Honda motorcycles had a pretty busy decade in the 1990s with 1997 in particular being a big year for the release of several new and trailblazing models.
The Super Blackbird, Firestorm and Fireblade were just 3 of the big players that hit the streets. It wasn’t all sportbikes though, Honda meandered through the world of cruisers and even their own retro 50cc was developed harking back to 60’s racers.
In this article I dive into 6 of the best 90s Honda Motorcycles, let’s get started.
The 90s was the era of Japanese supersport motorcycles that were built for break-neck speeds, topped off in 1999 with the Suzuki Hayabusa. Before Busa domination though, in 97 Honda developed the CBR1100XX Super Blackbird, to directly challenge the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11 (also known as ZZ-R1100) for the title of the world’s fastest production motorcycle.
Honda succeeded and held the title for 2 years with a top speed of 178.5mph. The bike produced 164 horsepower and packed with torque with 127 Nm. All of this power came out of the liquid-cooled, four-stroke, transverse four-cylinder, DOHC 1137cc engine.
Twin balancer shafts were used which meant the engine was smooth as butter, this in turn helped the chassis retain a high level of rigidity, by being solidly mounted in the aluminium twin-spar frame.
As much as Honda had set about creating the fastest production motorcycle on the market, they went about in a way that the new bike would also be very usable, comfortable to ride and be a solid touring bike. The aerodynamic design was somewhat disguised by what you could call a bit boring and plain bodywork, however efficient and built to purpose, the styling was just a bit drab.
Regardless, the bike’s purpose outweighed its style on the level of importance and performance more than made up for anything lacking visually. The bike was remarkably stable at high speed, with fairly light but precise steering, at 223kg it wasn’t light but carried the weight well and felt balanced.
For stopping power there were dual discs upfront and single on the back linked by Honda’s CBS system, which meant both brakes operated regardless of whether the foot or hand lever was operated. At the time the linked brake system was considered hit and miss by riders but those riding in the wet or with a pillion were often quick to praise it.
£2,500-£4,000 or $4,000 will get you a decent example from the early years and you can expect to be able to buy one at that price, ride it for a few years and sell it for the same down the line.
A quote from MCN sums up the Blackbird up pretty well “Sensible and utterly insane at the same time” I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people say the same thing about me.
The 1990s were an interesting time for Japanese manufacturers, for so long they had been the leaders of the in-line four engines that abolished everything in their wake, then almost out of nowhere came Ducati with their V-twin sportbikes absolutely destroying the track.
Enter the VTF1000F or aptly named Firestorm, another of Honda’s releases for 1997 (Super Hawk was the dedicated name in the US). A liquid-cooled, 90° V-twin, 996cc power house with 110 horsepower, 97Nm of torque and a top speed of 154mph.
The engine was exceptionally smooth, so much so that at speed riders said it was easy to forget you’re riding a V2 motorcycle.
The capacity, bore and stroke was identical to that of the infamous Ducati 996, so Honda were not shy about coming forward and announcing exactly who the target competition was with the new model.
Honda’s big intention with the Firestorm was to go after the mass market, and so the bike was cost-effective to service, reliable, and came with a targeted price point at a wider audience than just the high-end superbike customer base, which Ducati had covered.
The Suzuki TL1000S was released around the same time with the same intention. However, neither bike managed to really captivate the world; it wasn’t long before four-cylinders were popular again and the Japanese V-twins were thrown on the back-burner.
However, the Firestorm/Super Hawk has a pretty big following today that has grown over the years with people appreciating the power, comfort and reliability that comes with owning a Honda.
While the bikes aren’t shooting up in value they are holding their value, so much like the Blackbird you can’t go wrong in picking one up, resting easy that even with a few more thousand miles on you will be able to sell it for what you paid. Prices are around £2,500/$3,000.
Honda CBR900RR Fireblade
In 1992 the Honda CBR 900 RR Fireblade was released and it led the way for lightweight superbikes. It was the first in a long line of big displacement machines from Honda to wear the RR suffix in the name.
Tadao Baba was the designer put in charge of the project with one remit, to make the world’s best sportbike. A research model known within the company as the CBR750RR had been in the works and by boosting the stroke of the 750, Honda enlarged the engine to 893cc.
Baba’s own personal mission was to have optimum performance but within strict weight boundaries, this meant no compromise and some parts needed to be redesigned as a result. Even the conventional forks were designed to look like upside down forks, as inverted forks would have been heavier.
Plenty of years of work went into designing the Fireblade, and development was actually moved out of Japan to Germany in the early 1990s so the bike could be tested on the Autobahn and various European race tracks.
