcycle with air bag crash protection.