Top-5: Grey Import bikes

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Honda have decided they don’t want to import the new CBR600RR to the UK, and Yamaha won’t sell us a road registered YZF-R6 anymore – thanks chiefly to Euro emissions rules – and that’s just the start of a long list of bikes that we can’t officially get hold of over here in Blighty. But this isn’t a new phenomenon. For decades, the Japanese have been keeping some of the best bikes for themselves, meaning if we wanted to get hold of them, it wasn’t just a case of ricking up at the local dealers. The grey import scene was pretty lively back in the 90s, so you could usually get your hands on most things but you quite often had to pay a pretty penny, thanks to them making their way here outside of the manufacturers’ normal distribution channels. But for a handful of bikes, it was definitely worth it – here are five that were…

Yamaha FZR250R 

A four-stroke, inline-four two-fiddy is never going to make shit loads of power, so you’ve got to give Yamaha its due for squeezing 45bhp out of the FZR250R. It won’t rip your arms out, but it might make you laugh, as you rev the thing all the way to its 18,500rpm red-line in an effort to eek every last one of them ponies out of it. The low gearing meant setting off without stalling was just about possible and the EXUP valve in the exhaust helped to keep try and things sensible in the mid-range, but really you needed to be beyond 10,000rpm at all times if you wanted the thing to really move. A few of these did make it over to the UK back in the 90s, but you’ll have a job finding a decent one for sale now. 

Honda VFR400R NC30 

Although most were grey imports, the absolute anoraks amongst you might point out the fact that Honda did actually bring a few NC30s into the country via official channels. The same anoraks can probably remember how fucking expensive they were. At nearly £6,000 a piece (I know that doesn’t sound like a ridiculous amount now, but in the early 90s it was), the NC30 was dearer than the CBR600F and the VFR750F, both of which were faster and probably better road bikes. There were a bunch of different VFR400s over the years, but the NC30 was the one that won the hearts and minds of most of us, thanks to its RC30 styling and a smattering of trick parts. The 399cc four-stroke V-four was said to make 59hp and would rev to 14,500rpm, and when you hear the orgasm inducing noise the things made, you’d probably want to use every last one of those revs. There are still a few NC30s kicking about, but expect to pay £5k+ if you want a nice one. 

Suzuki GSX-R250R SP 

This is one of the rarer bikes on or list. Another 45bhp 250cc inline-four, four-stroke, but a bit of a special one. Sticking an SP on the end of model name automatically makes it more desirable, and with its distinctive looks, single seat and adjustable suspension, it just about did enough to earn its ‘Sports Production’ moniker. It might not have been a power house, but weighing in at 143kg meant it was as agile as just about anything else, so if you were lucky enough to own one, you’ll know just how much fun you could have on one of these little puppies. If you did own one and you sold it, you’ll be kicking yourself now as these puppies are like rocking horse shit nowadays. 

Yamaha RZV500R 

If you want a screaming 500cc two-stroke sportsbike, you’re going to have to really save up for the bastard. Yamaha RD500s and Suzuki RG500s can fetch anything between £10k – £30k on a good day, thanks to their cult status and rarity. For rarity, though, in the 500cc two-stroke category, nothing beats the Yamaha RZV500R. To the untrained eye the Japanese only RZV could quite easily be mistaken for the more familiar (but still astronomically expensive) RD500, but a closer inspection will reveal the RZV’s much sportier, much lighter welded aluminium frame, as opposed to the square steel tube jobby on the UK spec RD. As standard, the UK RD was actually a bit faster than the Japanese derivative (by nearly 25bhp), but it’s dead easy to get one up to full speed with a few RD parts. What’s not dead easy though, is finding one of these bad boys in the first place. 

Honda NSR250R 

The latest NSR250R (MC28) might not have been as quick as an Aprilia RS250 or a Suzuki RGV250, but it was definitely the trickest of the bunch. They could be derestricted to make just shy of 60bhp, but it was a bit of a twat to do, thanks to the Smart Card ignition system – unless you went for the earlier MC21 version. The NSR had nikasil-sulfur lined cylinder bores (hence the ‘NS’ in ‘NSR’) and Honda’s RC-Valve power valve system. The later versions, like the MC28, had a single sided swinging arm with Pro-Arm suspension, so there is definitely an argument to say that by the MC28, the NSR250R had elbowed itself into the ‘exotic’ bike category – sort of. Whilst you can pick up an early NRS250R for a not too sickening amount of cash, you don’t see many MC28s… so when you do, they tend to be silly money. 

18 Responses

  1. First to comment. Do I get free merch’? I like the 400 Hondas but don’t like the price they go for today. Steady been increasing

  2. Bought an all original Honda RVF400 RT (NC35) last April and I’m yet to ride it due to covid stepping in and cancelling my tests That doesn’t stop me from absolutely loving it. Just watched the latest lockdown show and read the article about the perfect bike and I kind of agree massively with it all. I’m 23 years old and every bike I want is from the 90’s era or a very select few ‘new’ bikes ranging from mv’s like baron’s to 2012 blades. Yeah the new stuff is amazing but it doesn’t do anything for me. SRAD750 and a rs250 are the next two on my list

  3. Had a CBR 250rr mc22 back in the day similar to the fzr and gsxr250 but better looking it would rev to 20k and as an 18 year old it was the coolest thing on the planet

  4. How is the RVF 400 NC35 not on this list? USD forks, cute styling and that noise! Way more exotic looking that an NC30!

  5. Had a VFR400 NC30 back when i passed my test, wish i’d kept it. Loved that more then the gf at the time… sold it to buy a car… what a twat. God i miss that bike.

  6. Got a jizzer (gixxer) 400 that I use for tracks with corona colours I bloody loves it but it might be time to move upto a 600 after the COVID weight gains

  7. I lived near B&M imports in Preston in the late ’80’s and used to drool over the bikes in there. Always wanted an RZV500, but bikes were getting updated so fast in those days that in no time they seemed dated – I ended up breaking the bank and buying a new ZXR750H1, should have bought and kept the Yamaha!

  8. I’ve recently got an NC35 RVF400 and I fucking love it. The noise of the gear driven cam V4 us really special. It’s properly exciting to ride (even if it’s not that fast.

  9. Back in 1990 I was desperate to trade my old GPZ750 in for one of these lighweight alloy rare beasties. I finally settled on a Yam FZR 400RR. Mainly cos it was a bit bigger and I didn’t look like godzilla on a monkey bike. Had to pin it everywhere, but was a generation ahead of the GPZ in terms of handling.

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