Looking back from today, it’s hard to appreciate the effect of the Honda CB750 when it first appeared in 1969. Honda already offered buyers a lot to choose from though it was all from the smaller displacement range, topping out with their biggest 450cc parallel twins, but in the 1960s, if you wanted performance, the Harley Davidson Sportster might be your choice, maybe a Triumph or a Norton. These were motorcycles for the guy looking for speed, blue jeans, leather jacket bikes. Sure, they were a little rough, they might leak a little oil but, hey, you were a little rough, too, and compromises must be made.
Hondas, on the other hand, were a nice bike, well built, a great value, smooth, something you could ride in your button down Madras shirt, khakis and penny loafers. They handled well, they were fun, but it was hard to pull off the tough guy image on a Honda, especially when “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” set the tone.
Then, the CB750 rolls out. A smooth 4 cylinder engine, powerful, 68 hp, fast, 120+ mph top speed, quick, 13 sec. 1/4 miles and all of a sudden, Honda had the whole market covered. They were overhead cam machines with hydraulic disc brakes when cable operation was the norm. No fuss, reliable operation, nice wide flat seat for 2 up riding, great handling, reviewers of the day ran out of superlatives describing this new motorcycle. You can only imagine what was going through the heads of engineers and marketing departments in companies from the U.S. and Europe, other Japanese companies, too.
The Honda CB750 marked the beginning of the end for the British performance bike and the Sportster has likewise fallen from grace. The Honda gave you comfort and reliability plus top of the line performance, now you didn’t need to compromise, it still didn’t have the bad boy image of those other bikes, that would take a little time and some work in a few garages and sheds.
When I look over all of the changes since then, all of the new motorcycles that have come and gone, it’s hard to identify another with an equivalent impact. It’s no wonder that good clean CB750s are rising in price as collectors want to have at least one example of the bike that changed everything.