What is a sport bike? The motorcycle industry has a long and rich history of over a hundred years. What started as a “riding car” in Germany quickly became an essential vehicle of the modern age. Today, motorcycles are built by manufacturers from around the world, with over 50 million units sold annually.
Motorsports quickly grew in popularity, forming a new marketplace for sportbikes. With a focus on acceleration, top speed, and cornering, sportbikes are the fastest type of road-legal motorcycles. To better understand what a motorbike is, we are going to review its history and design philosophy. In the latter segment, we will also cover the most iconic models and their characteristics.
What Is a Sport Bike?
Sport motorcycles originated in Japan and were a relatively late entry to the North American motorcycle market. In fact, the sport bike industry is still mostly dominated by major Japanese brands like Kawasaki® and Yamaha®.
Compared to other motorcycle styles, sport bikes are designed almost purely with performance in mind. These bikes usually combine a powerful engine with a lightweight frame to provide ultimate speed, power and performance. The design of the bike also encourages a more aggressive riding style and allows for much tighter turning and more nimble handling than most other bikes.
The history of sportbikes is closely intertwined with motorbike racing. The most iconic race was the Tourist Trophy held on the Isle of Man, which began in 1906. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that sportbikes appeared in a significant volume.
British models were gaining traction on the American market, but in 1953 Harley-Davidson released its legendary K-Model. The Harley 45 flathead has been used as a basis, retaining the displacement of 45 cubic inches. In an effort to reduce weight, aluminum cylinder heads and unitized cases were introduced.
It was succeeded in 1957 by the Harley-Davidson Sportster; an iconic bike still produced to this day. It cannot be considered a sportbike by modern standards, but when it first came out, it dominated the roads. Initially, it was powered by a four-stroke V-twin engine with a displacement of 45 cubic inches, which has been upgraded extensively throughout the production years.
In 1959, Honda released the CB92 Benly Super Sport, a model set on creating the sensation of thrill and speed for its rider. It was powered by a straight-twin or parallel-twin, four-stroke engine with a dual-valve system.
The Honda CB750 is universally regarded as the model responsible for the revolution in the sportbike industry. The transverse straight-four, single overhead camshaft engine, and front disc brake were a novelty on a bike that cost only $10,500; a figure derived after accounting for inflation.
Praised as one of the best bikes of its time, it could achieve a top speed of 120 miles per hour while providing an overall comfortable ride. The reintroduction of the four-cylinder engine contributed to Honda’s CB750’s title of the first superbike. Over the course of ten years, Honda sold over 400,000 units, solidifying the top position in the sportbike industry on the market.
Characteristics Of A Sportbike
Maneuverability and performance are the crucial aspects of sportbike design. Comfort takes a back seat in favor of function and aerodynamics, with the weight of the rider shifted forward and the legs positioned closer to the body. It provides the rider the required superior control and stability to handle cornering at incredible speed.
The design philosophy revolves around creating a complete motorbike around the most powerful engine possible. The braking system consists of multi-piston calipers, ventilated discs, and very durable brake pads. The advanced suspension absorbs bumps and imperfections without throwing the bike out of balance.
The frame design has to be as light as possible, typically made out of steel or aluminum. Higher-end models utilize titanium and carbon fiber to reduce the weight further. Tires need to endure high speeds, fast cornering, and provide grip at an angle, resulting in a distinctive design.
Sportbikes aren’t formally divided into classes, as there is no regulating body nor agreement among manufacturers. Horsepower, engine displacement, weight, and price are most commonly used to divide sport bikes into three categories:
- Lightweight or entry-level bikes have engine displacements of up to 31 cubic inches. Despite the smaller engines, sportbikes from this class achieve impressive performance.
- Middleweight or supersport bikes have a strong presence in American, British, and World Supersport Championships. Engine displacement ranges from 37 to 46 cubic inches.
- Hyperbikes, otherwise known as superbikes, are the pinnacle of bike engineering and technology. Their most prominent characteristics are the track-ready performance, the largest and most powerful engines, and the highest production costs.
Since the Honda CB750, sportbike manufacture has increased dramatically in numbers. The rise in popularity of the MotoGP championship and the increasing costs of owning an exciting car galvanized many enthusiasts into buying a sportbike. The prices start around $5,000, but can quickly escalate to over $25,000.
