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What happened to sportsbikes and can they come back?

April 22, 2021

To anyone that frequents bike dealerships or keeps track of market trends, it comes as no surprise that sports bikes are fading from our roads. Gone are the days of the ZX10r, the R1 and the blade, replaced at the forefront of the bike scene by the Tenere 700 and the BMW R Series (or the humble moped).  How did this change occur, and what were the driving forces behind it? Will we ever hear tail pipes screaming outside our windows again?

At the forefront of the shift is the undeniable weight of European emission standards. The allure of the sports bike was power and thrills, but power means pollution and pollution is just so not 2021. The ratcheting up of emission standards has led sportsbike designers to make increasingly large numbers of concessions to produce a road legal bike, concessions in areas that the average sports bike owner are unlikely to be chuffed about. If making a bike road legal is such a chore, it also begs the question, why bother? The enforcement of speed limits in Europe has also increased over the past 40 years, with some countries such as Switzerland rapidly becoming “no-go” areas for motorcyclists and the prevalence of speed cameras in the UK hugely increased. If having your sports bike road legal involves large concessions, and you cannot ride it fast regardless, then why not just make it a dedicated track bike?

The shift to the track is one clear trend in the industry, with the price of the average sports bike skyrocketing and the popularity of track days mirroring this. Sports bikes have become the weekend plaything of a wealthy few rather than a viable mode of transport for the average bloke. Is this even a negative, however? It is also undeniable that while sports bikes have faded, a raft of new and affordable bike types have taken their place. Bikes that offer different kinds of thrills for the experienced rider who is more developed in their career now and has a little less time and a little more money. Sports bikes were never built for comfort, and the upright riding position and all terrain abilities of adventure bikes make them an increasingly preferable option for the tourer or social rider.

Which excites you more?

Another question that pops up often when talking to those who have made the transition from sports bike to adventure bike is – why did we ever think this was a good idea? Sports bikes are, even their biggest proponents would admit, harder to navigate in towns and cities, noisier, less fuel efficient, uncomfortable and require a greater degree of physical fitness from the rider. Perhaps their historic prevalence on the road should be seen as more of an aberration and a cultural phenomenon than a genuine reflection of what represents the most comfort or value. Riders were younger on average back then, and things like “noisy” and “uncomfortable” don’t tend to matter as much to a single male in their 20’s as they do to a suburban father of two. If you are unlikely to make it to the track, why not go for a cheaper, more comfortable bike that you can take anywhere?

This brings us onto the general demographics trends that underpin the current bike market. Bike owners to be on the older side these days, and biking is less of an economic choice or necessity and much more of a lifestyle choice. Shows like “Long Way Down” have done much to cement the adventure lifestyle and “go anywhere” mentality of adventure bikes as the new standard. The adventure bike is inherently social, it invites riders to explore off the beaten path or tour comfortably with a few like minded individuals. More and more this is how most bikers would choose to spend their leisure time rather than blasting it round Silverstone to prove they have the noisiest machine. On decline too is the aspiration to racerdom and the desire to be the next Rossi, most bikers now are looking for a pleasant weekend ride and a comfortable way to escape and enjoy the open country.

So, what does all this mean for the future? Well, things do not look too hopeful for the sportsbike market. Not unless we see a significant change in cost, demographics and road policing. Perhaps if a new generation of young people are lured into the bike market, we might again see a surge in the fast, loud and bombastic models that we remember fondly. Until then – looks like it’s a GS and a slice of lemon drizzle cake.


What are your personal experiences with bike trends? Would you consider purchasing a sports bike in the future, do you own one now? We would love to hear from you in the comments.

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