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.
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.
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.
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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