‘Superbikes’ Yesterday & Today

Superbikes. They stir us, impress us, even frighten us! They can move us like no other class of motorcycle, in my opinion. Because, quite simply…they are fast!

Benelli Sei 750 in-line six

Six cylinders, 750cc. And a quarter-mile somewhere in the mid 12’s. Top speed of about 125 miles per hour. Bikes of this era tended to be poor handlers, but this bike was quite agile, in the Italian tradition, and in fact was later enlarged to a 900cc motorcycle, with a stylish bikini fairing. Its years of production, 1972-1978 for the 750. The 900 production run was 1979-1989.

And, of course when talking six-cylinders, we cannot forget the Honda CBX. This motorcycle came out in 1978, and remained in production until 1982. It produced roughly 105 horsepower, and did the quarter mile in about 11.3 seconds at 118 miles-per-hour, and had a top speed of around 130 miles-per-hour. Although handling was considered somewhat suspect, most riders chose this motorcycle for its incredibly beautiful air-cooled, six cylinder motor. Of course, it didn’t come stock with those crash bars, but nonetheless a wise investment in order to protect those engine cases and cam covers!

Of course, there were many great superbikes during the “classic” period, or what used to be known as the age of the ‘UJM’, (Universal Japanese Motorcycle). Bike manufacturers were in a war for quickest quarter mile, and highest top speed. One motorcycle that epitomized that pursuit was the Yamaha XS 1100. In fact, as a play on words, one motorcycle mag dubbed it the “excess 11.” And why not? In a 1978 test by Cycle World Magazine, a stock XS1100 ran a quarter mile time of 11.78 @114.21 mph. And while the handling left much to be desired, this model represented Yamaha’s first 4-cylinder, 4-stroke motorcycle, which was a developed from the prior XS750 triple. The other interesting thing about the XS 1100 was that it came in a standard model, and what was then called the “special.” These “specials” were also manufactured for the XS 400 and 650, both of which were twin cylinder machines. The shattering of the 12 second 1/4 mile was a major accomplishment. But soon, manufacturers like Yamaha began to create more ‘stylized’ versions of their bikes. Yamaha had its ‘specials’, and Kawasaki had its LTD’s. Suzuki even got into the act with its ‘L’ models. These modified versions included sweep-back handle bars, white-letter tires, stepped seats; and in the case of Yamaha, gold-plated finishes.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I were not to mentioned the iconic Z1, from Kawasaki. The KZ900 and KZ1000 represented a bold move from Kawasaki, and was seen by many outsiders as a response to the release of Honda’s iconic CB750 in 1969. The 900 was one of the first Japanese models to eclipse 750cc, as it was release around 1972, or just three years after the Honda CB 750.

Of course, today we have an amazing variety of machines that we might refer to as ‘super’. The superbikes of today will rarely get out of sixth gear on a public highway. For example, there is the Kawasaki ZX-14 Ninja, a bike which is capable of speeds in excess of 180 mph. Some of the specs are as follows:

Top speed: 186 mph (299 km/h)Weight: 269 kg (593 lb) (wet)Bore / stroke: 84.0 mm × 65.0 mm (3.31 in × 2.56 in)Compression ratio: 12.0:1Fuel capacity: 22 L (4.8 imp gal; 5.8 US gal)Dimensions: L: 2,170 mm (85.4 in); W: 760 mm (29.9 in); H: 1,170 mm (46.1 in)Wheelbase: 1,480 mm (58.3 in)

Of course, the Suzuki Hayabusa has to be included in this list of modern superbikes. It was built in response to the Honda Blackbird, and was released in 1999. Having owned and ridden this bike, it is quite a handful to ride. And although plenty powerful, I found the engine to be buzzy, and the braking to be underpowered. It’s specs are listed below

  • Engine: DOHC inline-4.
  • Bore x stroke: 81 x 65mm.
  • Displacement: 1340cc.
  • Cooling: Liquid-cooled.
  • Compression ratio: 12.5:1.
  • Fueling system: EFI w/ Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve Ignition: Electronic, transistorized.
  • Lubrication: Wet sump.
  • Transmission: 6-speed.

So, what makes a bike worthy of being called ‘super’?

Top speed?

Handling?

Uniqueness?

Iconic appearance/reputation?

What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below:

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