Oh, the 1990s! A simpler time when music was loud, fashion was unexpected, and the term social media’ had yet to enter the collective human vernacular! While we’ve gone a long way since, and the globe has taken on an entirely different color in many ways, one thing hasn’t changed: when it comes to iconic bikes that left a mark on the world, the 1990s were just as great as today.
Because the 1990s were a time of remarkable innovation for many motorcycle manufacturers, those memorable years witnessed the creation of several extraordinary machines that revolutionized the very norms of design and performance. The superbike genuinely came only in the 1990s, offering us with never-before-seen high-speed thrills.
While sport bikes dominated the 1990s, there were also plenty of cruisers and adventure tourers in the mix. All in all, it was a good time for bikers, and today we take a look at ten bikes from the 1990s that had our hearts pounding with adrenaline and excitement.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11 (1990): The World’s Fastest Motorcycle
The debut of the legendary ZX-11 signaled the start of the 1990s in the motorcycling industry. This towering beast was dubbed ‘the fastest bike in the world’ at the time, with a top speed of 176mph and a 1,052cc inline-four engine capable of producing 145 horsepower and 80 lb-ft of peak torque.
The heavyweight Ninja redefined motorcycle performance by a wide margin, and it remained the fastest production motorcycle in the world for the next six years – a clear monument to its magnificence. For many, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11 projected an ‘in-your-face’ attitude that declared, “I’m faster than you!” While it is correct, the Ninja accomplished it all with unrestrained boldness and panache.
Yamaha FZR1000 EXUP (1991): A Time When Stability Was Guaranteed
Since its introduction in 1987, the FZR1000 has been considered as one of the best Yamaha production sport bikes on the market, with experts praising it in particular for its class-leading handling. The bike’s 1991 incarnation introduced an innovation that would become a standard for all future bikes in the same class: upside-down telescopic forks.
Complemented by the super-stable aluminum ‘DELTABOX’ frame, this comparatively light bike with a dry weight of 460 lbs handled like a true beauty while producing 145 horsepower and 78.8 lb-ft torque at 10000 rpm and hitting a top speed of 169.8mph. The forward tilt of the 1,022cc inline-four engine assisted in perfectly distributing weight, making the Yamaha FZR1000 EXUP a superbly balanced bike – suited for people who valued ride stability over raw speed.
Honda CBR900RR: The Ultimate Honda Superbike (1992)
Honda’s CBR900RR ‘Fireblade’ set the standard for modern superbikes in many respects. Prior to its introduction, sport bikes were supposed to be all about raw power, with motorcycle manufacturers seeking bigger numbers each year. This changed when a designer from Honda’s R&D department named Tadao Baba was tasked with creating “the ultimate Honda superbike.”
In contrast to other sports bikes that were only aimed towards racetracks, Baba chose to focus on handling and power that riders would actually require on the street. His concept gave rise to Honda’s first RR-badged bike, which also became the lightest and most compact bike in its class, weighing only 408 pounds. The 1992 CBR900RR was no wimp in terms of performance, though, with its 893cc liquid-cooled inline-four engine capable of providing up to 122 horsepower and 65 lb-ft torque at 10000rpm.
FLSTF Fat Boy Harley-Davidson (1994): Ma, take a look! This is Arnie’s bike!
The Harley-Davidson FLSTF Fat Boy, designed by Willie G. Davidson and Louie Netz in 1990, is perhaps the best software produced by the iconic American motorcycle brand. The Fat Boy, which was prominently featured in ‘Terminator 2’ as the protagonist’s favorite steed, was powered by a 1338cc air-cooled V-Twin engine capable of producing 48 horsepower and 63.7 lb-ft at 5000rpm.
While the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy has always been regarded as a stellar offering since its introduction in 1990, what made the 1994 iteration of the bike even better than its predecessors was the addition of a seamless exhaust, which did wonders for the overall look of the bike, giving it a much cleaner and sharper appearance. Given the tremendous impact this famous cruiser had on pop culture, as well as the global exposure it gained, the Fat Boy deserves to be remembered as a true icon in the annals of motorcycle history.
The Ducati 916 (1994) is a sight for sore eyes.
