Trizzle's Take – Sportbikes Are Terrible

Troy Siahaan
by Troy Siahaan

A case of wants versus needs

Flame on me all you want for the click-baity title, but hear me out. Earlier this week I saw a rider coming in my direction from the opposite side of traffic. As he passed, I noticed he was aboard a brand new Yamaha R1. He seemed content as he went by, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he made the right choice for his needs. As it turned out, I saw him again the following day, turning right onto another street, twisting the grip and letting the crossplane crank sing a little before shifting. While I didn’t see his face, I’m sure he cracked at least a passing grin afterward.

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I had the same reaction when I turned onto the same road a few weeks earlier on the R1 during our 2015 Superbike Street Test. Not long afterwards, however, I couldn’t help but have the opposite reaction when I realized just how racer-centric the Yam’s ergos are. The bars are low, pegs kinda high, and it played havoc on my wrists and lower back only two miles into my first time riding it on the street – and I still had 38 more miles to go! We’ve gone on and on about the ergos of the six different literbikes we sampled recently, but you know what? Even though I voted the BMW S1000RR the best streetable superbike around, honestly, I wouldn’t pick any sportbike as my primary streetbike.

I’d love to own the new R1, but not if it was my only motorcycle.

It’s been said for a while now, and our latest test really brought this point to light: if you’re one of the roughly 98% of people who buy a contemporary sportbike – any of them – and ride it solely on the street, if you ask me, you bought the wrong bike.

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Don’t get me wrong; sportbikes, no matter the displacement, are a riot in their intended environment – the racetrack. Going as fast as you possibly can, scraping a knee on the ground, and maybe even an elbow, passing and dicing as you go, is incredibly fun. Hell, it’s what got me hooked on the sport. But think about it: each of the six literbikes we recently tested has a more road-focused sibling – the Aprilia Tuono 1100, BMW S1000R, Ducati Monster 1200 (and formerly the Streetfighter 1098), Honda CB1000R, Kawasaki Ninja 1000 and Yamaha FZ1 (and FZ-09). Keep in mind this list doesn’t even include similar offerings from other manufacturers.

The reason these bikes exist is simple, and it all goes back to the title of this very piece: Sportbikes Are Terrible … on the street, anyway. What the Super Naked (that just sounds wrong)/Streetfighter class offers are killer engines, taut suspensions, great brakes and nearly the same electronics as full-fledged supersports, in an ergonomic package that won’t kill your wrists two miles into a 40-mile ride, and yet will still allow you to get your boogie on in the twisties and even the occasional trackday.

What’s not to love about the KTM Super Duke R? It’s shockingly powerful, blisteringly fast, and best of all, it’s all-day comfortable!

Maybe as I’m getting older I’m getting (ahem) wiser, but despite the enormous fun and affection I have for track-dominating motorcycles, the only way I’d fork over my own money for one is if I had something entirely more comfortable and practical to ride during the every day. In fact, recently a Suzuki Boulevard M50 cruiser was sharing space next to the Ducati 1299 Panigale S at my abode. Guess which one got more seat time. Hint: it wasn’t the red one.

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It wasn’t always this way, of course. After getting my motorcycle endorsement I went and bought a sportbike, ignorant to the more comfortable options I had at my disposal. Had the example above with the race replica and cruiser occurred a decade ago, I freely admit the Ducati would have been my go-to choice every time. Nothing else really mattered for me anyway. I was excited and had wrists that weren’t burdened by the rigors of typing behind a keyboard all the time. But this job has given me the benefit of sampling a variety of bikes from nearly all categories, and it’d be a shame if I didn’t pass on at least a little of what I’ve experienced to those who’ll rarely, if ever, see a racetrack, yet insist on buying a repli-racer.

Compared to supersports, the streetfighter category is filled with bikes I’d much rather ride to the track, do a trackday, then ride home.

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So there’s the cold, hard truth. I’d love to own a S1000RR, RSV4 RF, Ducati 1299 Panigale S, and even the new Yamaha R1 – but I’d personally only really enjoy it if I were wringing its neck trying to go as fast as I could around a track. But that doesn’t mean I want something boring on the street, either. My more sensible chariot of choice? Give me a KTM Super Duke R and a full tank of gas, and to me, I’ll have the best of both worlds.

Troy Siahaan
Troy Siahaan

Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.

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2 of 88 comments
  • DCGULL01 DCGULL01 on Sep 19, 2015

    Truer words have never been spoken. I had permission to acquire a Ducati Panigale 899 from the wife- and, was shocked at the 2 weeks of hospitalization required post test ride? Not only did I suffer burns and dehydration, I was in traction for over 7 days, trying to re-align my bones and release knotted muscles & tendons.

    However, I did not know the code when I got on it- it ws only after being discharged that I went back and re-read all of the glowing praise, where I found the notes about heat, rider triangle, etc...

    I wish that you could post the above as a sidebar for EVERY sportbike review, first ride, impressions and long term update- for those of us who might not know the code! It needs to be clear & direct, so, newbies and the uninitiated can understand why you shouldn't own one as a primary daily driver.

    Thanks for the honesty, it's about time. And, I didn't sense any grumbling, just genuine reflection.

  • QuestionMark QuestionMark on Oct 04, 2015

    For most people the author is correct but the whole category of Naked/Streetfighter bikes is a fairly slowing moving sales item.
    The Monster [I owned a 95 900cc new] and then the Speed Triple for Triumph invented the genre and they were hot items back then, both have slowed a lot in consumer interest. I'm buying a new bike soon and getting rid of my 09 BMW RT and my 14 yo Kawi ZRX1200R and I think the new BMW RS is the answer or the new XR. Not even looking at the super sports.
    I traded my Monster in 97 for a 916 and that was a bad idea. I rode the Monster from Santa Cruz to LA and back several times, no problem. I tried that just once on the 916 and I brought it home in a truck.