WSB on the cheap (Part 1)

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They may not be the exotic homologation specials of old, but these bikes all boast a WSB title to their name – and they’re great value too

hen World Superbike rules were tweaked to allow 1000cc inline-fours to compete against 1200cc V-twins the change was designed to encourage manufacturers to race road models rather than rely on costly homologation specials. Each of these mass-production scorchers subsequently took the WSB title, but which offers the best value for money today?

Traditionally, the World Superbike championship was there for manufacturers to promote what their best production sportsbike could do when converted into race trim. But even from the outset in 1988, manufacturers went against these core principles and produced expensive homologation specials to exploit the series’ huge marketing power. Some tried to stay true to the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ ethos, but only Kawasaki’s ZXR750 managed to succeed against these no-expense-spared specials. A rule change was needed to bring the series back to its core values and in 2003 the FIM attempted to tempt the missing manufacturers back by allowing inline fours of a larger 1000cc capacity to compete.

Finally, the bikes that you actually saw for sale in your dealership or parked up at a local bike meet were out there on track. While some lamented the loss of the homologation special, most rejoiced in the fact the series was now far more realistic. But, more importantly, these rule changes gave manufacturers the excuse to throw their full weight behind the series. WSB was driving road bike development and riders were seeing the fruits of this new connection in their local showrooms.

Since 2003 we have seen some amazing litre bikes fighting it out on track and six different manufacturers have lifted the title. The rule changes have seen V4s up against inline fours, crossplane inline fours, V-twins and even a triple. BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, Aprilia, Yamaha, Suzuki, Ducati, MV, Buell and Bimota have all competed, and this drive to succeed has led to major leaps forward in technology. In light of this, MCN decided to pick three used production bikes whose racing variants have lifted the WSB title – Aprilia’s RSV4 Factory, Honda’s Fireblade and Ducati’s 1098 – to sample the fruits of WSB’s modern era.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday

When you look at the three bikes together, it is hard to argue against the success of the 2003 rule changes. On face value the Honda Fireblade may be the most traditional of the bunch, but it nevertheless boasts RCV technology in an effort to make it a force to be reckoned with on track. Every Ducati superbike looks mean and purposeful as well as elegant and refined, but despite the fact the Bologna firm’s road bikes are far removed from their racing counterparts, this stock 1098 still turns heads. And then there is the Aprilia RSV4 Factory, which wouldn’t look out of place on a current MotoGP grid. Three very different WSB champions that are readily available in the used market for decent money. But which one is the best buy? 

Ducati 1098 from £6500

Championships: Troy Bayliss 2008 / Carlos Checa 2011

Replacing the controversially styled but incredibly successful Ducati 999, the 1098 took full
advantage of the increased 1200cc capacity limit for V-twins to take on and defeat the litre inline fours. And it did it all while looking beautiful.

Thanks to its total dominance of the series, Ducati sportsbikes will always be associated with WSB success. Out of the 28 titles, Ducati have taken 14, and that’s what we remember. But even the mighty can fall and while the 999 dominated on track, it proved to Ducati something Aprilia is learning the hard way – track success doesn’t guarantee showroom sales. What you need to ensure success is a bike that stirs rider’s emotions as well as taking home the silverware. And that’s what the 1098 does.

In the interests of fairness, it is worth pointing out that the 1098 is only a silhouette of the WSB racer. Ducati have been bending the rules for years and the race bikes were based around the 1098R with its totally different engine, however that doesn’t really matter as the 1098 is a far nicer bike to ride on the road than the 1098R.

When you ride a WSB replica you want to feel special and the 1098 certainly ticks this box. As well as the race-inspired dash, the boom from the twin underseat pipes (with aftermarket Termis fitted, naturally) instantly sends a shiver down your spine while the narrowness of the riding position makes the 1098 feel like a race bike without the discomfort. Some people call the 1098 the first ‘Japanese inspired’ Ducati and that’s an accurate description.

