Motorcycles have gotten faster and more interesting since the early 1970s. Prior to the introduction of the 1969 Honda CB750, sports cars could out-accelerate most motorcycles available to the common man.
That all changed with the Japanese large cycle invasion of the 1970s. From then on, neck-snapping acceleration was available for significantly less money than a powerful car. We are going to cover 15 of the sickest motorcycles ever sold at the price point available to the average person in a medium to wealthy country.
It started with straight-line acceleration by the Japanese, but by the early 1980s, Japan had started to make incremental improvements to make the bikes easier to handle and control, which was sorely lacking on the first high powered bikes.
17 Enter The Modern Era, The 1984 Kawasaki Ninja 900
The first significantly improved bike which handled as well as it accelerated was the Kawasaki GPZ900R, which was marketed as “The Ninja” in The West. Significant gains were made in stopping and turning by using parts sourced from road racing development, including popular anti-dive forks and the best quality opposed piston disc brakes all around, one of the first bikes to do that.
It was the first mass-produced Kawasaki Liquid Cooled DOHC 4 cylinder. The bike sold so well, it stayed around much the same from 1984-2003. It was significantly lighter than the “KZ” series it superseded.
16 Suzuki GSXR
Not to be outdone by Kawasaki, Suzuki one-upped its previous high powered air-cooled “Katana: and “GS” series, cut roughly 45 kg of weight and came out with the legendary GSX-R series, available in different iterations and sizes. This was a no-compromise sportbike with the best technology each era had available at the time.
Starting in 1985 with a 750 that was a racer replica, it has been made in race-ready sizes from 50CC all the way up to a 1300CC variant known as the Hayabusa. The 750 and 1000 CC variants are pretty close to SuperSport Class racers and the handling and acceleration of the 600CC and larger models are usually better than all but the most skilled operator can fully utilize.
15 Honda VF And VFR
Honda threw down in the 1980s with a series V4 engined sportbikes that went in a significantly different direction than the other brands. Unlike Suzuki which had already switched to a lightweight aluminum frame for their upper echelon models, Honda stayed with steel ‘“featherbed-style” frames for a while before switching to lightweight parameter frames.
With several models available from 250, 500, 700, 750, 1000, the model like the GSXR lives on today as VFR 800 and VFR 1200. These bikes compete these days, not as “Super Sports” competition models but as serious sport-tourers for guys who like to go fast and make use of all the weight being strategically located for best balance.
14 Yamaha FZR And YZF Series
Yamaha was 5 years behind the other 3 makes and was still selling turbocharged air-cooled 4-cylinder muscle bikes as their top performers until 1989, when that all changed with the introduction of The FZR 600 and 1000.
To save cost, the first 600 models came with a steel parameter frame while the 1000cc had the nicer aluminum frame. They couldn’t build these things fast enough to meet demand. Later, like their competition, smaller sizes were sold outside western markets.
The FZR series got renamed the YZF series with designations known as “R” 1,2,3, etc to denote size and era. Basically they are all the same lineage. The bike at all levels is a racer replica and is a no-compromise design.
13 Honda CBR Series
The Honda CBR series included the groundbreaking 600, 900, 1000, 1100 blackbird, along with models as small as 50CC. Most have been sold as 600 and 900-1000 series. The 600s, typically, were not full-on racer-replicas – although many took home trophies in competition over the course of several years.
The bigger bikes were serious contenders, not comfortable at all and were lightning quick. The first two series 900 models forced the industry to significantly lighten their bikes to keep up with the handling of the 900 Fireblades. Good looking bikes if not pretty.
12 Triumph Speed Triple
The Triumph Speed Triple Series of motorcycles started with the reborn Triumph when the name after an 11-year hiatus was revived and a series of 2- and 4-cylinder bikes were created.
Around year 5, Triumph decided to separate itself from the 4-cylinder Japanese models starting in 1994 with a 600cc model called the 595, displacements have been between 600 and 1200, with horsepower equal to Japanese open class bikes up to 140HP.
Triumph took advantage of the British love of stripped “Hooligan” style streetfighter models and made most of their triples available as booth streetfighters and Super Sports racers with full fairings et all. The frames which were made of aluminum were styled to look like bespoke frames made by specialty firms.
11 Ducati Super Sports Line
The Ducati SuperSport was the first series of the marque to be available for sale at a price point the average buyer could afford. True, the bike did not produce the power that liquid-cooled 4-cylinder bikes produced, it did make up for it in handling and lightweight.
This was a rider’s bike. The weight was moved significantly inboard and the crankshaft rotation tended to always right the bike during mistakes by operators. The bike used small tube chrome-moly steel that glorified itself, not in polish but in the ornate welds at all the joints which were done in a manner that was similar to jewelry.
Later sold as lower costs; 600CC, 750CC, and 1000CC versions, the SS series is still sold in one iteration or another. One of the most beautiful versions was a ‘Paul Smart Commemorative’ versions with retro wire wheels.
10 Buell 1125R And CR
Buell 1125R and 1125CR series is a modern early iteration of a motorcycle still sold today at a higher price point, known as the 1190 series. The 1125 series was the best of technology that was available in the mid-2000s when it came out. The bike was an instant hit and sold well, complimenting the ever-increasing sales of the older air-cooled models.
Strangely, Harley Davidson which had bought 49% of Buell hired a CEO in 2007 who did not like motorcycles, never owned one prior to running the company and despite H-D and Buell investing heavily in moving the brand forward, the management of H-D decided to kill the brand without prior warning.
