10 Bikes You’ve Never Heard Of

From the funky Laverda OR50 Atlas to the Asia-specific Kawasaki Serpico, there are some great unknown bikes out there if you fancy giving your garage a bit of a leftfield flavor… Here are 10 bikes that you’ve probably never heard of.

Yamaha FZR150 (1991-1998)

First and foremost, it’s a contradiction in terms. Yamaha FZRs are liquid-cooled, inline-fours engine, right? Well yes – except for this anomaly FZR150 built for south east Asian markets like Indonesia and Malaysia.

With the 150cc category being hugely popular in the region, yet a four-cylinder motor of that size being way too expensive to produce, the Yamaha FZR150 was given a bored-out Virago 125 V-twin lump to push its box-section steel chassis along (the frame sticker says Deltabox, but it isn’t). With only 17 bhp, this smallest of FZRs is in danger of being hung out to dry by even the most modest of two-stroke 125s. Early 150s were styled to ape its bigger twin headlamp FZR cousins, with later models following suit with the updated ‘letterbox’ front lights. Among the most odd-ball sportsbikes ever built.

Where can I get one?

You’d really have to ask yourself why you’d want one in the first place. A Japanese import FZR250 is faster, tricker and considerably easier to lay your hands on – and it’s cheaper too, once you’ve factored in the cost of importing a 150 over from Malaysia.

Laverda OR50 Atlas (1986-1988)

Laverda made its name in the UK with road bikes – the legendary Jota was actually an honorary Brit having been developed by Herefordshire-based Lav dealers Slater Brothers. But the Italian marque made trailies, too, with the late-’80s, Paris-Dakarstyle OR600 Atlas among them.

In order to entice young blood to the marque Laverda came up with this funky 50cc version of their big dune jumper for the domestic market. Powered by a liquid-cooled 49cc four-speed (for licencing reasons) Minarelli engine, the little OR features 220mm front and rear Brembo disc brakes, a massive (for a 50) 21-litre tank, long-travel suspension, full-sized 21/18in wheels and styling that – if you squint – matches the big OR line for line.

Where can I get one?

Italy. The Laverda OR50 Atlas would have worked out too expensive to compete with the Japanese sports ’peds familiar to these shores, so ebay.it would be a good starting point. UK-based specialists in Italian exotica, such as Made in Italy Motorcycles (madeinitalymotorcycles. com) and North Leicester Motorcycles (northleicestermotorcycles.com) are worth a word with, too. Prices can vary from €100 for a nail to €800-plus for a well-kept example.

Suzuki GF250F (1985-1986)

A domestic halfway house between the outgoing GS250W and the GSX-R250 that appeared two years later. The box-section double-cradle frame is very GSX-R, as are the tank and side panels.

The half-faired S version with optional bellypan (below) was introduced in 1986, with the additional bonus of a twin-disc front-end from a MKII Gamma. The engine is the same liquid-cooled, DOHC 16-Valve, unit as used in the GSX-R; fuelling is by two twin-choke carbs. But for such a small multi-pot motor the 13,000 RPM is surprisingly low, even if peak power is a mere 500 RPM earlier. Although an arguably handsome machine, the pace of change was red-hot in the 1980s – leaving no space in Suzuki’s range for the GF250F after 1986.

Where can I get one?

Only a handful of, if any, Suzuki GF250F made it to the UK during the grey import boom years. We were too interested gobbling up GP-replica 250s and 400s to worry about quarter-litre four-strokes that could, if you were caught on the wrong road, be shamed by a full-power 125.

We’ve found several GF250F advertised on Japanese site GooBike (goobike.com) varying in price from £1000-£1500. Any of the good grey importers can get you one.

Honda CBX750 Horizon (1983-1984)

Japanese market hot-rod version of the more familiar CBX750F. Same air-cooled, DOHC 16-Valve motor – pegged to 77bhp for the domestic market – wrapped in a longer (wheelbase is 1515mm to 1465mm of the CBX-F), lazier-steering twin-shock chassis, 18/16in wheels, leading axle forks and a bikini fairing.

Although not an out-and-out sportsbike, the Honda CBX750 Horizon would be a blast away from the lights or on the drag strip.

Where can I get one?

We’ve already seen several CBX750 Horizon for sale in the UK, which have been brought in as grey imports.About £2500 seems to buy an extremely tidy example. As well as being restricted to 77bhp for the home market, they’re likely to be limited to 180kph (112mph) too. De-restriction using CBX750F parts should be easy, though.

Gilera RV250 NGR (1984-1985)

The Italian 250 two-stroke you never knew existed. Based on Gilera’s RV125 (which did make it to the UK, albeit in rigidly enforced 12bhp form), the RV250 NGR (it stands for Road Vehicle, New Generation Rotary Valve) featured a 38bhp single based on the firm’s quarter-litre motocross powerplant.

As well as packing rotary-valve induction, the NGR’s engine also got a nickel-silicon coated barrel, a vibration-reducing balance shaft and, unlike any of the Japanese 250s, a hydraulically operated clutch. An electric starter was optional. The chassis is very 1980s with its anti-dive – equipped Marzocchi forks, rising-rate monoshock rear suspension and triple 240mm Brembo discs. Styling throws an unmistakable nod to Honda’s MBX125/ MVX250. Sadly the NGR’s popularity was held back by a wincingly high price.

Where can I get one?

One or two of these rare strokers have made their way to Blighty as grey imports, and if you asked a specialist nicely we’re sure they could turn you up a beauty. Italy’s warm climate means corrosion is rarely an issue, but sun-bleached plastics and crash damage are common. Prices are unlikely to mirror those of the Japanese 250s, and that’s a good thing. €2500-€3000 could turn up a minter.

