Back in the '80s, motorcycles had the technological advantage over automobiles. Not too many production automobiles had four valves per cylinder, or revved beyond 7000 rpm; meanwhile, a good majority of motorcycles (and nearly all sportbikes) had four valves per cylinder-some even had five-and bikes such as the Japanese domestic-market Honda CBR250RR revved to 17,000 rpm. The after-effect of the oil panics of the '70s was still stunting advances in the automotive performance sector, but with the Japanese bubble economy during the '80s making the domestic motorcycle manufacturers flush with cash, the pace of development in the two-wheeled sector was bouncing off the rev-limiter.
It's a different story these days. Performance automobiles have progressed a hundredfold since the '80s, and the majority of them now bristle with technology that puts even the most advanced motorcycle to shame. "Vehicle stability control" systems can sense what the driver is doing and intervene via brakes and engine detuning to make it nearly impossible to lose control in a corner. Many are equipped with headlights that will swivel into the direction of a turn. There are now systems that can keep the car in its lane if you drift outside the lines with the cruise control activated, or maintain a preset distance from the vehicle ahead of you-heck, one automobile will even parallel park the car for you!
Motorcycles are only now just beginning to enjoy some of the rapid technological development in performance that automobile drivers have already been playing with for years. For instance, even the most basic econo-box automobile has come standard with electronic fuel injection and ABS for decades. Traction control is now all the rage with sportbikes, but that feature has been a staple of automobile dynamic safety control systems for many years. Variable cam timing? Variable-length intakes? Ho hum...numerous production cars have been equipped with those setups since the '90s.
Of course, much of the lag time in advancement with motorcycles can be blamed on the size and weight restrictions to work with their much smaller build, as well as the entirely different and much more complicated handling dynamics of a motorcycle. But the fact remains that automobiles now have the technological edge.
So just how capable is this technology? BMW has already caused quite a stir with its new S 1000 RR superbike. Anyone not living in a cave, however, also knows that the company has been one of the world's premier automobile manufacturers-especially when it comes to performance-for quite some time. We decided to compare the technology in the company's sportiest two- and four-wheel products to get an idea of how much it has advanced the state of motoring performance.