As can be expected, there are a number of pitfalls to avoid when buying grey-import motorcycles. We explore some of these hazards, what to look out for, and how they can be avoided.

By Darren Ravens

As can be expected, there are a number of pitfalls to avoid when buying grey-import motorcycles. We explore some of these hazards, what to look out for, and how they can be avoided.

Although the 4-stroke 400s are generally all made to fairly high levels of specification, there are still a number of things to avoid when buying different grey makes.

HONDA

By all accounts the Honda range is generally associated with excellent build quality and reliability. There are, of course, a few little things to watch out for.

Rectifier/regulator

This electrical fault is fairly common but not too expensive to fix. A good way to test it is to use a multimeter across the battery terminals with the revs at around 5000r/min to check whether the voltage produced is within the acceptable range. This fault occurs on most of the 400cm3 Hondas and can be avoided by installing a small 12V cooling fan (as used in PC's) to stop the component from overheating.

VFR400RR

The 400 cm3 capacity bikes were so popular in Japan that Honda actually made two machines of this capacity at the same time. The VFR400RR NC30 is a mini-replica of the famous RC30. With its single-sided swing-arm and V4 engine layout it is the most exotic of the Japanese 400s. The NC35 RVF400, which followed it, was a refinement of the NC30 and shares its striking looks with the RC45 made famous in World SuperBike racing a few years ago.

With the VFR’s racing heritage, it was no great surprise that the NC30 was hugely expensive when new. When officially imported into the UK the NC30 cost about as much as the top of the range CBR1000 of the time. As a grey import however it has thrived and is one of the most common 400s in South Africa.

The older and cheaper VFR400 NC24 also has a single-sided swing-arm and V4 motor and is often underrated. The motor of the NC24 has a 180-degree crank as opposed to the 360-degree layout of the NC30 and this gives it arguably an even more beautiful sound albeit at the cost of a few kilowatts. If your budget is really tight, the pre-'87 NC21 might be worth a look though it doesn't have the single-sided swingarm of its siblings and does look dated.

The VFR's 18-inch rear wheel (and in the case of the NC24, 16-inch front) means that good tyres can be a little more difficult to find since most sports bikes ride on 17-inch wheels.

The NC30's notoriously tall first gear also means that the clutch would probably have taken some abuse. Post-1990 NC30's benefited from a vastly improved front and rear suspension while the RVF acquired upside down forks.

The V4 motor provides the most linear power delivery of all the 400s with exceptional mid-range torque for its engine size. This does of course mean that it misses out on the top-end rush of the inline-4s. The V4 motor also makes it rather more complicated to work on, and labour costs for servicing are higher than average.

CBR400RR

This top-selling grey import in the UK is becoming quite popular in SA as well. Two models are worth looking at, namely the NC23 or tri-arm and NC29 Gullarm. The latter is the more modern of the two and will cost a fair bit more though the NC23 tri-arm is still a very good machine and should not be overlooked. The tri-arm must be distinguished from the single headlight version of the NC23 called the AERO which is a much older and less desirable model.

The CBR owes much of its popularity to its ease-of-use and competency in all areas.

It's more practical than most of the other 400s here with performance and handling to match most of them.

Much like the VFR, the motor is regarded as bullet-proof so unless the machine has been raced there should be few problems in this area.

A more serious, though fairly rare problem could occur with the gearbox where it jumps out of the second and top gears under heavy acceleration This can be costly to fix as it involves a considerable amount of labour time.

Suspension is another area to watch for as the rear shock is pretty softly sprung in the first place and mainly loses its ability to provide adequate damping. Forks are similarly under-endowed in the springs and damping department but replacing the fork oil can make the world of difference.

YAMAHA

FZR400

This bike, especially its later versions, is regarded by some as the sharpest handling 400 when new. Unfortunately poor build quality means that they lose their sharpness after a few thousand kilometres.

The FZR400s from the late eighties share their looks with the FZR600 Genesis, and in 1990 the FZR was upgraded with the introduction of the midrange-boosting EXUP-valve. Styling was further advanced in '92 with the introduction of twin projector headlamps concealed by a single screen. The top of the FZR pile has to be the limited edition RRSP, but look out, as they are pricey and hard to find.

Areas to watch out for are the projector headlight bulbs on the later models, which look great but cost a fortune to replace. The EXUP-valve, while giving the motor a stronger midrange, can also be an expensive component to fix, but with proper servicing it shouldn't be a problem.

The clutch can be a major weakness and must be kept correctly adjusted. Brakes were sharp when new but they tend to become wooden and prone to seizure if not properly maintained. Fork seals are prone to leaks and finish quality on the wheels is notoriously poor.

SUZUKI

GSX-R400RR

There are two models of interest in the GSX-R range. The GK73 and the GK76. The former can be easily identified by i