The big news in the sportbike world for 2017 was the introduction of not one, but two heavily revised iconic literbikes – the Honda CBR1000RR (and CBR1000RR SP) and Suzuki GSX-R1000R (and GSX-R1000). The previous versions of both models had languished for a number of years without any major updates, most notably in the electronics department, but also in the engine bay. Meanwhile, their competitors, both in Japan and abroad, had made significant gains with their flagship liter-class sportbikes, producing some of the fastest, most powerful, and advanced motorcycles we’ve ever piloted.
Hey, I’m sorry it’s always about me, but the 1990s really were: In the ’90s, I got a new wife, a new child, a condo, a new truck! And the motorcycle manufacturers pampered me (and all the rest of us tail-end Boomers) with a lot of great new jockey shorts-dropping sportbikes that many of us could actually afford to buy. Later, as Bill Murray famously said in Stripes, “reality set in.” But the ’90s were great while they lasted. These, listed chronologically, are the bikes we, the whole MO staff (even Troy, who was but a wee pup), remember most…
Twenty fifteen was a big year for sportbikes, with the new Yamaha R1 and a heavily revised BMW S1000RR and Aprilia RSV4 RF making their debuts – the two European weapons motoring their way to the Best Sportbike and runner-up awards, respectively, in last year’s Sportbike MOBOs. With the proverbial load being blown that year, there wasn’t much excitement in store for 2016, save for the new, heavily revised Kawasaki ZX-10R. The Green Machine is a good literbike, no doubt, but it still wasn’t a match for the year-old Aprilia RR (the “base” model RSV4) when we put the two $17,000 machines against each other.
It’s been a couple years since we posted our Top 10 Honda Sportbikes list. There always exists subjectivity in such a list, but since the Honda topic was generally well-received, revisiting the idea, this time showcasing Yamaha sportbikes, seemed apropos. Like the Honda list, we’re keeping this one limited to street-legal models available stateside (except one, sue us).
What is it about motorcycles that makes riders immediately want to modify their bikes? Sometimes, they don’t even make it out of the dealership before some of the OE parts have been replaced with “performance enhancing” upgrades. Back in the days when tires seemed to made out of stone, swapping out the stock rubber for something stickier truly was a way to earn street cred (assuming you scrubbed off the chicken strips) and improve the bike’s performance. Of course, this was during the Pleistocene epoch, when aluminum was considered an exotic material, and swapping out steel parts was another easy path to a sportier motorcycle.
The Honda NSR250R and Suzuki RGV250 changed the sportbike landscape all over the world – except in the USA where they sadly weren’t available due to emissions regulations. Hugely popular in Australia, Asia, Europe and the UK, these powerful two-strokes were the last of the original racer-replica era. While the rest of the world spent Sunday mornings screaming up and down local hills in two-stroke bliss, American guys and girls enjoyed four-stroke sensibility. What a shame.
Riding a 250cc motorcycle on open roads can sometimes be depressing, as YouTuber 2WheelAssault can attest to. Every rider wants to wick it up a little when open stretches of tarmac present themselves, and 250 riders can find themselves wringing their bike’s necks only to look down and see 80 mph on the speedo. If you’re like 2WheelAssault and find yourself on a Honda Rebel 250 then the circumstances get even worse, as you’ll be lucky to even see 80 mph. Meanwhile, those around you on sportbikes (and nearly everything else) will come blazing past.
In honor of it being 30 years since Suzuki’s first GSX-R750 came to America, we hereby present what I’m pretty sure is the rarest of them all, the bike that proudly wore two “R”s before others had even one, the super-rare race-homologation special 1989 GSX-R750RR – also reverentially known as “RK” among the few collectors who know this bike exists.
We live in an age of specialization and performance. A few words written by one of MO’s finest the other day drove this home to me. He had muttered those magic words: “200 miles per hour.” That is a very impressive number indeed. There was a time when topping a “Ton” (100 mph) was the magic number to the porridge pot helmet crowd on their British cafe racers, today we can kick around the notion of 200 mph without being regarded as completely daft.*
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.
This is a difficult position to be in for both me and Honda. We’ve a superbike shootout pitting the CBR1000RR SP against the likes of newer, technological-laden weapons from Aprilia, BMW, Ducati, Kawasaki and Yamaha, where the CBR is predisposed not to win that competition. But yet I’m about to give the bike a fairly glowing review with an individual score that may be higher than its shootout score.
From the title alone, there’s a good chance new riders are intently combing through each word of this shootout. The beginner bike market is one the manufacturers value dearly, and for decades Kawasaki has owned this corner of the market with its EX/ Ninja 250, and now the current Ninja 300. Honda finally followed suit in 2010, introducing the CBR250R as a 2011 model, and later, in 2014, the CBR300R as a 2015. Now the floodgates have opened, as both KTM and Yamaha have launched their own small-displacement sportbikes – the RC390 and YZF-R3, respectively – to try to grab a slice of that pie. If it weren’t for the crop of highly advanced literbikes coming out this year, a strong argument could be made for 2015 being the year of the entry-level sportbike.