For years we’ve been told that sportsbikes are in terminal decline – sales dwindled as thousands of riders ditched their pocket rockets and switched to the ubiquitous adventure bikes and nakeds. The Japanese manufacturers noticed this trend and concentrated their efforts on tapping into this lucrative market, turning their back on sportsbike development and giving their flagships minimal upgrades. Honda’s CBRs, Yamaha’s Rs, and Suzuki’s venerable GSX-Rs received minor tweaks, the factories content that there was nothing to challenge their hegemony – they didn’t need to be cutting edge because there was nobody to challenge their dominance.
But nobody told the Europeans this, and bikes like Aprilia’s brutal RSV4, BMW’s brilliant S1000RR and Ducati’s focused 1199 Panigale caught the Japanese with their pants down – these cutting edge bikes featured the latest in electronic rider aids and in one foul swoop made the Japanese offerings seem technologically-retarded and outdated.
Kawasaki was the first to respond, creating the effective Kawasaki ZX-10R – traction control, switchable power modes, sports ABS and ABS, LED bar graph display – Yamaha and Suzuki gave their flagships fresh paint and Honda gave their Blade a blueprinted engine.
But this year sees the Japanese fightback. Kawasaki have already unleashed their H2R on an unsuspecting public – a 296bhp, 998cc supercharged inline four in a green trellis frame, wrapped in a carbon fibre fairing with winglets and featuring traction control, launch control and ABS. Yamaha are set to unveil their all-new R1 next week at the EICMA in Milan. The bike is expected to ditch the crossplane crank technology and return to a conventional firing order. It will be available in two versions – a racing version rumoured to make 230hp with a revised traction control system and electronic suspension, and a standard version.
However, the biggest news coming from Japan is that Honda are set to unveil the road-going version of their RC213V MotoGP bike at EICMA. This V4 will be produced for a Honda assault on the WSBK championships and will feature a host of technology from the prototype racer. Expect it to produce 200+bhp and feature state-of-the-art suspension and electronics but no seamless gearbox.
The sportsbike is dead. Long live the sportsbike.