Some years ago in Australia, Kawasaki conducted an interesting bit of research. They asked buyers of new bikes a few questions; the most interesting (to me, as then-editor of a motorcycle magazine) was: how often have you bought a new motorcycle in the past year?
This question was particularly interesting because it produced an unexpected schism between different age groups and rider types. The most intriguing one was that young male buyers (I don’t recall the exact age breakup, but it doesn’t much matter) were likely to buy up to four new bikes a year. Four. This in a group that wasn’t exactly flush with cash, you understand. These riders would have been apprentices, junior clerks or trainees; possibly on the way to lucrative careers, but certainly not there yet. Where did they get the money?
As it happens this pattern did not take all that much money. They were trading in near-new motorcycles with low mileages, and paying only the difference between their value and the price of the new bike. A regular financial hit, but not a major one.
But why were they doing this?
It helps to know that the bikes they were trading so enthusiastically were predominantly 600cc Supersports machines. All four of the Japanese manufacturers, occasionally Ducati and eventually Triumph, were releasing new models in this class with quite amazing frequency. Each time they did, some motorcycle publication (this was before the domination of the internet) would put the newcomer up against the current crop of the class and establish which was the fastest around a racetrack.
Here in Australia it was Australian Motorcycle News that did the honors. The crazed speed freaks running the magazine would take the bikes to Phillip Island and pit them against each other on the track, sometimes employing one or more of Australia’s outstanding crop of motorcycle racers. On the first shopping day after the magazine hit the stands, the winner (usually by a fraction of a second) would sell out.
I don’t think I have to explain the irrational nature of this process, but it was a perfect example of what I call the Pub Effect. When you show up at your local watering hole you want to be on the fastest machine available, even though often you weren’t remotely capable of riding it to its full potential. You did not want anyone to raise their eyebrows at the bike you arrived on.
And so you bought four motorcycles a year, until eventually you realised that being on the quickest machine out there did not mean you were any quicker and perhaps comfort mattered almost as much as horsepower, and especially that a comfortable, or at least bearable, pillion seat meant a happier girlfriend. And you moved into the more mature and far more boring (at the pub) group of riders who began to prefer different marques for reasons other than microsecond advantages on the track.
I am not judging the young blokes on their Supersports bikes. They usually had a huge amount of fun, learned a huge amount about how to ride a motorcycle fast on public roads, and fed the government’s coffers with the huge amounts of their speeding fines. They were men in a man’s world, with a few blindingly fast young women (women did not last in this world unless they were fast) for leavening.
At one of the launches, coincidentally the one from which these photos are taken, the photographer and I had to reach the other end of the island double quick to catch the light of the setting sun. We were clocking well over ummkm/h, a speed which in those days would not have got you a ticket but would simply have seen you shot at the side of the road by the Victorian Highway Patrol.
In my opinion Supersport riders were fortunate in their choice of motorcycles. There can be few if any bikes that are more sheer and simple fun on the road than four-stroke 600s. In my day, anyway. These days… well, I suspect that the current crop is probably faster than litre bikes were when I was anywhere near this kind of irresponsible and downright naughty behavior. But then, in the days I’m writing about they were fast, yes, but their handling and braking were possibly better than their performance.
I remember one wet CBR600RR (I think, or maybe just a single R) launch out of Melbourne through the forested Dandenong roads when I put my head down and went for it, sliding just slightly over leaf litter every now and then but feeling supremely confident, and arrived at lunch a solid few minutes before the pack that I usually trailed. Adrenalin was still leaking out of the corners of my eyes when the bloke from Honda, an old and trusty friend, summed it up.
“You’re just too stupid to be afraid, aren’t you?”
Spot on. And the best age for that is “young”, and the best bike to be too stupid to be afraid on, is a Superports 600. If I were still in that age group, I’d probably be buying four new bikes a year too. So would you, probably. Simply, and almost entirely, because it was fun. I suspect that the relative demise of this group accounts for much of the decline in road bike sales.
The one problem, and one that was never solved satisfactorily, was what color leathers you bought. If only somebody had come up with a set on which you could change it. After all (say), leathers with red highlights on a Kawasaki? I don’t think so.
(Photos Lou Martin, courtesy of Honda MPE Australia)