I Love The 90s

Choose a FireBlade. Choose a Ducati 916. Choose born-again bikers, track days, Mick Doohan and Carl Fogarty. Choose the 1990s.

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By Stuart Barker on Thu, 4 Nov 2010 - 09:11


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Choose a FireBlade. Choose Britpop. Choose British Superbikes.
Choose Carl Fogarty, Mick Doohan and Wayne Rainey. Choose the Spice Girls, Oasis and Take That. Choose a Ducati 916. Choose born-again bikers, track days, Playstations and the Simpsons. Choose Triumph, choose shell suits, choose alco-pops. Choose the 1990s.

There are just as many reasons to forget the 1990s as there are to remember the decade but as far as bikes went, it was a pretty sensational ten years.
Honda's FireBlade was launched as was Ducati's 916, Triumph was reborn in Hinckley, track days took off in a big way, Mick Doohan showed us all how a bike should be ridden and Carl Fogarty put Britain back on the world bike racing map with four World Superbike titles. And that's just for starters.

So try to forget about John Major and Bill Clinton, cast Take That from your mind and don't even think about jumped up little tarts hollering 'Girl Power'. Jump on your Suzuki Bandit or Honda NR750 (as if) and ride down memory lane as it was for bikers in the naughty Nineties.

THE CULTURE

Any decade which witnesses the birth of the Honda FireBlade, Ducati's 916 and Yamaha's R1 can't be a bad one. Three of the greatest bikes known to man all released within a few years of each other sounds like a recipe for Utopia. And it was. But according to some clever geezer, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction and when firms started building bikes as good as these, it was inevitable that some bastard - or bastards - were going to try and spoil the party. And so it came to pass that GATSO cameras, the scourge of the 90s, would watch our every gear change and twist of the throttle, thieving scum would become increasingly keen to deprive us of our beloveds and fat cat insurers decided we should pay for them to have even more holidays in the sun.

But even that trilogy of doom wasn't enough to stop us having fun. After all, in the 1990s, we were also blessed with cheap bikes after the parallel movement, big trailies provided alternative entertainment for those with too-high insurance policies, and a multitude of tricks were devised to enable us to avoid the long lens eye of the law (eg reflective plates, flip up plates, radar detectors and number-plate-scraping wheelies). So it wasn't all that bad.

If there was one cultural phenomenon that stood out amongst bikers in the 90s it was the born-again brigade. The source of many a joke and heated discussion down the boozer, almost everyone knows of someone who falls into this, admittedly rather wide, category.

The basic understanding of the phenomenon is that Joe Bloggs used to have a bike, gave it up when he got married, had 2.4 children and racked up a few grand in the Abbey National. Kids leave home, mid-life crisis kicks in and suddenly the desire to recapture youth and ride off into the sunset on a motorcycle becomes irresistible again. Another born again is born, so to speak.

Now whether that scenario is to be scorned or not, I shall leave up to you dear reader. But if the letters pages of the motorcycling press were anything to go by, then scorn him you most certainly did. Mostly because accident statistics often showed these elder bikers to be crashers which in turn pushed everyone's premiums up, and because they wobbled round roundabouts on mint new R1s and matching Daineses while the rest of us had to make do with a five year old Blade and second hand leathers. There's a big difference in the power of an R1 compared to a Honda CX500, or old 60s or 70s Brit knacker, as too many BABs found out to their peril. But they're still bums on two wheeled seats so let's live and let live shall we? After all, we could be the born-agains of the next decade, right?

One way the old boys could have honed their rusty skills was to take part in one of the millions and billions of track days which sprung up in the 90s. Prior to the decade in question, the only way you could get on a race track was to go racing, go to one of the very few race schools which existed, or get an ACU licence and piss about on practice days getting in everyone else's way.

But that all changed as properly organised track days took off in a big way. Heavy traffic, even heavier handed coppers and their Big Brother friends the GATSO division meant it was tougher than ever to see what a FireBlade could really do on the road so thousands of us took to the track and a good thing it was too. Apart from actually learning to ride better, it gave us all the chance to play at being Foggy or Doohan round the most famous race tracks in Britain. Superb.

