Sports bikes are for many the ultimate, purest form of motorcycling. If speed, cornering brilliance and the ability to be the fastest from A to B deliver the most two-wheeled excitement with no compromises for comfort or practicality then a sports bike is the motorcycle for you. And the very fact that, by delivering just that means sportsters have the most sophisticated and engineering and technology all wrapped up in racy, poster-bike bodywork, only adds to the appeal.
But, of course, that’s not the end of the story and sports bikes aren’t for everyone. A 125cc sports bike, restricted by law to 15bhp, requires a slightly different set of attributes. Those entering the A2 class will want sports bike fun but a degree of user-friendliness, too. And although there are plenty of litre-class superbikes out there, all vying to be some kind of ultimate and with prices extending to over £40K, it’s not easy to know which suits you best. Besides, although the once hugely-popular supersport 600 class is now only a shadow of what it once was, there are still plenty of sub-1000cc sports bikes, all capable of mind-bending thrills, available, too.
So, to help you choose we decided to come up with a round-up of our current Top 10 sports bikes, to include bikes ranging from A1 125s all the way up to £20K+ WSB-winning weapons and, to help budgeting, arranged them all in price ascending order. Hopefully there’s something here to suit you. If there is, we promise you won’t be disappointed…
When you’re 17 and only qualify only for an A1-compliant 15bhp 125, a sports bike has a slightly different meaning with styling and kudos triumphing but with usability and affordability being important, too. But although worthy, good looking Japanese offerings such as Honda’s CBR125R and Yamaha’s best-selling YZF-R125 remain popular, the ultimate ‘poster bike’ for this generation remains Italian marque Aprilia’s gorgeous RS 125. Effectively the Ducati of the 125 class, the RS built its reputation in the ‘90s on a screaming, 125GP-alike two-stroke engine with the aluminium twin beam frame, cycle parts and styling to match. And although since 2011 Euro regulations have forced it to switch to more muted, four-stroke power, its RSV4-alike styling, quality brakes and suspension and GP heritage means it’s still the one most lust after. Today a new RS 125 Replica will set you back £4699, but the replica GP, for £100 more, comes in full MotoGP-alike livery.
Arguably the rawest, purest, most focused A2-compliant sportster of all, the RC 390 is a simple, lightweight, compact single-cylinder sportster inspired by the Austrian firm’s Moto3 race bike and based on the powertrain and running gear of its lively, looney 390 Duke. As such it’s small, focused – and fabulous fun, as long as you’re fairly small and like your thrills in short doses. The 44bhp single, though not as thrilling as a ‘multi’, has enough to beat ‘the ton’ but it’s the sharp, lightweight chassis and braking performance where the RC truly stands out – very little is as nimble, lively, or engaging through medium speed twisties. Plus, being so light and small means it’s also about as unintimidating as sports bikes get for novice riders, too. Not cheap, and it’s so basic you do wonder a little where your money’s going, but still one of the best. And if you want even more, a new-for-2018 race-kitted ‘R’ version is now available, too.
Once you’ve qualified for your full licence the idea of moving straight to a 150bhp+, litre-class superbike can be more than a little intimidating – which is where newcomer-friendly, middleweight sportsters like the Ninja 650 come in. Introduced in 2017 it’s a fully updated version of the old ER6f and as such is based around the familiar, willing and free-revving 649cc parallel twin that dominates Minitwin racing, particularly in the renamed Junior TT. Reworked to produce a useful 67bhp its now held in a lighter, Ninja H2-inspired tubular steel chassis with new rear suspension, twin wavy discs and racy, all-new bodywork that’s a kind of mix between Kawasaki’s ZX-10R and the Ninja H2. The overall result looks great, is decently equipped, light, nimble and upright enough to be an absolute doddle to ride, reasonably versatile and yet great fun to thrash and brilliant looking as well. As a stepping-stone to 100bhp+ sports bikes there are few better…
Much has been said about the demise of the once all-conquering supersport 600 class. In the mid-‘90s, sports-all-rounders such as Honda’s CBR600F outsold all-comers with their mix of sporting ability, practicality and value. In the late ‘90s, racier versions like Yamaha’s R6 and Suzuki GSX-R600 won on track but resulted in more focused, less versatile ‘mini-superbikes’ on the road. And that, along with tightening licence requirements, an aging rider demographic and the global financial crash of the late Noughties all resulted in supersport 600 sales falling off a cliff. Today, the Suzuki GSX-R600, Honda CBR600RR, Kawasaki ZX-6R and Triumph 675 Daytona are all no more. Yamaha, however, bucked that trend by introducing this all-new R6 in 2017. To all intents and purposes it’s a junior version of the latest, MotoGP-inspired R1 and is a brilliant, focused performer with great looks, a brilliant chassis that’ll run rings around most and a now Euro4 compliant four which, while ‘just’ 116bhp (so older supersports are actually faster) is still enough for fun. It’s not cheap, but if you truly want the superbike look and experience in a middleweight package, this, pretty much, complete with quick shifter, riding modes and more, is your only new choice.