With the 1098, Ducati took the best parts of Japanese sportsbike design – reliability, improved build quality, comfort and quick steering – and put them in a classically Italian-styled bike. The results speak for themselves.

Unlike the older 916-style Dukes, the 1098 isn’t lazy to turn and instead flicks into bends like an inline four sportsbike while still retaining the traditional mid-corner poise that Ducatis are famous for. There are few better feelings than riding a 1098 through a set of flowing bends and it is a machine whose ride delivers on every level. But, as with any Ducati, it is the 1098’s engine that dominates the show.

The Testastretta Evoluzione engine with its increased capacity is such a beautiful motor to use. Blessed with an almost perfect balance of power and torque for road use, not to mention sublime throttle response, in my book it goes down as one of the best engines in a road bike. Where the 1198 upped the torque to almost unpleasant levels, the 1098 hits the right balance between instant stomp and controllable acceleration. It’s slick, sounds amazing on full-chat and is stacked full of character, what more could you ask for?

Naturally, being Italian, the 1098 has the traditional irritations such as terrible mirrors and high service costs, but it is such a beautiful machine to either ride or simply stare at you will forgive it all its faults. With prices starting at £6500, the 1098 is cheaper than early 916s and only a bit more than a Fireblade, which makes it even more tempting.

As I was looking around these three WSB champions, one final thought struck me. If you need to know anymore about these WSB winner’s attitudes, just look at their tanks. The Aprilia RSV4’s is emblazoned with a large and bold sticker brashly shouting its championship success, the Ducati 1098 has a far more subtle and smaller declaration of its title that is almost a footnote while the Honda Fireblade has a warning sticker telling riders which octane of fuel to use.

Price: From £6500
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 1099cc 8v desmo V-twin
Claimed power: 160bhp @ 9750rpm
Claimed torque: 90.4ftlb @ 8000rpm
Bore x stroke: 104 x 64.7mm
Electronics: Inbuilt datalogger
Frame: Tubular steel trellis
Suspension: 43mm inverted forks and monoshock, fully adjustable
Brakes: 2 x 330mm front discs with four-piston Brembo radial monobloc calipers, 245mm rear disc with two-piston caliper
Claimed dry weight: 173kg
Tank size: 15.5 litres
Seat height: 840mm
Colours: Red, black

Aprilia RSV4 Factory From £9000

Championships: Max Biaggi 2010, 2012 / Sylvain Guintoli 2014

Little more than race bike with lights, the RSV4’s V4 engine is housed in a GP-derived chassis that also boasts a full electronics package. Despite dominating on track, showroom sales remain slow to this day.

Being the newest of the bunch, the Aprilia RSV4 shows just hard manufacturers currently have to push to achieve WSB success. The RSV4 is little more than a race bike with lights, and it shouts its track credentials. From the gorgeous aluminium frame with the miniature V4 shoehorned inside to the aggressive bodywork that barely covers the bike’s vital components, the RSV4 is every inch a racer. And that’s how it feels to ride.

You don’t buy an RSV4 with commuting in mind, this is a machine built for a single purpose and in that respect is almost a mass produced homologation special. The RSV makes very few compromises for road use and the riding position is cramped with high pegs and low bars, while at low speed the V4 engine feels continually frustrated at not being let off its leash. The Aprilia has no interest in pottering about; it is a racing thoroughbred that can’t wait to show you its full capabilities. Give it that chance and you won’t be disappointed.

Find a smooth and fast set of bends and the RSV4 is mind blowing. It feels, reacts and responds like a supercharged supersport bike and when on song delivers a stunning riding experience. The V4 motor drives with fierce acceleration, while the quicker you go the better the chassis and suspension respond, all backed up by a comprehensive electronics package. For blasting about on, the RSV4 delivers the full WSB experience and allows mere mortals to dip a toe into the world of world championship racing.

