Top 10 sports bikes from the '90s

Nostalgia hits and future classics. They may be getting on a bit but they’re still capable...

10. Suzuki GSX-R750

10. Suzuki GSX-R750 SRAD

Engine 749cc, liquid cooled,  Power  Torque  Weight 179kg Top speed

On the scene for four years at the end of the ‘90s the Suzuki GSX-R750 was a reinvention of the manufacturer’s entry in the sportsbike category. The 1996 model signalled the end of the double-cradle frame and introduced a twin-spar frame derived from the Grand Prix RGV500 ridden by Kevin Schwantz. This saved the GSX-R 20kg of weight, but what attracted everyone was the alluring acronym, SRAD. Standing for Suzuki Ram Air Direct and in layman terms this resulted in new air intakes that forced the air directly into the airbox. Our very own James Whitham thrashed one around World Superbikes for a few years before the tasty Alstare Corona paint scheme appeared on the fairing. The chassis still makes for a brilliant trackday sleeper.

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09. Yamaha FZR1000R EXUP

09. Yamaha FZR1000R EXUP

09. Yamaha FZR1000R EXUP

Engine 1002cc, 20v, carb’d, four Power 140bhp Torque 79ftlb Weight 209kg Top speed 165mph

The boss before the Blade. Smooth, sweet handling, plus a brawny engine with plenty of midrange thanks to the EXUP exhaust valve. Early bike restricted to 125bhp with easily cut out carb rubbers. Low, slim seat suits shorties but it’s a long reach to the bars. EXUP valves need regular greasing, clutches fail sometimes and the resulting detritus suspended in the oil can cause engine damage. Valve service due every 25,000 miles but better done every 20,000 and it’s a long job (20 of them). USD forks and projector headlights from ’91, foxeye lights from ’94.

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08. Honda RC45

08. Honda RC45

08. Honda RC45

Engine 749cc, 16v, injected, v-four Power 120bhp Torque 55ft/lb Weight 189kg Top speed 160mph

Motorcycling royalty with a £18K price tag when new. The RFV750R is from the ultra rare HRC inspired RC family of homologation race bikes.  Although the design’s over 15 years old it’s still a rapid, silky handling machine with a character. The 16” front wheel limits sports touring tyre choice but who cares? Beware any bike which has been raced. Engines are tough but can suffer when tuned and thrashed. Parts and labour to re-build won’t be cheap. If you’re going for anything other than a low mile FSH minter you’d better know your stuff. A certain future classic which will appreciate if cared for.

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07. Kawasaki ZX-9R

07. Kawasaki ZX-9R

07. Kawasaki ZX-9R

Engine 899cc, 16v, carb’d, four Power 143bhp Torque 75ft/lb Weight 183kg Top speed 170mph

Criminally underrated. Faster and sweeter handling than a Blade of the same vintage and more practical and comfier than an R1. Earlier B models are heavier and don’t handle as well. Later E and F models are more refined but less exciting according to some owners. Gearbox can cause major problems especially third but C2 models seem better than C1s. Discs can warp, wheels and swingarms look tatty fast. Brake calipers prone to seizure and need regular cleaning / greasing. But it’s still a very tough bike capable of six figure mileages and 170mph. Great value.

Review your Kawasaki ZX-9R and later C1 model

06. Honda CBR900RR Fireblade

06. Honda CBR900RR Fireblade

06. Honda CBR900RR

Engine 892cc, 16v, carb’d, four Power 122bhp Torque 65ft/lb Weight 185kg Top speed 160mph

The original ‘round eye’ FireBlade is deservedly a  modern classic but it’s still an awesome ride. Touted as a tank slapping widowmaker when new, modern tyres and chassis progress mean it’s quite mild compared to the latest offerings. Time has also shown it to be an incredibly durable machine. Regular/rectifiers and camchain tensioners can cause problems but neither are too pricey to fix. The 16” front wheel feels a little odd and limits tyre choice but the 1998 VFR750F-V wheel goes straight in without spacers if you want to change it. Sadly the best examples fetch silly money.