What is there to say about the Ducati 916 that hasn’t already been said? According to Massimo Tamburini, his exquisite creation was intended to resemble the shape of a woman! While some may disagree with this assessment, no one can deny the Ducati 916’s flair and raw esthetic appeal. In fact, the bike essentially helped redefine the design language of motorbikes as a whole, ushering in a transition from early, boxy designs to the flowing forms seen today.
The 916’s water-cooled Desmoquattro 916cc engine developed 109 horsepower and 66 lb-ft torque, indicating that the bike not only looked the part but also functioned admirably. It’s no surprise that the Ducati 916 enabled riders Carl ‘Foggy’ Fogarty and Troy Corser win four Superbike World Championships in the 1990s!
Suzuki GSX-R750 (1996): Liter-Bike Killer Legend
The Suzuki GSX-R750 is on practically every rider’s definitive list of iconic bikes since it was ‘THE’ 750cc bike that gave liter-bikes a serious run for their money. The ‘Gixxer’ boasted an outstanding output of 129.16 horsepower with 59.3 ft-lb torque at 1000rpm, thanks to an all-new, lightweight twin-spar perimeter frame that lowered the bike’s dry weight to just under 395 lbs.
With this kind of power-to-weight ratio, it could attain speeds of up to 174mph, putting it in direct rivalry with the much more powerful 1052cc Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11. The Suzuki GSX-R750, which was released at a cheaper price range than other bikes in its class at the time, was rightfully dubbed “everyman’s superbike” by some. The distinctive fairing, beautiful exhaust tone and savage power curve of the Gixxer only added to its well-deserved legacy.
Honda Valkyrie GL1500C (1997): Harley? Who exactly is Harley?
Okay, we understand that some may consider this a problematic decision for our list. However, in the spirit of completeness, we came to the conclusion that Valkyrie’s pick was more than justified. There were quite a few cruisers produced in the 1990s that drew attention, but we doubt there were many like the Honda GL1500C Valkyrie.
This beast of a cruiser could attain speeds of up to 115 mph thanks to its enormous Gold Wing-derived 1520cc-six-cylinder engine that produced 100 horsepower and 87 lb-ft of torque. Despite its massive size, the Valkyrie was reasonably easy to drive and could cut corners quickly. In addition, in a market dominated by a certain motorcycle manufacturer who shall remain nameless in the 1990s, the Honda GL1500C provided a much-needed and realistic alternative.
Yamaha YZF-R1 4XV (1998): The Ultimate Package
Many people believe that the Yamaha YZF-R1 was inspired by the Honda CBR900RR. It provided all of the thrills and excitement of its opponent but with a little more power. The bike had a 998cc inline-four engine that developed 150 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque and could achieve speeds of up to 172mph.
The R1 also had the world’s first vertically stacked transmission, with the output shaft located above the crankshaft, defying conventional thought at the time. Overall, the YZF-R1 was a perfect example of fantastic engineering, stunning performance, and superb design language bundled into a tight package that made it the lightest and most powerful motorbike in its class. It’s little surprise that many people still see the R1 as ‘THE’Yamaha sport bike.
Honda VFR800 Interceptor (1998): A Commuter Sport Tourer
The Honda VFR750F, a classic bike in its own right, served as the ultimate ride for those seeking the perfect balance of undemanding performance and easy riding. The previous 748cc liquid-cooled engine of the VFR750F was replaced in 1998 by an expanded RC45 fuel-injected V4 781cc engine, giving birth to the VFR800. The bike also has a new aluminum frame and a dual-combined braking system, making it an outstanding choice for an everyday commuter with a sporty yet comfortable ride.
The renowned ‘Interceptor’ branding returned with the VFR800 after an ominous absence of a few years. Finally, this bad boy was one of those rare bikes that were wonderful for the street but could also compete on the racetrack. Although it was never regarded as a serious challenger for the professional racing circuit, there is little doubt that the VFR800 will live on in the thoughts of bike aficionados for many years to come.
The Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300R (1999) redefines high performance.
The launching of the Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300R marked the end of a decade that began with a bang. The ‘Busa, a contentious bike that you either loved or despised, was certainly one of the most significant bikes to be produced in the 1990s – one that revolutionised high-performance riding.