Despite dominating on track for several years, the RSV4 has failed to set showrooms alight. People like to quote the old adage ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’, but for Aprilia this hasn’t been the case as concerns over reliability and the RSV4’s single-minded nature has put riders off. In the used market that makes the Aprilia an interesting prospect as you can pick a three-year-old low-mileage RSV4 Factory, which is the highest specification model with Öhlins suspension, lightweight wheels and aPRC, for under £10,000. But while this saving of £8000 on the latest RF certainly makes it very tempting, this is a bike for the dedicated only. If you want something a bit more relaxed, then you need to look towards Japan.

Price: From £9000
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 999.6cc 16v V-four
Claimed power: 180bhp @ 12,250rpm
Claimed torque: 84.8ftlb @ 10,000rpm
Bore x stroke: 78 x 52.3mm
Electronics: Aprilia aPRC with 8-stage traction control, wheelie control, three fuel maps, launch control, quickshifter
Frame: Aluminium twin spar
Suspension: 43mm inverted Öhlins forks and Öhlins monoshock, fully adjustable
Brakes: 2 x 320mm front discs with four-piston Brembo radial calipers, 220mm rear disc with one-piston caliper
Claimed dry weight: 179kg
Tank size: 17 litres
Seat height: 845mm
Colours: Black/red, green

Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade From £4300

Championships: James Toseland 2007

Having won five WSB titles with V4s and V-twins, the second generation 1000cc Fireblade, ridden by James Toseland, gave Honda their first WSB title with an inline four. It was the last time the firm tasted WSB glory.

Back in the day the underseat pipe Fireblade was scorned for not being as exciting as the ZX-10R or
GSX-R1000, however after a blast on this used example I’m starting to think we were all being a bit harsh. Blessed with comfort levels an Aprilia owner can only fantasise about, the Blade is a genuine real-world superbike that in typical Honda fashion quietly goes about its business with devastating efficiency. Not to mention a surprising amount of character.

Compared to the latest generation of turbine-smooth Fireblade engine, the 2006/07 model’s inline four is a real eye opener. While still being velvety at low revs, which makes it an easy machine to ride at a gentle pace, once you give it some gas it develops a bit of a mean streak. Without being anywhere near as violent or brutal as the Aprilia’s V4, the ’06 Blade’s engine has that spark of character lacking on the latest model and makes the whole ride far more involving and enjoyable. Very low in the rev range there is a bit of hesitancy, but get it into its midrange and there is nothing but drive and a pleasing feeling of refined rawness. And the chassis is really impressive, even in a modern context.

If you want a bike that does everything you ask of it then the Blade is for you. As well as being beautifully balanced, the Blade’s chassis is sporty without overstepping the mark and the brakes strong but not over the top. It’s one of those bikes that you can hop on and instantly feel comfortable with and this feeling of confidence in the machine allows you to ride it fast without scaring yourself. As a real-world everyday superbike the Blade is absolutely spot on and very hard to criticise as its reliability is also unquestionable. However, despite being a WSB winner, when you park it up it will always merge into the background as no matter what its track credentials, it will always be ‘just another Blade’. If you want a WSB replica to stand out there has, and will, always been one brand to be seen on – Ducati.

Price: From £4300
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 998cc 16v inline four
Claimed power: 169.5bhp @ 11,250rpm
Claimed torque: 76.7ftlb @ 10,000rpm
Bore x stroke: 75 x 56.5mm
Electronics: Electronically variable steering damper
Frame: Aluminium twin spar
Suspension: 43mm inverted forks and monoshock, fully adjustable.
Brakes: 2 x 320mm front discs with four-piston Tokico radial calipers, 220mm rear disc with one-piston caliper
Claimed dry weight: 176kg
Tank size: 18 litres
Seat height: 820mm
Colours: Red, silver, black


‘Ducati has winning package’

If you are riding a bike that has won a WSB title you want everyone to instantly recognise the fact and that’s where the Ducati 1098 wins. Not only does it ride beautifully and sound tremendous, it looks every inch a race winner. The Blade is a brilliant road bike, but lacks a bit of exclusivity in this company, while the RSV4 is thrilling but perhaps a little too much for the road; one for the dedicated race fan only.

Words: Jon Urry Photos: Paul Bryant