Motorcycles on the Small Screen - The 80's

The more cynical observers would call the 80' the 'Me! Me! Me!' generation of status seekers.

Bringing the phrase of 'Greed is good' hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts and mega-mergers brought a culture the obsession of accumulation. Tom Wolfe dubbed the baby-boomers as the 'splurge generation.'  Video games, aerobics, minivans, camcorders, and talk shows became part of our lives in the 1980's. The worlds most famous motorcycle policemen bridged the last decade with the new one riding into the 80's until 1983.

The popular series wound down through the backstage dramas of stars arguing over screen time and boycotts. An interesting motorcycle fact possibly missed by viewers at the time, a well-known motorcycle enthusiasts was brought into the cast. Bruce Penhall, a native of Balboa Island, Newport Beach and a Motorcycle speedway rider who had won the 1981 and 1982 Speedway World Championships, was introduced as cadet–probationary officer Bruce Nelson in 1982.

Riding motorcycles into this monetary age, CHiP's may have brought the coolness of two-wheels to the attention of television viewers, riders found a few of the shows portrayals amusing at the least. Riders being able to talk through a wall of wind as they barreled down California's highways and motorcycles hitting every bump in the road at the same time left serious bikers with a smile.

As CHiP's rode into the eighties, ABC and the creators of Full House used the public's newer, more sanitized biker stereotype to give John Stamos’ character of a rock musician an edge of hipness. Along with his manicured hair and designer leather jackets, the motorcycle was occasionally mentioned and rarely seen.

Tall buildings in a single jump
Two years after CHiPs parked the Kawasaki’s for the final time the top shows on television were about a super-helicopter in Airwolf and a smart, talking car in Knight Rider. Producers moved the formula over to the two wheeled variety of transport, creating StreetHawk, a top secret government project ridden around by a handpicked cop who fought crime on the Streets of Los Angeles.

Rex Smith and his ride, The Street Hawk

In the show the motorcycle could achieve speeds up to 300 MPH with Hyperthrust and carried onboard weaponry of a laser cannon, machine guns as well as a rocket launcher. To explain the unbelievable jumps and stunts, the bike was supposedly rigged with a ‘Compressed Air Vertical Lift System’. In reality the motorcycle was ridden by talented stuntmen and built from a 1984 Honda XL500 for major filming and lighter XCR 250’s for the stunt work.

StreetHawk had more success with the bad guys than the ratings. With so many other choices for ‘super-vehicles’ on TV a souped-up dirtbike couldn’t cut it, and the show was cancelled after thirteen episodes.

But producers are an inventive bunch, putting motorcycles in story lines to give some characters edginess while making others blue-collared and consequently more likable. It was John Goodman’s dream to own a custom motorcycle shop selling Harleys in Roseanne a comedy sitcom which had a successful run from 1988-1997.

In what could be considered a prediction of motorcycle marketing campaigns to come, television worked hard to put women in the saddle in its small screen creations and bikers cruised into the nineties.

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – Introduction

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – The 60’s

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – The 70’s

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – The 90’s

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – Today

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