The pull of 90's Sports bikes


I'm not just talking about the feeling of the cables operating the carburettor butterflies while twisting the throttle grip that propels you into the distance, usually with a grin plastered wide across your face. I am of course also talking about the desire to own them that keeps them effortlessly cool in my opinion.

The garish colours, long exhausts, big fuel tanks and in comparison to modern super bikes, large fairings. It all just screams cool to me. Perhaps it's because I grew up through the 1990's and so some of the bikes I would have seen at an impressionable age are amongst the bikes I have owned and love the look of today.

So with the sale of the KTM 990 having finally been wrapped up mid-June the hunt was on for a replacement. I knew I wanted an inline 4 again as I love the smoothness and the wail they create with a noisy "'Zorst" at high RPM is something that will always aurally please me.

I began looking and enquired on various GSXR 1000's, had plenty of R1's in my search history and even contemplated going back and buying a late 918cc Fireblade again.

It took many hours of searching until I found a bike on ebay for a good price, a quick phone call sounded good and an agreement was made. Where was it? Nice and local... in North Yorkshire. I live in South Somerset.

Saturday the 24th of June and a pre-6am alarm woke me from not my greatest nights sleep. By 6:30am my friend had picked me up and we were on the road to Bristol for me to begin a relatively committed one way journey to Northallerton.

I left Bristol just after 8am on the coach to start what would be almost a full day travelling. It's not the first time and it very likely, won't be the last. I have history in buying bikes large distances away which started with buying my very first bike from Liverpool, anyway I digress. The dull diesel drone coupled with the background squeaks and creaks that only seem to exist on buses and coaches, I was lulled to sleep. The sway of the supple suspension made me feel as though I was inside a large motorised hammock, hammering down the motorway. A world apart from the experience due to me later that day.

The journey was largely uneventful, a coach to Leeds, a short walk to the train station and I arrived in Northallerton on the train around 16:30 where the seller kindly met me in his car to take me to the bike.

Immediately after pulling up outside David's house the commitment I had made dawned on me. I was buying the most powerful bike I had ever owned, unseen bar an eBay advert approximately 300 miles from home.

David was an absolute gent and after a quick look over, an exchange of money and the agreement that if I wasn't satisfied riding it home, I would turn round and ride straight back seeing as I know knew where he lived, the deal was done. Less than £2000 for a slightly un-original 30,000 mile 1999 bike.

The ride home I couldn't help but twist the throttle to "see what it'll do mister". I could not believe the urgency with which the bike wanted to disappear towards wherever it was pointed! I certainly can't feel the need for an extra 50hp on top that many modern superbikes have. It is pure lunacy and ludicrous to think it's necessary.

The bike is not without its niggles, the brakes aren't so strong although judging by the colour of the brake fluid it is an easy fix. The front brakes feel slightly warped and there is a mild hesitation when immediately opening the throttle from a close or from a steady throttle opening at low RPM. In all it's nothing than shouldn't be expected on an 18 year old bike.

Riding it mostly on motorway to near Rugby, Warwickshire and visiting a friend it was very par for the course and as you can expect of a Japanese bike. Refined enough, relatively comfortable despite perhaps a slightly under-padded seat, although I can't imagine a comfy seat for motorway miles was top of the agenda in the design brief. The fuel economy wasn't great, I had to fill the bike twice on the route down. Generally I would see the fuel light between 90-110 miles but this may be down to the new bike effect and a good braaap.

Once arriving at a friend's house and taking it out with him down the Fosse Way and eventually home the bike totally came into it's element. I can completely see why it revolutionised the sports bike game when it was first released.

Winding the throttle to the stop in 2nd & 3rd gears, more often than not short shifting because using the full revs get you to very illegal speeds, (apparently), and the bike is in it's element. Fast sweeping bends allows the feeling of agility combined with stability to shine through plus the engine. The engine. WHAT A MOTOR! It pulls hard almost everywhere with giggle factor to boot, hit a bump in the road in 3rd while wide open and it wills the machine to rotate around the wheel and pivot the whole thing skywards! Absolutely laughable and I fell in love with it before I had even got it home.

The colour, the shape, the noise, the feel. Just everything I loved! It was in every single way, better than the Fireblade (1996) I have owned previously. It turns sharper and harder, feels more stable when leant over, goes faster and looks better. The only department it lacks in is the brakes but this is down to age rather than equipment I believe.

Unfortunately a week after collecting the bike and heading back up to aforementioned friend's house for a party, leaving a petrol station I left my side stand down. Rookie mistake! For some reason, unbeknown to me, a previous owner had removed the side stand switch meaning it didn't cut out when placed into gear.

Long story short the bike is in a rather sad state of affairs with panels damaged both sides, a cracked engine casing and a couple of scuffs. I got away with a sore shoulder, a sore knee and a broken little finger. All in all, very lucky!

So with a sadness beating only by the financial pain it was time to rebuild the R1. When I say rebuild I mean leave it for a month not doing much with it. I have had the engine casing welded back up and painted so at least mechanically it will work. The only other thing stopping me is fitting the nice Micron exhaust I bought, £30 special! And the LH rearset is bent slightly meaning currently I can only select first gear. Once It rides and I know there isn't more underlying damage I'll send the fairings away for repair and repaint as whilst it wasn't a standard colour I love it. It is the epitome of 90's cool. Loud colours that match my equally 90's looking leathers and even matches my helmet. Which also needs replacing!

I expect in total it will cost me £400-500 to replace everything necessary (including helmet) plus buying a side stand cut out switch to fit!!

Before breaking it and even with the niggles I'd rate the R1 4 out of 5 bikes. It was ground breaking when launched and still rides incredibly well now despite it's vintage.

Recent Posts:
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon

Don't miss a moment. Like & follow ILMB

  • I like motorbikes
  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon