There are bikes out there from every era that were brilliant, but then faded and fizzled out. They’re out there waiting for us to love them again. This month: the Yamaha YZF1000 Thunderace.
What is it?
When the FZR1000 EXUP arrived in the Yamaha range in 1989, it was THE litre sportsbike, then in 1992 the FireBlade arrived as part of Honda’s stable and made it — and all other lOOOcc plus sportsbikes — look big and stupid. Yamaha responded… with a 750! The YZF750 was always on a hiding to nothing when unfairly pitched against Honda’s 900cc darling of the biking press. The FZR1000 then received yet another makeover, Yamaha chucked new clothes on to its ageing chassis. It also got some six-pot calipers and foxeye headlamps from the YZF, then in 1996 it was replaced by the Thunderace. Yamaha claimed the new frame was based on the YZF750, unfortunately the engine was (despite a few tucks and tweaks) just another outing for the EXUP 1000 motor. Despite the new YZF1000 billing it was another half-hearted attempt to blunt the Blade’s success.
Jack of all trades, master of none?
The ultimate insult to a once cutting-edge sportsbike is when it gets rebranded into a ‘sports tourer’, and the Thunderace quickly earned this unwanted title. What is a sports tourer anyway? That’s like saying these are my ‘smart jeans’? This was a nonsense, just like the daft acronyms slapped on the Thunderace’s arse, quite literally: ‘ASS’ or Aero Super Sport, yet more stupidity. But hold on, maybe I’m being far too hasty… the Thunderace is a comfy bike, even for six-footers plus, with a slightly higher screen and a tank full of motion-lotion you could quickly clock up the miles. It’s not a bad bike for pillions either.
But there are only five gears?
When new to riding a Thunderace you will without doubt search for a sixth gear, but it’s fruitless as there isn’t one. The gearing of the five-speed box begs for a sixth cog, but you do get used to it, eventually. There is a solution though; a gearbox from a YZF750 uses the all important sixth gear, and it will fit directly in to the Ace’s cases. Makes you wonder why Yamaha never did it.
What goes wrong with them?
The obvious things will be age related, things such as exhaust headers, they will not only rot but will also do their best to stop the EXUP valve moving — being located lower than a snake’s belly on the bike it doesn’t get cleaned much and also gets covered in crud. The EXUP valve should be free to go through its cycle when the servo tugs the cables, many don’t.
They can easily be stripped out and serviced, which makes you wonder why owners don’t do it until it’s too late. Many aftermarket systems don’t incorporate the EXUP valve, which isn’t actually a bad thing. All FZR/YZF motors like to use a drop of oil and being a five-valve motor valve clearance etc. is a tedious and fiddly job. Clutches are weak if abused and gearboxes often notchy. Some also tend to be vibey: not necessarily an issue, but can lead to comfort issues.
So all these years later, Blade or Thunderace?
Both are still great bikes. If you can still fit in to your clothes from 1994, then a Blade might appeal more. If you’ve noticed how new clothes these days are made on the smaller side then a Thunderace might be your friend. Both are still fast.
How much are they?
Supply and demand dictates the prices of bikes of yesteryear. There isn’t really much demand for the Ace, and supply is good. A straight Thunderace can be had for a grand, less for something cosmetically challenged. Most bikes have survived in good shape; the anodised bolt-on brigade’ never really attacked these models, which is good news. If you stumble upon a project one, you’ll be pleased to hear that used parts are still plentiful, and with lots of engine and electrical items interchangeable with FZR1000 EXUP items you always have options open to you.