The Journal

The Japanese Motorcycle

Quality. Durability. Versatility. They’re things we strive for with all our products at RPMWEST. But they’re also the hallmarks of the Universal Japanese Motorcycle, a style of bike that dominated the 1970’s and still rules the roads today.

Written by Ben Deeb

A Brief History of the UJM

In a market dominated by heavy, slow American bikes and fast but finicky British bikes, the UJM totally changed the game. From 1969 through the early 80’s, the UJM reigned supreme. They offered the speed, style, and streamlined design of bikes from the UK with the durability, reliability, and comfort of domestic motorcycles. But they added something else – accessibility. The ad campaigns for Japanese bikes made it clear that two-wheeled adventure wasn’t just for rough and tumble gangs and rebels without a cause. They could be ridden by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

The First Superbike

Throughout the 1970’s, Japanese manufacturers sold hundreds of thousands of these bikes, characterized by efficient four-cylinder engines, separated carburetors, front disc brakes, and standard-position seating. The model that started the craze was the Honda CB750, now lauded as the “first superbike.” From there, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha each came out with their own copycat models, improving small aspects with each imitation. Though they’re now over forty years old, you’ll still see plenty of these mechanical monsters cruising streets all over America.

Photos courtesy of Scott Dilalla

The Vintage Difference

One of the reasons they’ve gotten so popular is their simplicity. In an era of machines that we can’t understand (let alone fix), vintage bikes offer something unique – the possibility of easy repair. Each part was mass-produced for decades, so they’re cheap and relatively easy to find. And if you can’t find the part you want, don’t worry. You can buy a salvage bike for a couple hundred bucks and recover the exact parts you need. With a little knowhow and a few extra parts, upkeep on these things is a cinch.

Custom Building

Today, the Universal Japanese Motorcycle is back with a vengeance, though they might not look how you’d expect them to. That’s because UJMs are easy to customize. They can cheaply and beautifully be converted into café racers (with short, low handlebars and scooped out seats) bobbers (with small seats and short pipes), or scramblers (built for off-road durability). With a price tag that’s often thousands of dollars less than new models, these classic bikes provide the whole package – they’re reliable, customizable, and undeniably cool. So the next time you see a bike tearing down the street, take a closer look. You might just be witnessing a vital piece of motorcycle history.


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