Motorcycle: Sports Two Wheels - Superbikes
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 17:47:36 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
Superbikes are the rising force of bike racing. Visually similar to, and directly derived from, road-going machines, the big four-strokes are strictly limited in the modifications allowed. That often makes for close racing. In recent seasons, booming Ducati V-twins and screaming four-cylinder Japanese 750s, backed by the major factories and ridden by top riders such as Scott Russell and Carl Fogarty, have provided some memorable racing battles.
Superbike racing began in America, where the tradition of competing on modified streetbikes dates back to the 1970s. Then riders such as Reg Pridmore, Wes Cooley and Steve McLaughlin locked high handlebars on BMW flat-twins and 1000 cc fours from Suzuki and Kawasaki. In the early 1980s, rising stars Freddie Spencer (Honda) and Eddie Lawson (Kawasaki) clashed on big four-strokes before moving into Grands Prix. Fellow future 500cc world champions Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz also raced and won on superbikes. But in those days the class was a poor relation; the bikes disparagingly referred to as diesels by Grand Prix riders.
That attitude began to change in 1988, when the World Superbike Championship was established by McLaughlin, the former rider who earlier had been instrumental in starting the US series. Another flamboyant American, "Flyin' Fred" Merkel, won the first two titles on a factory-backed Honda RC30, and the roadster-based series was an immediate success. Italy's Ducati then took over—aided by rules allowing twins a capacity and weight advantage over fours-with championship victories for Frenchman Raymond Roche in 1990 and America's Doug Polen in 1991 and 1992.
The subsequent sales success of Ducati's red race-replica V-twins highlighted the commercial potential to be gained from Superbike success, and the factories stepped up their involvement. Scott Russell won on a lime-green works Kawasaki ZXR750 before Carl Fogarty regained the crown for Ducati in 1994. Honda joined in again, initially unsuccessfully, with the V-four RC45.
By 1995 Yamaha had boosted its presence with a full works team, and Bimota had also joined the fray. Suzuki, Aprilia and Cagiva — the latter having quit Grands Prix in favour of Superbikes — waited in the wings.
Superbike racing's high level of competition, relatively low cost and big influence on roadster sales had raised the possibility, unthinkable just a few years earlier, that the four-stroke class would replace Grands Prix as bike racing's star attraction.
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