It doesn’t matter how mature we motorcyclists become, or how sensible or old enough to know better, there’s a teeny part of us inside that still has a fascination for the fastest, mostest, Top-Trumping, hairy motorcycles out there. And despite the fact that nothing has really moved on significantly in the last 20 years, it only takes a classified ad for something stupidly fast to pass our way at the right price before we’re doing the mental numbers and making a space in the garage before reason cuts in.
If you fancy experiencing just how quickly the world can move backwards, there’s never been more speed available for such little money. Most of those bikes have barely used a fraction of their performance for most of their lives, are bought by caring owners and are unlikely to have been thrashed or bounced through the kitty litter at a track day.
Kawasaki ZX12R | £2995 | Robinsons Rochdale
eBay link: www.ebay.co.uk/itm/152935810134
Kawasaki’s ZX-12R is the forgotten superbike. Launched in 2000, ten years after their last proper hyperbike – the ZZ-R1100, we viewed it as Kawasaki’s response to the ‘might-have-actually-done-200mph-or-might-not’ Suzuki Hayabusa. Truth is, of course that Kawasaki were already developing their biggest Ninja yet, at the same time as Suzuki – these things take longer than we think. And also, the ZX-12R was more of a sports bike than a sports tourer.
Clearly, it was going to be fast. The all-new engine claimed 178bhp which was 3 more ponies than the Hayabusa. It weighed 7kg less, tipping the scales at just 210kg dry and had the biggest ram-air snout we’d yet seen on any bike. So, on paper at least it was going to accelerate faster than a Hayabusa and go marginally quicker too, aerodynamics permitting.
That last bit is important. Where the Hayabusa had clearly sacrificed some beauty for aero efficiency, The Kawasaki looked like a bigger, butcher version of every other sports bike. Strangely, Kawasaki also chose to make the engine part of an innovative monocoque chassis which helped keep it compact, but also made it feel a little top heavy and clumsy at road speeds in an era when management of mass was becoming critical. If they’d simply built a slightly beefier ZX-9R chassis, the ZX-12R might have been more successful. As it was the bike gained a reputation for being uncomfortable, unwieldy and hard work to ride fast. The long-stroke Suzuki engine had more power low down and in the mid-range and was faster at the top end too.
Today, a ZX-12R can be a good buy if the price is right, it fits your shape and you prefer working an engine to using the torque. There are some reports of breaking clutch baskets on early models and problems with the stator, but these aren’t universal and should have all been fixed by now.
More important is a thorough and regular service history and checking for crash damage, evidence that the fork oil and brake lines have been changed and that gut feel that it’s been looked after.
Anorak fact: Ducati’s Panigale series is the only other production bike with a monocoque chassis
Honda CBR1100XX | £2000 | Blackpool Bikes
eBay link: www.ebay.co.uk/itm/183248833817
Honda’s CBR1100XX sits at the opposite end of the hyperbike spectrum to the ZX-12R. Where the Kawasaki is raw, noisy and hard work, a good Blackbird is smooth, easy and refined in a way that only 1990s Hondas ever seem to be. Blackbird owners tend to talk a faster game than they actually play and mostly they take care of their bikes too, meaning most are close-to-standard, well maintained and rarely stressed.
There are two versions; the first from 1996-1998 had carburettors, the second, from 1999-2006 was fuel-injected and had minor revisions to clocks and detailing. Some people feel the early bikes are smoother and easier to ride, the reality is that Honda’s early fuel injection was a bit clunky, but you soon get used to it. So, the golden rule in buying a Blackbird is to buy the best one you can afford. And that doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest because, while you can buy a tatty one for less than £2k, you can get a really good one if you’re patient for around £3k and it’ll be a much better buy.
This one seems to be the best of both worlds. Still wearing its original levers and handlebar end weights suggests it’s never been dropped, the mileage (38k) is low for a 21 year-old sports tourer, it’s HPI clear, at a dealer and has eight stamps in the service book, which should mean it was properly serviced till around 32,000 miles. The seller, Blackpool Bikes says it has nearly new tyres and will be sold with 12 months MoT.
