MotorcycleDaily.com – Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

The Art of the Gas Tank

A passion for motorcycles does strange things to people.  Try explaining to someone why the shape of a gas tank can send a chill down your spine.  Come to think of it, many motorcycle enthusiasts won’t understand that one.

Our memories are tied with our emotions.  Given my personal age and experiences, certain gas tank shapes and designs have an emotional impact on me.  What I want to know is whether you feel the same way, and can provide us with samples (link to a photo, for instance).

70 Comments

  1. RedFZ1 says:

    My top 3:
    The 1st year Kaw Z-1
    Triumph Hurricane
    ’79 Honda CBX (Metallic red with the wide black stripe running down the centre)

    Report this comment

  2. Brian K says:

    Some great comments in here; for me, the timeless lines of the Z1 models strike a chord, as does the RD 250-350 LC, but as one earlier poster noted, the CB 750-900-1100F has a magnificent flow to it when allied with the sidepanels and tailpiece.

    Report this comment

  3. Norm G. says:

    too many tanks so little time. however my favorites grace the nr750, rc45, rvf400(nc35), bimota sb8r, cbr900/blade evo, and early zed750rr. these tanks all feature the uniquely 90′s design element of top-side ducting into the airbox. (luke wilson voice) “that’s old school” (/luke wilson voice)

    Report this comment

  4. P7HVN says:

    86 SRX600- perfect, to me
    [IMG]http://i654.photobucket.com/albums/uu262/P7HVN/SRX600/SRXrside.jpg[/IMG]

    Report this comment

  5. Pep says:

    Nice article, do you think we will get into an article on “Art of the Wheel” too?
    That is where a lot of my lust falls. :-) The Ducati pictured has a great set of wheels and tires and I like that way the rims are colored silver. I don’t like the blacked out look of rims nowadays. I think it is a shame to de-emphasize a lot of beautiful patterns on a pair of nice rims by painting them black.

    Report this comment

  6. Denny says:

    Early 80′s Honda CB 750/900/1100 F models. The shape of the tank combined with tail spoiler remains a beautiful classic to this day.

    Report this comment

  7. ZRexrider says:

    The shape of old school superbike – ZRX1200. That muscular front area, with a slightly curved top and inset cap. Modern amenities with vintage style.

    http://www.motorcycledaily.com/2001/03/26march01kawasaki2001zxr1200r/

    Report this comment

  8. Topper says:

    I never paid attention to the shape of a gas tank. To me, it was just a place to hold gas and my tank bag. That is until I saw a Brutale!!

    Report this comment

  9. Chris says:

    My first real love in a bike was the FZR400. The tank area on it wasn’t really a fuel tank, just a plastic cover really. But it was the face of the bike, and to my eye it is gorgeous. The knee cut outs were purposeful and the relief in the top for your chin when fully tucked in screamed suzuka 8 hour race kit. all in all a great design…

    Report this comment

  10. uconnapharm says:

    1972 Penton Six Days in green
    1974 CZ 400 Falta , unpainted with leather strap
    1974 Honda 125 or 250 Elsinore , unpainted
    1973 Kawasaki Centurion 100 in green & white
    1974 Husqvarna 125CR in yellow and steel

    Report this comment

  11. bob says:

    My all time favorites , tough call but the Hans Muth original katana Design is up there along with Bonneville , hawk gt , nighthawk 750 , h2 & h3 along with there tail fairings , what ever happened to the tail fairing ?

    Report this comment

  12. PN says:

    This was a great topic. I like my 1975 CB400F. And it’s red:)

    Report this comment

  13. mickey says:

    Ahh I love the shape of motorcycle tanks. My 4 favorites are the mid 50′s Norton Manx, the mid to late 60′s Triumph Bonneville, the mid 70′s BMW R90/100s and the early 80′s Suzuki GS1100G series. All of my favorites have places dished out for the knees. BTW I also like all for of those engine designs, the big single, the vertical parallel twin, the opposed twin, and the I-4. Never really cared for the looks of V twins ala Harley, Ducati etc.

    Report this comment

  14. kona11 says:

    One of the best would have to include the BSA B50 MX. Silver with a black strip down the middle.

