Last Updated on 08/04/2021
I write quite regularly about some of the older bikes that I now fancy – Katana 1100, RD500, FZR1000 … all eighties motorcycles, all ‘old school’ that brings back memories of my youth, although for the main part, I was too young to ride them; in 1988, I would have been 17.
So why wouldn’t I now just strap up and put my money where my mouth is?
There are really two things that stop me from buying something like that right now – I’m not sure that I could have one as my only bike, and they’re gathering value each day, which means they’re a little too expensive for me, to use just as a toy.
In my last piece, I explained that something like an RD500 Powervalve would be on my list for dream bikes, but at around £8,000, and likely needing some regular TLC, I just couldn’t justify that. At least not without a lottery win.
Chatting to my brother a few weeks back, we were discussing this very thing – he’d been offered an early nineties Triumph Trophy for a few hundred quid (needed some pretty major surgery), but that got us thinking … what bikes from the 90s will start increasing in value?
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90s Motorcycles With Classic Potential
We aren’t talking about specials, or immaculate, dry-stored low mileage one-offs, but regular bikes that have been ridden, never with a thought of ‘future classic’ status … what could you go and buy today for sensible money, that could, possibly, potentially, climb in value.
I’m no bike trader; I’ve ridden possibly hundreds of bikes, owned quite a few, and been in to bikes since I was a child – my first memory of riding a bike was a Puch Magnum X, a child sized bike that was owned by a very spoilt child that I was friends with.
I was around 8 or 9, and because I’d been a fan of bikes since … forever … I just expected entirely that I’d be able to ride it without an issue, without experience, without a clue … yes, I ended up heading straight toward my friend, throttle pulled to the stop, an accident waiting to happen. And it did. Fortunately, the damage that a small bike can do, at such low speeds is minimal.
To be clear, what follows is just my opinion, from twenty-five plus years in the trade, and as with anything, your mileage may vary, prices may go down as well as up, you could lose your shirt (yes, I said shirt).
Personally, I wouldn’t really buy a bike purely for investment – I enjoy riding them too much and wouldn’t want to miss out on the pleasure. With that said, of course there are some bikes that make for a great investment, along with giving you some riding pleasure.
Even if I was lucky enough to come across someone giving away an RC30, I’d still have to ride it rather than tucking it away in a dry, sealed environment. (Maybe I’d just get a bit better at cleaning).
So here’s what I think might just be worth a punt.
Yes the big FJ was introduced in the eighties, but it went on until mid-90s, and of course, the later models were much improved over the earlier ones.
A quick search produced a few bikes for sale, and one of them is clearly already hoping that the ‘vintage’ status is worth some big money now – asking for close to £7,000. However, there are other models listed for around £2,500 which is where I’d expect to see them.
The big FJ was a powerhouse of torque (at the time), with around 80 lb/ft, and that was backed up with 130-odd horsepower. It made for a fast tourer, and was sporty enough (with the upgraded suspension and brakes over the FJ1100) to make it usable round the twisties.
It’s worth remembering that at that time, most bikes with that level of power were sports bikes, so when Yamaha introduced the FJ, they were setting the market trend, perhaps maybe even pushing Kawasaki to introduce the ZZR1100 (more of that later).
Overall, the FJ1200 has been scored by owners as reliable, the only real things to watch out for (aside from doing a proper check over if you’re planning on buying one) is problems with second gear (mid-range torque hammers the box) and seized rear-wheel bearings if they haven’t been maintained properly.
These aren’t sporty – a hefty weight of almost 600lbs takes a herculean effort to throw around the lanes, and ground clearance is quite limited; you’ll deck the stand and exhaust with a little over-exuberance, but for smooth, fast roads, these are the original daddy.
For those of you that have read some of my other articles here, you’ll know that one of my brothers worked at a Kawasaki dealership for a while, which gave him (and therefore, me) access to some of the latest and greatest from Kawasaki.
