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Why Don’t We See More Japanese Heritage Models?

As we test Honda’s new CB1100, we wonder why more Japanese heritage models are not being produced. Triumph, alone, has proven there is a substantial market for such bikes, and the Japanese, at least arguably, have an equally strong history from the 70s and 80s to draw upon.

Pictured is a custom based on Kawasaki’s Zephyr 1100, a bike not available in the United States that draws on Kawasaki’s high-performance heritage. This one in particular is modified by the Japanese company AC Sanctuary.

Would it be hard, for example, to drop a modern, high-performance engine (such as the one from the Z900) into a heritage design, with modern suspension and brakes? Is there reason to believe Japanese heritage models wouldn’t sell nearly as well Triumphs. Weigh in with your thoughts below.


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140 Comments

  1. Tank says:

    In June Sony announced that they would start producing vinyl records after a 28 yr. break. What’s old is new. Why should it be different for motorcycles?

  2. Don says:

    I’m not sure Honda could bring out the CB1100 today without liquid cooling. And don’t forget the giant exhaust canister and pre-canister underneath the motor and the ABS plumbing and wires! Actually nothing retro about all that stuff, is there?

    • DaveA says:

      Er…Honda is actually selling an air cooled CB1100 right now as we type.

      • mickey says:

        I’m still amazed that after 8 years on the market world wide, and 5 in the U.S., that there are still “motorcycle enthusiasts” that are unaware of the CB1100.

        I blame Honda’s lack of advertising of that model.

  3. paul s says:

    The Z1 was one awesome looking machine

  4. Steve says:

    The heritage bikes look like motorcycles, you can see what makes them work. Beautiful engines, gauges, brakes, etc. They also mostly had seats for rider and a passenger that you could use. No beaks, Tupperware, origami ergonomics, etc.
    lots of go fast bikes look like Transformer movie props.
    That’s why I’m restoring a 1973 CB 750. It’s a little expensive but it’s a motorcycle, not a movie prop.
    Retro bikes with modern details would be great but until we are over our love affair with 900+ pound V twins with no power and wet noodle frames, the American market won’t bite. Maybe a younger group will decide they want a usable motorcycle that looks cool, maybe.

  5. Ark says:

    I bought a leftover 2013 CB1100 two yaers ago at a great price. Great bike, typical Honda quality. After riding it and rereading the reviews, I can tell you how much the sheeple adhere to the media view and comments from forums. Having ridden for over thirty years and working on motorcycles for ten of those years, this is one of my all time favorites to ride. Its like my VFR, a great all around bike and better than my Hundred-Dollar. The only thing I would like changed is to make the FI feel like carbs with accelerator nozzles. The nostalgia of the seventies is cool and many good comments are directed my way with this bike. It makes me proud to own it and defend it. I let others ride this bike to form thier own opinion and most walk away impressed and questioning why they didn’t consider one. At least Honda is giving this one a second chance unlike my old 89-91 Hawk GT’s. wish I could still buy one of those.

  6. Zuki says:

    I really hope Kawasaki is working on a classic Z. I’m excited about it! I love ’70s & ’80s Japanese motorcycle style. Still have my ZR-7 I bought new with cash in 2000 as a 22nd birthday present to myself. I think the earlier twin-shock Zephyr 750 looks better than the ZR-7 though.

    Someone mentioned the new look of the CB1100 on here & I have to agree… I really like the CB1100. Seeing one in person is a treat. It’s a real jewel of a bike, and the quality & attention to detail really shine. To me though the original version looks better, tank seams & all! The seamless tank looks like a melted jelly bean or something and just doesn’t look right, but not enough to detract me from buying one. I don’t mind seeing the seam on a naked bike – how the tank is constructed. The ZR above wouldn’t look right without tank seams either.

    Personally, I can’t think of one classic tank that’s on my list of most beautiful that doesn’t have a visible seam. The “ugly” seam complainers got their way on the CB1100 but I bet many of them still won’t be a buyer… it was just another tick on their “deal breaker” checklist

  7. nunz says:

    I love Japanese heritage bikes because growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s they ruled the motorcycle world…….I rarely remember anybody having Euro bikes…….
    I lusted over all of them. When I got the chance I grabbed a 2003 ZRX1200r and can stare at it for hours when I’m not riding it………

  8. americo ney says:

    good idea MD , a KZ900 will be great, with breaks and up to date suspensions

  9. Spike says:

    Let’s see the T-7 from Yamaha come to the US. There is a bike that will sell in droves.

  10. mcmotohistory says:

    Hey Honda how about a new 1000cc flat four naked standard like the 1975 Goldwing, that makes 100HP and weighs 500lbs. Make it naked but give it fairing and saddlebag options. Not all the old bikes were inline fours. (And not everyone wants touring bikes that weigh 900lbs.)

  11. CycleDave67 says:

    A steady stream of “Bucket List” bikes make their way in and out of my garage, and when and if I grow tired of my current Honda RC51, a ZRX1200 is next on the list if I can find a nice one. Or Maybe 1st-Gen Ducati Hypermotard EVO-SP, but probably the ZRX that I’ll throw a catalog’s-worth of aftermarket parts at. But if Kawasaki were to start producing it again (maybe with the ZX14 engine replete with faux cooling fins and Triumph-like “carbs”), man it would sure be nice to just walk into a dealer, sign the papers and have a zero-mile bike to take home and love. And Suzuki…I feel like they’re missing a big opportunity to resurrect the legendary “GS-E” badge. The current GSX bikes are ok, but the styling doesn’t check the boxes of the people who have the money to spend and personally, I loathe all the electronics. I’ll handle my own wheelies, burnouts and braking, thanks. I didn’t hone my skills over 30 years of riding to have a computer step in and wag it’s finger at me.