9 Ducati Monster Series
The Ducati Monster Series is a Streetfighter naked bike series sharing most of its technical aspects with the Super Sports series. Started in the mid-90s, it’s a popular seller and while equally as fast in a straight line as the SS, it’s riding position is more in line with actual enjoyment going from point A to B.
Its original nickname was the “wheelie monster” because it was popular in the Hooligan culture and was also used for freestyle parking lot riding, doing tricks in front of the camera. Other than not having the highest level engine it is a very edgy bike with all the high tech goodies one would expect from the era it was made.
8 Yamaha V-Max
The Yamaha V-Max series, despite dating back from 1985, consists of exactly 2 models. One sold well, one hasn’t sold very well. The first series stayed in production almost unchanged until the second generation appeared in 2009. Insane cruiser would be the best description of what their market is.
Basically, they have Racer Replica horsepower but at a much lower rpm. The first model made an honest 140HP and could knock out 10 second quarter mile times on the tiny 140 series bias-ply tire from the 1980s. The new model is rated at 170 HP and can produce 9-second quarter miles. The bikes are heavy and weigh over 600 lbs.
7 Harley Davidson V-Rod
The Harley Davidson V-Rod series of motorcycles was a modern series of motorcycles that had a 2-cylinder liquid-cooled high-output engine designed by Porsche. The bikes were very popular and sold in many iterations in the power cruiser market.
Unlike other power cruisers, this bike was not a low RPM torque monster, it was closer to a Yamaha Vmax in terms of style and performance. For two years you could actually buy a version that came with wheelie bars and a locked rear suspension made specifically for drag racing directly from Harley Davidson.
Horsepower was rated about 140 in most versions. The series, despite selling well, was killed off by 2017 in the slow poisoning of Harley Davidson in its management changes.
6 Victory Octane
The Victory Octane is as rare as hen’s teeth because it was built in an era when Polaris decided they would kill the brand. The excuse every dealer had when dropping Victory is “the factory couldn’t make the Indians and 3 wheeled bikes fast enough and needed the factory to ramp up production of the better selling bikes.”
The good news is they are too new and unknown to have a collectors value price, and their straight-line performance is on par with an air-cooled Buell or tuned Sportster. The bike sold for less than $11,000 for 1 year only and was the only Victory to use a high rpm liquid-cooled V-Twin with DOHC cylinder heads. The bike was very attractive as were all Victory motorcycles.
5 Suzuki TL1000R or S
The Suzuki TL series was a response to Suzuki feeling threatened by Ducati who was stealing its thunder in sales in the SuperBike niche’. Using its larger resources, Suzuki developed and sold high-performance models that were V-twin powered that competed with its own GSXR and GSX series of cycles as well as Ducati.
The bikes were sold only as a 1000cc in R and S trim which was basically two levels of fairing coverage. The bikes were highly effective in racing during its years of production in the early 2000s. A great bargain bike that never had the mystique of the GSXR, but was a very good performer and well built.
4 Buell XB Series
The Buell XB series of motorcycles was the last of the air-cooled Buell Motorcycles, they outsold all the other Buells combined, made an honest 75 horsepower at the rear wheels and were 60 lbs lighter than the model they replaced. The things they are best known for are unique styling and longevity.
Buell did independent analysis and redesign of the fuel injection and cylinder heads, as well as other changes on its version of the Thunderstorm Harley Sportster Engine. The output was nearly double that of a Sportster and the reliability was equal or better than most Japanese bikes. The bike was sold as a 900 and a 1200 but peak power was nearly the same, the 1200 was just a little easier to drive fast.
3 Cagiva Mito Series
The Cagiva Mito looks like a smaller Ducati 916, because basically it is. Ducati and Cagiva shared ownership and engineering. The 916 and its descendants were awesome bikes but were out of reach for most buyers.
The Mito is not a wicked fast bike because it’s a 125cc-500cc bike. Heresy you say, why is a 125 in our article? Well, start with the fact that much of the world limits its Racer Replicas and Supersports Bikes to less than 300cc. Does that not mean people playing cricket or soccer instead of football don’t race? Think again. This is one of many bikes built for competition in those markets.
The Mito is very affordable because it was available from 1989 until 2013 and the last iterations dropped the 24 HP 125 two-strokes and went with a 500CC 4-cycle at 60 HP.
2 KTM Duke Series
The KTM Duke series of cycles can be found all over Europe and Latin America. They are a true state of the art performance bikes. Like other bikes, they come in multiple displacements and single and twin cylinder configurations. Most people can not afford the top of the line 1290 and 990 series bikes, but the smaller sizes are very reasonable.
These bikes started way back in 1994 and are as small as 125cc. The market they are in is the SuperMotard, Hypermotard market. Basically they run fast on and off-road. Even their quarter-mile speeds are fast in the big models. The castings, trim and technology are the best available in each market and era. Unlike a Bimoto or MV Agusta, you don’t have to be wealthy to own one.
1 Kawasaki Ninja Brand
The Kawasaki Ninja series of sportbikes is now a full line of cycles. What had been a single model (the 900GPZ), has become an entire brand known as “Ninja”. Most of them are sold as 250, 500, 600 and 1000s. However, they are found in full competition trim all the way from 125cc to a supercharged 1400cc called the H2 for those that really know how to ride.
Most people would end up with a 600, and that is easily affordable. What’s interesting is the brand covers more than one riding class. Street performance, SuperBike and Exotic Bike are all covered in this series. At some periods they even had competing subclasses that appealed to different budgets in the 600cc market.
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