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Our Top 10 Fast Classics
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Our Top 10 Fast Classics

If you’re ready to make an investment, but not ready to slow down, our top ten Fast Classics ought to give you some inspiration…

Team Fast Bikes

Classic bikes – they’re all mad old shitters, yeah? Crappy British stuff that’s the equivalent of a two-wheeled Austin Allegro, nutter Italian nonsense with psychotic electrics, or rust-bucket Japanese boat anchors from the 1970s. No power, less brakes, and a worse choice than just taking the car.

Well you’re wrong. It’s time to wake up, smell the coffee, and get yourself into 2019. Because classic bikes are now, officially, really good. That’s because we’re using our new, convenient, Fast Bikes ‘15-20-year-old’ rule of classics, meaning that anything from 1999-2004 is definitely in the classic sector. There are some sweeeeet wheels in there, and we’re dubbing them Fast Classics.

Even better, some of these could actually qualify as sensible investments. If you’ve been watching the prices on some bikes from the 1980s and 90s, you’ll know that bikes are now tipping the eBay scales at up to five times that much as they were 10-15 years ago. Yamaha’s RD350 YPVS and RD500LC, Suzuki’s RGV250 and RG500, original 1998 Yamaha R1s – all were available on the cheap in the early noughties, and if you were lucky enough to have snatched one up back then, you’d have a right little earner in the garage now.

So, with no further ado, here’s our pick of the top Fast Classics at the moment.

2000-2006 HONDA VTR1000 SP1 AND SP2

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

OOOOh we’re being a bit cheeky here, because the VTR1000 SP1 and SP2 are already on the cusp of fashion.

The original VTR1000 was the much softer Firestorm (which can be had for proper pennies now) of 1997. Honda had been watching those pesky Italians with their litre V-twin superbikes waltzing off with the WSB titles for years, and finally gave in and built its own version. The Firestorm was a great bike – fast, skinny and light, with a natty half-fairing and proper 240kmph performance. But it wasn’t a racer, despite the efforts of firms like Moriwaki who took on superbike racing in the late 1990s. The frame was one of Honda’s funny ‘pivotless’ designs, with the swingarm hanging off the engine with no extra framework round the pivot point, so couldn’t cope with hard use and mega power engine tuning.

Luckily, Honda had the proper job cooking at its HRC division. The engineers there had been working on a far more serious bike, with a proper superbike-spec chassis, full fairing, high-end running gear and a new motor. Dubbed the VTR1000 SP1 RC51, it was a succeeded legendary machines like the RC45 and RC30 V-four 750 superbikes.

The most amazing thing was the price, though. New in 1999, it cost just over half the price of the 1998 RC45. That little for a genuine WSB homologation machine? Madness.

The original SP1 was a bit of a bugger as a daily ride – the fuel injection was jerky, the fuel consumption rotten (a tank would last under 130km if you went hard) and the gearing was on the tall side. It went well on track though, and while it didn’t quite have the measure of the Ducati 916 and Aprilia RSV Mille, it kicked hell out of the Suzuki TL1000R.

The SP2 update in 2002 stiffened the chassis with help from the WSB team and added a few ponies to the motor. It also got a white paint job, replacing the red SP1.

Nowadays, the SP1/2 still looks good – anything with a genuine HRC sticker on the bodywork has to be a bit special – and with some subtle updates, you can tickle it up a treat. Modern rubber, a stage-one exhaust and fuelling tune, lithium battery, a suspension refresh, and you’ll have a neat little 200kg 140bhp twin with outstanding style and class.

2004-2006 HONDA CBR1000RR

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

Timing is everything, and Honda was a bit late with its 1000cc Blade. Yamaha had been punting its R1 since 1998, the Suzuki GSX-R1000 was on the second gen, and Kawasaki was launching its nuts ZX-10R at the same time we were riding the first CBR1000RR in December 2003.

It didn’t top the class – but it certainly offered something different. Honda made a big deal of its MotoGP-derived Unit Pro-Link rear suspension, dual-stage fuel injection system with two injectors per cylinder, and the underseat exhaust. But on paper, it was down on power (170bhp claimed) and up on weight (195kg dry) compared to the competition. Despite the MotoGP sauce, it was the softer and more civilised option in the class.

