It turns out that middleweight sport bikes didn’t die. They just got boring.
To those of us bikers long in our years, one of the most glaring changes — besides the advent of 170-horsepower dirt bikes, electric scooters and the thankfully broadening appeal of biking to a wider audience — has been the demise of the middleweight supersports segment. Once a mainstay of motorcycling, 600s were, if not the ultimate in aspirational motorcycle, certainly the gateway to the 1000s that were. Motorcycle manufacturers spent oodles of time and money designing them, the young Rossis and Marquezs of the future racing them, and we punters, well, didn’t we lust after them? And now they are all but no more.
Lots of reasons have been proposed for their demise. Changing demographics (600s were the stepping stone for young bikers and we’re all old farts now), price (600s started costing almost as much as the 1000s that we were supposed to be stepping up to) and insurance issues (rising costs hurt the youngsters attracted to the segment than said old farts long since graduated to 1000s).
But really what killed them was boredom: We got bored with buying them and, even worse, manufacturers got bored of making them. Actually, that’s not quite true: What I should have said is that manufacturers got tired of engineering them.
Indeed, long before Honda announced the end of its CBR and Yamaha called it quits on the R6, I wrote a column predicting the demise of the middleweight sportster. To me, it seemed obvious that nobody cared about them anymore.
The most obvious signs came from the overhyped articles from the magazines of the time — Cycle World, or it could have just as well been Cycle Guide or Motorcyclist; they were all but interchangeable once Cycle died — lauding whatever the latest 600 was for its “must-have” revisions. Their messaging was always the same: “You need the new version of the Yamazuki 600 NOW,” when, in fact, the sum total of the year’s revisions was little more than one extra horsepower at 16 gillion rpm and maybe a whopping two kilograms off its curb weight.
Indeed, the cynicism that led to motorcycle journalists of the era encouraging someone to trade in their still-cutting-edge sport bike for advantages so piffling almost led people to stop reading bike magazines. In fact, development in the segment had become so thoroughly moribund that, by 2006, all four of the Japanese 600s had exactly the same (down to the tenth of a millimetre) bore and stroke — 67.0 mm by 42.5 mm. Yes, save for details like valve pockets and deck height, they were interchangeable. Hell, their piston rings might well have been fully swappable. Little wonder, then, that the segment languished.
But it appears it didn’t die. Besides the stalwarts still (barely) soldiering — Suzuki’s GSX-R600, Kawi 636 and MV’s screaming F3 — middleweight sportbikes are being reborn as cheap and cheerful parallel twins. Aprilia’s RS660 has a loyal following, Yamaha’s YZF-R7 is gorgeous and now, if Cycle World is to be believed, Honda will soon re-enter the fray with a CBR750R.
If Honda can get off its butt and actually build it — they can’t build a MotoGP bike to save their soul (or save Marc Marquez’s career) — I suspect its CB can be the bike that revives the segment.
First off, let’s understand that middleweights, before they became junior superbikes, were, first and foremost, affordable motorcycles. Bikes like the GPz600 and the FZR-600 took over from the KZs and the Secas of the era before and the most important thing about them is that they looked like a superbike but were affordable. Shortly thereafter, the CBR and GSX-R showed that affordability, on the right road, could keep with the faster 750s and 1000/1100s. It didn’t hurt that, for the large part, their brilliant engines were also unburstable.
All of which pretty much describes Honda’s CB750. I have not ridden the rumoured “R” version but, as a future issue will prove, I recently rode the Hornet version already available in Europe.
What an absolute treat! The 755-cc was gloriously revvy, elicited sporty, if not quite superbike, sounds, and it half-flew. To be sure, a high-jazz four would offer more of, well, everything. But I beat the little dear hard on some of the most challenging roads in the world and I was not left wanting. Indeed, when the editor finally gets around to publishing my most excellent piece, you’ll read that I ended my test by calling on Honda to create a CBR750R version.
Which, if Cycle World is to be believed, should happen pretty darned soon. According to the website, Honda has applied for a patent for a faired CB750 that very much looks like an “R” variant. There’s the requisite frame-mounted quarter fairing, lower clip-ons and ram-air airbox inlets that might elevate maximum beyond the Hornet’s 91-hp. Hopefully, to qualify for full CBR status, it’ll also gain more worthy suspension and tires, not to mention an even sportier exhaust.
Whatever the end product, my time on the Hornet told me that, if parallel twins be the middleweight sportster’s future, and they’re all as rorty as the Honda, we may well see a rebirth of the once-dominant sport bike segment. Maybe even a new class for racing. It certainly won’t be boring.