When Kawasaki introduced the ZZR1100 in 1990, the world went mad. It had a claimed top speed of 176mph, making it the fastest production motorcycle at the time, a title it held for around six years. The key to the big Z’s party piece was ‘Ram Air’ (except, really, it wasn’t).
At the time of the launch, I hadn’t passed my test, so was relegated to pillion when my brother brought one home, but that didn’t stop either of us ‘exploring the potential’ speed. We’d been out for an hour or two, trying to play with some other bikes (hey, we were still just kids – 19 & 21, so don’t judge us).
Nothing was remotely interested in playing, until we came across a small Lotus Elan (the newer one) as we hit an island leading on to the M42. Clearly the driver was game, and as we hit the slip road for the motorway, the Elan driver pinned it, huge grin on his face, until we made him look like he’d hit reverse gear.
I suspect it was that experience that left me wanting more and more, and spending the next twenty or so years seeking that thrill of speed.
The Zed was in a different league to most bikes on the market; it was sporty (ish), was great for touring, could handle the twisties (at a push) and packed an immense punch. At that time, to me, this represented everything that should be a motorbike.
Over time, as the other manufacturers started catching up, it was possible to derestrict the 11 with relative ease also – simply whip the carb tops off, and machine away the inserts that stopped the slides from opening fully. Et voilà, a further 25 horsepower.
Buying a big ZZR11 today still makes sense – it’s plenty fast enough, has the legendary Kawasaki reliability, and can handle a decent European tour with ease. But don’t mistake it for ‘sporty’ – the last time I rode one in anger was around the Nürburgring, it was a handful.
The reason why I believe that a ZZR represents a good investment is purely down to them still working in today’s world, and the fact that they were really the first superbike, capable of speeds (comfortably and safely) that other bikes just couldn’t get near. They are a slice of history.
Expect to pay in the region of £2,500 for a clean example.
Triumph Tiger 900
Back in the early 90s, I was testing some car or other (I think it was a TVR Tuscan Challenge car) at Bruntingthorpe Airfield and Proving Ground in Leicestershire, it’s essentially a (near) 2-mile straight, with a loop at the top and bottom; a lot of teams, manufacturers and independent specialists use it, mainly for speed runs.
As we were putting in a few hot laps, an unmarked & camouflaged trail bike was also circulating, some soft luggage strapped to the back of it and it would seem that they were testing handling, as the rider was almost on his ears through the bends, and the luggage was close to grounding. They were from the Triumph factory, just down the road.
The Tiger made an impression on me then, and even now, I think I prefer the older Tiger 900, than the 1050. But then, I’ve always had a hankering for the older Yamaha Super Ténéré, and they’re of similar styling, which I guess is inspired by the big Paris-Dakar bikes.
Triumph made a big thing of reliability, to the point where their engines were without doubt inspired by some of the Japanese manufacturers – I know for a fact that they’d borrowed a Kawasaki 1000RX to inspect the internals.
Aside from feeling that the front forks are soft (which is standard – not a problem), the only real mechanical problems that the Tiger suffers from is the starter sprag clutch, which actually affects a few models – hence the cheap Trophy I mentioned at the start of the article.
Expect to pay in the region of £2,000, – £2,500 for a clean example.
Yamaha TDR250 YPVS
The once thriving 250cc market took a bit of nosedive after 1983, after the government took the decision that 250cc motorcycles were actually pretty fast, and should really have some sort of minimum standard; learner riders were now restricted to machines of 125cc.
With that said, most of the manufacturers carried on producing decent 250s – Yamaha had the TZR250, Suzuki the RGV250, and Kawasaki had the KR1(S). Yamaha, who were arguably the most hooligan of hooligans knew that sports bikes weren’t the be all and end all, so they also produced the TDR250.
It was labelled as ‘dual-sport’, but really, it was what we’d now call Super Motard; off-road inspired styling, small sporty wheels, and decent handling.