Now? It’s pretty much a sports tourer in many ways. It’s still very handsome in a cool Tony Blair era kinda way, and being a Honda, it should still be in fairly decent condition. The usual modern updates to tyres, suspension refresh and the like would sharpen it up a bit. And in 2029, expect a clean, original CBR1000RR to be a very desirable, rare thing indeed…

1998-2004 APRILIA RSV MILLE

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

This is perhaps the epitome of the cheap-but-good classic bike market: for some reason, the Aprilia RSV Mille has evolved into a really cheap, high-performance used superbike. Supply has clearly kept pace with demand, and you can pick up an early one with an MoT and 270kmph. Get lucky, and you might swing a fancy ‘R’ version with Öhlins suspension and forged OZ wheels for a bit more money.

This would have been a bit of a surprise to me back in 2000, when this bike was beating the opposition in loads of superbike twin and Italian exotica group tests. It was the most ‘Japanese’ of the Italian exotic superbikes, giving much of the style and class of a Ducati, a Benelli or an MV Agusta, but in a more reliable, easier to live with form. The engine was a corker, made by Rotax and putting out loads of peak power, and plenty of grunt too, and the chassis was just as capable.

Nowadays, there are plenty of well-established problems with the RSVs, from starter motors, solenoids, charging systems, rear brake calipers and the like, but there’s also a huge cottage industry keeping them going. People like Griff Wooley at Aprilia Performance helps a thriving online community sort these issues out, and keep the bikes on the road. Buy sensibly, and you’ll have a fine-performing 130bhp superbike, with slick handling and definite exotic styling, plus some intriguing investment potential in this package.

Ducati 749

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

Now, we sort of hesitate to include Ducati in here – not because they’re not great bikes, but because it’s hard to grab a bargain. So trying to find a 916 SPS or a 998R to make money on is generally a fool’s errand, sadly.

A few years back, we’d toy with the idea of a 999S or 999R, but even these have soared in value and popularity. So we’re taking a sideways approach: a 749 is very similar to the 999, smaller capacity and narrower rear tyre aside. And if you can cope with the 115-ish bhp figure, you get a beguiling sportsbike. The handling is impressive; Pierre Terblanche’s chassis gives stonking stability, and it’s positively addictive in long sweeping bends. With some booming end cans under the seat unit, it will sound a million dollars. The later 749/999 models from 2004 are on the good side of the Ducati reliability curve.

You can get a basic entry-level spec early model, but it might be worth looking down the back of the sofa to find extra cash. If you can stretch to an S (or even an R) version, then do it – the suspension is Öhlins rather than Showa, and the R engine is a work of moto-art. The Rs are the best in terms of investment too, of course, but you’ll need to keep the miles down if that’s the plan.

BONUS PRO TIP: The two-valve air-cooled Ducati 900SS is another way to get on to some Bologna wheels cheap. The engine is a little weak to 2019 throttle hands, but they go well through the bends and sound ace.

SUZUKI TL1000R

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

One of those bikes which is often overlooked, the TL1000R was Suzuki’s attempt to build a big twin WSB race-rep to take on the Italian hegemony in superbike racing. It was essentially the fuel-injected 996cc TL1000S engine, bolted into a GSX-R-style beam-framed chassis, and clad in a full race fairing, with big ram-air intakes, hugely beefy front end and massive rear swingarm.

The motor made a solid 135bhp, 10bhp more than the TL-S, but Suzuki had made it slightly revvier to get that peak power, losing some benefits of the twin layout.

That wasn’t the only mistake. To package the monoshock swingarm and suspension around the rear cylinder of the V-twin engine, the firm decided to use an unconventional rotary-type damper unit, with a conventional coil spring. The result was a bit of a mess, spoiling the handling of what looked like a cracking track tool. It was also rather bulky and a bit on the porky side at 197kg dry.

It was a bit of a disaster for Suzuki in WSB, though the engine did win a race, in the Bimota SB8R at the 2000 Philip Island WSB round. Indeed, Suzuki has had fabulous mileage out of the engine design – it still lives on in the current V-Strom 1000.

A stock TL1000R would struggle a bit nowadays if you wanted to go hunting in the fast group at trackdays. But for the odd track day with some suspension mods and modern tyres, it’d be a good laugh.