Suzuki had been one of the ‘big hitters’ in the 1000cc superbike class, ever since its introduction of the class-leading first GSX-R1000K1 in 2001. However, despite subsequent highs such as the 2005 K5 version, the GSX-R fell away slightly from 2007, becoming larger and heavier – and by so doing remaining a great road bike – and less competitive on track. All of which made the arrival of this all-new, MotoGP-inspired ‘Gixxer in 2017 big news. In truth, it was the parallel, £16,299 ‘R’ version that grabbed most of the headlines (and won that year’s Senior TT with Michael Dunlop) but the base GSX-R shares the same silhouette and engine but with slightly more basic suspension and electronics, is, for most, just as capable but, at nearly £3K less, is significantly cheaper than most rivals, too. If you want the most affordable of all the latest generation, electronics-laden, 200bhp superbikes, this is the one.
Fifteen years ago it was unimaginable that dowdy, sensible, touring-orientated BMW were capable of producing a world-beating superbike. But the S1000RR, first introduced in 2010, was exactly that and, even more significantly, thanks to a series of important revisions since, it has arguably remained at the top of the superbike tree – certainly for road riders – ever since. The essential reason for that is two-fold: that first S1000RR may have used a conventional 999cc, transverse four layout but, at 190bhp, it set the new standard for power. And, second, all of that power was controlled with (at the time) class-leading electronics. If you add on top of that quality extras plus the BMW badge and dealer experience and it’s no wonder the German superbike has proved such a success, even if it never did quite succeed in WSB. Today’s latest version remains essentially the same – only more so: a brilliant, fast, sweet-handling, man-sized superbike with a proven pedigree, sophisticated if no longer class leading electronics (including ‘Race ABS’, riding modes and traction control) and the allure only that badge can bring.
Italian sports legend MV have always done things their own way with little regard for cost or expense in the quest for exotic perfection and this is no better demonstrated than with its ‘entry-level’, basic middleweight sports bike – the 675 F3. The smallest version of the F3 triple (two 800cc versions are also available) and most basic (a ‘Reparto Corse’ RC version costs £18,990) it’s still worth reminding that this is a 675cc middleweight that costs more than many 1000cc superbikes. Is it worth it? In most respects – yes. Even superficially there’s no question the F3 is beautiful, exotic and exclusive. Up closer it’s also clear it lacks for little, complete with comprehensive electronics, fully-adjustable suspension, top quality Brembo brakes and more. While as a ride, the screaming triple produces a healthy 128bhp at a lofty 14,500rpm, while its tight, small, focused chassis will run rings round many bigger bikes on twisty roads. Whether all that adds up to justifying its near-£16K price tag is up to you. What’s in no doubt is that, RC version aside, middleweight sports bikes simply don’t get any more alluring.
Honda’s Fireblade has been a legend ever since the revolutionary original back in 1992 while there have been more than a few stand-out, class-leading models over the intervening 25 years+. The latest version, however, first introduced in 2009 and only mildly updated since, although a great road bike, had conspicuously fallen behind the pack due to its lack of electronics, power deficit and road emphasis. All of which made the arrival of this all-new ‘Blade in 2017 Very Big News. In truth, it failed to set the world alight as much as hoped. Launched alongside both a higher specification SP version (with semi-active Ohlins suspension and uprated electronics, for £19,770) and a race homologation special variant, the SP2 (with different engine internals, Marchesini wheels and more for £22,549), on paper, at least, the all-new ‘Blade had it all: 189bhp, class-competitive electronics including modes, traction control, cornering ABS and more. In reality though, while definitely ‘up there’, the new ‘Blade hadn’t moved the game on as much as hoped yet was comparatively expensive. That’s no bad thing: the ‘Blade, once again, is right up there with the best; has typically brilliant Honda quality and ease-of-use and besides, if you want a step ahead of the rest, you can always go for the SP.
Kawasaki’s wailing ZX-10R has long been the bad boy of Japanese superbikes ever since the original was launched in 2004 but it was with the all-new, pointy, screaming 2011 version, complete with 197bhp and a track-attitude like no other, that it finally came of age. If you wanted a track-ready, rev-hungry, electronics-laden racer-replica, the ZX-10R was the one – as has been proven by its four world superbike titles since. It’s carried on in the same vein ever since, receiving a significant update in 2016, not only gaining power but also getting significantly improved suspension and electronics to make it the closest thing yet to a WSB contender out of the box. While for 2018 Kawasaki have gone one stage further still with this additional RR version, complete with lightweight Marchesini forged wheels and Brembo M50 brake calipers. Jonathan Rea has won three back-to-back WSB titles aboard his factory ZX-10R. This is the closest thing you can buy to it.
Revolutionary bikes don’t come along that often in the superbike class. Going back to the early 1990s there was of course the original Honda CBR900RR FireBlade, followed by Ducati’s 916 in 1994. The first R1 in 1998 was followed by the first GSX-R1000 in 2001. But this, Ducati’s all-new V4 replacement for its long-line of class-leading V-twins, is up there with all of them. Why? How long have e you got? First there’s its significance: a V4 in place of Ducati’s V-twin heritage. Then there’s its specification: a class-leading 214bhp at the crank, which translates into an equally class-leading 198bhp at the rear wheel; a peerless chassis slathered with semi-active Ohlins (in this S form, the base model does without), the very latest Brembo Stylema calipers, Marchesini wheels and class-leading electronics, all controlled via a flash, full-colour TFT display. But best of all is how it all works and goes – and that’s simply like nothing else. Most superbikes are capable of taking your breath away, the new Panigale V4 does it in every way – its look, spec, ability performance and, yes, at nearly £24K, its price, too. But boy is it worth it.