RULES and regulations are often castigated for ruining our fun. The widely-held view that politicians introducing arbitrary limits, particularly in areas like motorcycling where they’re generally clueless, is something that we’re all understandably wary of.
But just once in a while, by accident rather than design, a silly rule leads to a wonderful loophole. That’s what happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s when 400cc bikes briefly became the pinnacle of technological excellence.
It all came down to Japanese attempts to stop people riding large, fast bikes. Anything over 400cc was classed as a heavy motorcycle, with additional restrictions and costs when it came to licencing, tax, insurance and mechanical inspections (shaken). The restrictions virtually killed the Japanese market for larger bikes, and forced the world’s cleverest motorcycle engineers to work out how to fill the demand for fast bikes without resorting to capacity.
Wonderfully, the result was a huge crop of incredibly sophisticated sub-400cc miniature sports bikes (and also a class of jewel-like 250cc four-strokes, created to slip into an even cheaper tax and licencing class).
Better still, hundreds or even thousands of them later appeared on the ‘grey’ market in the UK. Often exported to avoid the ever-more-expensive shaken (MoT) test in Japan, these became the default entry-level sports bikes for a generation that had just missed out on the heyday of the two-stroke sportster.
Now, a quarter of a century or more from their release, they’re starting to reach classic status, with prices for good ones on the increase. Grab them while you can.
Click 'Next' for a run-down of the top 10 best, and sometimes rarest, examples of the breed.