Talking of Britain, there was more cause for national pride in 1991 (apart from the Gulf War) when Triumph was reborn in Hinckley, Leicestershire courtesy of property developer John Bloor. All he bought in the 1980s was the rights to the name of Triumph but by 1996, he was building pretty handy bikes like the T595. You've got to hand it to the man, he didn't hang around, especially when he should have been putting up plasterboard and building houses at the time.
The first bike to roll off the Hinckley production line was a Trophy 1200 in 1991 but, being a modular bike, it shared almost every working part with the firm's other models. To keep costs down, the only difference between models was whether they had three cylinders or four and capacities were changed by altering bore and stroke. Not a recipe for making the best looking bikes around, but it gave us all something to shout about.

But the T595 and the naked T509, released in 1997, were not modular bikes and finally marked Triumph out as a force to be reckoned with. One of the most famous names in biking was back and despite drawing some bad press for allegedly cracking frames on the early models, the firm looked to be well established by the end of the decade.

Bizarrely enough, thanks to another new phenomenon in biking, you could buy a new Triumph cheaper in Spain than in Hinckley. The craze sweeping the biking nation was parallel imports.

Not to be confused with grey imports (which are bikes brought into the UK which were never intended to be released in this market), parallels were bikes bought cheaply from source and imported through unofficial channels. This obviously got up the noses of the official importers who all of a sudden had to find ways to justify charging several grand more for their 'official' bikes. Parallel buyers initially were not included in safety recalls, warranty cover, were offered no bonuses like official buyers and had little things like KPH speedos to worry about. But as the parallel business expanded, better deals were on offer and the official importers were forced to drop prices as they ran out of excuses. Yee ha! Cheap bikes for all. But for how long? The price gap between parallels and official bikes had been reduced and many people preferred to shell out a bit extra for the piece of mind that buying an official bike would provide. But as official prices start creeping up again, how long before there's another parallel boom to echo that of the late 90s?

Some major celebs got into biking too in the 1990s, chief amongst them being Trainspotting star himself Ewan McGregor. The Ducati 748-owning Scot attended track days and even backed a couple of race teams in between bouts of filming. And he still intends to run a WSB team some day. Good egg. May the Force be with him.

Prodigy's Keith Flint went one better than McGregor when he started club racing on a 916 after honing his skills on his souped-up FireBlade at track days. The nutty Braintree boy was a bit of a crasher but he was bloody quick when he stayed on the bike. And he mucked in with all the other clubbie lads, sleeping in a tent and pissing in a bottle. But then, that sounds just like a music festival anyway so he was probably well used to it.

THE BIKES

Just two years into the naughty 90s and biking was changed forever. An 893cc engine making 122bhp was bolted into a chassis the size of a 750 and it all weighed in at just 185 kilos (407lbs) - lighter than a 600 of the day. And the geometry and steering made it turn like a 400... In fact, it looked the nuts and handled like a GP bike. It was called the CBR900RR but became known to the salivating world at large as the Honda FireBlade.

Project leader Tadao Baba adopted the 'lighter is righter' approach from the outset and omitted 'unnecessary' items like steering dampers and huggers to make the Blade as light as a 600cc bike of the time. Coupled with a 16 inch front wheel (instead of a standard 17 inch model), the result was a handling heaven never experienced by road riders before and all this could have been yours for £7,390 (or about £2,500 now for an early model).

Since 1992, more than 20,000 wannabe GP racers in the UK alone have become Blade converts and ten years after its release, the 2002 model looks sharper than ever.

Of course, good as it was, the Blade was priced for peasants and serfs like us. The real aristocracy had an altogether more exclusive mount to straddle and at £37,000, it sounded much more impressive. Except it wasn't. Honda's NR750 remains one of the most incredible bikes ever built. Not because it performed brilliantly - it was, in fact, very mediocre to ride (so we're told) but because Honda bothered building it at all. It was almost like a limited production run of a concept bike you'd mull over at the NEC. Oval pistons, a 748cc vee four engine, a computerised display panel and styling right out of Silver Dream Racer meets Ferrari Testarossa. Strange. Very strange. Still looks the nuts today though. But 37 grand? That's a decent house that is.