    Report this comment

  15. Doug says:

    There are so many! Long sleek racers, tear drops, handmade, deep paint, real chrome, even righteously faded, a gem atop a magnificent engine. It’s easy to point out the things I wish to avoid on a motorcycle fuel tank which are plastic chrome, flanges, and crappy filler caps. Happy Holidays!

    Report this comment

  16. ian saki says:

    I still love the shape of the 1984 GPz 550, gas tank which was the same as the 750, and 1100. Then there was my 2003 R1150R with it’s radiators on the side of the tank, which made great hand warmers in the winter. Not that they were better than the heated hand grips.

    Report this comment

  17. zuki says:

    Agreed! This is a great thought-provoking article! A tank can make all the difference in how a bike is perceived. If the tank is ugly to my mind, then I don’t care about riding the bike that much, or do I think about and stare at it all the time. Of course, the rest of the bike is important too, and must be well-proportioned, but the tank is like the icing on the cake (or cheesecake in this case). It’s important to me how the tank looks from above and behind too(in the riding position). I also find it discouraging when I can’t see the engine on most modern bikes. I believe a good-looking engine is very important as well!

    My all-time top ten (for tank shape) I made just for this article (never gave it a thought before). I have an affinity for the vintage “mo-sheens”, although I’m an 80′s & 90′s child. Many of these bikes would still be on my list of all-time favorite bikes too, let alone the tank -

    #1 – 1971 Suzuki TC-90R, (yellow) – not my first bike, but the bike that I really imprinted on. The bike looks like a shark.

    #2 – 1965-67 Honda CB450K0 – beefy and purposeful-look.

    #3 – 1969 Suzuki X-6R T250 (green and black) – one-year only tank shape. A graceful and clean shape, ahead of it’s time.

    #4 – Norton Interstate w/steel tank, (any color, but especially in that metallic red-orange they had) – looks perfectly proportioned and elegant.

    #5 – 1972 Kawasaki 750 Mach IV H2 – a bike my Dad bought new before I was born, so I grew up staring at it a lot. Iconic paint stripes/color combo.

    #6 – 2000 Kawasaki ZR-7 – my first brand-new bike. A sexy tank. Looks beautiful from any angle, especially from the riding position.

    #7 – 1969 Suzuki AC100 – like a mini CB450K0 tank.

    #8 – 1967-68 Yamaha YR1/YR2 – an elegant chromed and rubber padded tank.

    #9 – 1967-68 Yamaha YL2-C/’69 L2C-A – it just makes the bike.

    #10 – 1977 Suzuki PE250B – quite original shape to its aluminum tank.

    As far as retro bikes go, the Moto Guzzi V7 is the one I’d buy mostly because of that tank shape!

    Report this comment

  18. Pete says:

    Harley XR750 flat track tanks look really cool to me. Harley has had it all this time and never put it to good use on the street as a real street tracker

    Report this comment

  19. anon says:

    A well sculpted tank is just that: sculpture. Some people have a reaction to art, some people don’t. Personally, I’m with you 100%. I even like your examples. Some others I would add off the top of my head: ’63, ’72, ’74 Husqvarna, AJS Porcupine, Honda NAS (concept bike), ’59 Ducati Diana (beautiful tank on a bike I find otherwise a bit awkward).

    Report this comment

  20. Steve says:

    Honda’s NC700 underseat gas tank and huge storage compartment where the gas tank used to be is too cool. Old Goldwings had a small compartment in 1975 but making this bigger is great.

    Report this comment

  21. Skymiles says:

    BMW, 1972, Toaster Tank. And to think how many were trashed because they weren’t in vogue at the time. Glad I have mine!

    Report this comment

  22. Marky Mark says:

    Tanks and pipes have always been my visual cues and let’s not forget all the great racing tanks over the years. I have a soft spot for late 70′s/early 80′s CB750 Supersports the way the tank flowed into the side panels and on to the tail section.

    Report this comment

  23. GuyLR says:

    I met a Japanese designer many years ago who, while discussing the sales failure of a certain early 80s model, stated that to him, the tank was the face of the motorcycle and if the face was ugly then the buyer wouldn’t appreciate the body either. The bike in question was a technical success but a sales flop and disappeared after only two years. With a nice face I felt it could have lived a much longer life.

    Those retro scheme Ducatis look great to me. Modern shapes with attractive paint.

