1. Sweet 750
Yeah, we know it looks like some sort of quaint classic racer. But a quarter-century ago, this bike was as cool as the Millennium Falcon. It went like it too, at least in comparison with the rest of the “sportbike” options out there. Suzuki claimed over 100 horsepower at the wheel, but the horses weren’t as strong in the 1980s as they are these days (nobody really had dynos except the factories back then, so who was checking?).
The 1986 GSX-R750 was darned light (under 400 pounds) and had some sweet running gear: aluminum frame, ten-piston brake setup and adjustable suspension. It got us started down the proper superbike road as it became a legend in its own time.
2. Tread Softly
Like all the best ideas, this one is pretty obvious and very simple. Soft tires are sticky, but the centers wear out too fast for general street riding, making them all square and mostly horrible. The solution? Make the center of the tread out of harder rubber and keep the edges nice and soft. This way, when you’re upright on the freeway and don’t need massive cornering grip, you’re riding on tough-wearing rubber. Lean over into a bend and you get soft, grippy rubber—perfect.
Of course, it was a nightmare to get right. Bridgestone was the first to come out with the technology on its Battlax range, which dates back to the BT50 on the original Honda CBR900RR. But it was the BT56 in 1997 that really brought the tech. Nowadays, you can get up to five different layers of tread in a Bridgestone tire, giving even more grip and mileage.
**3. Mr. Daytona **
It’s a little-known fact that the US is actually the king of World Superbike racing. Yep, Old Glory has waved over no fewer than nine championship ceremonies with a spectacular six champions. This knocks the Old World into a cocked hat, even though England is next on the list with seven championships and three champs.
Nevertheless, guys like Fred Merkel, Doug Polen and Colin Edwards have shown the Euros what’s what on a variety of machinery. But it’s Scott Russell who was the stuff of true superbike mythology. He’d nursed his Kawasaki Ninja ZX-7RR to an incident-riddled 1993 WSB championship, which remains the sole Kawasaki title. But it was his 1995 win at the non- Daytona 200 that really nailed his reputation. Fast-but-dull Brit Carl Fogarty was at the beginning of his golden four-title WSB run on the Ducati 916. Many observers put that down to the built-in benefit that the (Italian-run) WSB series handed to the (Italian) Ducati and its near-liter capacity.
But nobody told Russell about the script and he put the Ninja on the top step of the podium. Despite crashing the Muzzy bike on the first lap he picked it up and beat the outspoken Fogarty to the finish line.
4. Wide As You Like
Sometimes, the school kid inside you is right. Loud pipes rule. Garish paint jobs rock. And as for back tires well, they should be wide, wide, wide.
Never mind the handling, nothing says “bad boy” quite like a super-wide back tire.
The mainstream has pretty much stopped at the 190-section on most sportbikes, with the occasional excursion into 200 territory (ZX-12R). Thank the lord then for the guys at Roaring Toyz who pioneered the 240, 300 and even 330mm-wide rear ends that have made so many sweet customs look properly bad-assed.
Sure, chromed out bling bikes with swingarm extensions have been around since the prefix “sport” was added to “bike,” but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that tuning shops started to beef up the backs. The trend began in “cornerless” Florida and has become as commonplace as a Harley rider smoking a cigar.
5. Different Strokes
Yes, we loved 500cc two-stroke MotoGP bikes too, but their days were always numbered due to pollution, and they sounded like a broken moped with the throttle stuck. Luckily, the four-stroke engines that replaced them in 2002 were produced by firms in their prime who had cash to burn. Honda came out with a V-5 while Suzuki made a V-4, and they both had pneumatic valves and crazy-assed technology all over. Capacity nearly doubled to 990cc, and power outputs hit 225 horsepower almost straight away. Open pipes and 17,500 RPM redlines made for an incredible aural spectacle and gave us some awesome racing.
6. Block Starz
There used to be two images of American bikers. To most of the world, we were either fat, bearded Harley riders, or chiseled, humorless Californian racer-replicas, munching on granola before timing their canyon runs.
Then the Ruff Ryders Anthem and Starboyz FTP videos both came out within a few months of each other in 1998, and the world saw something new. Street stunting had been going on in the underground for a while, but these two films put long freeway wheelies and cop baiting right in the mainstream’s face. These videos still makes us chuckle in disbelief even now…
7. Japanese Twins
They’ve dumped them now, but for a big chunk of the late 1990s it seemed like Japan was set to follow Ducati down the liter-twin road. First Honda, then Suzuki built supersport twins with two aims: first up was to give street riders the option of torquey, sleek superbikes without the cost and reliability worries of the Ducati. Second was to snatch the various Superbike race trophies from the liter-Mafia that ruled the roost. The VTR1000 (Firestorm in some markets) and TL1000S were cool bikes, although they were never capable of WSB duty. The Honda evolved into the RC-51 that propelled Colin Edwards to his two WSB titles, and while the Suzuki TL1000R never made the Superbike grade its motor did garner one win, housed in the Bimota SB8R and piloted by fast-but-flawed Australian rider Anthony Gobert.
The Japanese soon learned how to make liter fours handle and grip like the twins though, and the days of the big lumps were done. We’d love to see a return though—imagine how sweet a 1200cc WSB-ready Suzuki twin would feel right now.
8. 200 MPH in 7-Seconds
To your dumb Camaro-driving buddy at work, hitting 200 MPH on your fancy-ass motor sickle should be easy, but the sheer power and air-slicing requirements of the double-ton are by no means simple.
And how about hitting that in a quarter-mile? Until Kent Stotz and his Velocity Racing turboed Honda Blackbird came along, most said it couldn’t be done on “street legal” machinery. Stotz took his Honda through the traps with an official 7.30@ 200.11 MPH in 2004 at Memphis Motorsports Park, laying down the first official 200 MPH pass in the Streetbike Shootout class and forever changing the game.
You have to think there’s a designer in Japan who’s living the big life based on his commission from the Hayabusa. There wasn’t much magic in the recipe but it all came together just right. Suzuki had taken the basic engine plan from its recent GSX-R750 and hoped for the best. Big, super-fast bikes had been Kawasaki’s bag with the ZX-11, and Honda’s CBR1100XX Super Blackbird had honed the concept. But it was the big Suzuki that stole the show. The peak power was cool enough on its own, and the aero package that let you touch 200 MPH made it irresistible. But to put those together with a chassis setup that genuinely handled in the twisties (allowing for the weight) was genuine witchcraft. To end up with a base package that could produce nearly 800 HP when super-tuned and make anything else look limp for years on the strip confirms the ‘Busa’s place in history.
10. Fuels Rush In
Fuel injection wasn’t an instant hit. Proper electronic fuel injection started appearing in the late 1990s when the Japanese saw the threat of emissions regulations that were coming in a few years’ time. And while carburetors had been getting better and better for fifty years or so, fuel injection was all new—and a bit shitty to start with, in fact.
The real stinkers were Triumph’s TT600 and Bimota’s disastrous V-Due, and it even took the Big Four factories a few years to get the tech nailed. Suzuki’s SDTV was the first to offer near-carb throttle feel, and the rest caught up in their own time. Of course, the real advantage was in tuning – plugging in a laptop beats the crap out of swapping out jet kits.