Modern Classic Motorbikes

Honda Fireblade

Honda Fireblade

Seldom has a machine arrived on the scene with quite the razzmatazz of Honda's CBR900RR. And yet, run that by a lot of biking folk, and they may well look confused. Mention the name Fireblade, however, and their expressions will change...for that is the name by which the bike is known and loved! On its release, in 1992, the 'buzz' around the bike was electric. In the unlikely event that you chanced upon one stationary, it was guaranteed to be immersed in a sea of spectators. Months of speculation had induced a 'feeding frenzy' of interest. This was the world into which the Fireblade was thrust - not a moment's peace from factory to breaker's yard!

The Blade has a pugnacious streak. Squat and barrel-chested, it looks like it would be up for it at the drop of a hat. The steep steering geometry begets a short wheelbase, and with it all hooked up to firm suspension, the Blade is a breeze through the twisty stuff. It is not quite light as a feather, but it is not far off...407lb dry is nothing for a bike of its size. 165mph is the net result when the 124bhp power output is factored in. Just how much of a bearing those holes in its fairing have on its top speed stat is open to question, but every little bit helps and, anyhow, they suit the Blade's race-bred roots.

While the graphics are doubtless a tad garish for some tastes, they do make a statement! You can tell what this bike is about just by looking at it. Not for the Blade, the refined lines and delicate hues of more retiring machines. The CBR signals its intent with its raucous palette of red, white and blue. Slashes of colour are strewn in seeming disarray, the length and breadth of the bike. Engine parts poke cheekily out of cutaways in their plastic surrounds. Hints of the frame and the beefy, braced swing-arm are a tell-tale display of rock-solid cycle parts. The sunken seat and bulbous tailpiece provide strong support. There is no shilly-shallying with the Fireblade. Its motivation is clear for all to see...to go like a bat out of Hell, and hopefully come back in one piece!

Honda VFR 750F

Honda VFR 750F

What is the best all-round bike ever built? Arguably, Honda's VFR 750F. It was a bit like that annoying kid at school - who could not do a thing wrong, even if he tried! Supremely versatile, the VFR played footsie with perfection...and left it panting for more. Fast, fine-handling, and styled with finesse...Honda broke the mould with the 750F - but, thankfully, it was already out on the streets!

The in-line four engine configuration was trouncing all comers - until the VFR hit town! Its watercooled, 16-valve V4 came out fighting - and quickly had the transverse layout on the ropes. Fond of round figures, it dished out 100bhp - and a top speed of 150mph. 460lb dry was not slimline - but nor was it overweight. The bike was not built to go fast - but like that kid at school, it did so anyway. Corners were no object...mere blips off the throttle. In the main, that was down to the twin-spar aluminium frame - revolutionary in chassis technology terms. Set up correctly, the VFR could shoo away a sixpence - any time, from any angle. Precision handling, in other words.

And as if that was not enough, the bike has the audacity to look good, too. Do not you just hate it? Not if you own one, you do not! Sleek and stylish bodywork sliced through air like a knife through butter. Paintwork remained resolutely in place - when, by rights, it should have been peeling! Deftly drawn ducts mark the designer's attention to detail. Graphics are gorgeously discreet. Tucks and folds trip off the stylist's pen, in poised profusion. The VFR looks the business - and did it, too. The bike was a sales success for Honda, when it badly needed one. Its predecessor, the VF750, had done untold damage to the company's reputation...having taken reliability issues to a whole new level. The VFR redressed the balance with aplomb. And it did so in sumptuous style. As annoying as he was, that kid at school set a benchmark. In like fashion, the VFR scaled the heights...not just once, but in several ways. Unequalled? Oh, that is always debatable. Surpassed? Probably not.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R

If ever there is a case of last, but not least, there is the letter Z. Final letter of the alphabet, it may be, but it says all you need to know about a Kawasaki sports-bike. It is shorthand for a long list of words which might be used to describe the bikes on which it sits. Fast, dynamic and exciting are just three of the adjectives which Z encapsulates. The 2003 model ZX-6R did full justice to the bike - a race-bred riot on wheels, with a licence to thrill on the road. As uncompromising as they come, the 'Kwakker' knocked out 116bhp...before its ram-air system kicked in! Top speed was a nice, round 160mph - pretty impressive, given that at 636cc, the bike is a mere middleweight. The fact that the Z did no more than 'nudge' the scales at 354lb, did no harm at all when it came to the bike's awesome acceleration.

