Kawasaki ZXR 750
Kawasaki bikes of the 1990s never got the recognition they deserved and are still overlooked today, but there were a couple of real firecrackers. There was the ZXR 750, which was blindingly fast in the right hands. Early versions were oK but the one to look for today is the ‘L’ model which had revised suspension that made it a better road bike and had a bit more power (around 116 bhp and 54 lb.-ft. of torque). By all accounts the ZXR offers a pretty intense riding experience for those so inclined.
But, the one Kawasaki that was seriously under rated back then and almost forgotten today is the ZX-9R. It was supposedly faster than the Fireblade and more comfortable and useable than the R-1. It delivered 143 bhp and 74 lb.-ft. of torque from the 899cc engine. Early B-designated models are quicker while later versions — the E and F versions – had refined suspension upgrades and better handling. Gearboxes are something to watch out for if you are looking at buying one. They have a tendency to jump out of gear – especially third. Check all the usual areas for issue – warped brake rotors and ratty swingarms, but overall this is one of the most underrated sport bikes of the 1990s and a great ride if you can find one.
Suzuki’s TL1000S earned a reputation for being a bit of a monster to ride thanks to its torquy-laden V-twin and short wheelbase. But compared to some of today’s sportbikes it seems a little subdued. They were pretty quick and decent looking though. Early bikes suffered from handling issues due to a combination of over-damped rear shocks and the swingarm tensioning the chain. Frames have also been known to crack around the shock mount.
As a sportbike, this Suzuki was right up there. Low gearing, 125 bhp and 420 lbs wet weight made this bike a blast to ride and proved particularly attractive to the first generation of squid riders who found out how well these Suzuki’s pulled wheelies at anything up to 70 mph without any problem. It is hard to find a non-abused version today, so look for later models and check any bike you are considering, really carefully as the chances of finding one that has not been dropped is going to be very rare.
When you look back at some of the sportbikes from the 1990s they may look a bit clunky and heavy. But, many of them were technically interesting and are still terrific to ride. If you can find a good one today, hang on to it and ride the heck out of it. Who knows? One day you might even be able to sell it for a lot more than you paid for it.
We could and should have added the Suzuki GSX-R750 to this list, along with Honda’s RC45 and the Kawasaki KR-1. All great bikes from the decade, but what sportbike from the 1990s is on your radar?