The 9 Sportsbikes we loved and lost... but that might come back again

The Triumph Daytona, Honda CBR600RR, KTM RC8... sportsbikes we have loved and lost over the years. But could we be about to see a revival of the formula?

Triumph Daytona 675


It won't be news to anyone that the sportsbike market has somewhat dwindled over the years as rising costs and shrinking emissions targets begin to out-weight an erstwhile business case developed on heritage, winning on Sundays and sheer passion for all things 'super' on two-wheels.

On the plus side, if we're using the scale of quality over quantity then there are enough options to keep the discerning sportsbike fan happy... but that doesn't mean we don't yearn for models we have loved and lost over the last couple of decades. 

After all, the motorcycle industry is quite cyclical and there is enough evidence to suggest the 'sportsbike' might be due for a comeback, as demonstrated by this week's teasers that the Yamaha R7 is (probably) just around the corner.

 

In the meantime, we look back on a selection of motorcycles that have come, gone... but might come back again.

Yamaha R6

The Yamaha R6 is still warm in the proverbial motorcycle grave but we are sad for its passing for a number of reasons. Technically speaking, the R6 isn’t ‘dead’ but unless your licence is a racing one and you don’t need one for the road, the R6 only lives on as a track day tool.

Which is a shame because with its sharp looks, confidence-inducing chassis and eager engine it’s a weapon both on road and on track. But the limitations of the 600cc bracket - and price tag that errs too close to an R1 - was becoming clear and its exit is probably the penultimate nail in the coffin for the sector as it is. All eyes on the Kawasaki ZX-6R...

Never fear though, Yamaha isn’t done with the middleweight class as it is nearing a launch date for the much rumoured R7, which opens up a whole host of new options for what will likely evolve into its new Supersport racing weapon when the regulations (probably) open up to allow motorcycles up to 960cc.

KTM RC8

There is certainly no denying KTM’s ambitions when it comes to succeeding on track as shown by its wealth of grand prix titles in the feeder classes and its breakthrough victories in MotoGP last year. However, it is the only MotoGP team without a big sportsbike in its range, the Austrian firm preferring to push the 1290 Super Duke R rather than slap a fairing on it.

Which is a shame because KTM has done the legwork previously with the RC8 when its motorsport ambitions were trained on the WorldSBK class. That of course never happened and the RC8 became something of a mythical beast that showed great promise for a first effort with its angular styling and involving dynamics, while it came with lashings of typical hard-edged KTM hooliganism. It wasn’t easy to ride, but easy to love for those that wanted to stand out.

Cagiva Mito 

We were tempted to limit this article to 600cc up but we just couldn’t ignore the Cagiva Mito, which remains fondly remembered for its somewhat unashamed attempt to shrink the Ducati 916 into nifty urban runaround. 

As far as photocopies go, the Mito is a very faithful reimagining of arguably history’s most iconic sportsbike, right down to the GP-spec handling and zippy pace that made you feel like you were riding a Ducati in the urban jungle. 

Incidentally, Cagiva lives on under the stewardship of MV Agusta and is on the cusp of being relaunched, but anyone hoping for a Mito revival will be disappointed to learn it is returning with an e-mobility range focused on scooters.

Benelli Tornado Tre

The Benelli Tornado Tre isn’t a model that is so much missed for its abilities but as an exotic oddity for those that wanted an Italian sportsbike but didn’t want to be boxed in by Ducati and Aprilia options. 

Bizarrely, it managed to skirt WorldSBK homologation regulations by hitting the track before it went on sale (as a way of speeding up development) but it wasn’t successful and ended up going on sale after its racing commitments were wound up.

With a 900 (later 1130) triple-cylinder engine, the Benelli Tornado was striking to look at, potent to ride and had some quirky features (such as the under seat venting) but early models were hamstrung by poor reliability and fuel injection.

Fast forward to 2021 though and the Tornado name lives on in Asia on a new 300cc variant launched this month. Borrowing a few styling cues, the fact the Tre turns up in promotional shots leads us to think a spiritual successor could well be on the way for the now Chinese-owned company.

Norton F1

The year is 1991 and the rotary engine is taking motorsport by storm. The Wankel-engined Mazda 787B has just won the Le Mans 24 Hours and Norton RCW (nee F1) clinched the British Superbike Championship a year earlier.

And yet, soon afterwards the Norton F1 slipped off price lists and the rotary engine became largely consigned to history. Of course, the Norton sportsbike lives on today as the SS but we have included the shortlived F1 here for its pioneering take on the class at a time when Japanese and Italian manufacturers were engaged in a bitter battle of one upmanship in the big bike staks.

Fast forward 30 years and it seems no manufacturer wants to revisit the rotary formula despite the fact huge advances in technology make us wonder whether the former disadvantages - lubrication, unreliability and high emissions - can now be stamped out, leaving the benefits of more power and torque from a smaller engine to stand out. 

Suzuki GSX-R600

Suzuki may not be abandoning its sportsbike heritage with the launch of the new Hayabusa, which comes hot on the heels of its 2020 MotoGP World Championship title win but many purists are waiting for a new GSX-R1000 since it’s unlikely we will ever see another GSX-R600 rolling on our roads.

Which is a shame because the middleweight Suzuki was a hoot to ride, with a punchy engine and more inoffensive looks than the comparatively quirky 1000. Also, no other manufacturer could make white wheel trims look so fashionable...

MV Agusta F4

If any manufacturer could be guilty of writing cheques it doesn’t cash, it would be MV Agusta. Nonetheless, fresh ownership and a sharp injection of investment over the last couple of years means the now discontinued F4 could make a comeback sooner than we may hope.

Even without its racing heritage, the F4 has an impressive lineage and its omission from today’s line-up is crying shame. While emissions regulations have sounded the death knell for the most recent generation, the F4 was still one of the best looking and most evocative sportsbikes on sale at the time of its passing, despite its age.

While one might point to a limited dealer network and a blase attitude to parts, it is these two areas MV Agusta is currently working particularly hard to improve.

Triumph Daytona

The Triumph Daytona is dead. Long live the Triumph Daytona…?

Triumph’s venerable sportsbike hasn’t been on sale for a couple of years now, but interest in the iconic model line was demonstrated by its brief resurrection with the Moto2-tuned 765cc limited edition of 2020 that sold out in days.

While we have come to terms with the fact the Daytona won’t necessarily return in its current form, Triumph’s coyness when it comes to talking about future plans and the fact a hybrid production-prototype model that combines the Daytona body with the running gear of a Street Triple will race in British Supersport in 2021 (WorldSSP in 2022) makes us think this isn’t the end of the road..

The waiting is always the hardest part

Honda CBR600RR

In racing terms no other sportsbike comes close to the dominance shown by the Honda CBR600RR in the WorldSSP class (though the Yamaha R6 isn't far off now).

However, a dwindling audience base coupled with costly emissions tweaks means the most potent Honda middleweight Honda sportsbike on sale here is pinned to just a single ‘R” suffix.

The CBR600RR continues to live on in Japan but with Yamaha working on the R7 and Triumph seemingly tinkering with the ‘Supersport’ formula to assure its competition future, we wonder whether the ‘RR” could return in a different form very soon.

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