There are a lot of factors that affect the handling of a motorcycle. In addition to design faults by the manufacturer, poor maintenance can turn a reasonable handling bike into a white knuckle ride! And a bad set of tires can transform any bike into a crash without a date yet!
Compiling a list of ten bad handling bikes is easy, but putting them in order is impossible. It would also be doing the manufacturer a disservice as the riders weight/size can make a big difference--especially to a small bike. Nonetheless, the following bikes stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries as evil handling, not for the faint of heart, rides.
1. Kawasaki 750 Triple 1V and H2
Kawasaki 750 Triple 1V and H2. These 748 cc three cylinder 2-strokes were the fastest street bikes of their time in a straight line. Unfortunately, the brakes and handling were considered to be amongst the worst ever designed. The bikes became known as the widow maker. Introduced in 1972, the model was dropped from Kawasaki’s line-up in 1976.
2. Kawawaki 500 H1
Introduced in 1969, these bikes shared common points with their bigger cousins: the later 750s. Poor handling, very powerful, and inadequate brakes; in particular, the power came in on these bikes in a rush. Below 4500 rpm the power was moderate. Above this figure and the front wheel could be elevated in the first three gears!
3. Honda C50, 70, 90, 110
The step through chassis’d Honda is the best selling bike of all time. First offered in 1958, over 60 million Honda Cub’s have been sold since. However, the three speed automatic transmission found on the earlier versions was prone to locking the rear wheel if the rider changed down too quickly. The suspension was also very soft on the earlier versions with poor damping resulting in a pogo stick effect on long bumpy corners.
4. Honda CX 500
This bike suffered from low speed maneuverability problems due to its top heavy design. Produced from 1978 to 1983, the CX 500 became a favorite with many owners. However early UK versions were plagued with a major manufacturing fault—the crankshaft main bearing specifications were incorrect resulting in a major recall. Besides the top heavy handling characteristics, these machines also suffered from major crankshaft rotation related quirks. For instance, if the throttle was closed quickly (in an emergency, for instance) the bike would lean to the right. In addition, the rear wheel on these shaft drive bikes could be easily locked if the rider changed down too quickly.
5. Moto Guzzi
Manufacturers have tried endless ways of stopping vibrations from the engine reaching the rider—from rubber mounted engines (Norton Commando) to handlebar plugs that changed the vibration frequency. To stop this transmission of vibration, Moto Guzzi incorporated a rubber mounting for the handlebars on some of their earlier models. Unfortunately, any bikes fitted with high-rise handlebars became very unstable. The movement in the mounting gave a vagueness to the steering that made the bike feel like it was wandering.
6. Ariel Arrow
Produced from 1958 to 1965, the Ariel Arrow was 2-stroke twin with trailing link front forks and a steel pressed back-bone style frame/chassis. Although the Arrow offered reasonable handling, the low mounted mufflers greatly restricted the ground clearance. Riders would often find they were ‘running out of road’ as the mufflers stopped the bike from being leaned over sufficiently.
7. Suzuki GT380/550/750
Sold from 1972 to 1980 (in some countries), the GT series from Suzuki had three problems: they had poor ground clearance due to the muffler location and engine width, the later front disc brakes had poor performance (almost non-existent in the wet) and a very flexible swing arm. Also, the front end tended to oscillate from side to side (tank slappers) under acceleration. The shocks also had soft damping giving the inevitable pogo stick handling effect.
8. Husqvarna 250 MX, 1970
Husqvarna produced fast bikes from the beginning, but the handling on some of their MX bikes left a lot to be desired. The 250 of 1970 was fast in a straight line, had state-of-the-art brakes (adequate) but a weak swing arm with poor shocks. The rear end of the bike would be flicked from side to side at the slightest provocation. But possibly the worst design from Husqvarna at this time was the crotch pad. This leather device was designed to stop the rider sliding up the gas tank under heavy breaking; something it accomplished at the expense of extreme pain in delicate areas! Combined with burnt left legs from poor exhaust routing, the Husqvarna experience was truly painful.
Any of the leading link front fork models had one problem: the front tried to come up as the front break was applied. Besides altering the steering geometry in the wrong direction, the front end would lose all of its suspension during breaking. Any large bumps (when riding the MX or trials bikes, for instance) would be transmitted through the bars to the rider.
10. Harley Davidson Sportster, 1981
With long forks set at a steep angle and a top heavy weight displacement, the Sportsters were fine in a straight line (in fairness, they were designed primarily for this) but lacked handling ability in long corners due to poor suspension. Low speed maneuverability was impaired, too, with the fork/steering geometry.