1. Sweet 750
Yeah, we know it looks like some sort of quaint classic racer. But a quarter-century ago, this bike was as cool as the Millennium Falcon. It went like it too, at least in comparison with the rest of the “sportbike” options out there. Suzuki claimed over 100 horsepower at the wheel, but the horses weren’t as strong in the 1980s as they are these days (nobody really had dynos except the factories back then, so who was checking?).
The 1986 GSX-R750 was darned light (under 400 pounds) and had some sweet running gear: aluminum frame, ten-piston brake setup and adjustable suspension. It got us started down the proper superbike road as it became a legend in its own time.
2. Tread Softly
Like all the best ideas, this one is pretty obvious and very simple. Soft tires are sticky, but the centers wear out too fast for general street riding, making them all square and mostly horrible. The solution? Make the center of the tread out of harder rubber and keep the edges nice and soft. This way, when you’re upright on the freeway and don’t need massive cornering grip, you’re riding on tough-wearing rubber. Lean over into a bend and you get soft, grippy rubber—perfect.
Of course, it was a nightmare to get right. Bridgestone was the first to come out with the technology on its Battlax range, which dates back to the BT50 on the original Honda CBR900RR. But it was the BT56 in 1997 that really brought the tech. Nowadays, you can get up to five different layers of tread in a Bridgestone tire, giving even more grip and mileage.
3. Mr. Daytona
It’s a little-known fact that the US is actually the king of World Superbike racing. Yep, Old Glory has waved over no fewer than nine championship ceremonies with a spectacular six champions. This knocks the Old World into a cocked hat, even though England is next on the list with seven championships and three champs.
Nevertheless, guys like Fred Merkel, Doug Polen and Colin Edwards have shown the Euros what’s what on a variety of machinery. But it’s Scott Russell who was the stuff of true superbike mythology. He’d nursed his Kawasaki Ninja ZX-7RR to an incident-riddled 1993 WSB championship, which remains the sole Kawasaki title. But it was his 1995 win at the non- Daytona 200 that really nailed his reputation. Fast-but-dull Brit Carl Fogarty was at the beginning of his golden four-title WSB run on the Ducati 916. Many observers put that down to the built-in benefit that the (Italian-run) WSB series handed to the (Italian) Ducati and its near-liter capacity.
But nobody told Russell about the script and he put the Ninja on the top step of the podium. Despite crashing the Muzzy bike on the first lap he picked it up and beat the outspoken Fogarty to the finish line.
4. Wide As You Like
Sometimes, the school kid inside you is right. Loud pipes rule. Garish paint jobs rock. And as for back tires well, they should be wide, wide, wide.
Never mind the handling, nothing says “bad boy” quite like a super-wide back tire.
The mainstream has pretty much stopped at the 190-section on most sportbikes, with the occasional excursion into 200 territory (ZX-12R). Thank the lord then for the guys at Roaring Toyz who pioneered the 240, 300 and even 330mm-wide rear ends that have made so many sweet customs look properly bad-assed.
Sure, chromed out bling bikes with swingarm extensions have been around since the prefix “sport” was added to “bike,” but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that tuning shops started to beef up the backs. The trend began in “cornerless” Florida and has become as commonplace as a Harley rider smoking a cigar.
5. Different Strokes
Yes, we loved 500cc two-stroke MotoGP bikes too, but their days were always numbered due to pollution, and they sounded like a broken moped with the throttle stuck. Luckily, the four-stroke engines that replaced them in 2002 were produced by firms in their prime who had cash to burn. Honda came out with a V-5 while Suzuki made a V-4, and they both had pneumatic valves and crazy-assed technology all over. Capacity nearly doubled to 990cc, and power outputs hit 225 horsepower almost straight away. Open pipes and 17,500 RPM redlines made for an incredible aural spectacle and gave us some awesome racing.