  12. kyle says:

    I gave Triumph my $10,000 because the 2014 blacked out CB1100 has no ABS and no other bikes compare. The 2017 CB1100 is fugly IMO. Silver spoked rims and seamless tank? BLEGHHH. Nothing beat the 2013 and 2014 designs. I was never a fan of the bikini thong dash though. That was my only gripe.

    I would have bought this Kawasaki and perform a rear fender delete.

  13. bad Chad says:

    I assume, they don’t think people will buy them in numbers that make sense for them. The few times they have tried over the years, wound up being sales dogs. I really like the idea, I really want to like the CB1100, but somehow it just doesn’t, for me, capture the look and feel I think it needs.

  14. Mick says:

    Japan seems to have lost the ability to make a retro bike that is the same size as the real old bikes that they are made to resemble. The retro rigs that pop up from time to time are all so huge in stature compared to the older bikes, except for the narrower engines.

    • mickey says:

      The CB 1100 is physically the size of a mid 70s 750. I wish it was larger. My brothers T 120 is bigger than the original though.

  15. John says:

    There just isnt’ enough demand. Also, Europe just plain has more pulling power than the Japanese when it comes to retros. After all, the Japanese bikes of the 70s weren’t all THAT great looking and a lot of people are more interested in V-twins, V-fours, boxers, etc, not I4s which is about all the Japanese ever did. I rode some I4 Japanese bikes and simply didn’t like them. I DID, however, love my Sabre V4 and my Ascot V2. The one exception I have is that I’d buy a ZRX even though the engine is WAY more than what I want. Why? The bike fits me like a glove and most modern bikes are too long or two tall. The ZRX is like a 1300cc jammed into a 600cc bike frame.

    Retro bikes I’d like to see? A new CX650 cafe racer. A new V4 Sabre instead of the hideous CrossRunner. A new Hawk GT. A new Interceptor based on the original styling. Even then, though, if you REALLY want retro, we have plenty of those used, cheap and easily brought back to life, rather than paying $12K for a new copy.

  16. ed peatross says:

    This is what I have been begging Kawasaki to build. Great all around performance with comfortable ergonomics. Add modern fuel injection six speed gear box to the bike pictured above and I am a buyer. Loved both of my zrx’s and those bikes were strong sellers for team green..

  17. relic says:

    The guys old enough to remember those days, if they’re still riding, want wind protection and luggage.

  18. Fred says:

    Marketing ID’s the coming trends. Styling comes next, Engineering last.
    Do you really think that any Stylist will clone some older design and not favour of their own ideas ?
    No Chance. So any idea that Engineering can build a new Z900 retro Z Bike in the back shed and then pop it out in front of the CEO for build approval just won’t happen.

    • kyle says:

      No chance? None? Come on. Honda didn’t just dust off the cb1100 assembly line and press a green button. Designers and Engineers would not be out of work if they churned out another retro vs an all new ground up model. I bet there are tens of thousands of R&D hours in the CB1100. And I am sure they are proud to have worked on the CB1100. The 2013 and 2014 is beautiful. I bet there are many designers that sketch up retro styles more than seamless tanked stink bug bikes.

    • Dave says:

      Re:”Do you really think that any Stylist will clone some older design and not favour of their own ideas ?”

      Well, yes, in almost every case. The practice of design dictates that the designer produces artifacts that target an identified audience. If the market research says that the audience is looking for retro nostalgia, the designer calls on the brand’s design heritage and creates the CB1100, or something like it.

      Like kyle said, this thing wasn’t just dusted off from the 70’s. That tooling is LONG gone. It probably took a lot of work to make an air cooled, fuel injected engine that met emissions standards and ran the way modern bikes are expected to.

  19. bmbktmracer says:

    Does anyone know why Kawasaki cancelled the ZRX1200? It seems to have sold pretty well. Maybe it was too far ahead of its time. I used to have one. It was fun, though the handling paled in comparison to a Bandit 1250 I recently sold. But, the ZRX was smoother, looked better, was just as comfortable, and had a more exciting engine. Note that both required expensive shopping trips at Holeshot Racing to get competitive power and handling.

    • Selecter says:

      1) Lack of sales. The ZRX was a sales dog from the first ZRX1100 to the ZRX1200R that they finally killed in 2004. In North America, at least. It lasted ’til 2007 in the UK, and in Japan until fairly recently. They were practically giving these away, still, when I started riding in 2004. You could buy several year old brand new bikes at a lot of Kawasaki dealers.

      2) Emissions. With its architecture dating to the ZX1100C days, even the revamped model with FI for the Japanese market wasn’t going to meet anybody’s emissions requirements in North America or Europe.

      They were a cool bike and all, but with the carbs and dual-outboard shocks, and the weight, they weren’t going to sell against the supersport-happy populace in the early/mid-2000s. Compared to so many other bikes that were birthed in that era, the ZRX was basically a cement truck on two wheels. Just a quick one. 🙂 When it comes down to it, it’s core engine architecture and, for some folks, styling were really all that were going for it. And the engine was going to meet its demise at the hands of the regulators no matter what.

      That leaves us with just the styling. Given the retrograde trend we’re seeing now with the factory scramblers / “retro” / brat / cafe bikes, I’m convinced that if Kawasaki had brought a ZRX-styled version of *nearly any* of their current models starting 2 or 3 years back, they’d have sucked the wind right out of the FZ-09/FZ-07’s sails. I don’t really care one way or another with styling. I liked the ZRX’s look. I liked the first-gen Z1000’s look, too. But the “modern streetfighter” look definitely finds fewer admirers than the “modern retro” look, it seems.