Packing a punch | The Top 10 Middleweight Sportsbikes of 2022

What the small-to-middleweight supersport class lacks in sheer quantity, it is increasingly making up for in quality... but which is our top pick of 2022?

Yamaha R7

Reports of the death of the supersports class - and of middleweight sports bikes in general – have been widely exaggerated…

New entrants in the form of the Aprilia RS660 and Yamaha R7 have breathed fresh life into a category that has in recent years bid farewell to fond classic like the Yamaha R6, Triumph Daytona and Suzuki GSX-R600

Indeed, the midi class has been dwindling over the years as buyers saved up to get their more powerful 1000cc+ bigger brothers instead, prompting some watering down of motorcycles that were ultimately bark and no bite.

APRILIA RS 660 - REVIEW & VERDICT

But it you are in the market for some a bit more affordable, a touch more manageable but still fun, then there is not only much to offer. This isn’t a direct comparison given we have prices ranging from £5,000 to £20,000 in an engine range of 390cc and 800cc, but this is still the order we’d want them if money was no object.

The Top 10 Middleweight Sportsbikes of 2022

10. Honda CBR650R (from £8,149)

 

If Honda’s affordable, four-cylinder middleweight sports offering reminds of the classic all-round brilliance of the CBR600F which proved so popular throughout the 1990s then that’s entirely deliberate. 

Originally introduced as the CBR600F in 2011, it was based on the then 90bhp Hornet roadster., but with a full fairing and more sporting attitude and conceived both as a more affordable, novice-friendly foil to the then full-on supersports CBR600RR, it was also to revive the spirit of the original CBR600F and succeeded due to its blend of practicality, sporting ability and affordability.

Further updates came in 2014 (to 650cc) and 2017 (extra power and other refinements) and in 2019 was renamed the CBR650R gaining, like the CBR500R above, Fireblade mimicking styling. It’s been a big success, as well, partly due to the fact that it has literally no direct rivals – it’s now the only four-cylinder sports bike available at a budget price. 

If that’s what you want, along with novice-friendly manners and practical, all-rounder attributes, you won’t be disappointed

9. KTM RC390 (from £5,500)

It may be doing the business in MotoGP right now but has been without a proper punchy sportsbike in its range since the demise of the quirky-turned-cult RC8 990cc V-twin superbike. However, KTM hasn't entirely abandoned its racing credentials with the RC 390 (and smaller RC 125) offering learner legal thrills lower down the range.

Better still, a fresh second generation model is about to go on sale in the UK boasting tidied up looks - including colourways inspired by its MotoGP effort - and more generous kit levels. 

The modifications are less extensive under the skin, meaning a punchy 44bhp 375cc single can still be found in held in a dinky, slimline chassis. Formerly limited by its tiny, cramped ergonomics, the latest generation is far less compromising, yet remains a slingshot faster than almost anything down tight and twisty B-roads. 

8. Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R (from £9,699)

Although the full-bore, four-cylinder supersports class is no longer what it was due to the loss of Honda’s CBR600RR and Suzuki’s GSX-R600, there are still worthy Japanese offerings with the latest version of Kawasaki’s ZX-6R today by far the cheapest.

 Supersport 600s always used to be the more affordable, practical stepping stone to full-on, 1000cc superbikes, defined by their sophisticated, sharp handling chassis and screaming, rev hungry four-cylinder powerplants – and the same is still true today. 

Last updated in 2019, this latest version of the bike which originally debuted in 1995 offers a full 128bhp, 160mph potential, fully-adjustable suspension and quality brakes and a decent spread of electronics including two riding modes. 

As a result, its handling is sublime and the overall experience is every inch ‘junior ZX-10R’. On the downside, it’s tiny and cramped, especially for larger riders and has limited practicality. But if you want a more affordable alternative to the full-on superbike experience - and can still find one of the limited number that can be found in the UK - this is the one…

7. Kawasaki Ninja 650 (from £7,249)

Kawasaki’s twin cylinder, novice-friendly, middleweight sportster - the Ninja 650 - may not exactly boast the headline stats of the bikes around it, but viewed in its focus and it is an entertaining and lively sportster at a price that makes it arguably one of the best sub-£7000 bikes on sale today.

Updated again for 2020 it’s the latest incarnation of the machine which started life as the faired ER-6F way back in 2005 now boasts 67hp. Three significant revisions and a name change since, the Ninja 650 is, in broad terms, a slightly more mature, better equipped and sharper-looking CBR500R – with a slightly higher price tag to match. Its twin cam, 647cc, parallel twin thrives on revs and remains the most popular basis for TT ‘minitwins’ racers. 

While Its chassis, although nowhere near as sharp and sophisticated as the Kawasaki’s pure supersports four, the ZX-6R, can still be entertainingly hustled while still being practical and comfortable. 

Best of all, however, this latest update gives the Ninja 650 a stylish new dash, revised bodywork intended to mimic the ZX-10R and a fruitier exhaust note. As an accessible, affordable and stylish introduction to middleweight sports machines, they don’t get much better.

6. Yamaha R7 (from £8,200)

The Yamaha R6 is dead... long live the Yamaha R7?

Having initially resisted the purge sweeping across the supersport class that claimed its Suzuki and Triumph rivals, the axe finally came down on the brilliant but expensive R6 in 2020, Yamaha scaling it back to track-only RACE trim.