Back in the real world, there was an altogether different styling exercise reaching completion in Italy. It's incredible to think that just two years after being blessed with the FireBlade, Ducati pulled the covers off its achingly gorgeous 916 and proved once again that when it comes to style, Italians wrote the book, made the movie and capitalised on the merchandise.

The liquid cooled, 916cc, DOHC vee twin went on sale in 1994 at £11,800 but if you didn't have an order in you could forget it. Getting your hands on the best looking motorcycle ever made was tougher than finding Osama Bin Laden's favourite cave. The first 300 bikes designated for the UK were sold before they even got here and every owner was envied and hated in equal proportions. The single sided swingarm, those underseat exhausts, the 'come ride me' headlights and the simple, classical, Ferrari red paint job. Mama Mia was this bitch hot. A tad pricey perhaps but then so is the Mona Lisa and which would you rather have had?

And as if the bike didn't have enough street cred in the way it looked, it also rode better than any vee twin ever made and then that Carl Fogarty bloke made it look even cooler by winning four world titles on it. Does it get any better? Yes, actually. Because celebrity owners like Mike Tyson and Eddie Irvine added to the bike's status and it became an iconic image in art galleries the world over. The 916 is a thing of beauty and it's a measure of its greatness that it remains so little changed today. Improved, refined, faster and lighter maybe, but it's still unmistakably a 916 no matter what the engine size or decal on the bodywork.

But not every Italian bike firm shared in Ducati's success. Bikers may have lusted after Bimota's V Due in magazines but one spin round the block on it and they'd be trading up to an RD250. Sadly for two stroke fans the world over, the V Due just didn't work. After its delayed launch in 1998, it became immediately apparent that the fuel injected 500cc two stroke needed further development if not a complete redesign. Figures quoting 110bhp and 145 kilos (319lbs) became academic as the bike's powerband was so narrow it could have hidden behind Kate Moss. After being recalled, the few bikes sold were modified but the changes were too little too late and the bike played a major part in Bimota's downfall. Oh, and it cost a ball-busting £14,500 too. Now why would you want to spend that amount of cash in 1998 for a bag of shite when just £9199 would have bought you a Yamaha R1?

Honda's FireBlade had reigned supreme as the king of the sports bikes for six long years in January 1998 when a young pretender stole its crown by beating it fair and square in open battle. The R1 was faster and lighter than the Blade and its handling was razor sharp, too. An unbeatable combination. Well, at least for a while. With a claimed 150bhp, a top speed of 175mph, a weight of just 177 kilos (389.4lbs) and the best brakes and suspension in its class, the R1 was also lighter than any 600 on the market. All hailed the new king.

To prove its might, David Jefferies even took a kitted R1 for a stroll round the Isle of Man TT and blew a five hundred grand factory Honda RC45 into the Manx weeds.

Hell the things were so powerful that giggling bike dealers told tales of owners returning them ashen faced and wet at the crotch. The throttle only worked one way on an R1 it seemed.

The 1990s ended with the R1 still on top as the ultimate sports bike but there was a downside for owners - the bikes were so good that they became more common on the highways and byways of Blighty than white hire vans and Ford Escorts. Still, you can't have everything.

But there's more to biking than just performance (apparently), and back in 1995, the masses were treated to a new kind of fun on two wheels. Budget biking. Suzuki's 600 Bandit suddenly meant you didn't need to re-mortgage your house to have a laugh on Sunday afternoons. For just £3999, you could play at wacky racers on a competent little bike which looked pretty cool too. The 599cc in line four cylinder engine was good enough to top 120mph and the Bandit made a nifty little commuter too. It was so successful in fact, that it effectually created a budget bike category and other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon with ER500s, Hornets and Fazers. Power (but not too much) to the people and all for not much cash.

