Well you asked and its finally here.
So, you want a bike from the nineties and you want it to be reliable, you want it to be a good all around motorcycle and you want it to be fun. Most of all maybe, you want it to be cheap.
Is that a possible?
Well today I’m going to take you through some of my biased choices to give you a top 10 of the best used motorcycles from the 1990s.
These are bikes that come as cheap as they will ever be today. Prices can only go up if you look after them well and most were built to an amazing standard.
So after some research and a lot of head scratching I came up with the following list. It will undoubtedly leave some great bikes out and you can tell me in the comments which motorcycles you would have included. That is always an interesting read.
Anyway, Lets get on with it so you can see which bikes I have put in my particular Top 10 Motorcycle Bargains of the 1990’s
First for today is the ………….
Honda CB 500 E built from 93-2003
Now there is little need to introduce the CB500 in general and the CB500E was first built in 1993. It continued for ten years with very few changes until 2003.
The engine chucked out around 58 HP at 9500 rpm and 48 Nm of torque around 8000 rpm, which isn’t huge. However, the engine is lively and loves to be revved hard. It will sit with a wide open throttle all day and never complain.
A dry weight of 170 Kg meant that it was unbelievably chuckable and even ended up with its own race series. I will be the first to admit that around a tight circuit I have been passed by CB500’s when I am on a much faster bike.
They also come with an incredibly practical 18 ltr fuel tank which will give you a range of anything up to around a 325 miles or over 500km.
This bike was originally built as a commuter with practical reliability in mind, and it does that better than most bikes. However, You can strap a remarkable amount of luggage to this bike and it will tour with the best. Or, put a pair of clip-on’s on and you have your very own ton up Cafe Racer if you so desire.
Versatile and endlessly reliable this bike only just missed out on the Bomb Proof Bikes list and probably should have been mentioned, but I cant always remember everything.
Someone once said I had forgotten more about the motorcycle industry than they would ever know, I’m not sure if that was a complement or not to be honest.
Next we have the Kawasaki ZX9R built from 94-2003
As with many of these bikes the Kawasaki ZX9R needs little introduction. The fact that it sold so well is one of the reason it can be a bargain now. Sports bike riders more than most can often gravitate to the newest fastest model. That means there are always bargains to be had and some of the bikes I have seen have hardly even been run in.
When the ZX9R first hit the market, although the engine was powerful, it wasn’t as track focussed as some of the other sports bikes of the time. This didn’t impress the journalists who called it “Soft”, but for most riders on the road it was a fantastic bike.
The engine was unburstable and the seat plush and comfortable compared to many. It wasn’t the most cutting edge but the power of that engine was brutal, addictive and has surprised many people over the years.
The later C model was very much more track focussed, and lighter, and harsher, and less comfortable, although still a fantastic motorcycle. This was one of those “Be careful who you listen to” moments.
Although the bike sold well, obviously Kawasaki wanted to improve it. Unfortunately they listened to the journalists and the smallest sector of the market. That meant that the small number of trackday riders who were customers, got a much better and more focussed track bike. However, what that meant for the rest of us, is that we lost that comfort at speed that the early bikes had, not to mention loosing the ride height adjuster too.
I still regularly see the early ZX9R’s out at trackdays fighting it out with much faster and more modern bikes and long may that continue.
Honda CBR 600 F2
Now you might consider this cheating because the “Jelly Mould” CBR600 was first built in 1987, but from 1991 to 1994 we had the CBR 600 F2 arrive. It had an all new steel perimeter chassis and they are still affectionately called “Steelies” by their many ardent admirers.
If there is a ‘classic’ CBR, this is it. Despite the FZR600 winning more races and the ZXR600 being faster, it was the Honda that sold the most by a long way.
The new sleeker bodywork hid a perimeter frame with braced engine mounts. The engine was now 599cc and made around 100 HP at the crank and got around 90 HP to the rear wheel. On a good day that would give you a true 150mph top end from a 600cc production bike.
The bike continued to be developed for years and Honda continued to improve the design each year, but in many ways the Steelie is still the favourite of many track day riders.
Despite its incredible power for a 600CC bike it was an incredibly reliable engine with few flaws. The gearbox is slick, the suspension great for road or track and it was a much more comfortable bike than many other sports bikes.
The CBR 600F2 really was a complete package and Honda had to work very hard to make any improvements over the following years.
Hints and Tips
Now maybe not all, but you will find many of these bikes from as low as £2000 today in the UK, even lower if you don’t mind tinkering. That will be different depending where you are, but for that price you can often get a well sorted motorcycle that runs perfectly and has been well looked after. You might even get some extra farkles on there that would have cost you a fortune to buy new.