    Report this comment

  24. ibking says:

    For me it was the Sporter peanut tank. Something about that tank as it sat alone on the frame. Then came the Suzuki 750 buffalo tank wow, it was huge so huge it spred your legs apart so wide. Today I have to ask “where did they put tank on my F800GS”.

    Report this comment

  25. Reinhart says:

    Harley’s Sportster is one of the few bikes that has retained it’s tank design and is instantly recognizable. The Sportster 48 has the same shape as Sportsters from many years past. I think some folks buy a bike based on the fact that they can relate to it’s tank and the memories it brings back. http://www.motorcyclefamous.com/2012-harley-davidson-xl1200x-sportster-forty-eight-48.html/2012-harley-davidson-xl-1200-x-sportster-48-yellow

    Report this comment

  26. Ayk says:

    CB400-Four – classic tank, classy bike. Red, please.

    Report this comment

  27. RenegadeVt says:

    I am a sucker for the Brit bikes of the 60s and 70s. I love all those old tanks and a tank with either knee pads or chrome side panels makes me feel funny in pants.

    So I had to get a new Bonnie with the hand panted tank for my wife to ride.

    http://i149.photobucket.com/albums/s42/RenegadeVT/misc/IMG_0781.jpg

    Report this comment

  28. takehikes says:

    I agree, the tank is absolutely critical for style. AND that is why so many bikes these days have no look, no feel, no style. Part of it is our fault. Bitching about fuel capacity drives the manufacturers to fill every inch of space with funky looking tanks.
    I’m a fan of all bikes but loves me some choppers and guess what? 2 tanks dominate real choppers, the peanut (Wassell) tank and the small Sportster tank (mistakenly called a peanut a lot). Perfect proportions for the job it does.
    Currently the tnak that just draws me in is on the Honda Fury. Can’t stand the rest of the bike but there is something about that tank…….

    Report this comment

  29. Tom says:

    Being a child of the 80′s the bikes from that era really stand out for me. My favorite gas tank has to be on the 1984-1986 Honda CB 700SC Nighthawk. For me there is just something about the flat sides of the tank and the way the tank goes down to meet the sidepanels. Best example I can find is here: http://classic-motorbikes.net/images/gallery/cb700_nighthawk.jpg

    Report this comment

  30. Denny says:

    This is pertinent topic. I would suggest that tank is just a part of styling; there is also rest of it and all should flow-in seemlesly for final estethic effect. But I also realize that tank is functional item. So, overall, it it uneasy task to create good tank. I’d name Honda919 (Hornet) as a successful example. I believe with this one, they are on mark; it is preaty and it is functional. Whole unit looks well balanced. I have no problem whatsever to fasten my tank bag on it.

    Report this comment

  31. Kagato says:

    I have stated before how much I hate the humps on modern bikes especially the Kawi’s, my marque of choice, I feel the need to say that some of the hump tanks look a lot better from the riders point of view though–Yamaha R6 is a good example of this, quite beautiful when viewed from above. : – )

    Report this comment

  32. Joe Bar says:

    Hey, I’ve got one of those Gold Star replica tanks on my SR500. Hard to find and expensive now, but once upon a time, they were cheap!

    Report this comment

  33. mark says:

    I saw a Bonneville parked next to a Yamaha FZ 1 the other day. No comparison – the Bonnie’s tank is much more attractive to my eyes. MANY years ago I lusted after a Bonnie but started out with a Yamaha RD 350 (also pretty nice looking), so I agree that my taste is tied to memories. The Honda pictured is beautiful, except for that ugly flattened out trim that runs at the lower edge of the tank. That looks cheap.

    Report this comment

  34. clasqm says:

    The motorcyle fuel tank places some gallons of highly combustible fluid right in front of the rider, in the worst possible place to position that weight. If you’ve ever ridden a bike with the tank hidden away under the seat, you will know that mass centralisation really does work. Slowly, the motorcycle “fuel tank” is becoming just a cover over the airbox and/or electrics. Even where the fuel is kept in the traditional position, what you are looking at may just be an ABS cover over something really ugly. The traditional fuel tank is on its way out.

    But they were gorgeous. The coffin tank on a Kawasaki Z1-R makes me feel 17 again. Harley’s insanely impractical 2-gallon original Sportster tank is eye-catching whatever it is mounted on. If the engine is the centrepiece of a motorcyle, the tank is the visual frame it hangs from, the piece that ties together the engine and the two wheels.

