The past few months of comparison testing the latest sportbikes on both street and racetrack have demonstrated just how far electronics have progressed in the past decade — in addition to how much they can influence your ride. Anti-lock braking systems are now standard equipment on a growing list of sportbikes, after previously only being found on big touring or sport-touring machines. Different engine mapping choices that dramatically change the character of its power are now available at the flip of a switch. And of course, the onslaught of traction control has made that somewhat controversial rider aid almost de rigueur if you expect your latest and greatest sportbike to have any sales appeal on the showroom floor.
But with sportbikes becoming more and more specialized with each passing year, I find that achieving an acceptable compromise in suspension settings between everyday street and aggressive canyon riding on many of today’s sportbikes is becoming increasingly difficult. When sportbikes were heavier and the suspension was less sophisticated, it was easier to find a common ground between superslab plush and canyon firm. But now with short wheelbases and ultra-sharp steering geometry combined with lighter components and suspension pieces that are becoming more and more sensitive to adjustments, the margin of compromise is either razor-thin or non-existent. You’re either pounded into submission after a 30-minute highway drone, or putting up with some unnecessary chassis pitch and wallow when the pace picks up in the twisties. Yes, you could just stop and make adjustments manually, but on many bikes, the rebound adjuster is in a difficult-to-reach spot — and forget about spring preload changes.
So we can change the character of the engine at the push of a button or flick of the switch…why not the suspension? Ducati has demonstrated just how easily that can be done with its Multistrada 1200S model’s Öhlins electronically adjustable suspension (yes, the BMW K1300S falls within this category too, but its suspension variations are nowhere near the sophistication of the Ducati’s Öhlins setup). The weight penalty with the added electronics and other components is in grams, not pounds, so it’s not like the additional weighty componentry of ABS.
Granted, the Ducati has an incredibly powerful Marelli ECU to handle the additional necessary memory capacity required by the electronic suspension. But for the Big Four Japanese manufacturers, it’s not as if the Japanese component manufacturers don’t have that capability (using the Marelli components on a production bike wouldn’t be feasible for cost — as in euro/yen exchange rate — or political reasons). Those same electronics manufacturers build highly sophisticated systems for the Japanese auto factories, so it’s not outside of their R&D reach.
And while we’re talking about easily adjustable suspension, what about the riding position as well? Why not have adjustable clip-on handlebar risers that allow you to raise or lower the bars? You could use a system that attaches to either the bottom or the top of the top triple clamp; something that could be done manually (no reason to design some sort of complex and heavy system that does it automatically). The same could be done for the footpegs; have the brackets adjustable like some already are now, but with a notched slot setup that allows quicker and easier changes.
The fairing windscreen wouldn’t be too difficult to change either. The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 has the right idea; a manually adjustable setup that changes the windscreen angle from sportbike tuck to sport-tourer upright.
Yes, there are plenty of bikes such as the Ninja 1000, soft-core sportbikes such as the Honda VFR or other sport-tourers that do a good job of bridging the gap between sportbike aggression and touring comfort. But there have been too many times when I’ve come across a great twisty road aboard one of these compromises in some distant location and wished that I were aboard a real sportbike. But the chances of me being able to endure riding a conventional hard-core sportbike’s riding position for that long to get there would be between slim and none.
With the median age of sportbike buyers continually rising, there’s an increasingly large market out there for a sportbike that can do it all, without the compromises that come with all the machinery currently available from the manufacturers. SR