Suzuki RGV250

Best Sportsbikes of the 1990’s Part 1

Kawasaki ZX-7R NinjaIf you recall the era of Brit pop, FireBlades, Fieldsheer wiggly worm leathers and Foggy doing the business on the world racing stage, then argue with CB-Net about the top 10 bikes of this most beautiful of biking eras!

Argue with us if you want (if you really, really, want)… It all adds some spice (girls.) Today – part one where we trace numbers 10 to 6 in our countdown…

10) Kawasaki ZX-7R Ninja
Year: 1996-2002
Price then: £8795 (1996)

Price now: £1000-£4000
Power: 112bhp @ 11,500rpm

Weight: 203 kilos

Wheelbase: 1435mm

Top speed: 165mph

Why you wanted one then: It was the best-looking 750 when it was launched at the end of 1995 even compared to its rival the GSX-R750 SRAD, which came out at the same time. For many, the kudos of the Kawasakis in World Superbikes was enough to make us really want one.

Why you want one now: Even back in the day, the ZX-7R was outperformed by the GSX-R SRAD but it lasted so long and is still a favourite today. It was stable and solid, where the Suzuki could be downright intimidating. Today the bike is way longer in the tooth performance-wise to the SRAD/GSX-R750 WT, but for many of us it’s all the better for it. Best of all, with such a long lifespan, there are plenty out there in all states of repair…

The best one: It never changed, so choices are really down to colour. Green is obviously popular in its many guises, but we are fans of the original 1996 red/purple, later all-red (Nov 1996-1997) all black ‘ebony’ (another 1997 colour) and the 2000 silver/ebony, with black frame which came into dealerships at the end of 1999: all are nice if you want a change from green.

Triumph Daytona 955i9) Triumph Daytona T595/ Daytona 955i
Year: 1997-2006
Price then: £9999 (Oct 1997)

Price now: £1500-£5000
Power: 120bhp (claimed)

Weight: 187 kilos

Wheelbase: 1410mm

Top speed: 164mph

Why you wanted one then: Let’s deal with the English Elephant in the room… this was never better than a FireBlade. You can blame MCN for such cobblers. But what it was a bloody good first try at a big sportsbike. Leaving the T300 series of modular machines, the T595 wasn’t without its issues. It was hamstrung by a poor gearbox (sorted on later models) and rumours of dodgy frame welds (sorted brilliantly by the factory by replacing them for the owners.) With various updates into the Noughties, it evolved and was refined into a great, fast road bike – if not cutting-edge sportsbike. Try one! It was British and proud of it… which was why we loved it back then.

Why you want one now: This bike probably makes even more sense now than it did back in the day. It’s a brilliant, capable road bike with a real dose of character and – the later the model – the more sorted it is…

The best one: With a collecting head on, we’d go for the very first model – and tuck a very clean one away now. Prices are still so very low…£1500 can get you a half decent one, with some dealers pricing first models at around £3500 for tidy examples. If you do go for a first version, make sure you get the must-have letter from the factory indicating a frame swop. These even had the option of being polished… The bike changed names from T595 to 955 Daytona in the late 1990s when the TT600 middleweight came out and that kept the original looks with the later updates which refined the bike so much – especially the direct-into-the-gearbox lever system, so without our collecting head on, we’d plump for those ones. With the final Daytonas with completely different looks coming off the line as later as 2006, you can find one to suit your wallet as later ones are often cheaper than the first models!

8) Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja
Year: 1995-on
Price then: £7250 (1998)

Price now: £800-£4000
Power: 100bhp

Weight: 176 kilos (dry, claimed)

Wheelbase: 1400mm

Top speed: 163mph

KAWASAKI ZX-6RWhy you wanted one then: The ZX-6R was the bike that broke the Honda CBR’s stranglehold of the-then lucrative middleweight sports market – and it proved to be a bit of a giant-killer too…perhaps it helped kill off the 750s? The first models aped the ZX-9R’s looks but not the weight, but still came with stunning performance, power and that cool air-box growl from those twin ram-air snouts…We’ve put the Ninja in our top ten over other 600s sportsters such as the GSX-R and R6 as it’s also bloody good value!

