While you could argue that all bikers have a bit of craziness in them, anyone with decent riding experience under their black leather belts will tell you that there are dangerous bikes and then there are dangerous bikes. The first type are all bikes with decent power. The kind of power that can get you in trouble – with the law or yourself – if you lack the judgment to be able to control your right hand when necessary.
But that’s not the bike’s fault. This all-new Suzuki GSX-R 1000cc isn’t the one that’s been dragging you down the highway and into oncoming traffic. It was your fault. But what about when your self-control and riding skills are up to the task, but the bike isn’t?
It’s a problem you’ll rarely encounter in the modern world, but for a while it was a bit more common. So what bikes are we talking about? Come with me now and get this speed-dial ambulance service as we take a look at the five most dangerous motorcycles ever made.
5. The Brough Superior SS100
Now, I know I’m treading sacred ground here, but let me explain. Yes, the Brough Superior is legendary and it will always hold a special place in my heart as the granddaddy of all modern bikes. But (and it’s a big but) you have to remember that what we had here was basically 1920s technology producing 50 hp or more in various configurations over the next decade.
Other bikes of the time were blessed with 15 horsepower, so the modern equivalent would be like Ducati or Honda releasing a sport bike with 350 hp and no electronic aids to contain it. Yowsers.
And with World War II and all of its technological advances yet to come, George Brough had created a veritable mechanical monster that few could pilot properly and even fewer would be able to master. Even with trucks full of riding experience and plenty of Brough Superiors to its name, the bike was too much for TE Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia).
A World War I survivor, a Brough took his own life in 1935 after misjudging an overtake, plunging into the road and crashing through the bars without a helmet. You wonder how many other non-famous Brough riders have suffered the same fate, right?
4. The 1971 Suzuki TM400
Ahhh, the 70s! When men were men and the hospitals were full of dirt bikes. Thanks in large part to the blockbuster movie On Any Sunday, off-road motorcycling had suddenly become a big sport by this time and all manufacturers were interference (pun fully planned) to bring their dirt products to showrooms and sell them. And as we all know, nothing succeeds better than excess. So with that in mind, Suzuki Motorcycles released the satin covers of their first open-class dirt bike in 1971. Powered by a very impressive, 40hp, 400cc two-stroke smoker, people were rightly motivated to try these little yellow beasts in the dirt.
But it was precisely then that the faults of the bike became apparent. Built on an overly soft frame and with extremely underspecified shocks front and rear, the thing was a handful to ride even for a pro. And the problems didn’t end there. Suzuki also included the hilariously named “Useless Electronic Ignition” (I’m not kidding) system that did a truly pitiful job of advancing and retarding the bike’s timing. The net effect here was that the engine randomly moved its peak power around the rev counter in a potentially deadly game of cat and mouse.
Of all reports, he liked nothing better than surprising you with a big kick to the back in the middle of a tight turn. Suzuki went into overdrive to stop all the broken bones with a heavier flywheel and better shocks. They eventually ditched the unnecessary ignition too, but that didn’t really matter in the end as they were already outclassed on the tracks of the world by an army of far superior Maicos and CZs. Whoops.
3. Harley Sportsters of the late 70s and early 80s
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Harley’s checkered past will know that the late 1970s and early 80s were dark years for the Milwaukee giant. In 1969, a ruthless corporate takeover of the American Machine and Foundry Company saw the legendary company crumble into a clumsy mess of a business plagued by poor quality, union issues and plummeting sales. free.
Running on nothing but fumes and the pop culture status that the 1960s had granted the brand, they managed to keep releasing new bikes, including their all-important Sportster models.
And as for those poor, unsuspecting customers who actually showed up at a dealership with a bag full of their hard-earned to buy a bike in the early 80s, well… let’s just say they inherited all the fruits from the complete shit show of the previous decade. Still 12 months away from being rescued by a group of marque loyalists led by Willie G. Davidson himself, Sportsters of this era were as quick and nimble as they were well built. Which is to say, they were some of the baddest, slowest, bulkiest bikes Harley ever produced.
They probably would have hurt more riders if not for the fact that they basically shook themselves to pieces shortly after leaving the showroom floor. I pity the poor Harley Service Managers of the time; how exactly do you tell a customer they bought a chubby, lemon-shaking bike without losing your job in the process?
2. The 1997 Suzuki TL1000S
In stark contrast to the Harleys, the Suzuki TL1000S is a prime example of a motorcycle that was dangerous not because it was crap, but because it pushed the advanced engineering envelope a bit too far. On paper, the thing looked like a real winner. A big V-twin sportbike from a respected Japanese manufacturer? What’s not to like? So, in 1997, Suzuki fans were scouring the chops to get their hands on one. And the bike did not disappoint. Good reviews saw good sales, but then things went a little south.
Suzuki engineers had taken on a considerable challenge in fitting the big, long v-twin into the frame of the bike. Simply put, the engine took up space in front of the rear wheel where the bike’s shock absorber usually sits. Their answer was to go with a tricky and largely untested damper, damper and spring setup that had been lifted straight from 90s F1 racing. The rear spring was placed on the right side off the bike and a “rotary-style” remote rear shock attempted to do its job through a set of rotating arms, a few valves and a tablespoon or two of hydraulic fluid.
But it just didn’t work and any serious up and down action of the rear shock would cause the oil to overheat and the damping to go out the window. Thus, the rear of the bike would become lazy. Then you had a big, torquey V-twin and a supple, flabby rear wheel that made the front end of the bike about as stable and reliable as a drunken Italian prime minister. And in the landscape you would go. Take a good look and you will always find a group of TLS enthusiasts. You will be able to spot them quite easily; they’re the ones on crutches who swear black and white that the bike is the best thing they’ve ever owned.
1. The 1972 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV
And so we come to the first place. And what a bike it is. After the almost equally dangerous H1 Mach III 500cc, the 1972 two-stroke triple with an incredible 750cc showed that Kawasaki had learned nothing from the fractures caused by the H1. With a jaw-dropping combination of way too much power, a rear-facing weight balance, and a frame seemingly made from rubber tubing, the H2 was an accident waiting to happen.
And did I mention the pencil-thin front forks, totally underspec brakes and horrible 1970s rubber? I may also have neglected to mention that the bike would spontaneously roll under full-throttle acceleration as the triple two-stroke hit the 3500 rpm powerband en route to a flat 12 quarter mile seconds. And that’s on a bike that weighed 190 kilos dripping with water. Damn, what a crazy ride that must have been. It’s like they didn’t even bother to test the thing before they started selling it.
Needless to say, even a professional pilot would have struggled to keep the little buggers under control, so we mere mortals had little to no chance of dealing with them. Luckily for Kawasaki it was the coasting 70’s so despite the army of injured riders and run over H2s they just winced a bit, pointed something in the distance and then pretended it was all wrong not produced.
Or more accurately, they beat their engineers and test pilots with a stick of bamboo, and tricked them into creating rather hastily designed “safety” mods for the ’73 and ’74 models. After all, market research has since shown that customers find it very difficult to buy new motorcycles when they are dead. Who would have thought?