SUZUKI GSX-R1000 K1

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

One of the great superbike game changers, the K1 GSX-R is every bit as important as the first Yamaha R1 and the 1992 Honda FireBlade. But it’s not yet become as sought-after as those machines. Pick up a 2001 or 2002 Gixxer, and you’ll get a big, fast battle bus, which is far nimbler than it might look.

The 160bhp engine is a corker, and feels really torquey even now, while the chassis is just as sorted: light, well suspended, agile, it topped the class back in 2001, and is still worthy even nowadays. It’s got classic Suzuki GSX-R looks, especially in blue and white, and stuff like the gold-coated fork stanchions and the six-piston calipers really stand out from the crowd. The braced swingarm and gaping ram-air intakes round off the proper factory-racer styling.

If you do get one with a load of aftermarket parts, do try and get the OE parts as well – it’s key to collectability in the future. In terms of day-to-day use, there’s little to worry about. This is a super-reliable, well-built bike, and with a little bit of care, will stand up well to a few thousand miles a year. And you’ll have a proper ball with every one of those miles.

Like the Ducati 916 and original Honda CBR900RR FireBlade, the very first Yamaha R1 has already soared in value, so picking one up for cheap is now pretty tough. But if you re-calibrate your targets and aim for something a little later, you can get a corking Yamaha superbike that makes a great daily ride and still has loads of investment potential.

We’re looking at the 5JJ version of the R1 – the first one with fuel injection. It was a bit of a weird FI system made by Mikuni, which only appeared on this bike, and that melded the suction piston system of CV carbs with a digital EFI setup. The idea was a little like Suzuki’s dual-valve injection, that the analogue CV pistons would better match the airflow requirements into the engine, gradually opening when the throttle plates are snapped open by your eager right wrist, and preventing bogging down at low revs. It was a halfway house to a proper dual-valve system, which in turn was a halfway house to the current ride-by-wire systems, where the ECU matches the throttle valve opening to the engine’s airflow requirements at all revs.

So it’s interesting to the tech geeks, which is a good start. It’s also fairly close to the original bike in terms of looks, with a conventional side-mounted exhaust rather than the later underseat pipes. Incidentally, the stock pipe was a proper nice titanium job, so do try and get one with the standard bits for investment potential. In terms of performance, it’s close to the original, with 150 claimed bhp pushing 187kg, so you’re getting much of the same experience in terms of outright grunt. The frame is a bit stiffer though, and other detail mods like gold-spot front brake calipers mean it’s a touch sharper in terms of handling.

Buy as clean as you can find. Get one in stock order and you’ll have a classic 2000s superbike, that’ll do great work on road and track, while quietly increasing in rarity and value (so long as you don’t fling the bugger into the gravel trap).

KAWASAKI ZX-12R

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

The year 2000 was a simpler, happier time. Speed cameras were rarer than they are now, and bike firms could, with a straight face, sell bikes purely designed to tickle 320kmph. The Honda Blackbird and Suzuki’s Hayabusa were both built to take this top-speed crown off Kawasaki’s ZZ-R1100.

Kawasaki wasn’t too chuffed, and came back with another rocket ship – the ZX-12R Ninja. But Team Green took things in a slightly different direction – the Ninja actually had a go at giving it proper sportsbike capability. The fairing was sleeker, the riding position more committed, and it was the first bike with a 200-section rear tyre as standard. It was still pretty hefty, despite an innovative monocoque aluminium frame, at 210kg dry, but you could see it had more sporting pretentions.

The big story was the 1,199cc engine. Despite having fewer cc than the Hayabusa, it claimed 5bhp, meaning it was a bit revvier. When the mighty lump came on song, it hit like Tyson Fury, and if you took one on track, it killed allcomers on the straights, while giving a white-knuckle ride in the bends.

The ZX-12R is becoming rarer, and standard ones even more so. Many have gone into the drag racing or land-speed record worlds, where the fairing and narrow profile go well with a GT42 turbo and a 750bhp engine tune… It’s a landmark in high speed biking, with touches like the aero-wings on the fork bottoms and mirrors, plus the ram air intake showing how serious Kawasaki was about it.

2002/2003 YAMAHA YZF-R1

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

Like the Ducati 916 and original Honda CBR900RR FireBlade, the very first Yamaha R1 has already soared in value, so picking one up for cheap is now pretty tough. But if you re-calibrate your targets and aim for something a little later, you can get a corking Yamaha superbike that makes a great daily ride and still has loads of investment potential.

