Iconic, a legend, the first truly modern sportsbike etc, etc...... I'm talking about the '91 - '99 'blades, the 16'' front wheel models here.
Everyone knows about the'blade, light as a 600, power of a 1000, except most modern 600's now make as much power as these old girls. That might be true of absolute top end power, but 600's do this at heady levels of RPM, the 'blade is still ticking over when a hyper 600 is approaching meltdown. The torque from a large engine makes riding so much easier, the blades power delivery makes it a far less frantic experience than a modern 600. With a little judicious Dyna-jetting, and a decent Yoshi can, the 'blade can perform just as well as the modern 1000's, certainly so on our conjested and camera infested roads.
The downside to an early 'blade is the 16'' front wheel. Hit a cats-eye at speed and the bars will kick like an angry mule, same with pot-holes. This is a life transforming foible, you will see God... or the Grim Reaper, peering over your shoulder! As the very high profile tyre starts to wear, handling becomes even more interesting.... The quick, easy and relatively inexpensive cure is to put on a CBR600 front wheel, keep your eyes out on E-Bay, they come up regularly for between £60 -£100. This simple mod transforms the wildcat ride to that of the stability of a Diversion! (younger readers... ask your Grandad). Dropping the forks (a good way) down the yokes helps to speed up the steering again.
The other well tried mod is to 'reverse' the rear suspension linkage. Under the shock you will find a triangular plate connecting shock and chassis. Look at the direction of the arrows on the plates, (pointing forwards on a standard bike) remove them and reverse the plates. This raises the rear end significantly, but... it gives an amazing suppleness to the suspension. You will find that the spring preload can be backed off, if only to lower the back end a bit. If you are particularly short of leg, then this mod might leave you dangling in mid air. This I will address later.
OK. You now have a machine that handles and goes as well as most other machines you will come accross, unless you meet an absolute phsyco on an R1 with a death wish fetish. Any other machine that might perform significantly better has cost the owner considerably more than the couple of thou a 'blade will lighten your pocket by.
The best model to buy? The later the better. The W and X models are by far the best bet. A small increase in capacity over pre '97 blades is useful, the chassis recieved upgraded parts, better swinging arm, more robust fork yokes, a better shaped fuel tank and a wider, more protective fairing design. I will admit that this type of 'blade looks a little bulbous compared to the latest anorexic tackle, just remember that you have far more protection from windblast than they offer, a double bubble or flip screen giving you near tourer type comfort.
One overwhelming advantage of this era of 'blade is its utter simplicity. Mechanically AND electrically. The 'blade has nothing on or in it that a reasonablly competent owner cannot repair or replace. This is mechanical engineering pared to the bone. More importantly for those buying a used vehicle, the nasty and complex electrical systems that now control all aspects of modern vehicles are totally absent on a 'blade. No fuel injection computers, no fuel monitoring gubbins, no idiotic ABS systems, just an alternator, reg/rectifier and a few solenoids.
Mechanically they are also a paragon of simplicity. A good engine is very quiet at tickover, the only real noises come from the gearbox and are mostly the whirrs of cogs with a little clutch basket rattle. This should dissapear when the cluth is pulled in. Any engine that sounds rough.... IS rough! Mind you. Mechanical noises could be nothing more than miss adjusted carbs, getting to the inlet manifold to set up a balancing kit is the only difficult job I have found. A good ear could allow you some hard bargaining points! Even after the 27,000 (well used) miles that I have put mine, she still sounds and goes as well as ever. My main use is touring through France, which gets you to the French and Swiss Alps... which gets you to roads that beat any antisceptic track days you can ever imagine. You are up against the best Germans, Italians, Spanish and French, all tooled up and well practiced. The 'blade and I are not disgraced, even with a well packed Givi box and tankbag weighing us down.
2,500 miles in five days means some improvements to comfort are called for. As I mentioned earlier, reversing the rear shock links can raise the back end a little too high for security, more so when loaded up. I have fitted the seat unit from a 'Y' (2000) blade to mine, fits a treat, looks almost stock, makes the back end look almost sleek and lowers the seat height considerably. I also lowered the rider footrests by the simple expedient of cutting a bit of stock flat bar into three inch lengths and drilling for the mounting bolts. This goes between the top of the footrest hangers and the frame, lowering the footrestsng by an inch and moving them slightly forwards . Ideal for me (5' 9''). I can now sit very comfortably for the high speed auto-route blasts and get both feet firmly on the ground on the cobbles of French town centres.
The only place she really shows her age is in the braking department. Good pads and regular fettling, braided lines and clean fluid help immensley, which means there is a great deal of room for improvement! If anyone knows of a better braking system, please post on this forum.
All parts turn up regularly on E-Bay, most fit all models. Only the later models plastics can be hard to find at a sensible price.
For the price of some scooters you can have a machine that is still a blast, will cost you peanuts to run, easily fixed if you do something daft and does not melt at the first sight of a British winter. Its frame does not crack, its gearbox is smooth (except for the clunk into first) and it can be serviced at home. Probably one of the very best second hand buys out there.