There are a few things to consider when in the market for superbikes. First and foremost, a potential purchaser needs to do a bit of soul searching. Yes, they’re wickedly fast. Yes, they handle like razors (on good surfaces) and, yes, they are sexy as hell – all of those things are true.
You best toss this lot into the equation while you’re at it: uncomfortable, expensive to fix, dreadful commuters and actually hard to ride fast in the real world.
There’s lots to like, though. A well-ridden Superbike replica is one of the most rewarding experiences open to a motorcyclist: mind-blowingly fast, up-to-the-minute technology and looks to die for. Yin and Yang. Still keen? Right, read on. We thought we’d take a look at a selection of the best-known superbike designations; the models widely considered to be the best of the breed and/or offer collectability. Not necessarily the latest models, more the bikes that offer the best performance and can bought for a reasonable outlay.
2005 Suzuki GSX-R1000 K5
The K5 was released here in 2005 and represented a pretty big leap forward for a bike that was eminently successful from its first 2001 K1 incarnation. Technologically advanced, the chassis and engine came in for major revisions over the K4, and weight was down to an incredible 166kg dry.
Engine configuration was the tried-and-true formula of a DOHC, 16-valve, inline four, displacing 999cc. Everything that could be lightened was, including engine internals. The result gave the bike a massive 1000cc higher redline at 13,500rpm.
Put simply, the K5 has one of the most user-friendly superbike powerplants of all time. Torque from the bottom (usually a superbike bugbear) was hugely improved and the engine was the benchmark in the class for low-down grunt. That was coupled with an impressive top-end that delivered 133kW at 11,000rpm.
There was a new alloy twin-spar frame, bigger 44mm throttle bodies fed the fuel and the radial-mounted four-piston calipers gripped larger twin 310mm rotors to give class-leading stopping power.
The seating position was greatly improved and here lies the key to the bike’s popularity – real-world ease of operation. Ballistically fast, ergonomically comfortable, beautifully designed and user-friendly. It really was a landmark motorcycle in the category.
You could tootle around in traffic during the week, and scratch with the best of them on the weekend. The K5 delivered all this in one very competent package and this was reflected in the marketplace with the K5 topping the 2005 road bike sales list in Australia, and indeed on the racetrack with Troy Corser claiming the 2005 Superbike World Championship on the Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra Suzuki GSX-R1000 K5.
2002 and 2004 Yamaha YZF-R1
Before the Suzuki GSX-R1000’s 2001 arrival, Yamaha enjoyed top-dog status worldwide with its incredible R1. In simple terms, there was no competition for the bike.
Subsequent of the Gixxer’s blazing arrival on the superbike scene, Yamaha was forced to improve the R1. And it did just that.
Refinement was the order of the day and in 2002 the R1 received fuel injection for the first time, employing a ‘suction-piston-type’ EFI to allow better fuel/air mixture at low revs for its 998cc inline four with DOHC and 16 valves.
Chassis dynamics came under focus as well and Yamaha’s Deltabox III frame was all-new and claimed to be 300 per cent stiffer.
Yamaha realised the previous bike’s reputation as a top-end screamer could hurt it at showroom level and a new two-stage EXUP valve contributed to the resultant torque boost designers were looking for.
Rider comfort was again on the agenda and owners suggest the bike was demonstrably more comfortable than the previous R1 offerings, giving the bike a thumbs up as a touring weapon.
There were those who suggested the bike lacked the raw brutality of the earlier R1 incarnations, but the simple fact is the P model was an infinitely more refined package than its predecessors, which in turn made it much easier to live with.
Another big plus with the P model is its bullet-proof reputation. It’s an extremely robust package, and given the fact that it’s a little long in the tooth now provides buyers on a budget to experience one of Japan’s finest-ever hero offerings without having to sell a kidney.
The R1 underwent a major redevelopment in 2004 including an all-new 172hp engine that was no longer used as a stressed member and a separate top crankcase and cylinder block.
At 172kg, other notable differences of the 2004 model (pictured) included frame geometry changes to reduce wheelies, a steering damper to reduce tank slapping, radial brakes, an underseat exhaust and ram air intake.
2006 Honda CBR1000RR
Picking a Fireblade to recommend as a used buy is tough. Mainly due to the fact that there has never been a bad one produced and the breed has undergone steady improvement. It’s been a case of want the best Blade? Buy the latest.
There can be no doubt, however, that the 2006 incarnation was – and is – a standout motorcycle that represents great value for money today. It propelled Honda back to the top of the sales tree, locally taking top sportsbike sales honours in 2006.
Widely seen as the Blade that put excitement back into the designation, the engine was the ubiquitous 998cc DOHC 16-valve inline four, good for 123.7kW at 11,250rpm and 114.Nm at 10,000rpm.
Drawing on the experience gained in MotoGP racing, the bike came heavily stacked with innovative equipment such as a gravity die-cast aluminum frame, incredibly compact engine with Dual Sequential Fuel Injection (DSFI), Unit Pro-Link rear suspension, twin full-floating 320mm discs with four-piston radial-mounted calipers, and the unique Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD).
Okay, this category is defined by mathematics, but this is the Fireblade that brought back the poetry. There was huge animal power, mostly stacked in the mid-range where you really need it. Gone was that totally business-like linear power delivery. This one is all about getting you there in the shortest time possible. In typical Honda fashion, the whole deal worked an absolute treat.
This bike became known as a wheelie king (chassis dynamics and that fat mid-range have seen to that) so check steering head bearings and all front-end componentry for signs of abuse.
The 2006 Blade will reward a rider as long as you want to own it. It’s as simple as that. It’s the bike that signaled Honda’s intention to get a bit of ratbag alongside its technological brilliance and it did it magnificently.
A hell of a bike.
1994 Ducati 916
This one is a bit different. After all, compared with the other bikes here, it’s long in the tooth and, to be honest, can’t match them for performance. But it gets the nod on sheer influence and collectability.
The 916 is simply one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever built and the Massimo Tamburini design is widely recognised as changing many factors in subsequent sportsbike design. It wasn’t all about looks, though. Things like the single-sided swingarm. While delightful to look at, it also served to make racing wheel changes easier. Also now widely adopted are the underseat exhausts which gave the bike its narrow lines and in the process improved aerodynamic efficiency.
Powered by a revised version of the older 888 engine, the 916cc liquid-cooled Desmodromic eight-valve V-twin became the platform for most of Ducati’s serious sportsbike offerings for years to come. Power figures were 85kW at 9000rpm and 92Nm at 6900rpm.
This one offers thoroughbred racing status, with Carl Fogarty winning four Superbike World Championships on the 916. Such was the bike’s dominance at World Supers level, Honda was forced to mimic the bike with its SP-2/RC51 to wrest the title from the Bologna brand in 2002.
An uncompromising road proposition in terms of ride comfort, the bike drips with quality componentry and racebred ergonomics. It demands a deal of commitment to live with, but still offers a hugely rewarding ride and huge levels of street cred. You’ll be noticed on a 916.
We chose the 1994 model based around the fact that it was the first of the breed, and for that reason is the one that’s highly likely to become very collectable. Prices are now on the rise for units from the 1994 model year.
Bear in mind servicing costs on a 916 are far from cheap. The nature of the Desmodromic valve set up needs specialist knowledge and tools. Also, it’s critical that the cam belts be replaced every 20,000km to avoid big-time engine damage.