At the other end of the power scale came the bike of dreams to some and nightmares to others. No one's ever going to reach an agreement on the way Suzuki's GSX1300R Hayabusa looks, but there's no one this side of Kuala Lumpar in any doubt about how it goes. Like the Hyper Speed thrust of the Millennium-bloody Falcon in fact. The Busa is shockingly fast. Shockingly. Just so fast, fast, fast. Like about 185mhp fast. R1s became dots in your mirrors, cars costing half a million quid were overtaken with ease and old duffers in positions of power got very, very nervous. For £7699, you could experience the thrill of being a fighter pilot, drag racer and Han Solo all on a Sunday afternoon ride out. But it wasn't to last. Pressure from kill joys over the sheer speed of the Hayabusa forced the Japanese manufacturers into making a gentlemen's agreement that bikes would be restricted to 186mph in the future. Bastards.

It's unlikely anyone will ever build a faster production bike so do what you need to do to find the cash and buy a Hayabusa now before it's too late. It's the fastest production bike in the world.

THE GRAND PRIX

One of the greatest riders of all time stamped his authority all over the decade taking five straight 500cc world crowns from 1994 to 1998 inclusive. And had it not been for injury, mighty Australian Mick Doohan could well have lifted a few more titles. Few would argue that he wouldn't have taken the crown in 1992 (he had a 53 point lead when he crashed at Assen) if he hadn't broken, and nearly lost, his leg in that Assen crash.

Doohan's supreme talent was backed up my an almost mystical quality which meant his rivals were often beaten before they turned a wheel. Who else would turn their back on an easy-to-use big bang engine and opt to run a wheelspinning, high side-happy screamer because it was more fun? Who else turned down options like traction control, semi-active suspension and fuel injection because he simply didn't need them? No one else, that's who and that's what made Doohan special. While other riders stared at banks of computers wondering how they could go one tenth faster, Doohan just opened the throttle further. While the rest moaned about lack of traction, Mick just let the bitch spin and rode it out. Yes sir, they don't make them like Doohan everyday.

His career was cut short in 1999 when he suffered a particularly nasty broken leg after crashing at Jerez in Spain. But then, there was nothing left to win anyway.

But compared to Wayne Rainey, Mick was lucky. Rainey had dominated the early 90s before Doohan took over and had won three straight crowns when he crashed at Misano and was paralysed from the chest down. Rainey's intense rivalry with fellow American and 1993 world champ Kevin Schwantz was the stuff of legends. Their careers progressed together as did their mutual hatred of each other and whether it was in American national races, the Transatlantic Trophy in England or the GPs, they only cared about beating each other, even if that meant coming last and second last.

Rainey opened the decade by lifting the first three crowns of the 90s from 1990 to 1992 while Schwantz only took the one crown in 1993. But the results don't tell the whole story and it was revvin' Kevin's win or crash attitude that denied him more titles, certainly not talent.

Schwantz retired mid way through the '95 season, his decision partly forced by yet another crash and partly through what happened to Rainey. His paralysing crash affected Schwantz deeply and the pair have since become good buddies, rightly treating their old rivalry as unimportant in the scheme of things. But boy was it good to watch and GPs haven't been the same since.

The only other champ of the 1990s was Spaniard Alex Criville who picked up the pieces after Mick Doohan's career-ending crash to become Spain's first 500 champion but to date, he's never recovered his form.

500cc World Champions of the 90s

1990: Wayne Rainey

1991: Wayne Rainey

1992: Wayne Rainey

1993: Kevin Schwantz

1994: Mick Doohan

1995: Mick Doohan

1996: Mick Doohan

1997: Mick Doohan

1998: Mick Doohan

1999: Alex Criville

WORLD SUPERBIKE

Having started in 1988, the World Superbike championship really took off in the 90s and, in Britain at least, became more popular than Grand Prix. And that was all down to one man - Carl Fogarty.

British bike racing fans had been starved of a world class competitor since the Brut 33-smelling days of Barry Sheene and they found their man in Foggy. In 1992, after having pawned everything he owned to buy a private Ducati 888, Foggy in his very nasty Fieldsheer Worm leather suit, kicked the world's arse at Donington and earned a factory ride for 1993.

His epic, but ultimately unsuccessful duel with American Scott Russell, that year launched WSB into the mainstream and sports fans everywhere knew who Foggy was even if they thought a Ducati was a white van (actually that's a Ducato fellas).