The GIVI rack is a useful addition although it’s an old item now so you might have to source some second-hand boxes for it. Many Blackbirds come with luggage fitted so if that’s important to you, it might be worth looking for one with the boxes present. I’d also prefer one with standard exhausts than the aftermarket downpipes and end cans on this one. Don’t forget to check the suspension still works and have a good look at the brakes because the linked system is complex, has a lot of hoses to replace and needs to be in good nick to stop a bike weighing 225kg that’s still quite capable of doing 175mph.
Anorak fact; V&M Racing built a handful of tuned Blackbirds for Honda’s 50th anniversary in 1998. One Honda employee was clocked on one at ‘speeds in excess of 150mph’ on the M6 but escaped a ban because it would have delayed important development of bikes for the police.
Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa | £3495 | Needhams Motorcycles
eBay link: www.ebay.co.uk/itm/253109207225
In 1993, Japanese GP rider Shinichi Itoh was the first racer to break the 200mph barrier. Asked what it felt like he gently replied, ‘Not that much different from 199.’ When Suzuki launched the original GSX1300R Hayabusa six years later, all the talk was whether this was the one that’d turn every two-wheeled ‘Erbert with the ability to pay off a £9000 loan into a 200mph hero.
Suzuki’s new sports, er, tourer (note the designation GSX1300R, not GSX-R1300) wasn’t pretty, but it looked for all the world to us armchair experts like it was aerodynamic enough to make the most of its claimed 175bhp. The race was on for who would be first to see the magic number.
BIKE magazine won when their test bike was photographed blasting past the radar at 200mph. They believed it, we believed it and even when someone pointed out that the radar was well overdue a calibration, we still believed it. As far as we know no other standard Hayabusa (including that self-same press bike) ever quite did it again, which either tells us something about the importance of calibration or that Bike’s tester’s crunched-up body mass must have been the exact missing piece of the Suzuki’s aerodynamic jigsaw.
Does it matter? Yes… and no, of course. On the road, for you and me, what matters more is that the Hayabusa is smooth, easy to ride, stupidly rapid when you want to overtake anything (except another Hayabusa) and surprisingly good in the twisties for a long, relatively heavy road bike.
It didn’t take long before drag racers were seeing just how much more power they could get out of the GSX1300 motor. And the answer was ‘a lot’. In the grand Suzuki tradition, the Hayabusa was massively over-engineered and can be tuned to well in excess of 250bhp without any real worries.
Bikes from 2001 were restricted to 186mph, but slow sales in 2000 meant many 01-registered bikes were actually unsold unrestricted 2000-models. There were some questions about whether the brakes were good enough for something so fast and early bikes had their alloy subframes replaced with steel item when a few were found to crack.
Suzuki revamped it in 2007, adding a few more CCs, boosting the BHP slightly and making it Euro-3 compliant. This latest one is the better bike, by some distance, but it’s the original that is starting to be worth the money. Prices seldom drop below £3000 for anything worth buying because there’s a healthy demand for the engines from the kit car community.
Anorak fact: Big CC Racing’s turbocharged Hayabusa is currently the most powerful on record at just under 1000bhp
BMW K1200S | £2800 | Motorworks BMW
eBay link: www.ebay.co.uk/itm/202319626593
BMW don’t do conventional, even when they make something apparently the same as everyone else. The previous K-series four-cylinder motors defied logic by being mounted longitudinally and having fuel injection 20 years before most Japanese bikes. When they built their first across the frame four-cylinder sports tourer in 2004, they could have just copied Honda or Suzuki, but instead, they adapted the technology used in their car engines. Back then emissions were becoming a big thing and BMW’s K1200S had fuelling that ran so lean (to be as clean as possible) that it verged on detonation. It then used a whole series of clever ‘knock sensors’ to adjust the fuelling and ignition so it would run properly, even if only using standard 95-octane fuel (the system was designed to run best on 98-octane).