    Report this comment

  35. Mike S says:

    Kind of ironic that you put Ducatis in the first pic and they are having all of the problems with warping plastic tanks ;-)

    Report this comment

    • ChuckinMontana says:

      The real culprit is the junk fuel that huge agribusiness conglomerates have forced on us, ie gasahol. Years from now it will be recognized as the environmental disaster it really is and people will wonder how we could have been such stupid sheep, but that’s another matter.

      My favorites include the Honda Sport 90, HD Sportster, and early BSA/Triumph tanks. Looking in the garage, I worry about my Ducati MS tank, the FXDX tank is nice but not really special, the Thunderbird Sport comes closest to classic tanks, and the nearly 6 gallon Wee-Strom tank wins on pure function and nearly 300 mile touring range.

      Report this comment

  36. Gordon says:

    I bought this GSX-R1000 new in 2002 and still love it. I like the cant of the gas tank and it flows well with the body lines of the bike. It also looks great from above while riding. Dirck’s review of the 2001 version helped me make up my mind to buy what I think is still one of the best looking liter bikes. JMHO.

    http://img14.imageshack.us/img14/1186/k21000.gif

    Report this comment

  37. starmag says:

    It used to be that you could easily tell what bike a gas tank was from even without paint, emblems or name badges. For example , say a bonneville, sportster, Z-1, H-2, Gs1000 etc. All very distinctive. Good luck with the same task now with all the “wedge and a hump “tanks. As some one else mentioned, besides the motor of a motorcycle, the gas tank is(was) it’s major design element. Most gas tanks now look pretty much the same to my eye, that is,really ugly.As for the comment about the Honda Cb1300, I’d love to have one if only Honda would import it to the US. Practical big roadsters are now rare in the US and are very desirable to me, and apparently, Europeans. I actually like to take my wife with me on rides, but i dont want to ride a dresser to do it. The supposed “comfortable” sport touring big bikes still have a laughable “monkey F***ing a football” riding position for both the rider and passenger. As for “adventure” bikes with 17″ front wheels that never leave the pavement, they may have a decent riding position, but am I the only one who thinks these thing are hideously-donald-duck-ugly? Sorry, I guess I’m OT here…

    Report this comment

  38. Jerrylee says:

    i agree the tank seems to be the main shaping point on most bikes. Norton Manx, 70s husky red and chrome, ducati jelly racing in the 50s, 73 Ducati super sport are the shape of many young mans dreams

    Report this comment

  39. Kiwi Morgan says:

    I used to race a little 100cc “Bucket Racer” (budget road racer either 100cc 2 stroke or 125cc 4 stroke commuter or trail bike engines). Mine ran a Suzuki GP100 engine in a one off frame that a guy here in Christchurch NZ (John Britten’s home town!) built up for 125 racing in the late ’70s with a Honda CR125 motor. The frame was like a miniature Norton featherbed and he did a great job on the fibreglass tank. This is my best photo and my leg hides the beautiful way it tapered down to the seat, but you can see how nicely it sat over the frame rails. When I was finished with it I sold the rolling chassis back the original builder (now in Perth, Western Australia). Most fun bike I’ve ever owned, and the only one I ever won races on!
    http://images.trademe.co.nz/photoserver/9/198828409_full.jpg

    Report this comment

    • Tom says:

      “my leg hides the beautiful way it tapered down to the seat, but you can see how nicely it sat over the frame rails.”

      Love it! Passionate remembrance of motorcycle often sounds like a description of a girl once dated. I’ve been accused of lighting up more talking about bikes than women. Well that’s because I understand motorcycles.

      Report this comment

  40. Stone996e says:

    Nice article on a very real thing, albeit one not limited to just the art of the gas tank…I would say its the art of the motorcycle. All the bikes pictured, with the exception of the Honda, are great examples of moto lust. The Honda pictured, as with the vast majority of their product over the last decade…inspires no lust at all.

    Report this comment

    • MGNorge says:

      In the eyes of the beholder. I would love to have one as mentioned above by someone else.

      As far as fuel tanks go they, and the engine, are the two most recognizable features of a bike and together make for identification. I even like some tank designs that are really no tank at all such as the early Honda GL1000′s.

      Report this comment