The bikes that leave us shaking with adrenalin
These are three of the most exciting bikes on planet Earth. The growling RSV4 RF, screaming GSX-R600 and bonkers Hypermotard 939 SP all leave you shaking with adrenalin and breathless with lust after every encounter.
They sum up what I love most about bikes: speed, acceleration, flat-stick cornering and crossed-up, hovering wheelies. But clearly they’re not for everybody because they are not the big sellers you might imagine.
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To find out why we asked you online and were bombarded with your opinions– regardless of whether they sell or not, these are bikes you care about. We also visited Suzuki and Aprilia dealers to hear what the people who sell them actually think.
The WSB champ
Aprilia RSV RF, £18,236
The RSV4 has three WSB titles, dozens of wins and impressed us during countless MCN superbike tests, but bikes sold in 2016 totalled just 128.
Of all the bikes here it’s the RSV4 RF that elicited the most opinion on MCN’s Facebook page. Happily there are lots of satisfied Aprilia owners out there, but there’s an equal amount who wouldn’t buy this incredible superbike. Most point to its price, which is a fair whack more expensive than its rivals, but the RF is cheaper than the equally exotic Ducati 1299 Panigale S, which sells in greater numbers. Lots go on to mention the small pool of dealerships and back-up in the UK, which doesn’t instil them with confidence. On the flip side for those who have a dependable local dealer, servicing, spares and parts aren’t an issue.
When we spoke to Wheels Motorcycles, who sell around 50% of all Aprilias in the UK, they said they give a lifetime guarantee on every Aprilia sold, as long as they do all of the servicing. That’s a huge piece of mind, especially as some early bikes suffered mechanical teething problems.The RF’s tiny Biaggi-developed dimensions put many off, as does the perceived (but unfounded) unreliability of a bike packed with so many electronics. Others point to poor depreciation, high insurance and the fact that you’ll only see the Aprilia compete in WSB and rarely in Superstock or BSB.
The Italian manufacturer is working hard to boost customer confidence with better reliability and improved dealer support, but let’s put that to one side for a moment and talk about the machine itself. Put simply it’s one of the best superbikes money can buy. It’s not as cramped as you’d imagine and actually has more leg room than its rivals. It’s civilised at normal speeds, comes with the safety net of ABS and traction control and it’s built with breath-taking attention to detail. On the road the lightweight wheels and Öhlins suspension let you glide from point to point and the flexible V4 engine has a delicious wide spread of power. On the road or at a trackday it will keep up with anything out there.
The axe murderer
Suzuki GSX-R600 30th Anniversary, £9499
This is the goodie-laden 30th Anniversary edition, but the bike hasn’t fundamentally changed since 2011. Suzuki have only sold 174 this year.
Supersport racing is the reason the GSX-R600 exists. But it’s never been a serial track head banger like the R6, ZX-6R, CBR600RR or Daytona 675, despite winning the 2011 BSS title. So unless you’re going to race, it makes much more sense to buy the GSX-R750 for just a few quid more. It’s basically the same bike with an extra 150cc, so it corners, steers, brakes and screams like a 600, but it has a nice dollop of extra grunt so you’re not up and down the gearbox.
Both the dealers and you say the main reason the GSX-R600 isn’t as popular as it could be is because the 750 exists. You even say that superbikes are just as attractive now, packed with electronics that keep you safe. You also tell us that nine grand is stretching it for a bike with limited technology. The GSX-R600 comes with riding modes, but there's no traction control, ABS or a quickshifter in sight. No ABS, whatever next?
There’s also that perception that 600 supersport bikes are tiny, rev happy machines, but the GSX-R600 is as roomy as a superbike and has most of the grunt of a 750. Lots of you agree and adore your GSX-R600s. You love its feather light weight, the way it makes you smile and acknowledge that a 120bhp-plus 600cc inline four-cylinder engine is more than enough power for most.
The Suzuki never fails to surprise and impress. It’s nothing special on paper compared to its rivals and it’s even down on power compared to most of them (except the Honda), but it manages to deliver such easy grunt you honestly have to keep checking you haven’t jumped on a 750 by mistake.
Three-way adjustable footpegs guarantee generous legroom, the clip-ons aren’t too much of a stretch and the seat isn’t a pain in the rear. It’s just as adept at summer touring through Europe as it is hooning around a track. And talking of which, practicalities aside, this is still a supersport brawler.
It begs to be abused and shrieks with delight when you dip the rev needle into the red. It’s completely stable and even on track you’d be hard-pushed to get it anywhere near out of shape. There’s nothing like hammering a 600, but when you’re not in the mood the GSX-R600 is your flexible friend.
The wheelie monster
Ducati Hypermotard 939 SP, £12,850
Refreshed with a bigger 937cc Euro 4-spec motor for 2016, the Hypermotard is as niche as they come and Ducati have sold just 85 SPs this year.
Talk about niche - the Hypermotard 939 SP is as single-minded as they come and at close to thirteen grand for a supermoto, no matter how special, is an awful lot of cash. We heard from a few hardcore fans that would never be parted from theirs, but even Ducati Peterborough admitted that for many it’s a second, or third bike for the lucky few that can afford it.
Most agree the Hypermotard is a one trick pony – one to enjoy for an hour on a Sunday morning, and they’re right. But for the short time you’re in the Ducati’s company you forget about the lack of practicality and enjoy the mono-wheeled craziness of it all.
New for this year the Hypermotard motor is bored-out to 937cc. It has more power, torque and 18% more oomph in the midrange, which of course means even easier wheelies. The base model costs £10,195, but this SP version is another £2655. For that you get Öhlins suspension, forged Marchesini wheels, racier electronic riding modes, a bit of carbon and a grippier seat. Power stays at 113bhp, but dry weight is trimmed back 3kg to 178kg. It may look like an off-roader, but this is every inch an exquisite, exotic Ducati.
As well as all the top-drawer components and carbon fibre, it’s flawlessly screwed together. Riding along you can see down the back of the tank, where it’s sculpted to let the bars turn and even there the paint is reassuringly glossy. You’re going to get as much pleasure looking at the SP as you are riding it – almost.
Every part of the Ducati works in harmony with the next. The motor has a perfect throttle and instant, hard hitting grunt in every gear. It’s stable in the corners, has Brembos that would have you over the bars if it weren’t for the ABS and the agility of a BMX. It’s a great town bike, stunt machine, formidable back lane scratcher and trackday warrior all rolled into one.
We’ve listened to MCN readers online and spoken to several dealers to find out why these sensational machines aren’t selling in their droves. For the Ducati, it’s obvious: it’s an expensive, single-minded machine, perfect for mad dashes through the countryside on a sunny Sunday and little else. It’s a bit of fun on the side for the well-healed, who have a main bike in their garage.
The Suzuki suffers from the perception that all 600s are highly strung pocket rockets, but the GSX-R600 is every inch a big bike with an even bigger heart. It’s also battling with its 750cc big sister and falling behind in the technology stakes compared to rivals.
Aprilia have more issues to overcome. We all know that little compares to an RSV4 RF at full flight and it comes with one of the best engines, chassis and electronics packages in the business. But many simply don’t have the confidence to buy one, unless there’s the reassurance of a lifetime guarantee, which dealers like Wheels can offer. But in general there’s now more two-wheeled choice out there and more to biking than just sportsbikes, no matter what size or shape they are. There are any number of sporty adventure bikes, tourers, retros and everything in between.
We’ve never had such mouth-watering diversity, which means the days of bikes like these being big sellers are over.