Performance Sportbikes - Lean Angle

The Next Big Thing

I'm feeling a bit uncomfortable about something. Buried within this issue's cover story ("The Un-Comparo," page 42) are no fewer than three instances where it is written that, basically, "you can't go wrong with any of these bikes," or words to that effect.

Years ago, that sort of thing didn't wash. Back when the performance and subjective differences between category-specific machines were veritable gulfs instead of today's razor-thin margins, such drivel was considered a cop-out, something for editors (or publishers) intent on pandering to advertisers, or those afraid to make waves. The functionally best motor-cycle was almost always obvious; magazines picked winners or risked losing credibility.

But today, with so much technological and performance parity within sportbike categories, this "everything's good, buy what suits you" sentiment rings far truer. It's the case with middleweights, as you'll see in our cover story, and it's certainly true with today's literbikes, which are so closely matched that when I asked Sport Rider's Andrew Trevitt which bike stood out for him during the magazine's recent open-class shootout, he said, "the one I was on at the time."

Functionalists love this. So many choices. But what if you're into styling, or uniqueness, or brand, or something really different? Sure, Ducatis, Aprilias, Moto Guzzis and a host of European brands offer a radically different mix of looks, design and performance-as does Buell. But I keep wondering: With most manufacturers having settled on a basic sportbike orthodoxy-twins or fours, tube or spar frames, 17-inch wheels, inverted front ends, etc.-what's performance motorcycling's Next Big Thing?

From what I'm hearing, we're about to see some examples in the coming year. Honda, for instance, after a few years of relative calmness on the new-bike front, has hinted that '07 is going to be a barn-burner. For anyone who's watched Big Red over the last 30-some years, it doesn't strain credulity to imagine some major developments emerging from its Asaka R&D; center. Are we talking a V5-powered sportbike? It's likely. But whether the engine powers a liter-class race-replica or an open-class VFR is still open to question.

There's big movement on the sporty V-twin front as well. Ducati showed its Hypermotard concept bike late last year and generated massive excitement worldwide, and announced as we went to press the bike woud be available in spring of 2007. There's also some rumbling about a larger-capacity Monster, likely in the 1200cc or larger range. Topping it all off is news from Alan Cathcart about KTM's wild-assed RC8 street superbike (shown here) making it stateside-and with a 1200cc Vee of its own. This news comes amid talk of World Superbike rules allowing 1200cc twins to compete in '08. (It's more a question of money than horsepower. To be truly competitive, Ducati SBK engines are good for only a few hundred kilometers before they need to be totally rebuilt, unlike the cheaper-to-run fours.) Regardless, more thunder (and midrange, and top-end, and rideability ... ) for sporting twins-especially the wildly styled ones from Europe-can only be a good thing for street riders.

Unlike the idea of comparison tests in which everyone wins, the bigger big-twin thing is something I'm totally comfortable with.