Honda AX-1 (1988-1990)

Quarter-litre, home market version of the more familiar NX650 Dominator.The Honda AX-1, with its distinctive cast alloy wheels, makes no pretentions to the possibility of off-road duties though – despite the substantial bashplate. What it is, however, is an excellent town bike, with its trailie riding position offering lofty visibility and deft agility. The twin headlamps are a nice touch, too.

The 250cc DOHC 4-Valve motor is the same as you’ll find in an XR250, so it’s a solid number. Many of its other detail parts and components are standard Honda of the period.

Where can I get one?

Grey import is the best route – there’s a chance one or two made it over here in the boom. We found a dozen of them on goobike.com, the most expensive being a minter with 5000 km up for a not unreasonable £2300. Obviously you’d have to factor in the import cost on top.

Malanca Mark 125 (1985)

If you thought Yamaha created a new class of motorcycle with the arrival of the TDR250 in 1988, you’d be wrong. In fact the twin-cylinder ‘dual sport’ trailie first broke cover in 1985 when Italian firm Malanca overdid it on the lunchtime Chianti and then decided it’d be a great idea to take the motor from their sporty OB One Racing 125 (yes, correctly that you read) and sling it in an off-road chassis. The outrageous Mark 125 was born.

Admittedly the styling is a bit shambolic – you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an early prototype rather than a finished production machine, and a wet weight of just under 120 kilos coupled with a power output of 17bhp (detuned compared to the OB’s 22bhp) kept top speed below 80mph.

Sadly the Mark proved to be one of the Bologna firm’s final gifts to the world before the doors to the factory were closed in 1986 after 30 years of production. We’d like to think someone in Yamaha’s R&D department saw the Mark and was inspired to design the TDR.

Where can I get one?

Italy is your only hope. The Mark was built for the home market and production only lasted a year, but they are out there. We found everything from shabby projects to restored minters online, so crack open a bottle of Latin red and spend an evening surfing. Italian eBay and UK-based specialists will help focus your search. Values are hard to judge given the bike’s rarity, but €300 for something rough and over a €1000 for a good one is a decent place to start.

Suzuki NZ250 (1986)

Funky (or weird, depending on your bent) quarter-litre thumper with an air/oil-cooled twin-port single at its heart. Sold in naked and bikini-faired spec (NZ250S), and featuring some nice touches – spoked alloy rims, fuel gauge and box-section swingarm.

At only 118kg dry (naked) or 120kg (250S) it’s like a 125 to throw about, making it perfect for back-lane scratching.

Where can I get one?

We’ve never seen an NZ in the UK, but tell us if you know different. Suzuki’s cooler Goose 250/350 tickled the grey import fancy for singles, so the less glam NZ would’ve been a niche within a niche here in Blighty. We can’t even find any for sale in Japan…

Kawasaki Serpico SS/SE (1994-1998)

Mid-’90s two-stroke single built by Kawasaki Thailand for the south east Asian markets – one of many variants on the firm’s KR150 model that appeared over a 20-year span in everything from naked, spoked-wheel guise to full-on race-rep spec. KIPS-equipped 148cc liquid-cooled motor makes a claimed 39 BHP in standard form, enough for 100mph potential.

The Serpico looks like a mini ZZ-R600 with its chunky perimeter frame, slippery bodywork and classily finished controls. So much so, it’s a real shame we never saw it here in Europe. It even comes with handy bungee hooks, proper seating for two, a stylish cockpit that could easily have been lifted from a much larger Kwak, twin headlamps and triple tail lights.

Where can I get one?

South east Asian imports aren’t unknown in the UK. Over the years we’ve seen Honda LS125s, NSR150s, Suzuki RG150s and Yamaha TZM150s make it here to Blighty, so there’s no reason why a 150 Kawasaki couldn’t make it here, too.

Asking an experienced importer to find you one and bring it over is probably the easiest way to get your hands on one. Or if you’re feeling adventurous you could tie it in with a holiday in Thailand, buy one and ship it back here yourself. Spares could be a bit of an issue, though… If you do bring one back, get a spannie and a range of tuning goodies that are available while you’re there.

Honda CBR450SR (1986-1994)

What do you do when you want to reach a potentially massive market that’s closed to imports? For Honda in the 1980s in the case of Brazil, it meant building a production facility not far from São Paulo and creating a bike specific to that market. It had to be sporty and stylish to compete with Yamaha’s Brazilian-built RD350, yet cost-effective and able to run on the region’s poor-quality fuel. Honda’s solution was the CBR450SR.

At first glance, especially in its early two-tone striped graphics, it looks like a CBR400R Aero, or a CBR250RR MC17 with which it shares some fairing panels and parts. But behind the enclosed bodywork lies no inline-four, or even such sophistication as liquid-cooling. The Honda CBR450SR gets its power from an air-cooled 6v parallel-twin that can trace its lineage back to the CB400N of a decade before.

Because of that, its performance was never a match for the YPVS, but the cool-looking Honda offered Brazilians a stylish sportsbike like no other for half a decade from the end of the 1980s. Restrictions on imports were relaxed by the mid-’90s, so the Honda CBR450SR disappeared under a wave of competition.


Where can I get one?

In all honesty, you don’t really want one. Importing one from Brazil would be ridiculously expensive – and pointless given that much more exotic Japanese-market tackle, like the CBR250RR and CBR400RR, are already common to these shores.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *