Yamaha FZR1000

Any motorcycle capable of lapping the Isle of Man TT course at over 117 mph has got to be special. When the machine in question is a standard roadster, complete with lights, generator and pillion seat, and has since benefited from a further five years of development, it is clearly very special indeed. This is just part of the pedigree of Yamaha’s stunning FZR 1000.

The big four began life in 1987, immediately capturing the imagination of the motorcycling public and becoming a best seller. In 1989 it received an extra dose of desirability with the arrival of the EXUP version, and then reveled in a further revamp for ‘94’. Throughout it has enjoyed substantially the same ‘Genesis’ engine technology: a liquid cooled four with dual overhead camshafts and no fewer than five (three inlet, two exhaust) valves per cylinder.

Long gone are the days when the Japan built superb engines which utterly outclassed their chassis. Tying the FZR together is huge aluminium ‘Deltabox’ frame, stiff as a bridge but infinitely lighter. A huge aluminium swing arm is similarly rigid. The latest versions of the FZR were ultra stiff Ohlins ‘upside-down’ front forks, and a high specifications rear monoshock. Both are adjustable for spring pre load and damping to suit different riding styles and conditions.

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Suzuki GSX-R1100

When it comes to ultimate super bikes, they don’t come much more ultimate than this, Suzuki’s GSX-R1100 is one of the biggest, most powerful, and awe inspiring superbikes ever built. Unveiled back in 1986 to enormous acclaim, the GSX-R1100 (like its pioneering smaller siblings, the (GSX-R750) has undergone many changes over the ensuring years.

At its launch the big GSX-R was light, very powerful and wickedly fast. And over the years the Suzuki, pressured by competition primarily from Yamaha’s FZR 1000, piled no more and more power. But the trade off was more and more weight gained, and by the early 1990s the GSX-R1100 had become a muscle bound monster. Putting out 145 bhp in stock (but unrestricted) trim the GSX-R scaled over 500 lbs fueled up. That’s a lot of bike producing a lot of power.

But now the GSX-R1100 has undergone another transformation and although it is still big heavy and fast, it is no longer the bad mannered behemoth it once was. Gone is the wayward handling and peculiar steering, replaced by an altogether more docile beast. What happened was the Suzuki was that Suzuki radically uprated the GSX-R1100’s motor, turning it from an oil-cooled to a water cooled affair.

They did the same thing to the GSX-R750 in 1992 and the result was a biker that was better than ever, but not by much. The main cause for adopting water cooling is that it’s more competent, but because it’s quieter an important consideration in these days of increasingly stringent noise regulations.

Yamaha V-Max 1200

By the mid eighties, motorcycle design had come a long way. From the early, over-powered and ill handling Japanese superbikes, had evolved machines which took their cues from the racetrack and had tyers, suspension and steering to match. Suzuki’s GSX-R750 and Yamaha’s FZ750 typified the new breed. But there will always be those who are less concerned with all around performance than with sheer, brute power and thrill of violent standing start acceleration. The Yamaha V-Max was designed just for them.

When it was first introduced in 1985, the V-Max caused a sensation, as much for its styling as its potential performance. The high speed barred, low slung look was based on the American cruiser style bikes made for showing off an illegal sprints on impromptu drag strips on public roads. Real drag bikes had already evolved into long wheelbased, front heavy machines designed specifically for speed. Cruiser style puts the emphasis on looking fast, lots of noise and ability to leave long strips of burnt rubber off the start line are more important than actual times.

The V-Max is completely dominated by its engine. At the time its V-four layout was a high tech departure from the in line fours that powered most Japanese motorcycles. It featured a novel carburetor arrangement which meant each cylinder was fed by two carburetors, and then a gate moved to allow those same two carburetors to fill a different cylinder, thus eliminating the ‘dead’ time that usually occurs during a bike’s combustion cycle. And once on the move, the slightly lumpy power delivery, and the sheer amount of power it delivers – distract attention from the bike’s handling.

Yamaha GTS 1000

When it comes to bringing technological innovation to mass produced motorcycles, Yamaha leads the way with its revolutionary GTS 1000. The GTS was the first mass production Superbike of the present age to use a front suspension system that didn’t employ a couple of telescopic forks and a chassis that doesn’t run more or less in a straight line from the steering head to the swingarm pivot.

