Do I Really Need a New Superbike?

John Burns
by John Burns
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Ask MO Anything: Is latest and greatest the only way to go?

do i really need a new superbike

Dear MOby,

So I’ve been thinking about pulling the trigger on a new literbike next spring for a while now, when I stumbled upon a great deal on a like-new 15-year old Honda CBR954RR. I remember loving that bike when it was new, when it was way out of financial reach, and it still looks great to my eyes. If I’m honest with myself, “track days” will be scarce if they occur at all. And if I’m honest with myself again, I could do a lot with the $10k I’d save compared to a new bike. Well, my wife and child could. Here’s my question: If I’m using the bike a lot for commuting, some sport riding on weekends and possibly an annual track day, am I going to miss the ride-by-wire (what is that anyway?), ride modes, traction control, ABS, and all the other stuff an Aprilia RSV4 has?

Power Ranger

Dear PR,

Unless you ride on the street the way people ride on the racetrack, i.e., trying for maximum drive out of every corner by getting hard on the gas with the bike still leaned pretty far over, I really don’t think you’ll miss traction control so much – especially since that old 954 is probably only making 120-or so horsepower to a new Aprilia’s 175-some. The big caveat there is, unless you live in Seattle or someplace where it rains all the time. If that’s the case, you’ll want ABS even more than TC. You can choose to modulate your throttle inputs in low-traction conditions, but you can’t modulate when somebody will turn left in front of you – the #1 motorcycle vs. car collision. In that situation, ABS can be a lifesaver and it’s up to you make that risk/reward calculation.

With carburetors and older fuel injection systems like your Honda’s, the throttle cables open the butterflies (or throttle plates) directly, which let air into your engine, and the computer figures out how much fuel to inject. On more modern ride-by-wire systems, the throttle cable is usually a wire from the throttle directly to the bike’s computer. Using input from all the other sensors, now including an Inertial Measurement Unit on many bikes, the computer decides how much power you really want and how much to open the butterflies. R-b-W makes it easier for the engineers to program in all the TC, anti-wheelie, ignition cut for the quickshifter, launch control, ride modes (maybe Rain, Road and Sport), and whatever else they dream up to make your life more seamless and safer.

You need this stuff to go fast now, but not really to just ride around.

If you’re going for minimum lap times and minimum risk, all that stuff is truly amazing and a huge boon to help those with less athletic ability (or judgment) ride faster and safer than they’d be able to on their own. If you were going Superbike racing, you wouldn’t stand a chance without it. For commuting and weekend sport riding, with a wife and child you’d like to return to, the vast majority of us just aren’t going to twist the throttle hard enough on the street to get much benefit out of it at all, again, unless you like to ride in the rain. Or on Montezuma Grade maybe…

The 954RR is a fine old machine, a great, comfortable and the most practical of the literbikes of its era, thanks to its light weight and nimble handling. You’d ride it happily ever after if you chose it – unless you rode the Aprilia, winner of our 2017 Superbike Shootout. A lot has changed in 15 years, and the only way to experience it, sadly, is on a liter-class sportbike built in the last few years. Sorry but it’s true.

Send your moto-related questions to If we can’t answer them, we’ll at least do no harm in the time it takes to seek out a believable answer.

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John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 64 comments
  • SpeedBeagle SpeedBeagle on Dec 30, 2017

    I always have to laugh a little when I read people's comments regarding this sort of topic. I'm a gen-X'er which may have some weight in the side I choose yet I find many people my age go the opposite way as well so maybe it's not a generational thing. There will always be people who appreciate old tech and I am one of them. I just don't understand why some people can't get past the numbers on a page and not think of a bike needing to be the absolute best or it's worth nothing. I liken this to the ownership of dogs. Some people love dogs so much they treat them like part of the family yet some people who also love dogs don't treat them well and keep them outdoors alone in kennels and just look at them as more of a tool than anything more than that.
    So when someone is open to potentially appreciating old tech for what it is why do these numbers people think that just because their latest and greatest can "run circles around it" that that has any weight from the OP'ers query? I think most people my age have a bike or ten that they wished they could have had new when they were younger and surprisingly, yes, they can still be fun by todays standards if your not worried about penis size and how the latest Aprilia specs compare. ABS, Traction Control are all fine and good, but it wasn't that long ago that we were having the discussion of why these things were even necessary to begin with - Band-aids for the user who probably shouldn't be operating that particular machine most likely. Those things were all done with great success for many years by hands and feet not computers. So my point is directed to some of the newer numbers people. Ask yourself if your buying a bike because it is what you need or because it's what will keep you up with Johnny who looks like he knows what he's doing because he has a new bike every summer? Instead of thinking of output numbers I think people ought to think more of riding skills and how you acquire those skills. I see a guy pushing an older bike through a corner I see a guy who really loves his bike and all it's flaws. Adopt an old bike and make it feel cool again.

  • Tiger800 Tiger800 on Dec 31, 2017

    Bought a 2012 tiger 800 xc that had abs only and loved it!!! Just bought a new one with ride by wire, all the traction control modes and now it is just annoying. Have to flip though 10 menus every time I ride ( or turn the bike off)