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martes, septiembre 19, 2023
HomeMotorcycle AccessoriesThe Throttle Stop – July 2023

The Throttle Stop – July 2023

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The saying goes, “There’s no replacement for displacement.” It’s a maxim that the American motorcycling public has come to adopt wholesale over the years. As engine displacement grew, so did our collective appetites for greater performance, which resulted in manufacturers pumping out ever-powerful machinery to satisfy our desires. We Americans want it, we need it, and common sense be damned, we’ll take it from the very start of our riding careers. Cruisers, sportbikes, whatever—we’ll gobble up everything a manufacturer is willing to give, and then bolt on stuff to make it go faster. In truth, this isn’t an exclusively American phenomenon, but our one-size-fits-all motorcycle licensing structure does perpetuate the notion.

The market’s performance cravings conveniently (or coincidentally, depending on your perspective) bump up against the realities of tightening emissions standards, coupled with the expectation that a new motorcycle will always flaunt a beefier spec sheet than its predecessor.

I don’t see that as an unacceptable expectation. The new model should, undoubtedly, put the prior model to shame in every objectively measurable way—you know, lighter, faster, stronger, and all that.

If you’d like to see that in action, look at lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight engine displacements—they’ve consistently crept upward over the last few decades. Kawasaki’s beginner sport bike used to be the Ninja 250. Now? It’s the Ninja 400. Whenever mainstream players raise the bar, other manufacturers must ante up or fold from the category.

The wind blew in that direction for quite a while. Numbers went up, whether horsepower, torque, cc’s, or price. If you’ve pulled your finger out of it and put it in the breeze, you might have felt that things are trending differently these days. Middleweight ADVs and sportbikes are deservedly hot-button items as plenty of riders downsize from massively powerful open-class motorcycles, opting for the middleweight equivalents.

And the “middleweight” segment has become quite broad; for example, a Yamaha MT-07 and a Yamaha MT-09 are not the same class of motorcycle, yet they inhabit the same “middleweight” space. Everything is nudged up.

Of course, when you drool over nearly anything in the liter class, our cheeseburger-fueled American hearts are bound to skip a bit. Two hundred horsepower superbikes and streetfighters spackle those segments regularly, with sport-tourers like the supercharged Kawasaki H2 SX SE+ and the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT not sitting far off that mark. Hell, more than a few heavyweight ADV motorcycles wield paint-peeling performance. The pointy end of any segment is sharper than ever and sure to give anyone a poke.

Looking past that, we see that the lightweight and middleweight grids MotoAmerica’s Junior Cup and Twins Cup are bursting at the seams. In my experience, those classes offer some of the best racing in our domestic series.

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As I type this, I anxiously await my first ride on the 2023 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4RR. Sadly, the event is right on the deadline for this issue, so it’ll be in the August issue. However, you’ll see it on our website soon enough.

Are the winds shifting again? A good shake of the figurative Magic 8 Ball says, “I dunno, maybe. But it’s an idea for a column.” In the 1980s and 1990s, small-displacement inline-four-cylinder sportbikes were flying out of Japanese factories, and the only problem for us in the States was that they weren’t landing here, unless you knew a gray-market importer.

The Honda VFR400R, Kawasaki ZXR400, Suzuki GSX-R400, and Yamaha FZR400RR SP were born from a perfect storm. A booming Grand Prix series (now known as MotoGP) and a thriving production-based domestic racing championship brought sportbike fever to an all-time high. However, another factor heavily influenced Japan’s riding public.

Throttle Stop July 2023 - Nic de Sena - Honda VFR400
Iconic Motorbikes Auctions sold this 1990 Honda VFR400 last year.

Owning a motorcycle above 400cc in Japan was not only cost prohibitive due to tax and registration fees, but obtaining a license for bikes above that displacement was also incredibly difficult. Thus, 250cc and 400cc sportbikes ruled the land of the rising sun.

The reasons why we never saw these motorcycles in the United States vary, depending on who you ask: the American market doesn’t respond to lower displacement motorcycles; they’d be too expensive; they cannibalize sales from other bikes; the list goes on.

Maybe now is the perfect time when riders shift towards tech-rich middleweight bikes of all categories. The public is starting to turn its attention towards more manageable machines, at least in some segments. Sure, a sledgehammer-slinging heavyweight bike is all good fun, but 200 ponies are rowdy, and I think we’re all mature enough to admit it. Still, nothing beats the feeling of holding a liter bike wide open.

Throttle Stop July 2023 : Iconic Motorbikes 1995 Kawasaki ZXR400
This 1995 Kawasaki ZXR400 was sold by Iconic Motorbikes.

These lightweight, inline-4 screamers were something I lusted after in my youth, and still do to this day. Thanks to a friend at Iconic Motorbikes—a Southern California-based dealer specializing in high-performance vintage exotics—I’ve seen a few of these unicorns in person, though I’ve never ridden one.

They’re as cool as I’d always imagined, decked out with the slickest performance technology of the day—aluminum frames, inverted forks (the ZXR400, at least), and, well, you get the idea. They’re a far cry from the lightweight beginner bikes we currently know, usually loaded with parallel-twin engines, steel frames, and budget components. They serve a practical purpose and are plenty adequate, but certainly not up to that high caliber. Heck, throw a few performance parts at them, and a modern Ninja 400 is no slouch, which I can attest to, as that’s my track/club racing bike.

Perhaps in 2023, things are set to change. With what I understand about manufacturing costs, stretching the cables of a shrieking lightweight I4 bike was a prospect I’d shelved. The fact that it’s happening is, well, incredible. With interest in capable and more focused middleweight motorcycles coming into the picture, perhaps the 2023 Kawasaki ZX-4RR is a sign of things to come. Or, perhaps, it’ll be relegated to an exciting historical footnote. For now, I’ll hold my bandolier and revolutionary shouts until things pan out.

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