The most popular manufacturers are:
- Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki from Japan
- Ducati and Aprilia from Italy
- KTM from Austria
- BMW from Germany
Ducati Panigale V4 S continues the legacy of expertly crafted, beautiful sportbikes from the Italian manufacturer. The V4 delivers 211 horsepower and can reach a top speed of 200 miles per hour. The price of $28,395 is certainly not modest, but the feeling you will get from riding the Panigale is worth every cent.
The Aprilia RS660 is a middleweight twin with an engine displacement of 40 cubic inches producing 100 horsepower. It handles brilliantly in the corners, but also has the ergonomics for a comfortable ride. The RS660 will set you back $11,300 in its base configuration.
The Suzuki GSX-R 600 is one of the most popular sportbikes of the modern era. A four-cylinder 16-valve inline engine outputs 104 horsepower. The price tag of $11,599 is more than reasonable for a bike of this caliber.
The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 SX is a two-seater with sport touring capabilities added on top of impressive performance. The massive 64 cubic-inch engine provides 142 horsepower to go as fast as 155 miles per hour. The price starts at $12,399.
The Yamaha YZF R1 is upgraded and developed continuously, resulting in a successful production run of over 20 years. The engine displacement of 61 cubic inches and 200 horsepower creates a formidable top speed of over 180 miles per hour. Price of $17,399 makes it a premium sportbike.
The Honda CBR250RR is proof you can have a lot of fun without deep pockets. A twin-cylinder engine with a displacement of 15 cubic inches produces 40 horsepower, which is more than enough considering the lightweight construction.
Sport Bike Specs and Features
Sport bikes are available with a wide range of engine sizes. At the lower end of the range are bikes with a smaller 300 to 400cc engine, while the higher end bikes can have engines up to 1,000cc. These more powerful sport bikes are mostly designed for racing or track riding and require an extremely experienced rider in order to handle all of that speed and power.
For this reason, most sport bikes you’ll find for sale tend to be around the 600 to 650cc range. These mid-range sport bikes still provide plenty of speed, but are easier to handle.
Sport motorcycles are all about going fast. As a result, the design usually focuses much more on safety and performance than it does on comfort or convenience. High-performance suspension systems, powerful brakes and quick acceleration are some of the things that set sport bikes apart.
Many higher-end sport bikes also feature numerous safety features like anti-lock brakes and traction control. Still, what you won’t find is much of anything in terms of comfort.
Advantages and Drawbacks of Sport Motorcycles
Generally speaking, sport bikes are usually only recommended for more experienced riders. Their lightning-quick acceleration, extreme speeds and incredibly responsive handling allow for amazing performance, but these same factors can also make them extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
In fact, many sport bikes can easily exceed most speed limits while still in first or second gear.
One thing that you should definitely know about sport bikes is that they are not designed for long trips. The aggressive riding posture means that they tend to be uncomfortable to ride for longer periods. Still, most people who buy sport bikes do so because of the speed and performance, not because they plan on riding cross country.
There is no doubt that sport bikes can be a fantastic choice for anyone looking for an exhilarating, high-speed thrill ride. In fact, no other type of motorcycle can even begin to compete with a sport bike in terms of pure power and performance.
For more information on sport bikes, contact Virgil Naff’s. We are located in Lynchburg, Virginia, and also serve Roanoke and Charlottesville.
What is the difference between normal bike and sports bike?
A street bike typically will have minimal to no fairings, while a sportbike will have a full-frontal fairing with a functional windshield. Another significant difference is that most passenger seats on a sportbike, also known as pillion seats, are just decorative and often not suitable to carry a passenger.
What makes a bike a sport bike?
High-performance suspension systems, powerful brakes and quick acceleration are some of the things that set sport bikes apart. Many higher-end sport bikes also feature numerous safety features like anti-lock brakes and traction control. Still, what you won’t find is much of anything in terms of comfort.
Are sport bikes hard to ride?
Unlike cruisers, sport bikes are made for rapid acceleration. They’re fun and exciting to drive, but they can also be challenging to ride at first. To make sure you stay safe, comfortable and in control, here’s a list of everything you need to get started, from sport bike wheel accessories to protective gear.
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