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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.