The bikes they couldn’t give away in the naughty Nineties, but are collectors now.
The ’90s. Not that long ago? Well, when you consider that our television dials were tuned into things like Frasier, Seinfeld, Baywatch and Beverley Hills 90210, it seems distant indeed.
Back then, a ruddy-faced and weary Boris Yeltsin was wobbling about the Kremlin, Bob, Paul and John shared the big job here, George Bush Senior etched his name in history by setting Baghdad ablaze and Bill ‘got a light?’ Clinton kept it local and etched his name on a blue dress.
More nobly, Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa. And, sadly, Princess Diana met her end in the ’90s.
Computers in the home? Nup. Internet usage in Australia was at a mere one percent in 1990, but fear about Y2K became increasingly more prevalent as the decade drew to a close.
A different time? You bet.
Alongside the pop culture of the time, motorcycling was at a pretty low ebb. The truth is, there were some pretty serious sales failures. Sometimes warranted, sometimes not so.
Let’s look at a sprinkling of bikes that simply didn’t cut the mustard with the Aussie bike buying public during the ‘90s…
Brutally big and tough, the TL1000R paid a high price for the reputation of its wayward older brother – the TL1000S – and its inherent handling and rear shock problems.
Introduced in 1998 to compete in the World Superbike Championship (winning one race in AMA competition), Suzuki quickly realised that its racing fortunes would be much better served by the lighter and more nimble GSX-R750 and the TL1000R was instantly rendered an also-ran among sports bike followers as a consequence.
It used the same engine design as the TL1000S, but got forged components, stronger internals and a higher compression ratio. The 996cc, 90-degree V-twin claimed 135 horses but there was simply no getting around the fact that it was porky at 226 kilos wet.
The rear rotary damper system was widely criticised, and the bike’s handling was compromised as a result, but the bike had a different frame than the evil-sibling TL1000S and didn’t deserve to be tossed in the same bucket alongside the S, which, by this time had earned the title of ‘widow-maker’.
Yep, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.
The TL1000R didn’t die off never to be seen again, gaining a cult following in more recent times, and a bit of a reputation of a ‘man’s bike’.
Landing in 1995, the SRV had every right to take the 250 market by storm.
It was put together very well, looked drop dead gorgeous and made use of the venerable 248cc, air-cooled, SOHC,V-twin engine (with the addition of an extra carb) that had taken its cruiser brother, the XV250 to best selling 250 status, a position that bike held for many years.
But market success is a tricky thing to predict.
Where this one failed can be sheeted home to the fact that it was a very pricey $AUD7151 new. This immediately put it into a class that probably didn’t really exist – that of the upmarket learner ‘cafe’ bike.
In fact, the category never took off and the SRV became a rarity because of it.
That’s a shame, because it was a very nice motorcycle.
Handling was a strong point with a fairly conventional twin shock suspension setup mated to a featherbed-style double cradle frame.
At 144kg dry and with a seat height of 770mm, the bike was perfectly placed as an urban cruiser.
Top speed was around 140km/h, from the bike’s 27hp placing longer runs within reach.
Appointments were neat, with chrome analogue instruments, deep lustrous paint (either candy red or deep green) and chic spoked wheels.
It was a very pretty bike that simply failed to gain a foothold.
While not a dismal failure in regard to sales, the RF900R gains a place amongst this list due to the fact it should have been a rip-roaring success and wasn’t.
Released in 1994 at $AUD13,999 (when its main competitor, the Kawasaki ZX9-R was $15,590), should have put the RF900R at the top of the table for ‘bang-for-buck’ buyers.
Interestingly the bike was a very reasonable $13,990 when discontinued in 1999. So, it can’t blame overpricing for its underwhelming sales performance.
It has to be said that it was quirky to look at and that may account for its lukewarm buyer-takeup. It had tailpiece reminiscent of the rear end of a Cadillac, with a sea of brake lights, at a time when lighter and littler was the order of the day.
The louvred main fairing has aged well, but was considered a little over the top at release. A skinny 170 section rear tyre, when the craze was for big fatties added to the odd looking rear end.
What the bike didn’t lack was grunt. The liquid-cooled, 937cc, 16-valve, four was good for 135hp (101 kW) at 10,000 rpm, and 135.9 Nm at 9000 rpm. It was a rocket.
Yep, there’s plenty more that kinda bombed in showrooms across this planet. So…
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.