The hair, the shoulder pads, the music and the fashion – there’s lots about the 1980s that we remember fondly, and lots of it we’d rather forget…
There’s no denying that the 1980s were a peculiar time, not least for the incredible (if incredibly bad..) film and TV that was released. Some of it, though, has stuck with us and stood the test of time, and the 80s actually produced some of the most iconic motorbike films and shows we’ve ever seen.
In a fit of nostalgia, we’ve dug through the archives to bring you some of our favourite bike-related films and TV shows from that unique decade – from the films still considered classics today, to those that were long ago consigned to the scrap heap of silver screen history.
The poster for Prince’s first movie is one of the 1980’s most iconic images. Clad in a purple suit, Prince glares moodily out at us as he stands astride his customised Honda, also purple. Wreathed in dramatically lit smoke, a female figure watches him from the open stage door.
Released in 1984, Purple Rain is a fictionalised version of the Purple One’s story. In it, Prince plays The Kid. He’s the hottest star in Minneapolis with a prestigious slot at nightclub First Avenue, which is apparently enough to keep Prince and his band in hair product, flamboyant tailored clothing and customised motorcycles. But he’s held back by his parent’s abusive relationship and by everyone else in the world not acknowledging his superiority every second of the day.
His chosen mode of transport is the Hondamatic CB400A. Fitted with semi-automatic transmission, the CB400 range was Honda’s main model between 1977 and 1981. With 400cc, the four-stroke engine gave it a top speed of 108 mph. Unmodified, it has the classic cafe racer outline that has become so sought after in today’s custom scene.
In Purple Rain we get to see the CB400 with some suitably flamboyant additions. Not only is there a large fairing, but also a large passenger seat with hot pink velour inserts and a sissy bar that makes it look more like a larger cruiser. With Prince standing two inches over five feet, he needed a bike that was small enough for him to be able to sit on and have his feet reach the floor. Whether he’s taking his lady love for a romantic drive in the country, or driving around in a sulk after the nightclub owner takes offence at him only playing one song, or knocking Morris Day into a stack of rubbish, the PrinceMobile is the perfect method of transport.
It was so perfect it went on to be repainted in yellow and gold for Graffiti Bridge, Purple Rain’s 1990 sequel. It’s still on display in the museum at Prince’s Paisley Park complex.
While it’s objectively not the best film ever made, quite a lot of what’s bad about it also makes it highly entertaining to watch. The motorcycle may only be one small element but it’s still one of the stars of the film, and arguably a better actor than Prince.
The film that catapulted Tom Cruise right to the tippy-top of Hollywood’s A-list, Top Gun is one of the quintessential eighties movies.
The focus of the film is divided between pulse-pounding dog-fighting action and sweaty, topless male bonding, but it also manages to slip in a few scenes of one of the coolest bikes ever.
The Kawasaki GPZ900R was a game changer at the time, and is generally considered to be the world’s first modern superbike. It used an innovative 16-valve liquid cooled four cylinder engine, while the frame used the engine as a stressed member which improved handling and reduced weight. These innovations allowed it to reach top speeds of 150mph, while the suspension made it a great urban runabout too. Put simply, it was a hit. It sold like gangbusters, and had a very long shelf life. It was the first in what came to be known as the Ninja range.
Although it was phased out in America and Europe in the mid-nineties, it was still for sale in Asia until 2004. Emission regulations were what eventually killed it off, but it remains fondly remembered by bikers around the world. In 2015 Kawasaki relaunched the Ninja range with their high-end H2R superbike or the Ninja 300 for the more budget conscious.
Street Hawk was part of the inevitable response to the success of Knight Rider, in which David Hasselhoff, his beautiful blow-dried hair and his talking car KITT solved crimes. The idea of a super-powerful motorcycle solving crimes is the very definition of lazy ripoff, and given that it was cancelled after only thirteen episodes it seems the public’s imagination wasn’t captured in the same way as it had been by Hasselhoff. Despite this, Street Hawk has plenty to offer the 21st-century viewer.
Most importantly, the bike is cool as heck. It’s a sleek black beast with pop-up headlights and a fibreglass shell with state-of-1985’s-art futuristic trimmings. Jesse Mach, the main character, gets an extremely sharp black bodysuit with a matching helmet. The helmet projects a GUI onto the rider’s field of view, which is an idea real world technology has realised.
Underneath the trimmings, Street Hawk was based on a series of Honda off-road motorcycles. Multiple machines had to be used depending on the type of action being filmed, with the model used for day-to-day driving based on the XR500. Eleven CR250 dirt bikes were used for stunt work. A lot of motorcycles for a series that only lasted thirteen episodes, although not surprising given the number of jumps they were required to perform.
The CR250, also known as the Elsinore, is one of the most popular dirt bikes ever. Honda’s first two-stroke production motocross race bike, it was the first designed specifically for purpose rather than adapting a street bike. It was available to buy in 1973 and remained in production until 2007. The final surviving bike used in the TV show was originally sold to the Cars of the Stars museum in Keswick, Cumbria. When that closed down, the collection was sold to the Miami Auto Museum, where the CR250 remains, slightly battered.
Street Hawk stands as a prime slice of Eighties cheese, a heady mix of cool bikes, fun car chases, stunts and early synth music that still sounds pretty kickass.
The early 1980’s were a veritable golden age for flying motorcycles in TV and film, although ironically enough most of the films and TV they appeared in were absolute dogs. Megaforce appeared in 1982, at the height of the original Star Wars mania. At the time everyone in Hollywood was looking enviously at all the money Star Wars toys were making, and wondering how to get some of that action themselves. Megaforce is what happens when you try to do that without spending much money on making a decent film.
The titular Megaforce are a secret elite mercenary army, who use combat vehicles that come with attractive paintjobs and the kind of stylised shapes designed so they would be slightly cheaper to make for any toy manufacturer who bought the license. Most relevantly, the motorcycle they use is known as the Delta MK 4 Megafighter. These were based around the Suzuki RM125, which were produced as motocross racing bikes.
These two-stroke bikes had a massively long lifespan. Originally launched in 1975 they were only withdrawn in 2007. Twelve bikes were adapted for Megaforce, but most were destroyed at the end of the shoot. The story goes that the film went way over budget, and the FX department requested that they got paid after vehicle filming was completed. On being informed that as the production was now bankrupt, no payment would be forthcoming they stripped off the fibreglass panels and the prop weapon systems, and peeled off into the sunset.
Megaforce is a fantastic film to rediscover, just so you can remember the full horror of the 1980s, as well as the true majesty of design and fashion at the time. It also gave the world one of the least convincing flying motorbike scenes committed to celluloid, and some truly dreadful spandex bodysuits. Thanks, Megaforce!
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