The idiosyncrasies of British Superbikes

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The British Superbike Championship is, without doubt, one of the best domestic motorcycle racing championships in the world. World-class riders compete on their streak-of-lightening motorbikes, at some of the best circuits in the country, nay the world. But there are some peculiar rules that BSB employs. Rules that you may or may not agree with. Rules that have been put in place for the benefit of the teams and their budgets, for the benefit of safety, for the benefit of competition and, possibly, for the benefit of the organisers. So join us as we explore some of the slightly bonkers rules of British Superbikes…

One bike is plenty

In the olden days (before 2010) 90% of the people who raced anything in British Superbikes, from the British 125cc Championship, through Superstock, to the Superbike class itself, had a pair of bikes. Usually a main one, set up for dry weather, and a spare, set up for the wet. But that all changed in 2010. Because for the last 12 years, nobody, in any of the BSB classes, has been allowed to have a second (or spare) bike.

The idea was to try and keep the costs down for riders and teams. After all, race bikes aren’t cheap, and two of them are twice the price. On the face of it, that makes a lot of sense. It’s taking the advantage away from the teams that have got the budget to bring a spare bike.

Except one school of thought says it’s not doing that at all. There’s an argument to say that taking away the option of having a second bike, does actually make it more difficult for the smaller, less well funded teams. Because although as you might expect it’s a massive outlay buying a second bike, if you’re going to go racing, particularly at a decent level like BSB, you really need a full spares package. The vast majority of people racing in British Superbikes will have the makings of another bike in their truck or van, it’ll just be in boxes and small sub-assemblies; they could probably build a bike with it, but it’s against the rules to have an actual spare bike built up; so it’s got to be kept in bits.

So it’s the same for everyone then? Well yes and no. The big teams have to keep their spare bikes in bits, too. The difference is, when your superstar rider crashes and you’ve got ten sharply dressed men to rebuild the smashed bike, it doesn’t take very long. When it’s just you, you dad and your daft mate, it does. And it’s hard work. You might miss a session, or have to have a mega late night to get it done. It’ll be a rush job and you’ll be fucked when it’s finished.

If that spares package had already been in the shape of a bike it’d be a different story. It’d certainly be a lot easier to get back out for the next race. And probably not that much more expensive.

If you’re off, you’re out

In 2012 a BSB meeting at Brands Hatch had to be abandoned because someone crashed, got back on their bike and sprayed engine oil all over the track. It was everywhere. I can’t, for the life of me, remember who it was, but they made a right mess. A few days later, a regulation amendment came through, which said the following:

‘Riders who fall from their machine are not permitted to continue in the practice session or race until passed fit by a Medical Officer and the machine re-inspected and cleared by Technical Control. An infringement of this rule will result in the rider being disqualified from the remainder of the practice session or race and may result in further penalties.’

It was then, and still is now, one of the only racing series that don’t allow you to remount and carry on after a crash. Obviously there’s a very good reason for this particular rule; a crashed bike is much more likely to spill oil on the track than a non-crashed one. And oil on a race track is a major hazard.

If I’m being honest, I’m a little bit on the fence with this one. MotoGP lads quite often have a crash and jump back on. In fact MM93 sometimes crashes without actually getting off the bike; I don’t know where you’d stand with a Marquez-style performance in British Superbikes. And then there’s endurance racing. Seeing riders crash and jump back on their bikes to get them to the pits is part of endurance racing. Nobody would finish the Le Mans 24hr if the EWC brought that rule in (I certainly wouldn’t).

But it’s a safety thing, and I suppose you can’t really argue with a rule introduced to improve safety.

There was an amendment to this rule brought in, in 2014 which said:

‘In the Superbike and Supersport classes only, in the event of a rider falling from their machine during any of the sighting or warmup laps, provided that the machine has not made contact with a barrier, it may be possible for the rider to remount and continue back to the pitlane.’

And then it goes on to say that you can only continue if a trackside marshal is happy for you to continue, then he has to radio the Race Director, bla bla bla. You’ve also got to be checked again in the pits, and you might have to start from pitlane.

If you think that sounds a little bit unfair to the other BSB classes (i.e. Superstock and the support races), it’s probably just down to the fact that the Superbikes and Supersport lads spend a bit more time on the grid so there’d be time to get a crashed bike up, back to the pits, checked and back out on the circuit. I’m sure it’s nothing personal.

