Retro Racers: The Top 5 Sportsbikes Of The 90s!
90s Motorcycles Were Awesome! Which One Was Your Favorite?
They were fast, they were powerful, they were affordable, and boy were they sexy. In fact, for many riders (old and young), the 90s was something of a golden age. There was something quite wonderful about the motorcycle industry in the 90s: bulbous curves, jaw dropping power figures, and outstanding performance for the time. If you were ever considering buying yourself an older sportsbike – we urge you to put some action behind that decision as soon as possible. Why? Well, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I have a funny feeling that the 80s and 90s are going to come back into fashion in a big way… So buy now before the plethora of new age custom builders buy up these greats, and drive the prices into astronomical figures.
Not only will you be getting a good deal, but you’ll also be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a fast bike before too much on board technology sucked a great deal of the fun out of it. That’s not to say that I’m a hater of new sportsbikes – on the contrary, in fact. But there’s something quite special about the first generations of the modern machines that we know and love…and these are our favorites!
The 1994 Ducati 916
Arguable one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever produce, the Ducati 916 is a great go-to bike if you’re in need of a nice wallpaper for your home computer – but there was a hell of a lot more to it than exotic good looks. Designed and engineered by (the master), the 916 featured a 916cc liquid-cooled, 4-valve v-twin engine capable of top speeds north of 160 mph, 114 hp at 9000 rom, and 67 lb – ft of torque. The horsepower figures were noticeably lower than most of the Japanese sports rides of the time, but what it lacked in power, it made up for with a more even torque spread. Why would you want one of these? “Why wouldn’t you?” is the only acceptable answer. It looks good, rides good, sounds good – and if it’s good enough to win the World Superbike Championships, it’s good enough for us mere mortals.
The 1996 Suzuki GSX-R750
Out with the old cradle frame, and in with a race developed twin spar derived from the RGV racer – that’s what some people will first recall about the ’96 GSX-R750, but then let’s not forget that this was also the first SRAD (Suzuki Ram Air Direct) fed model too. But what makes this one so special? Well, since it was the first of the new generation GSX-Rs, it was the first to boast a proper GP derived chassis, incredibly aerodynamic bodywork, and a rather splendid engine too. In the right hands, one of the old GSX-Rs could give their 1000cc brethren a good run for their money on the straights, and perform as nimbly as their smaller 600cc sibling in the corners. 130 hp, 59 lb – ft of torque, and a top speed of 164 mph. Why is it our favorite GSX-R from the 90s? Fast, tough, reliable, and old school…yep, still carb-fed rather than fuel injected. A proper relic of a fantastic era.
The 1992 Honda CBR900RR
It was a tough call deciding which version of the CBR900RR to add to the list, because the ’94 has a special place in my heart…but for the sake of keeping things easy, how about we go straight to the origin instead? In 1992, Honda introduced the world to a real game changer. Let’s have a quote from the 900RR’s designer, Tadao Baba to set the scene: “It was in 1989 and I was riding with a group of Honda engineers on some of the competitors’ machines. There was a Suzuki GSX-R1100, a Yamaha FZR1000 and our own Honda CBR1000F. I was thinking, ‘How can these be called sports bikes when they are so very big and heavy?’ They didn’t deserve the name.” They were larger, but they were definitely heavier and more cumbersome – and that’s what led Baba to design the new CBR900RR. Blessed with the size and handling of a 600, a smaller engine than the competition, that resulted in a formidable power to weight ratio, it could be argued that the CBR900RR was the most exciting 90s motorcycle. Until…
The 1998 Yamaha YZF-R1
When Yamaha unveiled their new YZF-R1 platform, the motorcycling world stood still. Yamaha’s competitors were left scratching their heads wondering how they could’ve let Yamaha release such a divine motorcycle without giving them any type of competition. Honda’s CBR? Lightweight and compact, but it was a bit stunted in the engine department. Suzuki’s TL1000R? It may have met the 1000cc demand, but it was a bit overweight to say the least. Kawasaki’s ZX-9R? Impressive though it was, it was no R1. Boasting 150 hp, a dry weight of 419 lbs, compact bodywork, and a design that set the standard for the next few years, the first generation of the R1 from 1998 was a true class leader and trend setter, with nothing in the way of real competition until at least 2001. Without the Yamaha R1, we may not have enjoyed the joy of thoroughbred 1000cc sportstbikes like we do today.
The 1984 Honda VFR750F
In all truthfulness, the Honda VFR platform could well be the bike of the 80s AND 90s, but if you want to experience the best years of the VFR, it would have to be the 1994 to 1997 years. Dubbed by many as the best road bike ever built, it’s hard to find fault with Honda’s sterling carb-fed V-four. Does it count as a sportsbike? Yes. Why? Though you could happily stick it in the sports-tourer bracket, the VFR750 offered so much more than simple riding comfort – it was also quite the performer on the track. It might not have the astonishing power figures of its contemporaries, but with 105 hp on offer at 10,000 rpm, 53.5 lbs – ft or torque available at 8,000 rpm, and beautiful midrange power delivery, you can bet that if you asked a group of riders to name a bike that does it all, then this would be the popular answer. It’s sporty, it’s comfortable, and you can ride it for hours without getting bored (or get back ache). Is it a bit dull? Well, sure it lacks a bit of sex appeal. But who needs sex appeal when you’ve got the best all-rounder there is?