Some superbikes have risen into the hallowed halls of motorcycling while their more frumpy siblings have lagged behind. In his second instalment, Patrick van Sleight provides good tips for sourcing and owning these gems.

by Patrick van Sleight

Bikes like the original Suzuki Katana and Honda CB1100R are arguably at the forefront today of an (old) school of sought-after bikes from the eighties and seventies. They were fast and exotic, and collectors would kill for good, clean examples. But there are bikes that sit just one rank lower, that are usually overlooked by collectors. They lived in the shadow of their more glorious siblings, yet offered similar performance, for less cash and image.

And if you buy wisely, these bikes offer usable, reasonable performance and low maintenance cost and effort, with practicality to rival any late model today, depending on what the bike is used for.

The bikes profiled here are just outside the collector's spotlight (because they are either still too young or/and were not landmark models), and are therefore considerably cheaper than their stable-mates. To read the previous instalment, click here.

1984 - 86 Kawasaki Z1100R: 1 089 cm3, DOHC eight-valve inline-four, 85 kW, 233kph, 238kg wet

The Z1100R picked up where the Z1000R left off and the green 1000R “Eddie Lawson Replicas” where the only Kawasakis to be seen in the early 80s. This trend continued with the 1100 and there was only one colour for this bike to be at the time – green. It also happened to be the colour of the bike that Lawson heroically rode to two production superbike championships in the US, which only served to strengthen Kawasaki’s love affair with the colour.

Essentially the Z1100R was a makeover of the GPz111, which was in production at the same time. But the revised camshafts and ignition meant a fatter mid-range and Eddie Lawson replicas are still a cult machine for Kawasaki followers. High mileage examples are not as reliable as the GPzs due to the extra power. Look out for Eddie Lawson replicas.

1983 - 94 Yamaha XJ900F: 892 cm3 DOHC eight-valve inline-four, 67 kw, 217 km/h, 218 kg

Never much of an athlete and despite its innovation, the XJ650 Turbo received a lukewarm reception. However, its successor, the XJ900F was one of the lightest bikes at the top end of the market with a highly respected power-to-weight ration. Its alternator was stuck behind the crank-shaft to increase the leaning angle, but it also made it as narrow as most of the twins at the time.

Launched with a 853 cm3 engine, this was upped to 892 in 1985 which remained in production until 1994 when it was superseded by the workhorse-like Diversion/Seca models. Owners love their XJs, since they excel as sports tourers, but excessive city commuting ruins the gearbox and the heavy fuel and oil consumption is not encouraging either.

1984 – 87 Honda VF1000F: 998 cm3 DOHC V4 DOHC 16-valve, 84 kW, 225 km/h, 234kg dry

The VF750 of 1982 with its water-cooled V4 engine was an industry first. But the 1000cc that followed two years later was decidedly unpopular in comparison with the VFR. Honda’s early VF models were notoriously unreliable mainly due to camshafts and cam-chains that wore out almost every 10 000km (the gear-driven cams of the race-bred VF1000R are not affected to the same degree). Honda and certain after-market companies supplied replacement cams that lasted longer, but by the time the VF1000F arrived, the damage was done, and the bike was largely overlooked.

Perhaps thanks to the unreliability of the VF models, Honda over-engineered the next generation of V4’s in the form of the VFR750F, and gave them bullet-proof gear-driven cams, which resulted in them being one of the most enduring and popular motorcycles ever available. The VF1000F was state-of-the-art for its day with water-cooling, mono-shock and box-section, and a steel frame running down the sides.

Today it makes a unique and decidedly less risky purchase than its 750 sibling, but it still has a reputation for premature cam wear as well as fragile gearboxes. But the big V4 has grunt and smoothness in its favour, not to mention the deep baritone drone of those exhausts. This is one to stand out from the crowd, but unless you absolutely have to have a cheap and big V4, it is perhaps not a very logical buy considering its reputation and what else is available for the same money.

1986 – 1993 Yamaha FJ1200: 1 188 cm3 DOHC 16-valve inline-four, 240kph, 261kg

Yamaha made another attempt at the superbike crown with the chain-driven FJ1100 in 1984. Unfortunately, the Kawasaki GPZ900 was launched at the same-time, and the FJ therefore, by mistake rather than design, became one of the best touring bikes ever. The most obvious feature of the FJ is the modern-looking, box-section perimeter-frame that signalled the end of an era in frame design and along with the Honda VF models, indicated the look of bikes to come. It had a mono-shock suspension that contributed to the clean appearance of the bike with its well-balanced proportions. The FJ12 with its 1 097 cm3 capacity followed two years after the FJ11, and offered even more of the seamless, low-rev torque that the FJ11 became renowned for.

Getting specific

  • Try for a test ride
  • Never buy a bike at night
  • Common as they are, you won’t find these old bikes on showroom floors. Most bike shops also advertise breakfast runs, rallies and the odd bike for sale. There is, of course, also the classified section of your local newspaper.

If all this sound cumbersome and too much like unnecessary and hard work; rest assure in knowing that - especially with bikes this old - ignoring any number of these guidelines have cost many a purchaser great sorrow and financial cost.

Original article from Car