Who needs TC anyway?

A superbike is supposed to be the trickest version of a road-going sportsbike that you could possibly imagine. Or that’s what I always thought it was about anyway. Superstock, on the other hand, whilst derived from the same road bike, is supposed to be a lot closer to standard, or ‘stock’.

In British Superbikes though, the Superbike vs Superstock dichotomy is a really strange one. I’ll try and explain why without going too deep into the boring details of the BSB rulebook. These days, thanks the ‘Superbike Evo’ style rules, BSB superbikes aren’t as ‘super’ as they once were. Primarily because engine tuning is now heavily limited, and every bike on the grid has to run an approved electronics system. That means, even though all of the bikes come with a plethora of rider aids, out the crate, you can’t use any of them when you go superbike racing.

You’ve still got a lot of control over what your engine does and you can play with the fuelling and the ignition timing to make the bike easier to ride in certain situations, but as for traditional anti wheelie systems or traction control – it’s all down to the rider and his wrist. Not easy when you’ve got 250bhp.

And the daft thing is, the cheaper, less ‘super’ superstock bikes, can make use of the intelligent rider aids that the bikes come with. In fact, with the ‘Race Kit’ electronic systems (which you’ve been able to use in Superstock since 2017), you can tune all the rider aids to your hearts content. The truth is, electronics-wise, superstock bikes are quite a bit more advanced than their supposedly more ‘super’ siblings.

Of course superbikes are still fancier than superstock bikes in other departments. The suspension, chassis, brakes (and usually riders) all tend to be considerably higher performing on a superbike compared to a stocker. And of course more expensive.

One tyre fits all

The control tyre. Now, obviously this isn’t a rule that’s peculiar to British Superbikes. Or indeed bike racing. World Superbikes, MotoGP, Formula One and the World Rally Championship, to name but a few, all run on control tyres. All the BSB teams have been mandated to run Pirelli tyres since 2008; and it seems to be working for Pirelli. I understand the concept of it, and largely agree with that concept. But there is a slight flaw.

The idea is to create a level playing field. If everyone’s on the same tyres, nobody’s at an advantage or a disadvantage. But if you wanted to make it a level playing field, you’d tell everyone to run the same bike, surely? There’s definitely a time and place for one-make racing, some of the best championships going are one-make series. But I don’t think that’s what superbike racing is all about.

I think the teams should be free to find the tyre that works best with their bike. Because if Pirelli manufacture a tyre for British Superbikes that ‘works’ with all the bikes, you can almost guarantee that it’ll work better with one bike, than another. It might be a tyre design that favours the Honda’s power delivery, or chassis, over the Yamaha’s. And then, all of a sudden, you’ve lost the element of fair play. You’ve lost the very thing you was aiming for in the first place.

Then of course there’s the tyre development argument. The idea that if one manufacturer is in charge of supplying every team’s tyres, there’s no real incentive to improve their product; because they’re going to win anyway. You can read more about my thoughts on that here.

No, I’m not a massive fan of the control tyre rule, but I can’t see it being scrapped any time soon. It’s ingrained itself into every corner of motorsport to the point where it’s become normal.

And as for the previously mentioned, slightly more bonkers rules of British Superbikes, well I might not be a massive fan of those either, but I suppose they make BSB what it is. And it is one of the best race series in the world. So I shouldn’t really complain them it, should I?


2 Responses

  1. BSB particularly superbikes is antiquated and hasn’t developed for more than a decade and this stifles British talent getting to GP’s. They need to open up the ECU and tyre regs so give the guys a fighting chance when they actually do get to ride a proper bike with electronics and open tyre rules allow proper development often at cost to the manufacturer rather then the teams making it cheaper for all involved

  2. I get where this article is coming from, but, I for one enjoy the lack of electronics in BSB, for me, it offers most of the allure that BSB has. something about 250HP on essentially go-kart tracks with no electronic aids is just epically cool. When it comes to the tire I do not think there is one manufacturer that will benefit from Pirelli’s versus another tire. All the bikes are already built around the Pirelli tire since it is the spec tire for the majority of production-based racing around the world. BSB following WSBK in terms of tires means riders have to adapt to one less thing when changing championships. I have witnessed riders in MotoAmerica that have come from overseas struggle with the US-made Dunlops, if MotoAmerica was an open tire series you would see all the teams running the best tire they can which in almost every situation will be the Pirellis.

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