Sportsbikes | A victim of their own success.

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I was out for a ride on the ZX-10R yesterday and I found myself doing some contemplating. As I was riding along at a maximum of 60mph I was thinking about all the other bikes that I could be riding, that’d be capable of the same; and I came to the conclusion that almost every other modern motorcycle would’ve been able to do everything I asked the Kawasaki to do, during yesterday’s winter ride. And I suppose there lies the problem with sportsbikes; they can do way more than you ever need them to do on the road. In fact they’ve been ‘too good’ for the road for years, and they just keep getting better. Perhaps that’s why so many people are buying adventure bikes, naked bikes, touring bikes, etc. Perhaps sportsbikes are a victim of their own success. This is what I think.

Olden days

I think it’s a bit of a two-part problem. In the olden-days bikes across the board weren’t as good as they are now. And by ‘not as good’, I mean they weren’t as refined, they didn’t handle as well, and crucially, weren’t as fast. I know some people still prefer older bikes, and I completely understand why, so please don’t think I’m slagging your 1992 FireBlade off. I’m not. I’m just saying, in 30 years, things have moved on technologically.

30 years ago, when your original FireBlade came out, sportsbikes were all the rage. And the ‘Blade, with it’s 117hp was seen as a proper animal. That’s not much more than half what a modern sportsbike makes in 2022, but I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. With half the power (still a lot by 1992 standards) you really had to ride the bike. With 117hp, you could open the throttle all the way, and keep it open for a lot longer than you could with a 200hp+ bike.

Riding a 117hp bike on the road is a completely different experience to riding a 200hp. Whilst a 200hp bike might feel sportier, you can definitely ride the 117hp bike in a sportier way, and therefore a lot of the time, a more exciting way.


And then of course there is the fact that 30 years ago, motorcyclists didn’t have to worry quite so much about speed cameras, civvies with dashcams, or coppers scrambling the helicopters to make chase. Back then (so I’m told) it was a lot easier to get away with riding your sportsbike the way it was intended to be ridden.

Whilst the 1992 FireBlade might have been considered cutting edge back then, it’s got nothing on today’s superbikes. With their 200bhp+, lightweight chassis, space-age electronics and super-duper suspension. So not only are there a lot more po-po out there ready to throw us in jail for going too fast on our motorbikes, our motorbikes are capable of going so much faster too.

Anyone who’s ever ridden a sportsbike in the last ten years will know that to ride one on the road within the speed limit is merely scratching the surface of what the bike’s capable of. In fact the same can be said for most modern bikes. Today, there are naked bikes, sports tourers and adventure bikes that are faster and handle as well as (if not better than) the old FireBlade from ’92. And they’re all capable of way more than you can legally get away with on the road.

Diehard fans

So I think that’s why a lot of people have decided to move away from the traditional sportsbike. I think that’s why we’re seeing more naked bikes and adventure bikes on the road. Because if all you can ever do is 60mph or 70mph, you might as well be comfortable doing it; and we all know a sportsbike doesn’t offer the most comfortable of rides.

I’m sure there will always be people that’d choose a sportsbike over anything else. I’m still one of those people. It’s not because I need the performance of a sportsbike, it’s just because I love them. Maybe it’s a bit of a fashion thing, or an expression of my personality. Whatever it is, I know I’m not the only one who still loves sportsbikes, but when you look at the numbers it would appear we’re a dying breed. And it’s a crying shame.

But as I’ve said, sportsbikes have got so good, they’ve become almost too good for the road. A victim of their own success.


11 Responses

  1. Hear. Hear. Good news is they’re so good now I don’t think I’d ever want for anything other than better tires and fewer screens. If electricity, communism and soy does kill the thing I love most, it died at it’s pinnacle. Now if only the used bike prices would come back down to earth…

  2. I do agree. Of course it all changes when it comes to riding on a track. There – and only there – you can really savour what incredible machines sportsbikes have become. But if I have to put 2-300 miles on the clock in a day, I’d rather have a loyal, comfortable, sporty-like horse than a uncompromising, stone-hard, rampaging purebred (which I’d still own for trackdays).

  3. I agree with some of what you’re saying Boothy, but in turn, why then have the 600’s all but gone? 120bhp and 165KGS sounds perfect then? They have the looks, the usable power and the sportiness. But nobody wants them.
    I think it’s because they exude speed, and today, in the eyes of the Government, speeding is perceived worse than armed robbery or attending an illegal party.

    1. Because mid-range torque is much more usable than top end power. If you don’t want to keep your bike on the boil all the time, than 600s are not for you. And that’s most of the people, I would say.

  4. This is so accurate, I just finished restoring a 1999 Ducati 996 that made 115hp and I have an 18 RSV4 that makes 200 and I really enjoy riding the less HP bike because I stay out of trouble and speed less. I was trying to figure out what new bike I want and now leaning towards a middle weight naked making 120hp VS the new R1 I was eyeballing.

  5. Yup. Agreed. I’ve got 3 bikes, an RVF400, a Panigale V2 and an old ZZR600.
    The most fun bike on the twisty roads is the RVF.
    I could have got a V4 over the V2 – but the V2 is more fun on the road – and unless you’ve got a 2 mile straight with no coppers on it, then it never lacks in power.
    On the track it’s obviously a different matter.
    But yeah, all modern bikes are faster than most of us are capable of riding. After all, my “baby” V2 makes more power than Foggy’s WSBK winning 916 ever did!

  6. do you think this is why bikes like the R7 and the Aprillia 660 are becoming very popular. my reason for ordering an R7 was that ordering a 1000cc superbike or even a 600cc bike just feels a little bit pointless at the minute. i’d rather ride something at 10/10th’s than at 3/10th’s. i prefer to see the revs go up and not lose my licence before i get into 3rd gear. track days are the only place for those superbikes now i think.

  7. So many of the newer naked and ADV bikes are making the same power as liter-class sportbikes were just 10 or 15 years ago. Fastest bike I ever owned was an ’04 CBR1000RR. My more recent FZ1 and current 1190 Adventure are not that much slower in my dumb hands. I’m sure that’s not the case on a track, but I’m a street-only rider, so even the 120-something horsepower the ADV is putting to the rear wheel is plenty powerful. Back in the day I wanted a 600 supersport because that was the cheap, fast thing to have. But now, you can get yourself an MT09 for (relatively) less money and it’s a better streetbike than a supersport in most ways. And plenty freakin fast.

  8. I have a 2020 Fireblade but I use this to travel to trackdays, do trackdays and then ride home – both UK and Europe. You are right about the performance. Do you actually need more than 6000rpm (out of 14000 plus) to road ride – I don’t? I have a CBR650R for my road riding which is perfect with enough performance and with a Ventura rack can tour as well. What I find bizarre now is the obsession with rider modes for road bikes.. I ride RT1250s as blood bikes and the latest one has 3 modes and I had a test ride on a NT1100 with more options than a Chinese take away. ABS is a great safety net, traction control probably is useful but surely stick it in the most powerful mode and learn to use the throttle. I have never felt an RT1250 had a vicious power band. I had a 1992 Fireblade when they first came out – I have to say it felt like a rocket when I first rode it – how times have changed!

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