The motor came pretty much straight from the TZR250, and had just under 50hp, which in small stinkwheeler like the TDR, was more than ample. Most engine and gearbox components (and a majority of the wiring) is directly interchangeable with the TZR.
As for buying one … yes, they’re pretty rare – only produced between 1988 and 1993, and were never sold in huge numbers. It’s likely that most of them have been thrashed to within an inch of their life at some point or other, but it’s also likely that most have been treasured for the last ten or fifteen years, so it’s unlikely that they’ll need any serious work.
Given the low-volume, age and sheer fun, the TDRs are already beginning to climb in value – expect to pay anywhere between £4,000 – £5,000 for a half-tidy one. At the time of writing, I could only find one for sale, and that was in Holland.
If you have a few grand spare, a TDR250 could be a great investment – have you seen the prices of an original RD500?
The K1200RS is the last of the BMW longitudinal engined four cylinder, AKA ‘The Flying Brick’ machines. The silky-smooth balance, and power delivery of course made for an ideal tourer, and with 130hp on tap, the Beemer wasn’t really lacking any punch either.
It was a bit of a (literal) heavy-weight – 628lb when wet, but you don’t really notice that weight when on the move, except for the ability to remain unruffled when pushing on, providing the road was smooth – that extra weight really helped to balance the bike at higher speeds.
As you’d expect from BMW, build quality is among some of the best, with very little going wrong – most complaints stem from corrosion, or minor electrical glitches, which are usually easily remedied.
The reason why I’ve chosen the K1200 for this list is that it still works as BMW intended – a fast and comfy tourer, and unlike some of the other BMW models, it really wasn’t that popular. Perhaps it just needed a Charlie or Ewan to ride it around for a while.
The styling is … an acquired taste, it reminds me of the old CBR1000 ‘Jelly mould’ bikes – all soft curves, with edges blending in to each other, but to be honest, that’s no bad thing. I actually quite like the styling, and it certainly stands out from today’s bikes, that look sharp enough to cut you if you sat on it wrong.
If you’re looking for something with reliability built-in, can eat up the miles (preferably motorway or big A-roads), and you’ll arrive feeling relaxed and stress-free, then the K1200RS should definitely be on your pick list.
Expect to pay around £2,300 (averagely) for a usable example that doesn’t need much.
Motorcycle News labelled the TRX as a ‘Ducati with Japanese reliability’, and although it uses a parallel twin, the firing order means that it feels more like a V-twin.
I love the look of the TRX, and as I’m writing this thinking about what bike to get next, the TRX has me tempted.
It’s a semi-naked twin, trellis frame, with sporty looks and handling to match. It only makes around 80 horsepower, but has 63 ft/lb of torque, and the lightweight (418lb) means that acceleration is brisk, all the way up to its top speed of 135mph. It’s kind of like a manufacturers Café Racer.
As I look at the pictures, to me, it looks like a larger four-stroke version of the TZR250, including the absolute minimalistic rear seat – if you’re looking for two-up riding, keep scrolling because your partner would never forgive you – this is a seat hump with a thin layer of padding tacked on.
Overall, the TRX850 is considered reliable, but there are two main things to look for when buying one – corrosion was Yamaha’s Achilles heel in the 90s, and the TRX suffered badly with it, perhaps made worse because it was only semi-faired. The second problem could be more expensive.
A nimble, lightweight twin, with plenty of torque means one thing – that front end lifts easily, and you can keep it hoisted for some time. Great for showing off (if you’re that way inclined) but thanks to Yamaha’s engineering genius, that could also be its downfall.
You see, Yamaha created the engine as a dry sump (like a racer), but the oil tank sits atop the gearbox, and is pretty shallow, which helps to keep the centre of gravity low.
This means that on prolonged wheelies (which were pretty common), the engine can suffer an amount of oil starvation, so if you’re looking to buy one, have a really good listen to the motor.