In addition to that BMW didn’t bother with telescopic forks or even their own Telelever system. Instead they developed a new system ‘Duolever’ which itself was ‘inspired’ by a system developed by Norman Hossack. The new front suspension separated steering, suspension and braking and allowed the bike to have sporty steering geometry, supple ride quality and composure under heavy braking. It worked superbly, and, being BMW, they also built the world’s first shaft-drive sports bike too and offered the best factory-fit luggage, heated grips and novelties like Electronic suspension adjustment (another world first) too.
At 248kg, it was considerably heavier than a Hayabusa and 20bhp down on power too. The engine was flexible, powerful and felt very, very fast, mostly because it was geared for ‘sensible’ autobahn speeds of slightly less than 200mph.
So, a K1200S is fast, comfy, good handling and the used one you buy will be loaded with goodies (because no BMW leaves the showroom without at least a grand’s worth of extras). There are a few niggles though; The fuelling can feel rough on small throttle openings – like the engine is full of small stones. It’s not pretty either and BMW’s quirky paint schemes don’t help matters. And the Electronic suspension adjustment is actually three pre-set damping settings and four preload combinations, which would be good except everything but the ‘sport’ setting is a little too soft and inconsistent to control a 155bhp, 180mph motorcycle.
The flip side of that for a used buyer is that most BMWs get bought by people who appreciate dealer servicing and chances are a 13 year-old K1200S will be in better nick, with more history than an equivalent Kawasaki, Yamaha or Suzuki, even if the mileage is a bit higher.
Most are old enough now to have fallen out of the main BMW dealer network and while, asking prices can be high, there are definitely deals to be had.
Anorak fact: The 2004 K1200S had a power: weight ratio 50 per cent better than the previous K1200RS model, which itself was lauded as ‘BMW’s most powerful bike ever, just six years previously
Kawasaki H2R | £41,995 | Preston Motorcycles
eBay link: www.ebay.co.uk/itm/152557208352
At the Honda Blackbird launch in 1996, Honda technicians were proudly wearing their ‘300km/h’ t-shirts. 19 years later World Supersport champion Kenan Sofuoglu set a top speed record for a production motorcycle of 400km/h (249mph) on a Kawasaki H2R. Usually in motorcycling, if there’s a headline to be had about speed it’ll also feature the word ‘Kawasaki’. Right now, you can buy your own H2R for £42,000. That’s a lot of money, but the H2R is a lot of bike.
This sooperist-dooperist version of Kawasaki’s supercharged monster has 320bhp and twice the power-to-weight ratio of a first-generation Suzuki Hayabusa. And it comes with factory backup and a warranty. Sadly, the standard exhaust is too loud for road use and also, too loud for any racetrack we know as well.
So, you can’t register it to ride on the road, or your local racetrack, which means you are going to have to be imaginative. Our suggestion would be to reverse engineer what we used to do in the 80s when we built Harris specials. Back then we’d buy a new Harris chassis and, instead of registering it on a Q-plate, we’d transfer the registration number from our donor bike (usually a 1970s Kawasaki or Suzuki) so your brand new missile would be on an ‘R’ or an ‘S’ plate. This time, you’ll have to buy a chassis, register it on a Q-plate and transfer the number to your H2R, listing it as a Q-reg 1000cc Kawasaki. If your county still has any traffic cops left, then expect to have to talk your way out of it on a regular basis. And don’t blame us if you get caught – we’re naive optimists, not barristers.
Failing that, keep an eye on agricultural estate agents in Lincolnshire and wait for a farm built on a former airfield to come up for sale. Rebuild the runway and taxi areas in a shape resembling the Mugello GP circuit, complete with 200mph straight and off you go. No one will mind - Lincolnshire loves bikes.
Anorak fact: Kawasaki’s first H2 was a two-stroke three-cylinder 750, with a reputation for being far too fast and impossible to control. Nicknamed ‘the widowmaker’, it made just 70bhp.