In 1994 he took the first of four WSB crowns and he still holds the record for the most titles and race wins in the series (4 titles and 59 race wins). But perhaps his greatest achievement was in making the Brands Hatch WSB round what it is today. More than 120,000 fans turned out to support Foggy in his heyday and most of them still come back to cheer for Neil Hodgson or any other Brit in with a chance of winning. It's now established as the greatest bike racing event on the year in the UK.

Foggy's arrogance appealed to many racing fans but also got on the tits of many more and the letters pages in the biking press still reverberate with arguments about whether or not Foggy's a twat. Whatever your opinion, he's still quicker on a bike than you are mate so show him some respect.

An honorary mention should go to Terry Rymer who won a round in New Zealand in 1990 (he became Britain's first WSB winner in New Zealand in 1989) and to Jamie Whitham who scored a victory in Indonesia in 1994.

World Superbike champions of the 90s

1990: Raymond Roche

1991: Doug Polen

1992: Doug Polen

1993: Scott Russell

1994: Carl Fogarty

1995: Carl Fogarty

1996: Troy Corser

1997: John Kocinski

1998: Carl Fogarty

1999: Carl Fogarty

THE ISLE OF MAN TT

With the exception of Honda who continued its support, the 1990s saw the withdrawal of the factory teams from the Isle of Man TT, making it in effect a very big and very fast club race.

Ironically, the lack of big name teams meant the racing was better than ever and the 1992 Senior event must go down as one of the all time classics. Steve Hislop on a Norton versus Carl Fogarty on a Loctite Yamaha. Yes please mister.

It was a race of the gods sent by the gods and on lap record-destroying pace too. Fogarty got round at a stunning 123.61mph and his time wasn't beaten until 1999 when Jim Moodie posted a 124.45mph lap. After 226 miles of racing and numerous lead changes, only 4.4 seconds separated the two rivals in Hislop's favour. It was Norton's first TT win since 1973 and the first in the Senior class since Mike Hailwood won in 1961. Fairy tales don't come with better scripts. Race win for Hizzy, lap record for Foggy. Perfect.

More records were smashed in 1993 when the irrepressible Joey Dunlop beat Mike Hailwood's all time record of 14 TT wins when he rode to victory in the 125cc race. Joey would later make a mockery of that figure by winning an incredible and surely never-to-be-beaten 26 races all told.

As always, the TT offered up as much tragedy as it did enjoyment and in 1996 alone, four riders were killed including the popular Mick Lofthouse and Robert Holden.

BRITISH SUPERBIKES

British championship racing had long been in need of a major overhaul and in 1996 it got it.

I the past there had been farcical one-round meetings deciding the British 'title' followed by so many different series that no-one except the organisers (and sometimes not even they) knew what was going on.

In 1996, British Superbikes in its current format was born and TV coverage on the Beeb brought in big money backers and heaps of top notch factory machinery followed. BSB was born.

Returning from the world stage after 10 years in GPs, TWO's own old trout Niall Mackenzie lifted the first three titles before handing over the honours to future WSB champ Troy Bayliss in 1999. On every occasion, it was Mac's own Cadbury's Boost Yamaha team mate who ran him closest for the title, kicked off by Jamie Whitham's impressive campaign in 1996. Whit had just recovered from cancer and went into the final round on equal points with his older team mate. Mac's experience showed as he kept his cool, made the correct tyre choice and won by just four points. He celebrated his victory by getting a sound kicking from two security guards after he and Whit tried to steal their van for a quick, pissed up lap of Donington. It is still not clear if said guards were under Whitham's employ...

In '97, it was Chris Walker's turn to try and oust champ Mackenzie but again, his lack of experience left him second best to Mac and the gauntlet was taken up by 1998 team mate and fellow Scot Steve Hislop. Mac and Hizzy barged each other around the track (and sometimes off it) like two wheeled dodgems before team boss Rob McElnea gave birth to kittens and administered valium to his two riders. An epic season was somewhat spoiled by Hizzy breaking his wrist in a practice crash at Cadwell and the title went to Macca for the third year running. Bayliss lifted the last title of the decade before heading off to WSB via a brief stint in the USA.