In Europe, Yamaha only manufactured the TRX for four years, making it pretty rare, and to be honest, it wasn’t that popular either – by the end of the production run, dealers were knocking them out for under £4,000, and you’d expect to pay around £3,500 today for a nice example – I found two for sale, both were in lovely condition.
I’ve deliberately steered clear of the obvious Ducati choices – the 916 or Monster, because they’re already over-valued, but to most people, if you asked them to name a Ducati from the 90s or early noughties, they’d never remember the ST series. Heck, I was a Ducati tech for a while, and even I’d forgotten about the ST2.
The problem was that you really needed to be a Ducati fanboy (or girl) to want one; no matter how refined Ducati made the engine, a V-twin engine just can’t be as smooth as four-cylinder, so vibration could be an issue, plus it was around 30 horsepower down (at least) from the competition, and then we have the added ‘DAT’ – Ducati Added Tax on servicing & parts, and then there’s the prickly subject of reliability, or at least, perceived reliability.
For the record, I’m not saying that Ducati’s are unreliable, just that you tend to think that if you put a Ducati against a Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda et al, for a mammoth tour with a bit of speed, then it won’t be the Japanese bikes suffering in the long term.
In my opinion, that’s why they were never a serious competition for the sport tourer market.
Going beyond that, if you wanted a Duke with a more relaxed riding style, something capable of pulling two people and a bit of luggage (factory fitted), then the ST series was great – all the kudos of Ducati ownership with some sensible and practical values.
The beauty of the ST2 for a potential purchaser now, is the price – you can pick up a nice example of the ST2 for around £2,500, and that’s a cheap introduction to Ducati ownership. Plus, being a Ducati, and pretty rare, you can almost guarantee that it will probably increase in value, providing you look after it.
As for potential problems – on the whole, the ST series were pretty reliable, but even from new, they had problems with the standard alarm system fitted – I lost count of the replacements I had to fit under warranty. Other than that, I’d say you need to find one with a full service history, preferably one that’s been used and not stored away for years.
I couldn’t resist adding the ZX12 in the list; I have a huge soft spot for them.
As you may know, I’m a Kawasaki man at heart, perhaps that stems from that early experience on the ZZR11, or just that they seem to fit me better (tried a Hayabusa, it was too cramped for me).
Back when performance was everything to me, I owned a slightly modified ZX12R and it was everything that I wanted it to be – very fast & powerful, with great handling. At the time, I was heavily involved in sportscar modification, so had access to a rolling road, although that was for cars.
My friend and I had the genius idea of seeing whether we could strap the bike central enough to do a power run on his dyno, it was hugely dangerous, but fun at the same time, and more importantly, it gave me bragging rights – 167rwhp, or about 190hp at the crank. The first few months riding it were spent very carefully.
Essentially, you’re getting something that isn’t ultra sporty, like the ZX10R, but with all the power you’ll ever need, and enough sporting pedigree to give most things a scare. In the time I owned it, I never had a stroke of trouble from it, aside from eating rear tyres every 1,500 miles, or the time a bird dive-bombed me and disintegrated after it smashed my headlight. That was messy.
Despite the sporty nature of it, it made a great tourer – I once went from the Midlands, through to Hull, across the channel to Holland, through to Germany, Austria, and looped back through the Netherlands to the UK – we did around 6,000 miles in total. And yes, even with hard rubber, I still had to swap rear tyres around halfway.
Yes – there are better tourers, the seat really wasn’t that comfy, and the tank range was found wanting compared to some of the other bikes, but for me, it was more comfortable than my friend’s Super Blackbird.
If you’re looking to buy one now, expect to pay around £3,000 – £3,500 for a nice one.
Honourable Mentions for Investment
The bikes I’ve picked so far were really just regular bikes that can still be used daily, that won’t lose value if you do use them, but then we can also look at bikes for investment purpose only, and these would include things like the sporty Ducatis, an early CBR900RR Fireblade, or even some of the Triumph range – have you seen how much original Bonnies are worth?