Review your Honda CBR900RR Fireblade

05. Ducati 916

05. Ducati 916

05. Ducati 916

Engine 916cc, 8v, injected, V-twin Power 109bhp Torque 65ft/lb Weight 198kg Top speed 165mph

The best CV in biking? The 916 put Ducati back on the map in terms of sports bikes and racing. Visually it’s up there with the Coke bottle and Ursula Andress in Dr No. It always handled superbly (if a little slow to steer) with great mid-corner composure. Running costs are high though. The hardening on cam followers can sometimes fail resulting in a four figure bill and the 24 month major service is a £500+ job even at an independent dealer.  But get this machine on a smooth, twisty road and it’s more than worth the money. Lots of model variants so be wary of post-accident bitzas.

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04. Suzuki RGV250

04. Suzuki RGV250

04. Suzuki RGV250

Engine 249cc, 2-stroke, carb’d, v-twin Power 61bhp Torque 30ft/lb Weight 139kg Top speed 135mph

The definitive 90s performance two-stroke and fast becoming a collector’s item. It’s a corner demon rather than a straight line blaster. The V-twin engine needs regular re-builds and expensive oil. The exhaust’s complex and misfires can be a sod to sort. But a sweet RGV on song is one of the purest experiences in motorcycling. Earlier VJ21 versions had one exhaust either side and they’re good but lack the sophistication and image. Once again prices are on the increase as eco legislation and advancing four stroke technology made two strokes redundant.

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03. Kawasaki ZXR750

03. Kawasaki ZXR750

03. Kawasaki ZXR750

Engine 749cc, 16v, carb’d, four Power 116bhp Torque 54ft/lb Weight 205kg Top speed 160mph

Old school cool doesn’t get any meaner. The final ‘L’ versions of the ZXR750 are better than previous models and look harder than a head butt. Previous models were compromised by overly harsh rear suspension (like rock hard) but the L’s revised linkage makes it a lot more pliant and useable on the road. It’s more powerful too but sadly quite a bit heavier as well. They’re reasonably tough but the engine can wear after 50,000 miles and the clutch gets a hard time so may slip. Single seat ‘M’ version is more race oriented with finicky flat slide carbs.

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02. Suzuki TL1000S

02. Suzuki TL1000S

02. Suzuki TL1000S

Engine 996cc, 8v, injected, v-twin Power 125bhp Torque 76ft/lb Weight 191kg Top speed 160mph

A reputation as an animal but compared to modern bikes like the ZX-10R it’s almost a sports tourer. Comfy seat, generous screen and moderate riding position. Handling problems dogged early bikes but Suzuki masked them within six months with a steering damper. Engine neutered with a new ECU for the ’98 model reducing power from a genuine 120bhp to more like 110 with a gentler power curve. Gearboxes can fail, clutches give problems. Check for any cracks in the frame near the headstock and the rotary rear damper. Alternative rear shocks are worth having.

Review your Suzuki TL1000S

01. Yamaha YZF-R1

01. Yamaha YZF-R1

01. Yamaha YZF-R1

Engine 998cc, 20v, cabr’d, four Power 150bhp Torque 80ft/lb Weight 177kg Top Speed 170mph

A motorcycling milestone, modern, classic and still a wild ride. The Blade showed light was right but the R1 took it to the next level by adding serious power.  Piggyback gearbox meant a longer swingarm for a given wheelbase – boosting stability while retaining sharpness. Later bikes had power restricted in lower gears and tamer handling  so original machines are now sought after. The gearbox can give problems so give it a handful in second and third to make sure it doesn’t pop out. EXUP valves need regular attention or they seize as per the FZR1000R – did no-one tell Yamaha?

Review your Yamaha YZF-R1

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