Nineteen Ninety Four. What. A. Year. Especially in Britain, where a new wave of optimism washed over the country and created the cultural melting pot known as Cool Britannia. Britpop was emerging, the Channel Tunnel opened and the National Lottery created millionaires overnight. Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party and globally it felt like an exciting time to be alive. Nelson Mandela became the inaugural President of South Africa, Sony launched the original Playstation and Friends hit our television screens for the first time. It was blockbuster after blockbuster in the cinemas, with Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump and Four Weddings and a Funeral just some of the movies we watched.
But for bike fans it was also a golden era. Britain went superbike crazy, with Sky Sports’ groundbreaking coverage of the fledgling Superbike World Championship making a star of Blackburn’s Carl Fogarty. Riding Ducati’s new 916, ‘Foggy’ secured the first of his four titles in 1994, besting outgoing champion Scott Russell in a feisty campaign which saw the pugnacious Brit feuding with the brash American all year long. The year ended with a teenage Aussie upstart called Anthony Gobert smoking the pair at Phillip Island on his Kawasaki debut, slowing down to let team-mate Russell win the first race, before running away to take the race two honours. Heady days indeed.
It's hard to believe it, but the 916 now qualifies for a Carole Nash Vintage Motorcycle Insurance policy, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024. A vintage policy brings with it a whole host of benefits, including agreed future value, salvage retention rights and even cover for when your classic bike is on display at public events.
The 916 is one of the most iconic motorcycles of all-time, combining stunning looks with race-winning performance. Fogarty would go on to win three more world superbike titles in the 1990s on 916 derivatives, cementing its place as one of the most significant motorcycles to have ever been built.
Another stunning Italian race replica to grace our roads, and racetracks, for the first time in 1994 was Aprilia’s RS250, which wrote the final chapter in the book of quarter-litre two-stroke sports bikes. Powered by a lightly modified version of Suzuki’s RGV250 motor, the RSV paid homage to Aprilia’s hugely successful 250cc Grand Prix racers. They looked stunning, handled amazingly and proved a popular machine in production bike racing. Tightening emissions laws effectively signalled the death knell of the strokers, but at least they went out on a high with the Aprilia RS250. Unsurprisingly, they continue to have a huge following today and are much coveted as they enter into vintage bike territory.
The RS250 and 916 showcased a new design language which can still be seen in the bikes of today. They were among the first machines to feature upside down forks and compact fairings, and their timeless looks remain fresh today.
Providing a more old school approach to sports bikes, the ZX-9R Ninja was Kawasaki’s challenger to the best selling Honda CBR900RR FireBlade. The stonking motor was restricted to 125bhp under a Gentleman’s Agreement between the manufacturers, but it was easy to release the full 140+ ponies by making a small modification to the carburettors. It was physically bigger and heavier than the ‘Blade and the 916, winning many fans among British bikers, even if the Honda ran circles around it on the track.
Also big, heavy and an unlikely track bike, Triumph’s Speed Triple also made its debut in 1994. A mainstay of the Triumph range three decades on, the original bike was something of a factory mash up, taking the company’s modular approach to building bikes and mating the Trident’s three-cylinder engine with chassis components from the sporty Daytona. The first Speed Triples had a café racer style and made for the basis of an unlikely one-make racing series. Ron Haslam developed a lightly modified Speed Triple and the high-profile series made its debut at the 1994 British Grand Prix.
Talking of Grand Prix racing, the British Grand Prix at Donington Park saw the 25th and final win for American hero Kevin Schwantz. Mick Doohan took the 500cc championship in 1994, the first of five consecutive titles for the dominant Aussie and his Honda NSR500. Max Biaggi was 250cc champ on an Aprilia, while Kazuto Sakata led a Japanese 1-2-3 in the 125s.
Another slow burning future classic to emerge in 1994 was the KTM 620 Duke. At the time, the Austrian company was a real minnow in the motorcycling world and the Duke was their first pure street bike. Fast forward 30 years and the KTM Duke remains a cornerstone of the company’s range.
A decade on…
If 1994 seems just too far back, or none of that year’s motorcycles float your boat, why not fast forward to 2004, to meet some of the bikes now entering true classic status?
At Carole Nash, bikes of 20 years and older are eligible for classic motorcycle insurance, with potential benefits including salvage retention rights, agreed values and low mileage discounts. Classics they may be, but some of us remember these bikes like they came out yesterday – with many still on the road today.
It was a time when Britain was even more sportsbike crazy, with 600cc and 1000cc race replicas flying out of showrooms, and manufacturers updated their flagship superbikes on a biyearly basis. To reflect this, the Superbike World Championship rules had been changed to allow 1000cc fours, like the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade, Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Yamaha YZF-R1 into the series, although the introduction of the four-stroke MotoGP class and a switch to Pirelli control tyres in superbikes ensured the Japanese factories stayed away from the production championship. Proving some things don’t change, it was a Brit on a Ducati who lifted the title. James Toseland took the first of his two world championships on a Ducati 999, the successor to the 916 series, as the Italian V-twins took eight of the top 10 places. In MotoGP, Valentino Rossi had made a shock winter switch from Honda to Yamaha and continued where he left off, winning his first Grand Prix on the unfancied YZR-M1 and taking the title in a fascinating battle with Sete Gibernau.
The last manufacturer to join the 1000cc superbike party was Kawasaki, who launched the first generation ZX-10R Ninja for 2004. Despite its class leading power (180bhp) and light weight (170kg dry) the first Ninja proved too much of a handful on public roads for mere mortals, who surprisingly preferred the less nutty competition from Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha. The hardcore Kawi remains a cult bike and it would provide the genesis for today’s more sophisticated ZX-10RR, the motorcycle which won seven world superbike titles between 2013 and 2020. With the introduction of rider aids in the coming years, the original ZX-10R is the arguably the most extreme analogue superbike of all time, but today they provide massive performance for not much money – with decent examples to be had for around £4000.
Another cult bike launched in 2004 came from Triumph, who stunned the motorcycling world with the introduction of the 2.3 litre Rocket III power cruiser.
For a company previously seen as very conservative in its designs, the Rocket III marked a major departure for the British firm. Rather than taking on Harley-Davidson with a generic cruiser, Triumph created the biggest capacity production motorcycle ever made. Despite the intimidating numbers (it weighed over 320kg without fuel) the torquey motor and relatively low seat made it easier to ride than you would expect. It sold well and (along with the Daytona 675 which would be launched two years later) helped to change the image of the brand. Now in classic status, they still draw a crowd and put a smile on the rider’s face every time they thumb the starter button.
Welcoming some future classics too…
If your bike is between 10 and 20 years old, Carole Nash’s Future Classic insurance policies provide some additional benefits, such as low excess, inclusive agreed value and salvage retention rights if your bike is written off following an accident.
And 2014 brought some pretty high profile new models which provide a modern riding experience. BMW, for example, brought out derivatives of its S 1000 RR superbike, with the naked S 1000 R and crossover S 1000 XR being models which remain in the range today.
Yamaha upped its game 10 years ago with the all-new MT-07 and MT-09, two award-winning roadsters which marked a drift away from across-the-frame fours, while Honda’s 125cc Grom (pictured, known as the MSX125 in Europe) became an instant cult classic which appealed to riders of all ages and experience.
Ten years ago? It feels like yesterday!