These are practical motorcycles you can use every day of the week and enjoy the fact you got it for a bargain price as well as enjoying the ride. And that’s the the thing about these bikes They are practical bikes at great prices. You don’t have to pay a fortune for a fantastic motorcycle.
Unless you really want something straight off the showroom floor there is a massive choice on the second hand market and if you are lucky you will find one of those cherished motorcycles that has been looked after like a baby, cleaned to within an inch of its life and had its oil changed long before any service intervals said it should be.
There are some things to look out for and one of those are the farkles. Remember, not every add on or extra or aftermarket part is good. Classic motorcycles are always worth more in original condition and it won’t be long before all these motorcycles are considered classics.
Knowing that someone has spent big bucks on some trick aftermarket suspension is great, and can only make the ride better. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for all those aftermarket cans out there, especially if the bike hasn’t been tuned for the exhaust.
Some cans, especially short stubby open cans, will make the motorcycles run leaner unless they have been retuned. This increases the temperature of the engine and will increase wear.
Check what you can in any paperwork and think about the seller too. What kind of rider are they? How meticulous do you think they have been with maintenance? These are all factors to consider when buying any second hand motorcycle.
Anyway, back to the bikes and this one is a bit of an epic but I do need to explain something.
The Triumph 900 Trophy 3 was built between 91 and 2001
Now this is a bike I have a personal connection with so forgive me if I sound a bit biased. I will try and point out its flaws too.
There were three phases of the development of the Trophy triple.
When Triumph was reborn no one really knew what to expect. The modular concept they came up with was built around a flexible engine base. There were 2 different block sizes for the triple, but the 900 engine was fantastic and far better than its smaller 750cc sibling.
It was strong and fast and in the Trophy 900 it found its perfect home. The sports touring market was highly competitive at the time, but no one other than Benelli had a big triple to challenge the Triumph. That syncopated throb from the exhausts was totally addictive and the surge that came as you opened the throttle was smooth, faultless and seemingly endless.
The fuelling from the 3 Mikuni carbs was probably as good as any bike I have ever owned, and so much better than even the most modern fuel injection systems below 3,000 rpm. Roll on power was unbelievable. I used to say, pick a gear, any gear, 30-100 mph in about 3 seconds, and it really was that good.
So, “what are the flaws?” I hear you say. Well, all the early Hinkley bikes had two flaws. One was the sprag clutch and the other was the fact that the massively over engineered spine frame and high fuel tank. meant at low speeds it could get a bit top heavy.
You will notice minor scratches on a lot of the bikes where the bike has simply overbalanced on the rider while they are moving the bike around in a car park. Once they started to go, if you had a full tank of fuel you needed arms like George Foreman to stop them going over.
The sprag clutch is more complex. And was actually easier to address on the very first models built in 93 and 94. The problem with the sprag clutch was that it if went, and it is a known fault, you have a long hard job in the workshop.
As is often the case with manufacturers Triumph refused to recognise it as a production fault and if you always had a 100% battery charge, all the stars were aligned , chanted mystical incantations and everything went well, they could run for years. Mine had over 85,000 miles on it when I sold it with no problems and I have known many go over the 100 thousand mile mark. However, if there isn’t paperwork or other proof that the sprag clutch has been replaced you do need to consider the cost and time of doing it.
The early first generation Trophy, built in 93 and 95 had a small access point where you could get to the sprag clutch, but the later castings didn’t have that, thank you Triumph. So, that meant engine out, splitting the cases and a complete strip down.
Apparently the job can be done easier with the engine upside down but it was a pig of a job that many of the dealers didn’t even want to take on.
The other problem you had with the later frog eye models built from 96 on, is that you had to ride one the ugliest bikes ever made.
Whoever designed that fairing wants his crayons taking off him for making everyone else look at it for so long.
The sad bit is, the the early ones looked sleek and the fairing was effortless to sit behind, so it didn’t need a redesign, THE SPRAG CLUTCH DID!!!
So, if you have or buy one, keep your battery fresh and don’t ever skimp on oil changes and if you hear it go, just go home and have a good cry. Things will get better I promise.
Yamaha XJR 1200, 94-97 then the 1300 until 2018.
Now picture this in the Yamaha board room if you will.
Despite track success with the FZR range they had been consistently out sold by Honda in the showrooms of the world. They needed something new and the 1993 launch of the GTR 1000, despite costing millions in research and development, had failed.
Some wise guy says “Why don’t we just use the FJ1200 engine in a naked bike?”.