THE GEAR

Biking fashion finally, and not before time, came of age in the 1990s. After decades of black leather jackets, nasty lairy leathers, zero body armour and Polyester paddock jackets, we finally got to look cool both on and off our bikes. So cool in fact that even nobby boy bands and supermodels started trying to look like us (but without the comedy helmet hair naturally).

Chief amongst our saviours were, naturally, Italian firms like Dainese, Spidi, Spyke and Alpinestars. We thank you all. Full body armour, replaceable knee sliders, winter gloves (which offered warmth and some protection), iridium visors, titanium toe sliders, carbon fibre panels, Kevlar stretch panels, aerodynamic humps, back protectors. The list is endless but appreciated both for its protection and its coolness. Okay, you might have been looking at the best part of a grand for a rocking one-piece leather suit but the social acceptance when you wear it as opposed to a black leather jacket and jeans is worth every penny. It meant you could stay for more than 10 seconds in a pub without being forcibly ejected). And how many injuries have been prevented by the invention of decent armour and anti-abrasive materials like Kevlar?

Safety aside, we're now also in the unique position of being able to park the bike up, walk down the street and laugh at gormless fashion victims posing around in cheap plastic imitations of our Dainese jackets. Revenge is ours. But heed ye this warning. Fashion comes and goes and when the craze for biker jackets fades (as it surely will), then we'll be left wearing the same old shit and everyone will again be laughing at us. Sad innit?

Oh, and just thank god that no-one came up with a biking equivalent of that 90s fashion catastrophe - the Shell suit. Hum... then again, when you look at Foggy's 'Wiggly Worm' Fieldsheer leathers that he won his first WSB race in 1992, perhaps someone did...

90s NIBS

* Stunt jumper and teenage heart throb Eddie Kidd suffered brain damage when a jump went wrong at the Bulldog Bash in 1996. Kidd later admitted drinking and taking coke the night before the jump which all went wrong on landing. He spent four years in a care home learning to speak and move again but remains in a wheelchair.

* In 1997, an 18 year old Italian rider won the 125 world championship. His name was Valentino Rossi. It was only his second season in the class. In 98, he switched to 250s, had a learning year then won that class in 1999 too. Unknown to us then, the kid would soon become only the second rider ever (Britain's Phil Read is the other) to win all three GP classes by clinching the 500 crown in 2001.

* Yorkshire loon Jamie Whitham was UK racing's best loved character in 1995 as he battled tooth and nail for the British Superbike title with Steve Hislop. His duel was cut short when he was told he had Hodgkin's Disease - a cancer of the lymph nodes. After a winter of chemotherapy, the Huddersfield rider was declared fit to race again and joined Niall Mackenzie in the Boost Yamaha team for the 1996 BSB championship.

* From the first of January in 1997, riding a superbike became a lot harder. New licencing laws meant that under 21s would be restricted to a bike of 33bhp or less for two years before being allowed onto more powerful machines. Those over 21 could take a direct access course on a bigger bike and then be allowed to ride whatever they wanted but the high costs (around £500) put many people off.

* The Ally Pally show in London had a surprise drop-in guest in 1997- Tony Blair. The future Prime Minister was pictured sitting on a Triumph T595 and happily blabbered on about his enthusiasm for motorcycling. Unfortunately, when he came into power later that year he suffered a chronic bout of amnesia and asked his ministers "What's a motorcycle?"
Sadly, they didn't know either.

* Legendary marque MV Agusta returned in 1998 with the utterly shaggable 750 F4. The first limited edition £35,000 Oro (or Gold) models were gifted to blagging celebs like 15 times world champ Giacomo Agostini and the King of Spain, Juan Carlos. The firm had stopped making bikes back in 1977 after hitting financial problems but received a major cash boost after being taken over by Cagiva.

* Best joke of the decade was the 225mph 1500cc, V8 Norton Nemesis revealed in the spring of 1998. A rather unlikely sounding project at the best of times, designer Al Melling nevertheless managed to convince at least some biking publications that the bike would soon be available. Rumour had it that Mike Tyson had an order in for the first one off the production line. Elvis was having the other apparently.

