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History Of The Sportbike


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I was thinking the other day that while the basic formula for a Japanese race rep hasn't changed much over the past two decades, the functionality definitely has. So I tried to compile a list of the milestones to see what happened when and what importance it had.

 

Omitting the limited production CB1100R, the Suzuki GSX1100M Katana was arguably the most sporting motorcycle on sale in 1982,, the last year of the old style motorcycle that had been the norm for the past 3 decades. Sure, the Katana was a highly refined machine compared to a Triumph Bonneville from the 1950s, but it still retained the narrow wheels, simplistic suspension and steel tube frame from the past. Check the specifications for the 1982 Katana:

 

1.85x19 front and 2.15x17 rear wheels fitted with tube type tyres sized 3.50 and 4.50 in narrow.

254 kg / 560 lb wet

Twin rear shocks adjustable for preload and rebound damping

Wheelbase 1520 mm / 59.8 in

111 hp @ 8500 rpm from its air cooled engine

 

Then followed a hectic period with lots of development. In 1983, Suzuki came out with the first aluminium framed motorcycle in the shape of the RG250, Honda launched the first motorcycle designed to be superior in a street based racing class, Superbikes, in the form of the VF750F Intereceptor and a shift towards wider tyres and monoshock rear suspenion became apparent. One year later, Kawasaki got even more radical whith its first Ninja, the GPz900R, the raciest mass produced large capacity motorcycle to date. But the rear surprise came in the form of the GSX-R750 in 1985, to first proper Superbike-sized race replica for the street intended for the mass market. It was also uncompromising, offering very little comfort what with low clipons placed far ahead of the riders, a hard seat and high rearsets.This is the specifications:

 

2.75x18 front and 3.50x18 rear rims fitted with 110/90 and 140/80 tyres in non-radial layout

201 kg / 443 lb wet

Monoshock rear suspension the norm from now on

Aluminium frame

Wheelbase 1425 mm / 56.1 in

105 hp @ 10.500 from its air and oil cooled engine

 

Radial tyres began dripping onto production motorcycles by 1984, at first as rear tyres only, but it would still be a couple of years until they became normal fitment.

 

In 1986, Honda proved you could have your cake and eat it too with the new Interceptor, the VFR750F. Although quite a bit heavier than the Suzuki Gixxer, it handled better and offered sports-touring comfort as well. But the next big step towards advanced race reps, again ignoring the limited production RC30 VFR750R, was the 1990 Suzuki Gixxer 750. At least as uncomfy as the original Gixxer as a streetbike, it incorporated a lot of what is still standard today on race reps. In most respects, the 1990 Gixxer is quite similar to a modern type race rep at a superficial glance:3.50x17 front and 5.00x17 rear wheels with radial 120/70 and 170/60 tyres

234 kg / 515 lb wet

Aluminium frame

USD front fork, standard issue from now on, adustable for rebound

Wheelbase 1415 mm / 55.7 in

112 hp @ 11000 rpm

 

As we can see, weight had gone up again, proof that the original Gixxer was too light and suffered from it in terms of stability issues. But it wasn't long until light weight again came in vogue; the 1992 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade showed that you could make a light bike that handled, despite a strange and realtively short-lived return to a 16in front wheel. It was also much more compact than the typical race rep before it, and also reasonably comfortable. Fireblade specs:

 

3.50x16 front and 5.50x17 rear with radial 130/70 front and 180/55 rear tyres

205 kg / 452 lb wet

Wheelbase 1405 mm / 55.3 in

120 hp @ 10500 rpm

 

Now we move forward to 1996 and the first of the new generation of Gixxers. My guess is that this bike is still better than anything but modern race reps, in that I suspect it will lap around a race track faster than a current Ninja 1400 or Hayabusa, for instance, not to mention bikes like the FZ8 and GSR750. I would risk the statement that the majority of the improvements made since the '96 Gixxers stems mainly from advanced electronics, although of course brakes and suspension have also continued to evolve. What use those mechanical improvements can do for 99% of the riders can be debated, but the latest advances in traction control and torque smoothing fly-by-wire throttle control really do help Plain Joe and Jane, no question about it. So am I right in saying that the past 15 years have been primarily the advancement of the electronics, whereas the basic technology have stayed more or less the same? These are the specifications for the 1996 Gixxer compared to the new ZX-10R Ninja:

 

Suzuki / Kawasaki

 

Wet weight: 451 lb / 439 lb

Wheelbase: 55.0 / 56.4 in

Rake/trail: 24.0/3.8 - 25.0/4.3

Fork size: 43 mm / 43 mm

Front wheel travel: 4.7 / 4.7 in

Adjustments: compression/rebound/preload for both

Rear wheel travel: 5.2 in / 4.9 in

Adjustments: compression/rebound/preload for both

Tyres: 120/70-17 front and 190/50-17 rear - 120/70-17 front and 190/55-17 rear

Rear wheel hp: 116 @ 12000 rpm / 165 @ 11800 rpm

Engine capacity: 749cc / 998 cc

Specific power: 155 / 165 hp /litre

Acceleration: 10.6 @ 133 mph - 9.7 @ 150 mph

Fuel consumption: 37 mpg / 38 mpg

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Great post Eirik, it took me straight down memory lane. I was in high school when Kawasaki came out with the GPz900R and that's where I fell in love with sportbikes (it had been dirt bikes before that). And I had an 88 GSX-R750 which was not far removed from the 85 you mentioned. Sadly I did very little riding from the early 90's to the mid 2000s so I cannot answer your question however I am interested in hearing what every one else has to say.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Nice read!

 

As for (MOSTLY)non electronic riding tech :

 

Ducati is coming out with a carbon monoque frame for bikes (current GP bike is carbon frame?)

 

the current Yamaha R1 has a cross plane crank

 

BMW has the adaptive headlight tech and tele-lever tech (natural anti-dive effect under hard braking)

 

Aftermarket Road grade carbon rims and carbon ceramic discs for the 1000RR

 

multi-compound rubbers ( BT016 )

 

D3o and poronXD materials for leather suits and such

 

VYRUS 987 hub steering tech and turbocharged engines

 

WP/Ohlins OTF electronically adustable suspension

 

 

 

 

IMHO the S100RR with its full array of electronic add-ons is a dream come true for the newbie and hardcore rider for 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMHO the S100RR with its full array of electronic add-ons is a dream come true for the newbie and hardcore rider for 2010

 

 

I completely agree with you on this. I found the adaptability of the S1000RR to be amazing. As a track noob I was a bit apprehensive about jumping on a 193bhp literbike but I was very comfortable starting in rain mode and even after upping it into sport mode I still felt it was very manageable (I have to wonder what it feels like with the TC off though :o) . I've been tempted to trade in my K12R on one but I'm not sure how comfortable it would be for all all day rides :D.

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IMHO the S100RR with its full array of electronic add-ons is a dream come true for the newbie and hardcore rider for 2010

 

 

I completely agree with you on this. I found the adaptability of the S1000RR to be amazing. As a track noob I was a bit apprehensive about jumping on a 193bhp literbike but I was very comfortable starting in rain mode and even after upping it into sport mode I still felt it was very manageable (I have to wonder what it feels like with the TC off though :o) . I've been tempted to trade in my K12R on one but I'm not sure how comfortable it would be for all all day rides :D.

 

If its cheaper to rent one , i'll gladly keep my daily commuter which my fatass is comfy with :D

 

 

 

 

 

As for rider position, i look forward to the day where sportbikes can have electronically adjustable seats ALA some high end cars.

 

 

 

 

One can hope right? ^^

 

 

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