Well, with streamlined bodywork adorning the showrooms of every brand, and all the successful bikes of the time being covered in plastics this was a brave suggestion. Even braver was the Yamaha exec who said yes.
It was at that moment this thoroughly modern muscle bike was born. No frills, just a simple twin loop cradle frame and a stonkingly powerful motor with the brakes and suspension to match, this is another moment when one of the big players in the industry actually seemed to listen to customers.
At another time this bike might have been called retro, but that would not do it justice. If all the XJR was was a retro bike it would never have lasted an incredible 24 years in the Yamaha line up. It was a thoroughly modern bike, just built in the way people had done for around 50 years before.
It wasn’t flash, it wasn’t the best at anything but it did everything you could want from a road bike and always had performance to spare. For a big bike it handled great and the years of production mean that there are more aftermarket parts out there for this bike than the number of rumours that Prince Andrew has had squashed.
The engine was just over engineered and will survive the most brutal thrashing day after day. Simple, reliable and fast, that might well have been the only design criteria in the end, but it worked, and it worked well.
Harley FXDX SuperGlide Sport.
The one built from 1999 to 2001 specifically, although they continued to 2005 with a fuel injected model
Now I feel like this is one I will get crucified about by both sides.
The Harley riders will be shouting “Why did you pick that one” and the non Harley riders will be shouting “There’s no such thing as a bargain Harley”, but you know I rarely choose the obvious.
This is again a bike I have a personal connection with, I still have mine. I just wish the alarm was on someone else’s bike.
To be clear, I always hated Harleys, then after an accident I had to get a bike with a low seat for a while. I found a lovely Honda Shadow VLX which got me riding again quickly but I needed something to carry 2 people and luggage in comfort. I tried all sorts from the big Shadows to the Mean Streak and then a guy convinced me to take an FXD he had for a run. That was a later FI SuperGlide with a single disc front end, but the engine was so much stronger than I expected it made me think.
I left and did some research and found that the early SuperGlide Sport had twin discs and fully adjustable suspension front and rear. Luckily I found one. Contrary to popular opinion it handles great and you can see me throwing it around in the Yorkshire Dales in the video linked above.
I have never had the dreaded Dyna wobble people talk about and have chased down many much more powerful bikes. I also check the cam followers religiously, but they still show no real signs of the wear or deterioration that people will often say is a problem.
So overall I would say with the carb fed 1450 Twin Cam engine and the Dyna chassis you would have a great combination.
I prefer the mid pegs but that is personal, I don’t like feet forward.
What you get is a comfortable mile eater that will go from 50 to 90 mph quicker than many bikes and both the engine and chassis have more aftermarket parts available than pretty much anything.
Now the Dyna chassis has been discontinued and because it is so popular, prices are likely to rise over time. If you can get hold of a twin disc one the brakes are stronger and I personally wasn’t happy with the single disc front. And if you can get one of the 2 models I believe that had adjustable suspension you are onto a winner.
They are the most expensive bike on the list but for a Harley they can be a bargain if you look hard enough.
I know you will have something to say here so I look forward to your comments.
Aprilia SL 1000 Falco
The Aprilia Falco just slips in here as it was first sold in 1999. It really is a fantastic bike that can come in at real bargain prices. In some ways it is less sought after than the Mille and Tuono, and the Rotax engine is tuned a little more softly than the Mille engine. However, it still kicks out 118 HP and over 95 Nm of torque.
Compared to most touring bikes it is fast and agile, it just seemed to slip between the cracks. It wasn’t quite as roomy as the big tourers but it wasn’t quite as harsh and unforgiving as the sports bikes can be.
A dry weight of just 190 kg, fully adjustable suspension all around and a comfortable riding position help to make the Falco a joy to ride whatever the road brings, and it has to be one of the most stylish modern Italian designs.
Prices are about as low as they will get now and most Aprilia owners do seem to dote on their bikes. That means you can be more confident about maintenance getting done on time. All in all a good Falco will not only give you an exciting ride, it will stand out from the crowd and never go down in price if you treat it well.
Like the Aprilia Falco the Ducati ST2 wasn’t the most popular bike in Ducati’s line up when it arrived in 1997. It had a strong engine derived from the 2 valve per cylinder Paso engine which gave it masses of torque and the trellis frame was straight from the 916. It just lacked the top end power of the more sport oriented Ducati’s, and that was what most Ducati riders wanted.
I once saw it described as the “Gentleman’s express” and it seemed an apt term. It was a GT bike. Much more comfortable for long journeys than most of the Ducati line up. It even carried almost 23 litres of fuel.
