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GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL: 1969-1978 - HONDA CB750 FOUR 736 cc, 1970, Japan

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GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL: 1969-1978

 


HONDA CB750 FOUR
736 cc, 1970, Japan
Collection of David Edwards



 

The year 1969 marked the end of one era, which reached its peak with Woodstock, and kicked off another, with Peter Fonda's iconic film Easy Rider. The advertising campaign for Easy Rider proclaimed, 'A man went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere,' a sentiment that could be expanded to embrace the entire decade.

Vietnam, the threat of martial law at home, the OPEC oil embargo, Watergate, and the CIA's 'dirty tricks' abroad and at home led to growing feelings of insecurity and powerlessness in the face of crises on the domestic and international fronts. Escape from life's uncomfortable realities was found in experimentation with alternative religions and lifestyles; the search for life's meaning through transcendental meditation, yoga, mysticism, and Eastern religion; the writings of Carlos Casteneda; communes; and hallucinatory drugs.


Ducati 750SS
748 cc, 1974, Italy
Collection of Laurence L. Forstall

Disco, immortalized in the film Saturday Night Fever (1977), was arguably the most pervasive symbol of the era. It emerged initially as the music of a true underground society, whose denizens danced till morning to frantic nonstop music plied by 'dee-jays.' Feeding on the public's appetite for fear-induced thrills, Evel Knievel became one of the highest-paid entertainers of his time, making motorcycle stunt-riding an industry unto itself. Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) defined a new genre of moviemaking as interested in release through spectacle as in story or character development.

Motorcycles have always offered riders escape through speed, but, in the 1970s, manufacturers learned to apply the technology of the racetrack to the creation of superspeedy bikes for the road. Honda, for example, transformed both motorcycle design and riding habits with its CB750 Four. Harley-Davidson and Triumph made noble attempts to compete, offering their own sporty superbikes. While Harley-Davidson's XLCR, a smaller-bodied cafe racer, tempered classic Harley design components and took inspiration from Europe, Britain's Triumph made a last-ditch marketing attempt by crossing the Atlantic with styling that made direct reference to a classic 'American' (i.e., Harley-Davidson) look. Both were market failures. Although nothing could be further away from Captain America's Easy Rider Chopper, it was the Ducati 750SS, the product of masterful Italian design, that captured the era's zeitgeist. In the '70s, this bike was the ultimate escapist vehicle.

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