Why you want one now: This machine is still a great bike, offering performance and practicality, something the latest sports 600s do not have. It’s almost like it’s dropped off people’s radar…

The best one: The original was great, but CB-Net think the best versions to go for would be the G1 and G2 from 1998-1999 and then the J-model from 2000-on which (again) followed the looks of its big brother with twin, angular head-lights but with a breathed on motor with more compression and power – around 112bhp…. We’ve recently seen one of these in Chris Walker Kawasaki for around £3000, showing that the model is on the up – but you can also pick up a rough one for less than a grand. That’s cheap speed…

7) Suzuki RGV250
Year: 1988-1999
Price then: £5399 (1995)

Price now: £1500-£6500
Power: 62bhp (claimed)

Weight: 139kilos (dry, claimed)

Wheelbase: 1380mm

Top speed: 124mph

Suzuki RGV250Why you wanted one then: Well, it was a loony, mad two-stroke and many of us loved Kevin Schwantz so it was just like his RGV500 Lucky Strike bike, yes? Well, course not… but it worked. Early version VJ21s came in Pepsi rep colours and later VJ22s in Lucky Strike versions. And the corporate Suzuki blues were beautiful too… add in the ‘banana swingarm’ on the L/M model and you had a recipe for perfection: as long as you looked after it…

Why you want one now: For the same reasons and the fact that – 25 years on – so few are seen out there on the roads. Yes, we could mention the competition and this applies to the Kawasaki KR-1 and KR-1S as well as the imported two-strokes and the earlier TZRs and Suzuki-powered Aprilia RS250s, but the fact is that if you love your nostalgia in a haze of blue smoke, there isn’t a cheap way into ownership anymore. A decade ago you could still buy a shed for under a grand, today – not a chance. Then, a minter would be £2500, today you’ll see the likes of Padgetts offering something with 20K on the clocks for more than six large… Low milers are now touching £10K….

The best one: We’re not such fans of the 1996-on VJ23 as it looked a bit ‘weird’ as good/better a bike as it was. The early 1988-1990 VJ21 is a pure-looking version of the breed, but for most of us of an age we love the VJ22, imported between 1990 and 1996. Of these the banana-armed L/M of 1990-1992, with stacked exhausts is probably one of the best looking sportsbikes of all time…

6) Aprilia RSV Mille/ RSV1000R
Year: 1998-2003 (Mk.1) 2004-2010 (Mk.2)
Price then: £9499

Price now: £2000-£15,000!
Power: 130bhp (claimed)

Weight: 189 kilos (claimed)

Wheelbase: 1415mm

Top speed: 169mph
APRILIA RSV1000 R Mk2Why you wanted one then: This was Noale’s first stab at a big sportsbike, but from the firm that had won many world championship 125 and 250cc races… that’s pedigree. It was an Italian V-twin for under ten grand with a motor developed in partnership with Rotax. The 997.62cc 60-degree V-twin was phenomenal for the time and came with twin balancers to smooth things out. Looks-wise it shocked at the time, but has aged well since then. It also was a tad tall and had a clock-set you needed a degree to operate properly… The base model was joined by an R version late in 1999 which came with forged OZ wheels, Öhlins forks, shock and steering damper and a single seat for just a grand and a bit more than the stocker. Great value! The SP also came into the range but was a very limited run machine… From 2004 the Martin Longmore (Audi TT/ BMW R 1200 C) designed RSV1000R replaced the Mille, and was heavily based on the older model but with a complete redesign of the bodywork.
Why you want one now: In terms of performance, the grunt is still impressive, handling is still good, too: if well looked after they perform very well and for many years. Owners love them… Age has not withered them – looks-wise. Both versions have their own followers and – if you’re a certain height and build – the Mille/RSV gives you that Italian V-twin ownership that may not be possible with the likes of a Ducati 916/996/998….

The best one: £1700 is still the entry level for a haggard and bashed Mille – which isn’t bad. There are a number of specialists who can take the pain out of ordering Aprilia parts, too and Aprilia Performance (our mate Griff Woolley) know all of these models inside and out. We’d plump for the RSV-R of 1999-on (2001-on models had improved parts and aesthetics, as well as improved brakes from 2002…) Colours of the original were black, and Aprilia race colours of red/purple and black. Prices can go up to around £4000 for the original model, and we’ve recently seen the replicas – such as the Colin Edwards and Noriyuki Haga replicas go from anything between £5000-£12,000!

  • Coming soon… our countdown continues with the top 5!