The zx-6R's chassis was well up to the task of keeping all this power in check. Among its many refinements were twin radial front brake calipers - a feature derived directly from Kawasaki's racing programme. A quick glance at the Z's seat confirms that it was not conceived for comfort - but, crouched race-style atop the plot, the rider is well-placed to manhandle the beast as best he or she can. The lack of leverage from the stubby 'bars dictates that some 'hanging off' is required to help the bike through the corners..an art best acquired with caution! But with weight distribution correctly addressed, the Z will return high-precision handling.

Just as a single letter says so much when it is a Z, so a single colour can speak volumes. Every shade in the spectrum - and gradations thereof - has bedecked bikes at one time or another. But seldom has a hue had quite the impact of Kawasaki lime-green. Most famously in the form of the Green Meanies - those evil-handling H2R '70s racebikes - light and lustrous lime has adorned so many lovely Kawasakis over the years that it is virtually synonymous with the marque. Never has it clothed a 'Kwak' more colourfully than the ZX-6R. Gaugin himself would have been glad of that green...and it no doubt cost a mint to manufacture. But every 'greenback' was money well spent - the ZX-6R really does look radiant. While not a bike for everyone, it restored Kawasaki to sports-bike supremos. 'Zzzzz'? I do not think so!

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100

Purists love a prima donna! It might be outrageously quick - or it might comfortable enough to induce drowsiness in its rider - or it might have the visual appeal to win design awards. Occasionally, to the chagrin of the perfectionists, a machine comes along which slots neatly into any conceivable category - welcome please, Kawasaki's ZZ-R1100.

Did the 'Kwakker' qualify in the speed stakes? That all depends on whether or not you consider a top whack of 175mph to be fast. Most pundits probably do! The ZZ-R kicked out 145bhp, and weighed but a smidgen over 500lb - which, given the size of the bike was far from excessive. Hence, the brain-shaking velocity! These numbers were aided and abetted by a powerful piece of kit, ram-air technology...the faster the ZZ-R went, the more power-inducing air was forced via a duct from the fairing through to the engine. Light the blue touch-paper, and stand well back!

In the realm of mere mortals, however, rather than speed gods, the ZZ-R was a gentle and forgiving mount. Marketed as a sports-tourer, the bike came well-equipped frame and suspension-wise, and 'handled' with aplomb anything the average rider could throw at it. As a consequence, ZZ-Rs did not spend too much time sliding down the road - which did wonders for their looks, of course! Though it could hardly be described as a 'stunner', the ZZ-R is a good-looking enough bike after a fashion, with some nicely-angled plastic and free-flowing features. But when a bike gives as much overall as the ZZ-R, it would be churlish to demand perfection...we will leave that to the purists, and their ceaseless search for that which does not exist.

Suzuki Hayabusa

Suzuki Hayabusa

Every bike is designed to look good. That is a given, right? Well...yes and no! What if the bike in question is Suzuki's Hayabusa? Though undeniably imposing, styling was not top of the list of priorities for the machine. What was at the top of that list - and heavily underscored, to boot - was that in top-speed terms, the Hayabusa should eat every other bike out there for breakfast. At the time of the latest GSX's release, top dog was Honda's Super Blackbird...so to speak! This was a situation which had to change. In Japan, there is a bird of prey which enjoys gobbling up a tasty blackbird or two on its travels...it is called the Hayabusa!

So, the bike was built for speed, and not to win beauty pageants. This was primarily achieved by doing everything possible to enable the Hayabusa to slice through the air as cleanly as could be. Aerodynamics is an immensely complicated affair, and one normally reserved for the rarefied climes of high-end racing - but so competititive is the modern world, that it has been increasingly applied to road-going machinery, too. The Hayabusa's bold bodywork bespeaks this commitment to cleavage. On top of that, the GSX was a big bike - and yet it weighed in at but 473lb dry - not slimline as such, but considerably less than might have been expected.

One further factor in the top speed stakes...the engine! The Hayabusa's forward thrust is supplied by a surprisingly simple set-up...relatively-speaking, that is! Its 1300cc powerplant is simply a bigger version of the GSX-R1100 unit of yore...albeit with some mild tuning, to boot. That said, the Hayabusa was the latest in a long line-up of bikes to wear the GSX-R label. Each iteration had refined the core components - so by the time the Hayabusa came along, the package was pretty well sorted. All of these performance criteria resolved to an ultimate speed of 190mph...which was, indeed, enough to knock the Super Blackbird off its perch! Suzuki's Hayabusa had fulfilled its design brief...it was the fastest two-wheeled roadster on the planet. Mission accomplished!

More Modern Classic Motorbikes Back to Top