Have we reached the pinnacle of power? What do next-generation motorcycles hold in store?
Where is motorcycling heading? Today we have litre-class bikes delivering 200-PS like they were born to do it. Think about it! 200 PS from a 1,000-cc engine. That’s like 20 PS from a 100-cc engine, so to speak. We’ve already established that these bikes can shatter acceleration records and give many a hypercar a run for their money, and they can be fun on track. But, in the real world, where do the power-hungry stop?
Suppose Kawasaki slapped on some headlamps and indicators with more tread on the H2R’s tyres, would you buy a 326-PS bike for the street? The BMW Z4 35i has the same power and, in either form, 326 PS is still a lot! More so when the motorcycle weighs a fifth of the car. The Ninja H2R has a power-to-weight ratio of over 1,500 PS/tonne: that’s twice as much as the Pagani Zonda R, forget the BMW Z4. When the international journalist bunch rode the H2R on track, many of them admitted to being terrified, or used synonyms thereof. Yes, it’s fast, it’s quick and it’s agile. But then what?
The Hayabusa. An icon of the motorcycling world it is indeed. At one point of time, wresting the crown of the fastest production motorcycle away from the Honda 1100 Blackbird. This was back in 1999. The top speed, said to be 312 km/h, saw the closest contender, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R, fall just short of the record, still doing well over 300 km/h. This led to the “gentlemen’s agreement” on top speed, where manufacturers would limit the top speed of their hyperbikes to 186 mph or 300 km/h. Yes, these were, and still are hyperbikes. It’s not about their prodigious power output, it’s their capability.
The GSX-1300R ‘Hayabusa’ may have been upgraded in 2008 with a larger 1,340-cc engine and 197 PS. Yes, 197 PS: less than the GSX-R 1000, or the Ninja ZX-10R, or any of the current crop of litre-class bikes. What’s different? The construction? Somewhat. The engine’s characteristics and 156 Nm torque output? Somewhat. The whole package? Exactly. The Hayabusa and the Ninja ZX-14R are two of the rare breed of street-legal production motorcycles that can – derestricted – beat the 300 km/h barrier without feeling like their coming apart at the seams. But what’s the point? Not too many places in the world let you cover 83 metres per second! Usain Bolt seems slow now, doesn’t he?
The point is, the automotive world is seeing a paradigm shift from horsepower and cee-cees to efficiency and low CO2. And I am specifically talking about the Hayabusa because it’s time for another one? Do I think so? Yes. The first model came in 1999, was restricted in 2000, and then upgraded in 2008. Well, it’s 2016, folks. Let’s have another one.
The way I see it is we need to stretch the litre to deliver more. Yes. Or, we could use less of the litre to get something similar. I’d pick the latter. I’d rather have a 100 PS motorcycle that can be fun everywhere that actually drank responsibly and wouldn’t kill me the first chance the road – or lack of it thereof – allowed it to. Battery-powered electric bikes can be fun. Brammo’s doing it. BMW’s trying it. All we need is battery technology that allows more storage per square inch with lightweight construction. Is that too much to expect from science going at the rate we are?
I really wonder what the next flagship of the two-wheeled world will look like. Suzuki’s 588-cc turbocharged Recursion did 100 PS and 100 Nm. I wouldn’t mind that? Fits my 600-cc criteria. Is that it? A bigger version perhaps? Or, maybe something with an even smaller engine driving the rear wheel with an electric motor mounted at the front? Cars are doing it. e-2×2 mode if you will. Slap on a 20-kW (that’s 27 PS) lightweight electric motor on the front axle, make a turbocharged 400-cc or 500-cc motor that makes 60-90 PS and let it chain-drive the rear wheel. Interesting, much?
The bottom line: The number of people are growing and the space on the road isn’t. We need more clean, fun bikes than 1,700-cc bruisers cooking their riders in a traffic jam. Wake up and smell the depleting petrol!