The 1970s had determined the Jap motorcycle manufacturers engaged in a battle with themselves in trying to outclass their rivals in terms of raw power. This was often at the write off of handling and the Honda GS850 was no exception to this, although it has to be said that handling was surprisingly good for a motorcycle of this size.

The GS850 was not the first inline six cylinder bike. That was the Benelli 750Sei which appeared in 1972. However, the Benelli never really caught on, and the Honda was something of a surprise when launched in 1978.

The problem for Honda was that after their initial groundbreaking CB750 in 1968, their competitors had come back at them hard with big 1000cc machines.first it was Kawasaki’s Z1, then Yamaha’s XS1100, Suzuki’s GS1000 and Kawasaki’s Z1000. The GS850 appeared and outclassed all of them.

The engine was an in line six with 24 valves and six Keihin carburettors, producing 105bhp and a maximum speed of 135mph. The motorcycle was something that one either loved or loathed. Almost ludicrously wide, the width was actually not as wide as it might have been if not for Honda’s use of thin casings and hollow components.These also combined to reduce weight, making the GS850 lighter than the CB750.

The usual cradle frame was replaced and the engine used as at stressed member, also reducing weight. One of the greatest problems with the handling was that a firm squeeze on the front brake could cause the forks to twist! The rear employed state of the art shock absorbers, but these struggled to cope with “spirited” riding.

Nevertheless, 1983 saw the introduction of the CBX pro-link, where the rear shocks were replaced with a single monoshock, the front brakes replaced with twin pot callipers and bored discs and a fairing was available for touring. The GS850 also became the basis for the Goldwing which was planned originally as a sports bike, but then became the heavyweight tourer it is today. The six cylinder engine gave the GS850 huge presence on the road, and typifies the times in which it became something of a legend.


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