The Most Exciting Form of Roadracing In The World
By Bill Dobbins
Watching a Formula I auto race, you might well not see a single pass for the lead during the entire event. In a Superbike race, you frequently see three passes for the lead in the same corner! These motorcycles weigh less than 400 pounds, and can cover the standing quarter mile in less than 9 seconds, thanks to a huge power-to-weight ratio. Sliding through corners, leaning over at impossible angles, banging knees and elbows at 160 MPH, with no "cage" around the riders to protect them, Superbikes can provide the most exciting form of roadracing in the world.
There are a number of different types and classes of motorcycle road racing. The two most prestigious are Superbikes and Grand Prix racing. Grand Prix bikes are super-exotic, two-stroke machines that bear almost no resemblance to anything you can buy at your local motorcycle dealer. Superbikes, on the other hand, have 4-stroke motors and are closely related to the motorcycles any of us can buy at our local dealers. In fact, there have been times that nearly stock, consumer-equipped Superbikes have been entered into competition - although not at the top levels of the sport - and done surprisingly well.
Amazingly, $10,000 spent at your local motorcycle dealer will buy you a bike that will easily blow away the hottest Corvette, Viper or even a Lamborghini at a stoplight. The fact that performance at this level is available to anyone with a few dollars, and the bike you can buy is so relatively close to the machines being raced on the track (at least compared to any other kind of exotic motor racing) has fueled a tremendous boom in sport bike sales around the world in the past decade.
The rules of Superbike racing allow for 4 cyclinder motors with a maximum displacement of 750 cc's and 2 cylinder machines that can displace 1000 cc's. Because the 4 cylinder motors have smaller pistons that travel shorter distances, they can rev much higher much more easily than motors with two heavier pistons, so they can generally generate more horsepower. That is why the "twins" are given a displacement advantage. However, the V-twin bike engines generate more torque, which tends to give them more immediate acceleration at a lower RPM. Ducati, with its V-twin 916 and 996 models have been so successful in Superbikes that other manufacturers have abandoned the 4 cyclinder engine in favor of the twin. Honda, for example, which formerly fielded the RC 45, with a 4-across engine, introduced their new RC-51 V-twin in 2000 and immediately started winning races and went on to win the 2000 World Superbike Championship.
However, the popularity of Superbikes may be in jeopardy as of 2002 when the rules of GP racing are scheduled to change. The new rules will allow the biggest of the three classes of GP bikes, which currently must be 2-stroke, 500 cc machines, to include 4-stroke bikes with 1000 cc motors. This rule change creates a kind of motorcycle that is very close to a Superbike, and because it is a 4-stroke can be used as a prototype for bikes that can be sold to consumers. There have already been reports of new motors of incredible power and sophistication that will be used in these new GP bikes. So you have to wonder if the major manufacturers are going to continue to support both Superbike and the more prestigious Grand Prix series. Even now, the sales of so-called "open class" bikes, bigger and faster than Superbikes, have been on the increase. As exotic and wonderful as the Ducati 996 might be, 4-cylinder bikes of around 1000 cc's or more - such as the Honda CBR 929, the Yamaha R-1 or the even more powerful Suzuki GSX-R1000 - give you a lot more bang for your buck when it comes to street riding and canyon carving than do Superbike motorcycles.
But until the GP series rule changes take effect and manufacturers begin producing consumer versions of these new machines, Superbikes remain one of the most competitive and most exiciting forms of road racing and one of the few in which you can act out your fantasies on affordable machines so very nearly like those of the top racers.
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