Phil McCallen was the test rider of the prototypes on the track and went on to win two Isle of Man TT Production races on later edition models.
Ultimately upon its release the CBR900RR was powered by a liquid cooled, transverse four cylinder, DOHC, 893cc engine with 122 horsepower and 88Nm of torque.
Styling wise, it was pretty plain and typical of the generic sportbike of the era, again it was another unassuming Honda that let the performance speak for itself.
Excellent handling, speed, torque, comfort, no tech, however, the bike set the precedent for what would follow not just from Honda, but all competition across the board.
Honda gets a bad wrap for being boring, if reliability is boring sign me up. All I can say is ride one, get on an old Fireblade, ignore the styling, no sat nav, no music on your bluetooth headset, just get on and ride, then come back, with a straight face and tell me it’s boring.
Furthermore the ‘92 Fireblade can still hold its own with modern sportbikes even with the tech that’s thrown at them these days.
If you’re looking for a bike you can get on and ride and have some fun with both on the road and track a Fireblade is the way forward upwards of £5,000 in the UK will pay your way, $4,000-$8,000 is where the bikes seem to sit in the US for models from the 90’s era.
It’s 1996, you are looking for a cruiser, you have been to the Harley dealerships but nothing is really pulling at you, you have always had sportbikes so you are unsure if a big American muscle V-twin is going to agree with you. Then you see it, the Honda Valkyrie. Designated the GL1500C in the US and FC6 elsewhere.
The Valkyrie was built mainly for the American audience, and was actually built at Honda’s factory in the States where the Goldwing was being produced. Not only did it share the same production base but the Valkyrie at its core was a stripped back version (with some design adjustments), of the Goldwing.
The opposed boxer six-cylinder, SOHC engine had a displacement of 1520cc and pushed out 100 horsepower, but where the model really offered its power was in its 130 Nm of torque evenly spread out across the power band. Roll-on power, comfort mean this cruiser was built for long-haul trips.
The bike’s six-into-six exhaust system produced a very unusual but applauded sound and exceptional performance. Chrome accents and luxury accessories such as windshields/fairings/leather bags all added to the fact the Valkyrie oozed style and luxury.
Honda nailed it with the Valkyrie and sales were good. According to Valkyrie Norway around 29,000 were sold in the US alone between 1997 and 2003. The model today is considered a classic and collectable, prices run on average $6,000 in the US and between £5,000-£8,000 in the UK.
If the Valkyrie didn’t get you excited enough maybe the AC15 or Honda Dream is more your bag, admittedly it’s right at the other end of the spectrum with a capacity of just 50cc.
It was a 1997 bike that threw people right back to the 60’s commemorating the CR110 single cylinder racer, it was retro before the modern retro scene had even taken off.
Short handlebars, low and long fuel tank, cafe-racer style bench seat, and silver paintwork and red frame made the Dream literally that, a beautiful looking Dream.
The red frame was a diamond design that had a reinforced single front down tube which bolted to the crankcase. Front and rear disc brakes came standard, which was rare on such a small displacement bike.
Performance wasn’t much, being only a single cylinder air cooled 50cc but for those that are power concerned, in 2004 a race only version 50R was imported into the US which has higher compression, different carb, and something like 12 horsepower. The 90’s Dream however, is the better looking machine.
The bike was only sold in Japan, so examples are few are far between across Europe and the States, those that are imported fetch around £5,000, they are like gold dust and are coveted by those in the know about these little Honda’s.
1997 saw another model released and that took its shape in the form of the X4, another Honda foray into the cruiser market. It was powered by a liquid cooled, transverse four-cylinder, 1284cc engine with 100 horsepower and 121 Nm of torque.
It didn’t have a traditional cruiser aesthetic but it’s cruiser frame, and low seat gave it that tint, the X4’s real target was the Yamaha V-Max which also didn’t have a traditional cruiser vibe.
The X4’s performance was pretty good, handling was precise, the bike was comfortable, brakes were efficient and power was on tap for most circumstances. The Japanese version was limited to 115mph.
One of the main comments/issues the X4 raised was that it’s intention was to be a mean, scary beast. The performance was there, but the looks did not match the intended attitude. It was pretty, big bad bikes aren’t meant to be pretty.
The Yamaha V-Max was a big bad bike, and therefore the bit bland Honda just couldn’t win the battle with the Yamaha that has become an icon.
The bikes were predominantly sold in Japan, although a number of bikes found themselves in Europe, specifically Germany, where even today they have a bit of a cult-like following.
Whether in the UK or the US you are best to look towards Germany for an X4 with prices ranging from £5,000-£8,000 with many bikes having been looked after and others been tuned up for drag racing; so be very careful and particular about how original you want your bike to be.