Buying a grey import

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Honda VFR400RR NC30
In the late 1990s grey imports were big business and several companies sprang up that specialized in selling these exotic mini-race reps from Japan. As well as looking like far more expensive machinery, the grey imports were light, nimble, fast and above all affordable.

In 1997 an 18 year old could, at a pinch, afford to buy and insure a 400 where a 600 was a step too far. The whole of the UK went 400 crazy and the most popular bike was the Honda NC30.

Looking like a mini RC30 the NC30 came with a baby V4 engine, single sided swingarm and drop dead gorgeous looks with fairings bearing such exotic paint schemes as the ‘Smokin Joe’ replica.

Although restricted as standard to meet Japanese laws, a bit of fiddling soon removed the 112mph (180kph) restrictor and away you went to a top speed in excess of 120mph.

If you were really flush then there was even the mini RC45, the NC35 that came with inverted forks, sharp looks and a price tag to reflect its exotic components.

But then the grey import bubble burst as supersport 600s became more affordable as well as technologically advanced and, faced with a straight choice, buyers opted for capacity over looks.

Nowadays there is a thriving second hand 400 market as newer riders as well as female riders are starting to rediscover the joys of the 400 – although new licence laws mean a full licence is required to ride one as they make over 47bhp.

Incredibly low seat heights, lightweight and great looks are all part of the charm and prices are holding level with a decent NC30 costing over £2,000. They may not be as fast as a 600, but a grey import 400 is still a great bike and the NC30 is the best looking of the bunch. Just be prepared to pay £15 for a new spark plug!!!

Kawasaki ZXR400
The ZXR400 was officially imported into the UK by Kawasaki as well as arriving via the grey import route. A great chassis still makes this a formidable track tool while the inline four engine can makes impressive and reliable power.

Yamaha FZR400R
Never the most popular 400, the FZR is still a good looking bike with a reliable engine although spares can be tricky to come by. The chassis is on a par with the ZXR however the engine is gutless in comparison.

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