It’s back to the future as power-to-weight ratio is again a marketable term.
The pointy end of the stick is getting sharpened again. In this issue you will read of Honda’s new superbike, the CBR1000RR. With this offering from Honda and another from Suzuki in the all-new GSX-R1000 that we will hear about in an upcoming issue, all of the Japanese manufacturers have within the last year launched a new litre-class sportbike. We might not be as wrapped up in the litre-class here in North America as they are in other parts of the world but, not so long ago, we were. Sales in this segment plummeted during the economic crash of a decade ago. Add the cost of insuring a high-end sportbike, and an aging demographic, and the target market gets pretty slim.
Back when Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki were battling for inline four supremacy and before BMW seemingly appeared from nowhere with the unstoppable S1000RR, items like power-to-weight ratios, incremental weight loss followed by incremental power increases were the mantra of sportbike marketing.
In the last 10 years a couple of the brands had let their 1000s become a little soft. Not soft in the sense they were pudgy and slow but soft in that they weren’t as punishing to ride as they had been—practicality over track pugnacity.
Nobody ever claimed these machines were good street bikes as their very purpose precluded them from being so. But taking the edge off was giving some of them a little more everyday livability. But softer doesn’t get you bragging rights.
Honda and Suzuki believe—as they should—that their new litre bikes are seismic upgrades from the ones that came before (albeit the number of riders with the skill to fully appreciate the seismic upgrade would be smaller now than a mid-2000s CBR600R weight loss). For starters the new standard seems to be right around the 200-horsepower mark. If you aren’t in that league you aren’t really playing.
The numbers are huge but the real standard being set is the power of the CPUs required to effectively put that horsepower on the ground through one wheel.
In some regards this advance in computer technology is far more impressive than gains in horsepower. We have always been gaining horsepower but we have never had this level of rider aids—be it traction control, wheelie control, inertial measurement units with five or six axis sensing, torque control, throttle by wire or riding modes with multiple settings. The list is long and it all makes plain old ABS look boring in comparison.
Now, all this rider assist technology can’t solve stupid but it can help you out often when you don’t even know it is. For all the edge they provide on the racetrack to eke out a tenth of a second faster lap time most of the features eventually (and even quickly) find their way to bikes that are much more accommodating street machines—all these manufacturers have naked bikes with more comfortable ergonomics and horsepower figures that would have seemed astounding 10 years ago. The technology doesn’t stop there but continues throughout a lineup. Where ABS was once rare it is now commonplace.
So that is the upside of this resurgence of the pointy stick for the 99 per cent of riders not looking to test the limits of computers and horsepower—though some will have purchased their bikes because of what “it” can do, not what “they” will do with it. This has been among the motives for buyers of internal combustion machines since the Model T.
Interestingly Ducati, long the purveyor of focused superbikes, recognized that softer can be better for some with the new SuperSport that offers that exotic Ducati feel without the hard edges that come with focus. Interesting, but don’t expect the Panigale to disappear from the radar.