I LOVED THE 90s BECAUSE...

Jamie Whitham was one of the most popular riders of the 1990s. He won both British Superbike titles in 1993, a WSB round in 94 and was leading the British championship again in 95 when he developed cancer. He beat it, then went WSB and GP racing again. Here's what he remembers of the decade.

Did you have any road bikes in the 90s? Yeah, loads. TL1000S and R, XJR1300SP, R6, WR400 and 250, 300 Gas Gas. Old bikes, new bikes, borrowed bikes, blagged bikes.....

What was your favourite piece of bike clothing? All of me leathers. The only reason I keep racing is to wear leathers. I love 'em.

Did you own a shell suit? Not exactly but I had waterproof sporty trousers to look like a sportsman on his day off. They weren't called Shell suits back then but I think they were the ancestors of the Shell suit.

Who was your dream 90s woman? Oh, Natalie Imbruglia. Combats and pumps. Yes.

Did you have a goatee beard at any stage? Yes but only because I couldn't grow any hair on me head after having chemotherapy. If you've got a bald head and a goatee you look like you should have a goatee if you know what I mean.

Best rider of the 90s? I'd have to say Mick Doohan followed very closely by Carl Fogarty.

Mick Doohan or Carl Fogarty? It would have been great to see them race each other on equal bikes in their heyday but now we'll never know. Again, I'd have to say Mick.

Oasis or Blur? Are you kiddin? A bunch of hard, real world northern lads or a bunch of soft southern poofters? Oasis every time mate.

Trainspotting or Pulp Fiction? Trainspotting.

Friends or the Simpsons? I love them both but I'll say the Simpsons.

I loved the 90s because..... I managed to get through the whole decade without having to do a proper job.

This feature was first published in the March 2002 issue of TWO

Choose a FireBlade. Choose Britpop. Choose British Superbikes. Choose Carl Fogarty, Mick Doohan and Wayne Rainey. Choose the Spice Girls, Oasis and Take That. Choose a Ducati 916. Choose born-again bikers, track days, Playstations and the Simpsons. Choose Triumph, choose shell suits, choose alco-pops. Choose the 1990s.

There are just as many reasons to forget the 1990s as there are to remember the decade but as far as bikes went, it was a pretty sensational ten years.

Honda's FireBlade was launched as was Ducati's 916, Triumph was reborn in Hinckley, track days took off in a big way, Mick Doohan showed us all how a bike should be ridden and Carl Fogarty put Britain back on the world bike racing map with four World Superbike titles. And that's just for starters.
So try to forget about John Major and Bill Clinton, cast Take That from your mind and don't even think about jumped up little tarts hollering 'Girl Power'. Jump on your Suzuki Bandit or Honda NR750 (as if) and ride down memory lane as it was for bikers in the naughty Nineties.

THE CULTURE

Any decade which witnesses the birth of the Honda FireBlade, Ducati's 916 and Yamaha's R1 can't be a bad one. Three of the greatest bikes known to man all released within a few years of each other sounds like a recipe for Utopia. And it was. But according to some clever geezer, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction and when firms started building bikes as good as these, it was inevitable that some bastard - or bastards - were going to try and spoil the party.

And so it came to pass that GATSO cameras, the scourge of the 90s, would watch our every gear change and twist of the throttle, thieving scum would become increasingly keen to deprive us of our beloveds and fat cat insurers decided we should pay for them to have even more holidays in the sun.

But even that trilogy of doom wasn't enough to stop us having fun. After all, in the 1990s, we were also blessed with cheap bikes after the parallel movement, big trailies provided alternative entertainment for those with too-high insurance policies, and a multitude of tricks were devised to enable us to avoid the long lens eye of the law (eg reflective plates, flip up plates, radar detectors and number-plate-scraping wheelies). So it wasn't all that bad.

If there was one cultural phenomenon that stood out amongst bikers in the 90s it was the born-again brigade. The source of many a joke and heated discussion down the boozer, almost everyone knows of someone who falls into this, admittedly rather wide, category.

