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Two-Wheel Ride

New Sportbikes Replicate Racing's Adrenaline Rush


This was the season when sportbikes got even racier.

Power got boosted, frames got lighter, and bikes were more oriented to such race-like tasks as taking a corner at screaming speeds.

"It's kind of a return to the old adage in the motorcycle industry, 'Win a race on Sunday, sell a bike on Monday,' " said veteran analyst Don Brown. That was the situation in the 1960s and '70s, when Japanese and English sportbikes were all the rage and Harley-Davidson was on the verge of bankruptcy.

But eventually, as motorcyclists aged, the more laid-back cruisers made by Harley became the dominant force in the U.S. market. Racing almost disappeared in this country except for local events, and those international races that did take place here were often televised live to Europe but not at all domestically.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 24, 2000 Home Edition Business Part C Page 3 Financial Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Highway 1--A story in Wednesday's Highway 1 section incorrectly identified the maker of the Bandit model motorcycles. Suzuki is the correct manufacturer.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 30, 2000 Home Edition Highway 1 Part G Page 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Bandit motorcycles--A story in the Aug. 23 Highway 1 section incorrectly identified the maker of the Bandit line of motorcycles. Suzuki is the correct manufacturer.

Now there is evidence that a younger set is getting involved in motorcycling.

"I think cable TV has a lot to do with it," said Brown, an independent industry analyst based in Irvine. "You can see Superbike races on cable all the time. You are beginning to get cult heroes among the riders, like Kenny Roberts and Anthony Gobert. They're becoming personalities.

"It has had an influence."

"Sportbike" is a general term applied to a range of motorcycles, including the user-friendly standard type that offers a more upright stance instead of a racing crouch. But the latest tendency has been toward race replicas.

"These bikes harden the edges, so to speak," Brown said. "They aren't so much about ease of use or comfort. They aren't so much about riding in the real world."

The push for more and more sophisticated race replicas is also coming from motorcycle enthusiast magazines whose articles are often penned by amateur racers or former pros. Indeed, these magazines often do their evaluation tests on actual racetracks.


Nevertheless, there are numerous sportbike models that are plenty sporty but more grounded in everyday riding. Honda has its CBR600F4 and Interceptor VFR800FI; Kawasaki offers its Bandit motorcycles in two sizes; Ducati has its Monster line geared toward city riding; Suzuki sells its popular SV650 twin; and BMW has among its offerings an expensive and powerful sport-touring bike, the R 1100 S.

But for riders who want to get more radical and make like their racing heroes--if only they would also dress like racers in proper gear, instead of the T-shirts and sneakers seen all too often on the freeways--there were three big debuts this year.

With the help of motojournalists Eric Putter and Marry Sorensen, we put the hot new sportbikes of 2000 through their paces, side by side by side:


Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R: Not surprisingly, given the history of the company, this bike absolutely excels in its engine. Although I love the 600-cubic-centimeter class, I've never before felt that any of these bikes had impressive torque--the force you feel when you twist the throttle and feel a surge of acceleration.

But the $8,099 ZX-6R has got it in spades, and its power remains smooth and steady as you move up through the gears and the power band. It's the kind of heft that not only provides a smooth, confidence-inspiring ride but can also help you get out of--or into--trouble.

The bike also corners quite well, but it is successful to a far lesser degree in one area, at least for me. Although several reviews have mentioned that the 6R features an acceptably comfortable riding stance, I found that my 5-foot-11 frame started to feel quite cramped, especially in the crotch, after 100 or so miles. I felt I was being pushed forward and into the tank.

*Suzuki GSX-R750: This impressive machine was built to do one thing and do it extremely well--corner.

The newest entry in the GSXer line was an absolute joy to watch when a rider as accomplished as Eric Putter moved it through its paces on a mountain road. He would find a line and then appear to gracefully throw the bike right into a lean that took the curve like butter.

If you are up to his level, this is a fantastic bike. The rest of us mortals will find the $9,399 GSX-R750 a tad intimidating and very much uncomfortable, even on short rides.

"A torture rack" is how Marry Sorensen described its tuck seating position, and I certainly agreed.

The GSX-R750 is a specialty bike, with fantastic suspension and power, all geared to hitting those corners.


Honda CBR929RR: For power, great cornering and reasonable comfort as long as you are not on a long trip, this is the bike of the three we reviewed that comes closest to being a good all-rounder.

Amazingly, for all its power and stability, the 929 doesn't weigh all that much more than its smaller cousin, the CBR600F4.

I found it to be a bit of overkill for the kind of riding I normally do. But the 929--the most expensive of the three bikes at $9,999--inspired confidence and dispelled intimidation. It would be a great bike to grow into.

Some might find Hondas a bit on the boring side because they tend not to have that hard racing-type edge. But I think the rock-solid feeling you get from the bike is a tribute to its engineers and designers.

I can get my thrills by watching and marveling at the racers. When it comes to my own riding, I like a feel of solidness and a lack of quirks. The 929 is that kind of accomplishment.


Two-Wheel Ride surveys the motorcycle scene in Southern California. Times staff writer


David Colker can be reached at

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