This was a practical Ducati that could be used every day. A bike built to lure the buyers away from the big four Japanese companies. It just didn’t quite manage it. They are a great bike though, and because they aren’t as sought after they can come along at bargain prices compared to the price of the other Ducati’s of that time. This was after all the Golden Age of Ducati, when the Castiglioni brothers took them to the very top as far as performance was concerned.
Yamaha XJ 900 Diversion
1994 was a good year for Yamaha, it had to be after the debacle of the GTR1000. As well as the XJR they also released the XJ900 Diversion.
Now let us make no bones about it this was a bike built from the parts bins at Yamaha, with very little in terms of innovation or research and development.
Like the XJR, it wasn’t the best at anything, but, as a complete bike it was so much more than the sum of its parts.
It had less power than the FZR 1000, but it still had more power than most riders could ever use. It didn’t have trick suspension, but it was preset to work really well in the real world without having to touch it. It was detuned, so it was ridiculously reliable, and the shaft drive finished off the package really nicely.
The nose-cone fairing made touring effortless, as did the powerful FZR derived engine and smooth gear-change.
My only criticism to Yamaha on the XJ900 would be that it would have been even more fantastic with a 6th gear for those long highway runs. The 5th gear is reasonably long, but I do feel lowering 5th and adding a 6th gear would have been of benefit.
That said, don’t let that comment take anything away from this fantastic bike.
Suzuki GSF 1200 Bandit
This is the last motorcycle on this list today before we come to some honourable mentions. It is another bike that could well have been included in the bombproof bikes video. It is a stand out bike for many reasons and another bike who’s popularity when it was released means there are plenty to choose from now.
I could have chosen any of the other Bandit’s, but the GSF 1200 Bandit is the one to get from my perspective.
I remember the Bandit being labelled retro and just like with the XJR I think that misses the point. The 1200 Bandit is, was and possibly always will be the ultimate UJM. The sort of bike that will do whatever you need it to, whatever the weather, and always bring a smile to your face.
It is as happy taking a trip to the shops or daily runs to work as it is on a highway or twisty back roads. I think of the Bandit 1200 as a bit like a Golden Retriever, always happy to go and do anything you want to and a lot stronger than you might think.
This is another bike that has a huge pile of aftermarket anything available, and the GSX derived air and oil cooled engine can be endlessly tuned if that is what you want.
I think the 30 year old design has actually stood the test of time pretty well and looks less old fashioned than some modern bikes.
With just under 100 HP standard and around 90 Nm of torque these bikes will keep trying to go faster until the point where you really are struggling to hold on to the bars. That does get easier with the S models that had a small front fairing.
I remember one journalist who expected a tame old UJM grabbing the throttle of the 1200 Bandit and then being stunned by the fact the front wheel didn’t touch ground until 4th gear.
But this was a Suzuki with one of the finest engines they ever made. Why he would have expected less is beyond me.
First Some Thoughts From The Shed
As I have been writing this I have had a bit of a revelation, with the realisation that as well as the Ducati Monster, there are a whole host of absolutely stunning bikes out there that have been built almost entirely from parts bins, and they are actually some of the best bikes that have ever been built.
Maybe there is something behind the philosophy of use what you know works best?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Lastly We Do Have Some Special mentions
As usual with my lists there are a few bikes that it would be thoughtless to not include.
I featured the FZR 1000 in the 80s bargains video linked above so I am sure you understand why I didn’t include it here. However, from the FZR came came a whole family of new bikes in the YZF range. All were amazing bikes. From the first Thundercat and Thunderace to the ubiquitous R6 and R1, This family still lives on today, although we have now sadly lost the R6 other than for track only use.
Honda as usual could have had several entries too, From the RC51 VTR 1000 Firestorm and Fireblade to the unbelievable RVF 750, but none will come at the bargain prices of the CBR 600.
The Kawasaki 750 Zephyr is another bike that could have got a chance if the 90s weren’t so filled with fantastic bikes. Not as powerful as the big Zephyr it was another great bike, and more than fast enough for most roads.
Lastly I will give Triumph another mention. The relaunch of the company had gone well and the new bikes were gaining a reputation, but they still hadn’t quite found their place in the market. Then in 1999 the first fuel injected triples came out with a newly engorged 955cc engine. I could name numerous models but for me in many ways the Sprint RS is the cream of the crop.
It was a sort of classier hooligan than the Japanese bikes, but without the temperament of the Ducati’s, and that 955 engine really is fantastic. I know I am not alone if I say there is something mesmerising about the sound of a good triple.