Seven top speed heroes
Going fast is undoubtedly one of the most alluring aspects of motorcycles - there's arguably no other feeling like it. We've come up with a list of seven of the greatest top speed heroes from every era of motorcycling.
Kawasaki H2 Ninja (2015-present)
The world’s first and, so far, only production supercharged motorcycle. And that rare thing, a completely hand-built Japanese bike. Incredibly fast, with massive power and torque absolutely everywhere, it’s like all great Kawasakis - it feels quick even when not actually travelling quickly.
It’s seriously scary sometimes, even for experienced riders. An overpowered thug of a bike with plenty of faults: heavy clutch, brutal throttle response, epic thirst, and the rear tyre life of a mayfly. None of this matters: it’s the sort of bike you never thought anyone would be allowed to build, but Kawasaki did it.
What you’ll pay now: £17,000-£19,000.
But should you? A toughie. You have to accept its faults and just enjoy the wild ride.
Kawasaki GPZ900R (1983-96)
Completely rewrote the Jap sportsbike rulebook and set the template for everything thereafter. Not the first liquid-cooled 16v inline four, but the first big one. It combined the latest tech, light weight and a lot of power in one compact package, and it aced everything. Other bikes did 150mph before the 900R, but they didn’t handle like it.
It was so good it outlived both the GPZ1000R that was supposed to replace it and the ZX10 after that, and remained in production for other markets even after 1996. Absolutely one of the epochal bikes, and prices are still ludicrously low.
What you’ll pay: £1400-£4000 (for a mint A1, but the A7/A8 ones are better).
But should you? As an investment? God, yes.
Suzuki Hayabusa (1999-present)
Suzuki’s contender for The Fastest Bike In The World was the bike that prompted the 300kph (186mph) Japanese ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to limit top speed. In original unrestricted form it would show 200 on the speedo and get gratifyingly close in reality - a few carefully prepared near-stockers did indeed get to 200mph.
It’s long and low, and not a sportsbike, but it steers way better than you’d imagine something this size could, and is surprisingly economical, given the performance. Has been revamped, but still is recognisably a ’Busa. Nothing else looks like it. Oh, and why ‘Hayabusa’? Because it’s a bird of prey that eats blackbirds.
What you’ll pay now: £2500-£8500.
But should you? If you want a superfast Grand Tourer, yes
Honda CBR900 FireBlade (1992-2003)
Big power in a bike that weighed as little as a 600, all driven by designer Tadeo Baba’s ice-cold thinking. It’s been through many model changes in the last 25 years, and it’s still a front-runner, even if current models have lost some of the simplicity of concept that marked the early ones. Everyone should ride a Blade once.
What you’ll pay now: £1500-£10,000.
But should you? Oh, come on…
Laverda Jota (1976-1983)
Slater Bros, UK Laverda importers, asked for a hotter version of the 3C triple for evaluation and slapped a free-breathing exhaust on it. The result was a miracle: an animal that did 140mph. Big and heavy, it handles but needs to be bossed around. Nothing else looks like it, or sounds like it.
What you’ll pay now: £10,000-£15,000.
But should you? Yes, if you can live with the right-foot change. But beware fakes and imports.
Vincent Black Shadow (1948-55)
Incredibly advanced for its time: it used the 45-degree V-twin engine as a stressed frame member and had cantilever rear suspension. Its 45bhp was a big deal in the 1950s, and it could be induced to produce more. It did over 120mph at a time when a family car was hard-pressed to exceed 75.
What you’ll pay now: £60,000 and up.
But should you? It has its idiosyncrasies, but if you can afford it, oh, yes, yes, yes.
Triumph Bonneville (1958-88)
Quite simply the sportsbike of the 1960s. Triumph took the 650cc twin, tuned it with twin carbs and hot cams, and gave it neat, sparse styling. It was a sell-out sensation. The Bonnie is still the apotheosis of the vertical twin.
What you’ll pay now: £3000-£15,000 depending on year and model.
But should you? Yes, but take expert advice when buying.