Best Sportbikes Of The 1990s

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Best Sportbikes Of The 1990s

It may have been the decade of the launch of the Internet, grunge music and hip-hop, the breakup of the USSR and some seismic political changes around the world, but the 1990s was also an era of some astonishingly good motorcycles. Here are six of the best sportbikes of the 1990s.


Honda CBR900RR

There were a couple of notable motorcycles that set the pace back then and perhaps without any argument the nod should go to Honda’s CBR900RR Fireblade as the iconic bike of the era. That will make Yamaha R1 fans shake their heads, but this Honda was the first modern sportbike to succeed at packing open class power into a package the size and weight of a 600. So successful, in fact, that even the original 1992 model is still considered a fast bike today.

The secret behind the Fireblade’s success was probably due to the fact that it was built from the outset by Honda’s designers and engineers as a road going sportbike rather than something to fill a slot in a market segment. Effectively it created its own segment and was ineligible for any major racing series.

Early versions were a little flighty in the handling department due to the 16-inch front wheel (spec’d to speed steering), but development in tire technology means today you can get an early Fireblade that will keep up with and handle as well as some of today’s top sportbikes. With 122 bhp and 65 lb.-ft. of torque, the Fireblade’s 892cc 16-valve engine is no slouch. You should be able to hit well over 150 mph, but RideApart would never condone that sort of behavior.

Not much to goes wrong on the Fireblade. Rectifiers and camchain tensioners need to be watched but are a cheap and easy fix. The problem you face is finding a good one, as any decent Fireblade is starting to fetch serious money now among the collectors and the high performance/solid reliability combination that makes them so good, also makes them popular with the stunt crowd.

Yamaha R1
Yamaha R1

Yamaha R1

If you’re not a Honda fan then you should perhaps consider the Yamaha R1. It came charging in at the end of the 1990s and became the sport bike to have. Early versions of the R1 (launched in 1998) have sharper handling while later bikes have restricted power in the lower gears to help make them more manageable. This was a bike capable of more than 170 mph and it had what was then considered a massive 150 bhp from the 20-valve, 998cc engine.

Like the Honda Fireblade, buying an R1 today is all about looking for one that has not been abused, dropped too many times and still works. Watch out for the gearboxes, on the early examples as they’re prone to popping out of gear under hard acceleration and the valves need watching as they can seize. That aside, if you can find the right bike at the right price don’t hesitate – buy it.

Ducati 916
Ducati 916

Ducati 916

Although the Japanese had it mostly their way during the 1990s, the Italians did come back with a motorcycle that took quite a lot of people by surprise. The Ducati 916 is the bike that some say saved the Bolognese company. Iconic in design, the 916 handled superbly and was pretty quick. There was a claimed top speed of 165 mph, but compared to the Japanese bikes the 916 was down on power as it had just 106 bhp and 65 lb.-ft. of torque.

They’re expensive to run, too, with major service needed at 24 months and the hardening on the cam followers can fail resulting in a very expensive repair. That aside, the Ducati 916 has a loyal band of enthusiasts. Proper bikes, ones that have not been messed about or damaged, are snapped up by collectors. Now is the time to get one, before they start get into the stupid money.

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  • Brian

    the TL was a turd. The Superhawk 996 was a much better execution of the same idea. Obviously this list is not including the homologation specials for racing, because the Yamaha 0W01′s and the RC30′s & RC45′s were far and away much more in the catagory of “BEST” being that those were built to be the best out of the box specifically for racing.

    • metric_G

      Long as you replaced that turd rotary damper rear suspension on the tiler, I owned a 2001, model and after replacing the factory rear with an ohlins unit the bike was great.

    • contender

      Baloney. I had a Superhawk that was stolen. Bought the TLS shortly after and I still have it. The TLS motor has far more character than the Honda did. Plus the tank on the Honda was too small – the fuel light would come on after about 95 miles.

  • jasinner

    FZR 400 and SV650

  • Transcona Mike

    The 1996 GSX-R750. The other 3 “Big 4″ decided to pull out of the 750 class rather than try and keep up.

  • Transcona Mike

    The 1996 GSX-R750. The other 3 “Big 4″ decided to pull out of the 750 class rather than try and keep up.