For me, I think I’d go for something a little more … esoteric; how about a Honda C90 Cub?
The C90s are legends, and more people are cottoning on to the fact that they’re becoming collectible – prices are around the £3,500 – £3,800 mark for a nice one, and some of the earlier examples are demanding higher prices still.
Yes, it’s not that practical unless you’re just nipping to the shops, and it isn’t the sort of bike that demands bedroom wall space, but it is iconic, and it is a classic.
With that said, if I was picking one bike, that I wanted to store for an investment, which would almost guarantee an excellent return on my investment, there’s one that I’d pick without hesitation.
Yamaha V-Max 1200
The Yamaha V-Max 1200 was an entirely different concept to the regular thinking of the time – you could buy a sports bike, a tourer, or something custom, generally speaking. The Max was more of a custom riding style and look, but with full-on sports bike power – the derestricted ones made 144hp.
Yamaha really started a new market, a muscle bike; naked and raw, with enough power to see off pretty much anything in a straight line, but there was a price to be paid.
These things were a handful – soft suspension, poor brakes, too much power for the frame, and a noise that sounded so good when you opened the taps fully. Some years ago, I was out with my brother who was riding a ZZR1100, we were on our way to watch the WSB at Brands Hatch, and I got bored.
I cogged the big V4 down and went for it, just as I realised my brother was turning off for the services. The immediate change from full power to hitting the brakes and trying to slow it down resulted in a monumental tank slapper, one to this day still makes my brother laugh his socks off. We arrived at the services and he was bent double with laughter, struggling to breath … he actually fell off his bike laughing. Yeah, it was a handful.
I don’t think I’d own another V-Max as my sole bike, they’re just too damn impractical, but as an investment, it would work. Even today, they’re pretty unusual, there’s relatively low numbers, and thanks to only a few companies specialising in aftermarket parts, most of them haven’t been bastardised.
As for problems – from experience, I can say that they’re pretty reliable, but if they’ve been left outside without a cover, the right hand bank of cylinders has a tendency to fill up the spark plug hole with rainwater, leading to a misfire. Despite the enormous torque, the rest of the bike is pretty bulletproof – no chain to kill, the headstock bearings don’t take too much of a battering (I accidentally got the front wheel up once after powering over a slight crest in the road), and the fuel tank is under the seat which means water ingress shouldn’t be a problem.
Price-wise, there’s a few currently for sale, ranging between £4,000 – £5,000, but I have seen original unrestored ones for around £6,500, so prices are already on the way up, and thanks to the unique nature of the Max, there’s never going to be any competition for it. Yes, it’s a slightly limited market, but I’d bet my house on a sensible investment doubling in value over the next ten years.
Are Classic Motorcycles a Good Investment?
None of these bikes will make you rich, or dramatically increase in value overnight, but I think they’d all make a good investment – over the years, they’ll all become sought after, for different reasons – they all have a USP (Unique Selling Point).
It would be too easy to pick the legends of the 90s bikes – the Ducati 916 or CBR900 Fireblade for example, but the idea is to try and buy smart – something that’s potentially run-of-the-mill, that no one really gives much thought to now, but that in the future, will be recognised as being something different, or rare.
We’ve seen it with every decade – bikes that are almost thrown away, considered worthless until someone pops up on an internet auction site with an unrestored one some years later, and the prices go crazy.
When I look back through the history of my family, and friends, the bikes that we’ve let go because they were outdated, old, or just plain old knackered … original 250 & 350 LCs, a GPZ750 Turbo, Triumph Bonnevilles (Meriden), V-Max, Z1000, Z1 … the list is endless, and probably worth quite a few quid now.
I’ve reached that age where I’m buying a bike for me to enjoy, but with one eye on keeping it for the long term, and maybe garaging it once I’ve had my fun and move on to something newer and shinier.
I’d be really interested to hear what bikes you think should be on the list, let me know in the comments.