The neon-tinged fever dream of the '90s is back in a big way. But one must remember, it was a decade of excellent superbikes that saw the proliferation of speed and performance in sales numbers the industry has never seen before, or since.

It was the first decade where power, tires, suspension, and chassis all evolved at a rapid clip, together. The results are legendary motorcycles to this day, and here’s what bikes we thought were best for each year of the 1990s.

And remember, these are classics in 2019. The oldest bike on this list is nearly 30 years old now.

1990: Kawasaki ZX-11

In 1990, we said this bike would go on to define the decade. And we were right, as it set the template for what was to come—a superbike that finally put handling right aside momentous thrust.

1990 Kawasaki ZX-11Cycle World Archives

It was the fastest bike we had ever tested with a top speed of 176 mph, but its handling prowess set it apart from its competition. But little did we know how the superbike class would splinter. The ZX-11 was a harbinger of a different class altogether, that of the hyperbike today—those that left race class restrictions behind for all-out speed supremacy.

1991: Yamaha FZR1000

In 1991, outright balance over outright speed placed the FZR1000 as our top choice for the superbike class. One facet of this is a component that would become a standard feature for all bikes in this class going forward—the upside-down fork. That and a sublime chassis made up for gobs of horsepower.

1991 Yamaha FZR1000Cycle World Archives

It was also the last gasp of the ’80s-based superbikes. Introduced in 1987, the FZR led the charge for the first wave of superbikes. But as the ’90s progressed it would be outgunned and outmatched, with Yamaha soon revealing a worthy successor.

1992: Honda CBR900RR

Tadao Baba’s baby would change the game, literally. In 1992 Honda took the wraps off the CBR900RR, the first in Honda’s “RR” line. It set the template for the superbike class to come and is still heralded for its mix of power and handling.

1992 Honda CBR900RRCycle World Archives

Unchanged from its debut in 1992, the ’93 CBR900RR featured the same 893cc inline-four engine, same compact dimensions, and the performance still left us thrilled. There was a new livery though, striking neon colors could be seen from miles away, a glorious sign of fun that hasn’t been seen in the newest superbike class.

1994: Ducati 916

It took an Italian supermodel to put a dent in Honda’s dominance in our Ten Best Awards. At its heart was the new water-cooled desmoquattro engine: which had more displacement and four valves per head over the Pantah it was based on. This was slotted into a new trellis frame, suspended by an inverted fork and racy single-sided swingarm.

Ducati 916
1994 Ducati 916Cycle World Archives

These mechanicals were draped in bodywork by Massimo Tamburini, and upon its debut was leagues ahead of its predecessor, the 888. We were struck by not only how the 916 looked, but how it performed. A legend that even to this day looks modern, and a staple of bedroom posters everywhere.

1995: Honda CBR900RR

It didn’t take long for Honda to find its way back to the Ten Best list. It was also a sign of the breakneck development cycles of the ’90s. Time at the top was brief, for every model that came out was either heavily revised or redesigned in two years or less. Such was the pace of development, and the appetite of the superbike consumer.

1995 CBR900RRCycle World Archives

In 1995, Honda debuted the second generation of the CBR900RR featured styling and minor improvements. The fairing design was completely redone, and the “speed holes” were gone. The transmission was revised and the fork received compression adjustability. This was enough to vault the CBR900RR back to the top of our minds, and all around $6,000 less than the 916 in 1995.

1996: Suzuki GSX-R750

Only the Chicago Bulls in the ’90s were as dominant as the CBR900RR in its class. But it wasn’t our choice for best superbike this year. In 1996, it took the title as our pick for best Open Class Streetbike. Best Superbike honors would go to Suzuki for the GSX-R750.

1996 Suzuki GSX-R750Cycle World Archives

All new for 1996, we called it a “certified literbike killer.” And it was, in testing it gave bikes with more power and higher price tags fits on the racetrack. It even best the Ducati 916 in the quarter mile. Lighter than contemporary 600s of its era, the GSX-R750 was a wicked package of low weight, good power, and a sublime chassis.

1997: Suzuki TL1000S

If balance won out for Suzuki in 1996, outright power did in 1997. With the pick of the TL1000S, we rewarded it’s thumping V-Twin performance and power-per-dollar amount over comparable motorcycles: even if it was slower around the racetrack.Time would reward our choice as well.

1997 Suzuki TL1000SCycle World Archives

The TL1000S would never be known as a delicate performance machine, but as a choice for riders looking to balance on the wild side. It was a brute for its day, but that made it all the more fun. Also seen in this class was a constant debate between what delineated a superbike versus an open class sportbike. Semantics aside, the TL1000S was a winner for ’97.

1998: Yamaha YZF-R1

In our summary for 1998’s Ten Best, we remarked that the arms race of earlier in the decade would begin to slow, and a little bit of lamentation at the fact that refinement and revisions were becoming the rule of the day. However, in this year of seeming stagnation, the Yamaha YZF-R1 showed us the future was bright.

1998 Yamaha YZF-R1Cycle World Archives

At 1,000cc it would stamp the Superbike class with a displacement number that would stick for a very long time. Easy to ride but rewarding to ride fast, our testers all called the R1 excellent, and, really, it would begin a long legacy of the R1 atop the superbike class.

1999: Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300R

Yeah, about that lack of evolution we talked about in 1998. That wouldn’t hold for the class of 1999. The decade of the 1990s went out with a bang, and the Suzuki Hayabusa rang the bell. It simply moved the goalposts farther than many thought possible for the street.

Hayabusa GSX1300R
1999 Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300RCycle World Archives

Let’s see: 160 horsepower, 194 mph top speed, and an under-10-second quarter mile. All of this was possible completely stock off the showroom floor for anyone who wanted to sign the dotted line. It was an incredible motorcycle to close the decade out with, and look on to the new millenium.

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