We’re looking at the 5JJ version of the R1 – the first one with fuel injection. It was a bit of a weird FI system made by Mikuni, which only appeared on this bike, and that melded the suction piston system of CV carbs with a digital EFI setup. The idea was a little like Suzuki’s dual-valve injection, that the analogue CV pistons would better match the airflow requirements into the engine, gradually opening when the throttle plates are snapped open by your eager right wrist, and preventing bogging down at low revs. It was a halfway house to a proper dual-valve system, which in turn was a halfway house to the current ride-by-wire systems, where the ECU matches the throttle valve opening to the engine’s airflow requirements at all revs.

So it’s interesting to the tech geeks, which is a good start. It’s also fairly close to the original bike in terms of looks, with a conventional side-mounted exhaust rather than the later underseat pipes. Incidentally, the stock pipe was a proper nice titanium job, so do try and get one with the standard bits for investment potential. In terms of performance, it’s close to the original, with 150 claimed bhp pushing 187kg, so you’re getting much of the same experience in terms of outright grunt. The frame is a bit stiffer though, and other detail mods like gold-spot front brake calipers mean it’s a touch sharper in terms of handling.

Buy as clean as you can find. Get one in stock order and you’ll have a classic 2000s superbike, that’ll do great work on road and track, while quietly increasing in rarity and value (so long as you don’t fling the bugger into the gravel trap).

APRILIA TUONO V-TWIN

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

The Tuono was a very straightforward proposition when it first appeared. Aprilia simply took an RSV Mille which had the fairings crashed off in advance, fitted some wide bars and a headlight out of the scooter parts bin – and that was it.

Now, it sounds crazy in these days of 180bhp naked bikes, but the Tuono was in a class of its own back then. Ducati’s Monster S4 was the closest rival, but its 916-based motor only put out 101bhp, 22bhp down on the Tuono. Back in 2002, naked bikes like the Honda Hornet 900 and Kawasaki Z1000 had been deliberately gelded, with soft cams, tiny throttle bodies and lowered compression – all aimed at giving softer power deliveries. Aprilia was having none of that though, and the only power drop from the full-beans RSV superbike was down to the lack of the ram-air intakes on the fairing. It was a total stunt weapon, and went round tracks just as well as its faired stablemate.

Aprilia also released a fancy version called the Tuono Racing, with the same OZ wheels, Brembos and Öhlins upgrade as the ‘R’ versions of the RSV, and if you can find one at good money, these are the dead-cert special investment vehicle, as it were… but even a basic Tuono is a great bike.

TRIUMPH DAYTONA T595/955i

Our Top 10 Fast Classics

We waited decades for a world-class British sportsbike, and when it finally came in 1997, it was a very good attempt. Triumph had been selling its modular range of 750, 900, 1000 and 1200cc bikes since 1990 with some success, but were a bit soft compared to the likes of Honda’s FireBlade. And as part of its strategy to break away from the modular steel-framed bikes, Triumph went to town when it launched the Daytona T595. Hinckley engineers created a new 955cc triple with fuel injection making about 130bhp, and bolted it into a slick aluminium tube perimeter frame with a single-sided swingarm, beefy conventional forks and dual four-piston front brake calipers.

It just about had the measure of the FireBlade – but the Yamaha R1 appeared soon afterwards, re-defining the litre class at just the wrong time for Triumph. The unique triple power delivery had some advantages, offering a hint of the torquey power of a big twin with more top-end power, and at 193kg, it was pretty light. There were some teething troubles with gearboxes and frames, but these were sorted with subtle updates and rebranding to the 955i model in 1999. Later bikes got even better, making 150bhp and were sorted bikes, but the market had moved on to the wild pleasures of Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 and the like. Triumph gave up in 2006, re-focusing on its 675 Daytona, naked, retro and adventure bikes, with some success, I might add.

Sadly, there’s not been another superbike from the West Midlands since. And that’s part of what makes the T595 a tempting prospect as a future classic – especially at the current low prices.

If all you want is a bike with the same sort of performance, a Kawasaki ZX-9R would do the job. But the Kawasaki doesn’t have the heritage and historical importance of the big Daytona.

Words by Alan Dowds