Everyone’s been harping on about the death of sportbikes for so long that it’s become accepted wisdom: No one—especially “the youths”—wants uncomfortable, single-minded sportbikes anymore. Well, everyone must be wrong (thank goodness).
When we look at dwindling sportbike sales, we have to look at what’s available at dealerships. Sportbike riders like progress. If a model is lingering on the showroom floor, is it because it’s in the seventh year of production? No one wants that. Supersport machines aren’t irrelevant; it’s just that there’s nothing totally new or exciting out there. Until now(-ish).
At EICMA, the most exciting machines were sportbikes. Surprisingly. And there weren’t just a couple of them. It’s clear the OEMs are finding new ways to make sportbikes exciting without watering down their raison d’être. Clip-ons, ultimate performance, and full fairings remain. Dime-a-dozen inline-fours and the characterless pursuit of speed are on the way out.
Sportbikes still represent the frontier of technological progress. Designers and engineers rely on the sportbike form to experiment with big ideas and new ways forward. And many riders will respond with enthusiasm.
If you build it, they will come.
We’re disappointed we didn’t see a new Suzuki Hayabusa or a V-4 Honda superbike, but EICMA 2018 was still the year of the sportbike. Here, we take a look at the most intriguing and exciting machines on display—from innovative concepts, to small-batch kit bikes, and ready to-go production models.
2019 BMW S1000RR
We’ve been anticipating the new S1000RR for some time. Even before its official debut at EICMA, the webs were full of spy shots and design patents. Now that the Germans have taken the wraps off, we can say with some confidence that this thing is going to be awesome. It has 204-hp at the crank and 83 pound-feet of torque all in a 434-pound package (wet). That’s 25 pounds less (at the curb) than the outgoing model. Naturally, there’s a full suite of electronics managed by the six-axis IMU. When the S1000RR debuted in 2009 it crushed the competition. That may be more difficult to do now, but the Bavarian inline-four still means business.
2019 Ducati Panigale V4 R
Homologation-spec Ducatis are always worth getting excited about, but the 2019 Panigale V4 R feels like the denouement of season one of the V4 story. Most of us figured the 998cc R version would put up similar numbers to the 1,103cc road-going model, not exceed it. But that’s not the Ducati way. The V4 R pumps out 221 hp with the stock cans, or 234 hp when fitted with “track-only” Akrapovics. And it’s 4 pounds lighter than the V4 S with a 379-pound claimed dry weight. And it redlines at 16,500 rpm. And it has MotoGP circa 2016 winglets. And track-inspired bodywork, adjustable swingarm pivot, the list goes on.
Even Taiwanese scooter maker Kymco got in on the sportbike action. The Kymco SuperNEX is an electric supersport concept the company claims can go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, all the way up to 155 in 10.9 seconds. Okay, so it has a super-cheesy “Active Acoustics Motor” (read: a speaker) that plays a fake engine soundtrack, and there’s an unnecessary six-speed “transmission,” but we like that Kymco is dreaming bigger than budget scooters. Who knows if this thing will ever make it to market (or if there’s even a working prototype—the promo video shows only a computer-generated version in motion), but Kymco is savvy enough to know that as far as halo models go, nothing beats a sportbike.
Aprilia RS 660
Aprilia’s RS 660 is one of the most exciting concepts displayed at Milan, and proves that supersports can be just as exciting as anything with a 1,000 (or more) cc. The 660 RS is powered by a parallel-twin engine based on the current RSV4 platform. Other than missing the rear bank of cylinders, details are scant re: firing order, counterbalancer, etc. The concept teases some version of a future production middleweight, but it also gives the Noale factory a chance to display new thinking in terms of aerodynamics. Aprilia Active Aerodynamics (A3), from the sound of it, represents a new frontier for motorcycles. Even without such trickery, this concept’s got legs.
2019 Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory
When Ducati unveiled the Panigale V4 with a too-big (for production racing) 1,103cc engine, it made comparing it with other literbikes a challenge. Ducati cheated. Aprilia strikes back, saying, “two can play at that game.” By increasing bore to 81mm, Aprilia boosted displacement to 1,078cc (the same as the Tuono 1100) for a claimed output of 217 hp to Ducati’s 214. To top it all off, Aprilia gave the Factory version MotoGP-inspired winglets. Game on.
MV Agusta Super Veloce Ottocento
We’re big fans of the Varese factory’s three-cylinder platform. Even though the 800cc triple isn’t the newest thing on the block, it’s still an enticing platform with room for development. The Super Veloce takes a great bike and wraps it in retro-futuristic bodywork that looks fresh and familiar. If it appeals to a new generation of would-be sportbike riders, we wouldn’t be surprised. Hopefully MV ditches that boomerang thing on the windscreen on the production model though.
Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 Aero
Once again, Husqvarna tempts us with an alluring concept. In 2016, Husky brought out the 401 Aero, and now further explores the design scheme with the 701 Aero. It doesn’t have any lights, and the lack of windscreen sways a bit too far toward form over function, but in general, the thing is a looker. Like the Vitpilen and Svartpilen production models, the Aero has a design language that transcends the conventional genres we’re used to seeing. Anything to reach a larger audience, right? Husqvarna has been flirting with this sportbike thing for a while. We think it’s time for Husky to pull the trigger. Or maybe wait to give us a sportbike with the Herculean motor from the KTM 1290 Super Duke R. Yes, do that. Please, do that.
While the world moves on from V-twin Ducati superbikes, Italian frame specialists Pierobon gives new life to the Superquadro, the last of the great Italian racing twin engines. The centerpiece of the X85R is the trellis and CNC frame, which replaces the monoscocca unit from the Panigale 1199/1299/899/959. Pierobon also offers a single- and double-sided swingarm, load-bearing aluminum tank, carbon-fiber bodywork with aerodynamic winglets, and a carbon-fiber intake system. The whole thing is enough to make any sportbike enthusiast swoon.
What’s your favorite sportbike at EICMA 2018? Comment below.