Motorcycles of the 60s – Much beginning and much end

Famous Motorcycles

The 1960s set the course for the end of the 20th century. Emancipation, cold war, moon landing – the beginning of a new era. This also applies to the world of two-wheelers. It is in the process of completely reinventing itself and the motorcycles of the 60s are formative for this. 

For many two-wheeler enthusiasts, the motorbikes of the 1960s mark the beginning of a golden age. Old-established manufacturers are once again rising to the top of their game, while up-and-coming newcomers are already hinting at their potential. But one thing after the other…

motorcycles OF THE 60S – INTRODUCTION

Especially in Europe, people are breathing a sigh of relief after the 50s, ridding themselves – as best they can – of old burdens. They are looking forward to the future with joy. Inexpensive automobiles have long since replaced motorbikes as the vehicle of the little man. German roads are dominated by bullet-shaped Beetles, middle-class Fords or sporty Giulias. In between, motorbikes and scooters mingle ever more rarely. At the beginning of the 1960s, their chrome-plated ball tanks often bore German brand names. But while optimism and the economic miracle combine energetically, social change also marks the beginning of the decline of many manufacturers. NSU, Hercules or Zündapp build good products. In the long run, however, they fail to satisfy the desire for more power and a better attitude to life. BMW was the only German manufacturer of large-capacity motorbikes to survive this identity crisis.

Nevertheless, thanks to better manufacturing techniques and solid mass-produced goods, the durability of motorbikes is at an unimagined level. At the same time, however, it is losing importance in the battle for buyers’ favour. Before, no one talked about “lifestyle”, but now the term is on everyone’s lips. So the boundaries are shifting. In the meantime, two-cylinder engines over 600 cubic metres have established themselves as the upper class standard. BMW therefore stopped production of the single-cylinder R27 in 1966 and in future devoted itself only to boxers. MZ was able to achieve an impressive series of victories in off-road racing (six titles between 1963 and 1969) and developed the two-stroke ES series (until 1972) to perfection. Nevertheless, Zschopau was soon no longer able to compete with the higher-faster-further on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Meanwhile, in West Germany, a certain Friedl Münch was working on a 1000. The TT and TT-S models (from 1966) are regarded as the first big bikes of the modern era and can be mentioned in the same breath as the Ducati prototype called Apollo (1963). Both concepts relied on large four-cylinder engines, what madness! Unfortunately, the Italian Über motorbike will never make it into series production. However, Münch built almost 1,000 units of the very powerful “Mammuts”. They are pioneers, coarse outgrowths of a still young vision.


The USA, of course, also serves as inspiration. There, the private lives of the leisure society are becoming more and more ostentatious, and so are the motorcycles. Style, power and design count. And so, in addition to tail fins and chrome bumpers weighing tons, motorbikes are also cruising the highways, which are far more than simple means of transport. Powerful machines have long since arrived in the mainstream as an expression of joie de vivre and affluence. Pan and Shovel Harleys can certainly compete with the glamour of a Cadillac. The British, on the other hand, are fishing at the other end of the market, convincing with sleek scrambler and street bikes as a sporty alternative.


A reputation they earned as early as the 50s. Models like the BSA Rocket series (until 1963) or the Bonneville series from Triumph (even until 1974) inspire not only style icons like Steve McQueen. While youth and civil rights activists revolted and the competition for space flared up, some of the most legendary motorcycles of all time were created.

Among them are undoubtedly the first exclamation marks of the Japanese. Especially those of the Honda company, whose German branch was founded in Hamburg in 1961. The Asians would literally sweep over the coming decade. The CB 450 (from 1965) with its two-cylinder engine running at almost 10,000 revs hinted at what the CB 750 (from 1969) underpinned once again: the upheavals of the 1960s represented a real paradigm shift.

Text Sven Wedemeyer Photos BMW AG, Sven Wedemeyer, Ruote da Sogno

Author: Classic Trader

Die Classic Trader Redaktion besteht aus Oldtimer-Enthusiasten, die Euch mit spannenden Geschichten versorgen. Kaufberatungen, unsere Traum Klassiker, Händlerportraits und Erfahrungsberichte von Messen, Rallyes und Events. #drivenbydesire

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