  • Nathan

    I’ll never forget being a young 10 year old boy around ’94 working with my dad around the house when one Saturday morning I heard the sweetest symphony I had ever heard echoing through the valleys of our southeast Ohio countryside. As the two most beautiful motorcycles I had ever seen came screaming over the hilltop I’ll never forget the exhaust note and those dual headlights. That was the exact moment I realized I wanted to ride motorcycles. My dad noticing my excitement and took me to the local gas station which he suspected the riders would loop back and patronize, well 20 mins later they pulled in and I’ll never forget that both were brand new CBR900′s. Not sure if 93 or 94 but I was just in awe as they let me admire their bikes while my dad talked old dirtbike days with them. We never saw them again as they went on their way but one thing is for sure that day changed my life forever as a young boy. After a few dirt bikes it would be ten years before i purchased my first streetbike, a 1997 Yamaha YZF600. Although I love my current F4i, I miss that Yamaha everyday. And to those guys from that life changing day wherever you are. THANK YOU.

  • Jordan

    In the case of the R1, does the author refer to EXUP valves seizing?

    I would like to own a well maintained example one day, but I do believe it requires paying an extra couple of grand over the usual asking price to get the piece of mind to enjoy the ownership.

    • Tim Watson

      You’re correct – it was a specific Yamaha design to improve torque at low to middle rev range and works via a small adjustable flap on the exhaust collector. You can control the EXUP valve by a servometer on the top of the R1′s engine. The flap is the thing that can jam or seize. However, there has always been some arguments as to whether it actually works – some swear it does other say it’s not worth it and take it off.

  • Joe Bielski

    Woah, I just saw some FireBlade’s here in Toronto for under 3K!!!!
    Anyone interested in loaning me 3K? :P

  • Robert Horn

    The ZX-9R got a big performance increase when it lost LOTS of weight and gained quite a bit of power with the C model in 1998. They didn’t share any parts with the earlier models. The later E & F models had braced swingarms, different offset triple clamps, thicker axles and other handling related changes, more angry looking headlights, 4 pot calipers that didn’t bite as hard, but had tamer engines. The main reason why the 1998 ZX-9R is less well known is that it had the misfortune of being introduced at the same time as the R1. ZX-9Rs are better street bikes than they are race bikes, which isn’t a bad thing – I did both with my 1998 – it did absolutely nothing wrong out-of-the-box stock but with Dunlop Q2s. Another reason why I liked my ’98: No cheesy graphics – just lots of Lime Green wonderfulness. The only bike newer than it that I wanted was the ’03 ZX-6RR and ’04 ZX-10R. Sure, the newer ones are better, but look worse (Not my highest priority, but…)

    The other bike I wanted if I hadn’t bought the 9R: 1992-earler ZX-7R (Still have the brochures for those). The one I really really really wanted but couldn’t get was the KR-1S.

  • Charles Quinn

    The later FI’d, aluminium framed F4 was even better, but my ’98 CBR600F3 was probably the most all-round competent bike I’ve owned, although I can’t see them ever being collectible. Same goes for my old ZZ-R/ZX600 — generally thought of a sports tourer but definitely intended as a full on sportbike at its introduction. The ZZ-R was a bit heavy but was deceptively quick, with a ferocious engine that just went mental above about 4000 rpm. The ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  • mustangGT90210

    I just sold a ’94 GSXR750 I rode for 8 months. It was great fun when being pushed and handled great at speed. But around town it was an absolute pain. No torque to speak of at all, and heavy in low speed manuvers. I’d buy another, but I can’t use one as a daily ride. The rear sets were so tight that my legs would regularly cramp. And I’m only 5’7″ lol. I bought an 02 SV650 with clip on bars, and as far as regular street riding goes, much better bike. But she just don’t turn like my gixxer did

  • John Wheeler

    the rc-51 would smoke all those bikes lol

  • Justin McClintock

    How can you make any kinda of 90′s sportbike list and not have any SRAD Suzukis on there?! Those bikes WERE the 90′s!

  • Kevin Daly

    The only one I truly loved, and sometimes regret selling, is the Honda NSR 250. The analog one with the double sided gull arm swing arm. Yes, it was not really a North American import but I was lucky to be stationed in Japan during the 90′s. That was the sport bike decade especially in Japan. The NSR came in 3 flavors…. The R with its preload only adjustable suspension and wet clutch. The SE that had the fully adjustable suspension and dry clutch. And the SP, the cream of the crop, which had the SE components and magnesium wheels. I had owned 3 in the past. A ’92 R model, an ’88 model and frankenbike ’91-’92 SE/SP.

  • Tyler Horne

    No 94 VFR750? Shame.