Motorcycle manufactures have long searched for a method of suspending the front wheel of a motorcycle that doesn’t rely on conventional telescopic forks. ‘Teles’ are unsatisfactory for several reason, they are prone to flexing under braking and when corning, and then cause the front end of the bike to ‘dive’ under braking. The search for a realistic alternative has been the Holy Grail of motorcycle engineering.

Yamaha’s alternative front end, as featured on the GTS 1000, in a solitary sided front swingarm with hub-centre navigating not unlike one front wheel of a car. Separating the steering purpose from the suspension should, in theory, produce a bike that steers, corners and brakes better than a bike with conventional forks.

The GTS’s Omega chassis is different from that of a conventional bike because the front suspension removes the necessity for a headstock. The aluminium alloy frame is a squat box shaped affair which wraps around the engine, on to which are bolted the front and rear suspension systems, as well as the sub-frames necessary for the steering, seat and bodywork.

The result is a bike that has most sophisticated front suspension systems in production. The bad news is that, in the case of the GTS at least, this kind of suspension system offers no significant improvement over conventional telescopic forks. Being designed as a sports touring motorcycle the GTS is too long and carries too much weight to reap any benefits from the hub-centre steering other than the elimination of the front end drive under braking.

Triumph 900 Speed Triple

When Triumph rejoined the motorcycle manufacturing fray in the early 1990s the two wheeled world was impressed. And old and revered name had been applied to a thoroughly modern range of motorcycles and was being sold at prices that allowed Triumphs to compete directly with the Japanese factories.
A few years down the line Triumph have expanded and revised their range, dropping models that didn’t sell well and introducing new ones they hoped would. The speed Triple is one such machine, one which has been received with open arms by the motorcycling fraternity.
Whilst some manufacturers have gone all out at the retro market, aiming traditional looking machines at the born again biker, Triumph have taken a different approach. With speed Triple they have taken an existing Superbike from their range, the Daytona 900, taken off the fairing, and tidied up what is underneath to the point where it is aesthetically pleasing (not an easy thing to do with a modern water cooled motorcycle). The result is one of the leanest, meanest looking bikes around, a café-racer for the ‘90s, not a lash-up of bits and pieces designed to look like something from the mid-1970s.
The engine of the Speed Triple is the same excellent unit that powers a whole variety of Triumphs, from the Trophy 900 to the Daytona 900. it is a water cooled DOHC 12-valce in-line three cylinder that puts out 98 bhp and 60 lb/ft of torque, enough to dispense with one of the usual six gear rations. Not massive numbers for a 900, but sufficient to give Speed Triple a top speed of 140 mph.

Ducati 900 Superlight

Red, raw and unashamedly single-minded, Ducati’s 900 Superlight proved conclusively that a sports bike could provide high performance – not with excessive horsepower but through simplicity, light weight and agile handling. By modern standards the Superlight was only moderately powerful – but it was rapid, exciting and every last millimeter a pure-bred Ducati sportster.
The Superlight was launched in 1992 as a racier, more aggressive relative of the 900SS, which had been introduced in 1989 and revamped to good effect two years later. Essentially the new model was a hard-charging, single-seat version of the SS, complete with reduced weight and numerous other changes intended to cash in on Ducati’s early-’90s domination of the World Superbike race series.

Most of the Superlight’s 90-degree V-twin engine was derived from the 900SS, which meant it was a 904cc, single overhead camshaft unit with two valves per cylinder and desmodromic valve operation (valves closed positively, instead of by springs). The gearbox remained a six speed unit; the only transmission difference was a ventilated cover for the Superlight’s dry clutch.
The 900SS’s pair of 38mm downdraft Mikunis was retained, which helped give an identical claimed peak output of 73 bhp at 7000rpm. The Superlight’s lack of a pillion seat allowed the free-breathing exhaust pipes to sit higher. At the other end, the new bike gained a front mudguard of lightweight carbon-fiber, instead of the conventional plastic.
In Ducati tradition the Superlight’s chassis was based around a tubular steel ladder frame, and featured low-set clip-on handbrakes and rearset footrests. Most of the chassis was shared with the 900SS; including the study 41mm upside-down front forks form Showa, and the same Japanese firm’s multi-adjustable rear shock, working directly on a cantilever swing-arm.
To that Successful format the Superlight added composite wheels with aluminium rims and lightweight magnesium spokes, wearing Michelin’s Hi-Sport radical tyres in suitably broad sizes. Brakes were Brembo’s finest: twin 320mm disc up front, gripped by front-piston Gold Line caliper. As much as its pure performance, it was the Superlight’s purposeful attitude and uncompromisingly sporty feel that made the bike so additive. Its racy styling, aggressive riding position and rich exhaust note gave a sporty, unmistakably V-twin feel, and the Ducati’s blend of gusty midrange torque, light weight and crisp throttle response made for a wonderfully eager and easy-to-ride machine.

