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.
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.
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.