Maximum muscle, minimum cost: GSX1400 v XJR1300 v CB1300

Published: 17 October 2011

How times change. In the late 1970s and early '80s, bikes with silhouettes the same as these machines would have been called superbikes. Capacity was king and the bigger the cubes the better. Liquid-cooling? Pah, real men like AMA Superbike champion rode air-cooled monsters such as the Suzuki GS1000, Yamaha XS1100 or Honda CB1100.

Fast-forward 30 years and this style of bike is now seen as the relaxed option. Naked bikes have evolved into little more than stripped down sportsbikes while air-cooled engines are seen as old-hat, relics from the past that are dying a death due to their un-environmentally friendly design.

Muscle bikes are the dinousaurs of the motorcycle world, precariously balanced on the brink of extinction as the meteor of EU emissions laws hurtles unstoppably towards them.

So, before the impact, we have taken three of the biggest muscle bikes available in the second-hand market, the Suzuki GSX1400, Honda CB1300 and Yamaha XJR1300, to celebrate the joy of cubes, the delights of air-cooling (ok, one is liquid-cooled) and the charm of the macho machine.

Suzuki GSX1400 v Yamaha XJR1300 v Honda CB1300

The Suzuki GSX1400 is the Arnie of the muscle bike world, a steroid-fuelled behemoth with the kind of street presence that makes sports bikes cower in the shadows. Muscle bikes are all about show and few can command as much attention as Suzuki's GSX1400 - it's big brash and deliberately intimidating.

Everything about the GSX1400 is big: the 1402cc air-cooled motor, the six-piston calipers, the large front headlight - everything. And this feeling of size dominates the ride. Fully fuelled the GSX is a heavy old bus and quickly overwhelms its suspension and brakes.

There's a debate as to whether the Honda CB1300 deserves to be in a muscle bike test. It certainly has the heritage, as well as the looks, but it is missing one vital component. Actually, it isn't missing, it has gained something - water-cooling. Where the GSX and XJR both have air/oil-cooled engines in keeping with the tradition of the genre, Honda has bent the rules and given its bike a modern twist.

The water-cooled 1284cc engine is stunning, akin to a gigantic turbine that drives you along on a seamless wave of torque. Add some corners into the mix and Honda's suspension is light years ahead of the Suzuki's.

For a proper retro muscle bike that harks back to the 1980s then look no further than the Yamaha XJR1300. This is an older pre-injection model and as such comes with carbs and even a fuel tap (remember them?), but with the XJR you may as well be talking about the latest model - it has hardly changed in its 16-year lifespan.

Everything about the XJR is retro and cool. The clocks are huge dials, the fuel gauge is a dial, the tank is chunky, the seat is gigantic and even the gearbox is missing a sixth gear.

With so many years development behind it, the XJR's motor has been gradually honed into a low-revving powerhouse with bags of grunt.

Read the full test and find out which retro muscle bike makes the best used buy in the latest issue of MCN (12 October), on sale now.

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