However, Yamaha's rich 'R' sportsbike bloodline remains plentiful with the launch of the R7, which acts as its de facto replacement. In reality, they are only loosely related with the R7 best described as a 'warm' sportsbike with its 682cc engine toning down the shrill with a modest but eager-to-please 72.3bhp, though it does a decent job of replicating its involving riding dynamics.

And anyway, if those performance figures - and the somewhat divisive design - do spark a welling up of misty-eyes, the R7's price tag of £8,200 - some £4k cheaper than the R6 - should dry those peepers pretty quickly.

5. Norton Superlight (from £19,950)

OK, OK - we’re know what you’re thinking but let’s just forget out Stuart Garner et al. for one moment and focus on the Norton’s he was supposed to be building.

With all the controversies that led to the rescue Norton earlier in 2020 and interruptions to production crucially BEFORE the Superlight began to be built, admittedly we’re entering questionable waters here. 

Nonetheless, Norton’s middleweight supersport is still an official model, is advertised for sale on its website, was, as lockdown began, being developed by multiple TT winner Peter Hickman to race at this year’s Isle of Man and a running prototype has been seen testing – which is why we’re including it here. 

Besides, it’s flippin’ gorgeous: a handcrafted, polished frame derived from that of the Norton V4, single-sided swinger, top spec cycle parts including Ohlins suspension, V4-alike bodywork and, underneath all that, Norton’s new, own 105bhp parallel twin. In short, it’s a true superbike with a middleweight motor – if you can get one that is. 

Oh, and if all that’s not enough, a limited edition supercharged SS version is also set to be built with full carbon bodywork costing just shy of £50K. Too good to be true? That might yet prove to be the case…

4. Honda CBR500R (from £6,300)

Its engine may be packing 150cc less than the sister CBR650R but the sensibility and value of Honda's fantastic 500 platform dressed as a mini-Fireblade means the CBR500R would be our pick of the midi-sportsbikes from 'Big Red'.

If anything, the two models occupy much of the same market space and from a distance are relatively hard to tell apart. However, while the CBR650R offers two more cylinders than its younger brother, the CBR500R is light and nimble enough to make the most of its twin-cylinder set-up.

Benefitting from being available to A2 licence holders, the CBR500R delivers the fun factor in droves and certainly looks the part, while the 47bhp engine is revvy and eager enough to encourage you to push on.

Better still, the fact it is £2,000 cheaper than its larger sibling makes CBR500R the no-brainer choice between the two in our eyes.

3. MV F3 800 (from £14,780)

If your mouth was already watering at the prospect of MV Agusta’s simply gorgeous middleweight sports offering, the 675cc three cylinder F3, take a load of this. Arriving a couple of years after the 675, the long stroke, 800cc version is actually a much more attractive and useful bike by virtue of its gruntier, even more charismatic performance. 

Power is up to a healthy 148bhp (from the 675’s 126) along with an extra wodge of meaty torque, which is very welcome, but otherwise these two exquisite pocket rockets are virtually identical - jewel-like styling, a tiny, focused chassis.

On the road the F3 800 boasts handling that’ll run rings round virtually anything and an involving, intoxicating middleweight sports experience that’ll both delight and cause despair in equal measure.  

2. Triumph Daytona Moto2 765 (from £15,765)

One of the great sadnesses of the modern motorcycle market is the recent demise of that most British and brilliant of middleweight sports machines, the Triumph Daytona 675. 

The Hinckley-built triple was not only quick and fine-handling enough to match the very best from Japan (winning TTs and British Supersport championships along the way to prove it), it also had a distinctive three-cylinder character all its own and which actually made it a better, more lithe and flexible road bike than its four-cylinder rivals. 

That sadly all ended a couple of years ago when it was dropped from the range. For 2020, however, it’s won a (very) brief respite. Built to commemorate Triumph’s involvement as engine supplier in the Moto2 world championship, the Daytona Moto2 765 Limited Edition is the ultimate middleweight sports machine. 

Based on the already brilliant 675 it has an uprated 765cc engine (similar to that in the latest Street Triple), carbon-fibre fairing, single seat unit, front mudguard and hugger, a machined and individually numbered top yoke plaque, a special TFT colour dash, new switchgear, electronic rider aids, titanium Arrow end can and more. 

Though sold out at the factory, recent barely used examples are still available. If only it looked more special...

1. Aprilia RS 660 (from £10,300)

Few motorcycles have generated as much buzz as the Aprilia RS 660 in recent years, so when we finally got our chance to throw a leg over it at the official press launch, let’s just say there was hype… 

There are many reasons why the RS 660 is potentially so pivotal. It doesn’t have a direct rival in that it steers away from the ZX-6R/R6 shrunken superbike for the road model, but with 100hp and weighing only 169kg it is more potent - and expensive - than a 650 Ninja/CBR650R.

The result is a model that deserves to stand in its own unique place and one that could well inspire other manufacturers to shuffle things closer to its low weight, responsive useable power and exceptional handling model, though Aprilia does raise the bar a little further by cramming in all manner of clever tech to make its RSV4 big brother proud.

There is a lot riding on the RS 660 - because it will spawn a whole family of models including a Tuono naked and Tuareg ADV - but Aprilia can be safe in the knowledge it has not only nailed this one, it might have just saved the entire class altogether!