The Throttle Stop – April 2024 – A Changing of the Guard

The Throttle Stop - April 2024: Suzuki GSX-8R

A change of guard is taking place in the sportbike community. The Suzuki GSX-R1000 platform was the first to doff its cap and exit stage left in 2022, bowing out in major European markets due to looming Euro 5 emissions compliance. While the GSX-R continues in select markets, including the United States, it marked a momentous moment for our industry and the superbike class. The mighty GSX-R, arguably one of the most essential superbike platforms in history, was brought to heel globally in the face of costly updates. Candlelight vigils seemed appropriate, and one can only hope that flip-flops were strung together and tossed up on power lines to mark a fallen friend. Sadly, we can add another name to that list—the Yamaha YZF-R1, though the Tuning Fork brand presents a silver lining to the cloud that Suzuki didn’t.

The Throttle Stop - April 2024 - Ducati Panigale

Yamaha has reaffirmed its commitment to racing, citing that the forthcoming 2025 YZF-R1 superbike will follow the same track-only pathway we witnessed for the YZF-R6 supersport machine. “From 2025, considering the challenge of meeting the Euro5+ homologation requirements in Europe, the R1 will be made available with specifications aimed exclusively at track use, as was done previously with the R6,” said the press release.

The aforementioned silver lining can be seen in a few forms. First, the YZF-R1 will continue to be produced and developed for racing, so the Japanese firm has not yet pulled the plug on superbike production. Further, the R1 will be fully supported by GYTR, Yamaha’s performance arm, allowing enthusiasts in European markets to purchase R1s for track use or racing. Street-legal versions are off the table when we opt for a new kitten calendar in December, folks. Moreover, the current YZF-R1 platform is homologated for WSBK through the 2028 season.

An important thing to note is that this press release applies to European markets and, ostensibly, markets with equally stringent emissions legislation. Representatives of Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA, assured me that the YZF-R1 will continue with street-legal status in the United States, at least through the 2025 model year. Admittedly, the question remains open-ended when asked about timeframes beyond that point in time, but we’ll be able to hear the R1s howling crossplane I4 shouting in the streets for a bit longer than our friends across the pond. Senior Editor’s note: The CP4 engine is easily the best-sounding I4 of all time, and anyone who disagrees is welcome to engage in fisticuffs with me.

The Throttle Stop - April 2024: Yamaha YZF-R6

So, how did we get here? The reasons are legion—my theory for dwindling sales points to the product itself. Superbikes, by definition, set the performance bar for the two-wheeled world. Following that logic, we can note that they’ve become outlandishly powerful and incredibly technologically advanced, which aligns with their racetrack-focused mission. Superbikes are the performance pinnacle, and the current crop starts at positively bonkers and grows from there. However, that insane experience comes at a high price, as dyno dominance is raised with each generation, as does the financial burden.

There are countless reasons we could point toward when explaining lower sales. My slapdash insights only skim the surface as to why, but the result is a class of machine isn’t selling at the rate it once did, not even close. So, with those realities facing manufacturers, the prospect of redeveloping superbikes to pass emissions standards and raise performance standards doesn’t appear to pan out on the spreadsheets. It’s a sad reality that I don’t want to accept, but I’m not signing the checks at Suzuki or Yamaha. Are these recent market exits the superbike’s death knell? Well, that’s probably a bit hasty. Several European manufacturers remain committed to the Superbike class, though we can only speculate how long that will last as more of the competition steps away.

A reset seems to be in the works. The middleweight sportbike segment is enjoying its time in the limelight, just as the middleweight naked class has basked in the sun for several seasons. Motorcycles that are more financially accessible and wield manageable performance speak to broader audiences. Are they as fast, tech-rich, or cut-throat as liter bikes? No, this new crop of bikes that includes motorcycles such as the Aprilia RS 660, Honda CBR650R, Kawasaki Ninja 650, Suzuki GSX-8R, Triumph Daytona 660, and Yamaha YZF-R7 are shifting the conversation back to performance on par with reality.

And while it’s a bittersweet moment when any esteemed namesake leaves us, alternatives await. These middleweight machines hold a promise for new riders moving up the ranks and experienced riders looking to downsize, as they are much more manageable machines. Speaking anecdotally, the sheer number of liter bikes sold in my immediate circle, only to be replaced with lightweight and middleweight track machines, is relatively astounding.

Does that leave a superbike void? Well, that depends on who you ask. Supersport Next Generation racing has genuine 600cc motorcycles challenging machines with displacements knocking on the liter-bike door. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see this class acting as the de facto superbike replacement by lowering outright performance but bringing much-needed accessibility. While there is nothing like a 200-horsepower superbike, you need to be running at the front of a World Superbike field to convince me you’re extracting everything from it. Meanwhile, a salty veteran can make those claims about a middleweight, and they’d carry some weight.

There is a changing of the guard. Perhaps it isn’t one we like, and the YZF-R1 pending departure from Europe is sorely disappointing. Some criminal optimists noticed that when a door closes, there’s always a window to break into; at least, that’s my butchered interpretation of that cheesy proverb. Sportbikes will always stick around in some capacity, and there will always be a segment of riders fixated on dragging their knees or racing.