That 73 bhp peak output resulted in a top speed of almost 140mph, which could be bettered by several Japanese 750s. But the Ducati’s combination of superlightness and board power delivery meant the V-twin could stay with almost any competition on all but an arrow-straight road. Given a crack of the throttle the Superlight thundered off, remaining reasonably smooth all the way to its 9000rpm redline.
Handling was excellent too, thanks to the Superlight’s rigid frame and its collection of top quality cycle parts. Steering was light and neutral, giving the 388lbs Ducati the feel of a genuine middleweight. The adjustable forks gave a ride that was firm without being harsh, and the firmly sprung rear end was superbly well-controlled, even when being worked hard by the aggressive cornering encouraged by the grip of the fat and sticky rear Hi Sports tyre.
Whether the Superlight’s 15lbs weight advantages, compared to the 900SS, was strictly noticeable was debatable, and the two models were certainly very closely related in performance, as well as specification. The new bike’s price was considerably higher, too. But for riders addicted to the speed, style and simplicity of Ducati’s two-valves-per-cylinder V-twins, the 900 Superlight was second to none.

Ducati 916

To many, Ducati’s 916 is not merely a Superbike, but the Superbike. Part motorcycle, part fantasy, part erotic art, few motorcycles of the past 20 years has aroused such passion amongst the motorcycling public.
Just look at it. Is there such thing as Repetitive Strain Injury of the desire muscles? There is now. Within nanoseconds of its UK launch in late 1993, a whole generation of bikes had instantly put the 916 top of their list. Practically overnight, every one of the 200 destined for Britain in 1994 were sold, and the first 100 due in ’95. Even at $11,800 apiece, it seemed cheap.

Not only does the 916 have looks in abundance, it has pedigree. Essentially, it is a racer, with almost desultory addition of lights and a number plate. It is more than a spin-off from World Superbike regulations which insist that if you can’t find the same frame, engine castings and induction system in the shops, you can’t put them on the track, either. For this reason, Honda would probably never have built their RC45 were it not for their Superbike racing ambitions. Ducati, on the other hand, almost certainly would have built the 916 – because they are Italian and Italians are into that sort of thing.
The 916’s predecessor, the 888, had already won the World Superbike crown in 1990, ’91, ’92. Hot off the drawing board, the 916 followed suit, taking Carl Fogarty to memorable victory in the 1994 title chase. By the time you read this, he will probably have won it again. And if Fogarty doesn’t, another 916 almost certainly will.
Despite the leanness of its lines, the 916 is an extraordinarily complex box of tricks. That slim fairing hides an engine which may ‘only’ be a twin, the latest in a line of Ducati V-twin dating back to 1972. But the latest Dukes have four valves per cylinder, four camshafts, six gears, liquid-cooling, computer-controlled electronic fuel injection and desmodromic valvegear.

All this advance technology makes the 916 quite unlike most racing engines. Instead of a diet of pure, giddy revs, the twin pours out irrepressible, visceral urge almost from tickover. Solid, hard power begins as low as 3000 rpm, and from 6000 upwards the universe is thrown into reserve. Top speed is a blistering 160 mph.
In 955cc Superbike racing trim, the ‘916’ develops the thick end of 150 bhp. As a roadster it claims 114 bhp at 9000 rpm, but feels even stronger, more usable. The spread of power is so immense that almost any gear will do. And the booming roar when downshifting into corners is one of the joys of motorcycling.
The Ducati’s chassis, too, is of the highest class. Compared to the 888, the 916 is shorter, more agile, and more racer-like. The Japanese Showa suspension offers a huge array of setting, but there is very little wrong with the Duke straight out of the crate. With its short wheelbase and its lively geometry, it is in its element through turns – blindingly fast sweepers and hairpins alike.

Anyone buying the 916 takes custody of a dream as much as reality. As a practical street bike it has its faults, not the least of which is comfort. In a racing crouch – what it was designed for, all – it fits like a glove. As a tourer, it makes a good plank. This is not a practical motorcycle, and every red-blooded rider in the world should want one.