The basic understanding of the phenomenon is that Joe Bloggs used to have a bike, gave it up when he got married, had 2.4 children and racked up a few grand in the Abbey National. Kids leave home, mid-life crisis kicks in and suddenly the desire to recapture youth and ride off into the sunset on a motorcycle becomes irresistible again. Another born again is born, so to speak.

Now whether that scenario is to be scorned or not, I shall leave up to you dear reader. But if the letters pages of the motorcycling press were anything to go by, then scorn him you most certainly did. Mostly because accident statistics often showed these elder bikers to be crashers which in turn pushed everyone's premiums up, and because they wobbled round roundabouts on mint new R1s and matching Daineses while the rest of us had to make do with a five year old Blade and second hand leathers.

There's a big difference in the power of an R1 compared to a Honda CX500, or old 60s or 70s Brit knacker, as too many BABs found out to their peril. But they're still bums on two wheeled seats so let's live and let live shall we? After all, we could be the born-agains of the next decade, right?

One way the old boys could have honed their rusty skills was to take part in one of the millions and billions of track days which sprung up in the 90s. Prior to the decade in question, the only way you could get on a race track was to go racing, go to one of the very few race schools which existed, or get an ACU licence and piss about on practice days getting in everyone else's way.

But that all changed as properly organised track days took off in a big way. Heavy traffic, even heavier handed coppers and their Big Brother friends the GATSO division meant it was tougher than ever to see what a FireBlade could really do on the road so thousands of us took to the track and a good thing it was too. Apart from actually learning to ride better, it gave us all the chance to play at being Foggy or Doohan round the most famous race tracks in Britain. Superb.

Talking of Britain, there was more cause for national pride in 1991 (apart from the Gulf War) when Triumph was reborn in Hinckley, Leicestershire courtesy of property developer John Bloor. All he bought in the 1980s was the rights to the name of Triumph but by 1996, he was building pretty handy bikes like the T595. You've got to hand it to the man, he didn't hang around, especially when he should have been putting up plasterboard and building houses at the time.

The first bike to roll off the Hinckley production line was a Trophy 1200 in 1991 but, being a modular bike, it shared almost every working part with the firm's other models. To keep costs down, the only difference between models was whether they had three cylinders or four and capacities were changed by altering bore and stroke. Not a recipe for making the best looking bikes around, but it gave us all something to shout about.

But the T595 and the naked T509, released in 1997, were not modular bikes and finally marked Triumph out as a force to be reckoned with. One of the most famous names in biking was back and despite drawing some bad press for allegedly cracking frames on the early models, the firm looked to be well established by the end of the decade.

Bizarrely enough, thanks to another new phenomenon in biking, you could buy a new Triumph cheaper in Spain than in Hinckley. The craze sweeping the biking nation was parallel imports.

Not to be confused with grey imports (which are bikes brought into the UK which were never intended to be released in this market), parallels were bikes bought cheaply from source and imported through unofficial channels. This obviously got up the noses of the official importers who all of a sudden had to find ways to justify charging several grand more for their 'official' bikes. Parallel buyers initially were not included in safety recalls, warranty cover, were offered no bonuses like official buyers and had little things like KPH speedos to worry about. But as the parallel business expanded, better deals were on offer and the official importers were forced to drop prices as they ran out of excuses. Yee ha! Cheap bikes for all. But for how long? The price gap between parallels and official bikes had been reduced and many people preferred to shell out a bit extra for the piece of mind that buying an official bike would provide. But as official prices start creeping up again, how long before there's another parallel boom to echo that of the late 90s?

Some major celebs got into biking too in the 1990s, chief amongst them being Trainspotting star himself Ewan McGregor. The Ducati 748-owning Scot attended track days and even backed a couple of race teams in between bouts of filming. And he still intends to run a WSB team some day. Good egg. May the Force be with him.

Prodigy's Keith Flint went one better than McGregor when he started club racing on a 916 after honing his skills on his souped-up FireBlade at track days. The nutty Braintree boy was a bit of a crasher but he was bloody quick when he stayed on the bike. And he mucked in with all the other clubbie lads, sleeping in a tent and pissing in a bottle. But then, that sounds just like a music festival anyway so he was probably well used to it.

Click here to see the motorcycles of the 90s

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