The £2000 sportsbike. It’s not a rare beast but it’s a complex sector nowadays because you’re nipped in a pincer movement by older bikes such as the Kawasaki ZXR750 rising in price as they become classics and newer bikes losing value as they head to obscurity. Superbike handling and performance for the price of a bank holiday weekend at Center Parcs? Silly not to…
ery old bikes such as ZXR750s and early Suzuki GSX-R750s, which were unloved and nigh-on worthless five years ago, are now back on-trend. There are still bargains around though – just beware dealers sticking enormous, speculative price tags on machines that are just long in the tooth, billing them as “future classics”.
As ever, think of the way the market works. Obviously, the newer, flasher, fancier models cost more. But take the less glamorous options and you can clean up. So an Aprilia RSV Mille is just as Italian and even faster than a Ducati 996, but will come in at less than half the price of the equivalent Duke. Similarly, a 1999 Kawasaki ZX-9R is pretty much the match of a ’99 FireBlade, but the Honda still commands a premium.
Finally consider what you need. Starting out? Go for a 600. You’ll just get an early R6, which is proper modern sporting class. Aiming for trackday use only? Consider a newer damaged/repairable machine and a trailer, for the same cash as a road-ready bike.
Five things to look for...
Cheap sportsbikes are like pitbull terriers in rescue homes: they rarely attract the best owners. So a £2k R6 or ZX-6R is liable to have been in some inexperienced but ‘enthusiastic’ hands. Look carefully for serious stuff like cracked frames, buckled rims and bent forks. Expect scuffed plastic at this price point, but factor it into your costings.
2. “Fuelling upgrade”
Bikes this age will have been relentlessly fiddled-with, and since many are pre-fuel-injection, there can be all manner of horrors in the carburettor jetting. Carbs rarely go properly wrong, though, so if you find a poor runner, chip £300 off the price and take it to a decent dyno shop to fix.
Good rubber makes a difference on any bike, but even more so with sportsbikes where you’ll be wanting to lean over lots, brake hard, and get on the gas with gusto. If you’re buying from a dealer, make new rubber your first point of haggling.
As with tyres, sportsbikes – by definition – need better suspension performance than tourers or commuters. Look for leaking or tired forks and shocks, and check that any adjusters are moving freely.
Corrosion and noise junkies will usually have seen off the stock exhaust system. A good stainless replacement with a legal silencer and maybe even a removable baffle for trackdays is the gold standard. Ear-splitting bodged cans are a bad sign.
Dan Miles from DMP Motorcycles in Surrey trained as a Honda technician on Blackbirds and VFRs, and has owned a Triumph Sprint ST. Here’s what he says:
“All the Japanese sportsbikes of the early 2000s are really good”
“I’ve just bought a ’99 FireBlade for £2k actually! It’s in beautiful condition, one owner, and has done just 7000 miles, so there are bargains out there if you get lucky. In terms of which bike to choose – all the Japanese sportsbikes of the early 2000s are really good, so once you’ve decided on a 600 or a 750 or whatever, the condition is more important than the differences in models. A ZX-9R in good shape will be a better buy than a really tired FireBlade or GSX-R.”
Five of the best:
1998-2001 Aprilia RSV Mille
Prior to the RSV, Aprilias were small bikes. How could they possibly take on Ducati? Like a boss, was the answer. Rotax made the RSV’s lump and it was a corker. Fast forward nearly 20 years and early RSVs are creeping back up in price, but a good one is a genuine bargain.
Spec: 998cc 60° V-twin, 165mph, 189kg, 128bhp, 79lb.ft
Expect to pay: £1995-£2500
1998-2001 Honda CBR600
By the end of the century, the CBR600F was getting beaten up on track by sportier competition. But the CBR, boosted by its frame and engine revamp, still had the package to top the class on the road. It’s still no slouch on track and has great reliability: ideal first cheap sportster.
Spec: 599cc inline four, 150mph, 170kg, 109bhp, 48lb.ft
Expect to pay: £1850-£2300
1998-2000 Suzuki GSX-R750
750s may be a dead class in terms of racing, but they still make a lot of sense. A pleasant chunk of extra grunt over a 600, yet without the crazy power of a 1000, a sorted 750 sportsbike is A Good Thing. For this cash, we’d plump for a GSX-R. The SRAD is a modern classic.
Spec: 749cc inline four, 165mph, 179kg, 135bhp, 60lb.ft
Expect to pay: £2000-£2400
1998-2000 Kawasaki ZX-9R
The earlier B-model is more of a high-speed straightline blaster, but by 1998, C-model 9Rs were catching up with Honda’s FireBlade. Huge power, sound handling and some comfort make the Ninja an excellent choice. If you can afford a post-2000 E model, so much the better.
Spec: 899cc inline four, 170mph, 183kg, 141bhp, 75lb.ft
Expect to pay: £1900-£2300
Words: Alan Dowds