Top 10s

Punching above their weight? The Top 10 Middleweight Sportsbikes of 2021

The brilliant new Aprilia RS 660 is here to transform the ailing midi-superspors class... but does head our Top 10 Middleweight Sportsbikes of 2021

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

The launch of the new and eagerly anticipated Aprilia RS660 has certainly caused a stir here at Visordown, its unique approach to a broad class likely to give rival manufacturers food for thought - CLICK HERE for full review or read on to see where it features in this hot off the press list.

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 2021

10. KTM RC390 (from £5299)

It may be doing the business in MotoGP right now but with the demise of the quirky-turned-cult RC8 990cc V-twin superbike, it’s no surprise the Austrian off-road specialists’ remaining sports bikes are ultra-nimble lightweights powered by punchy, dirt-style singles. 

Of these, and until they come up with a parallel-twin powered RC790 or RC890 based on its latest Dukes (how about that for a tempting idea?), the RC390 is currently their biggest and thus closest to our middleweight definition. In truth, it’s at the bottom side of the brief, hence its ranking here, but is still hugely entertaining in a lightweight, Moto3 kind of way. 

At its heart is a punchy 44bhp 375cc single held in a dinky, slimline chassis derived from that of the RC125 and equipped with decent suspension and brakes. The result is tiny, cramped for some, rubbish over distance and yet is a slingshot faster than almost anything down tight and twisty B-roads. 

If that’s your bag and your body fits there’s no bigger biking buzz in middleweight sports. It’s not much good at much else, mind…

9. Honda CBR650R (from £7949)

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.

8. Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R (from £9699)

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, this is the one…

7. MV Agusta F3 675 (from £13,180)

First introduced way back in 2012 (yes, really) Italian exotica specialist MV’s first middleweight sports offering, the F3, has endured well and remains one of the most focussed, beautiful, well-equipped, demanding – and expensive – middleweight sports bikes available. 

Being a triple you may expect the F3 to be similar to Triumph’s now defunct Daytona 675 but in character they’re chalk and cheese. The MV, powered by a gruff, short-stroke, high-revving motor, stacked with electronics and exotic cycle parts many full litre-class superbikes can’t match, and with a typical MV cramped and tiny riding position, is all-or-nothing. 

At high speeds on the perfect road it can be one of the most intense and enjoyable motorcycling experiences around. The rest of the time, though, the fuelling is imperfect, its ride harsh and its comfort almost non-existent. 

That said, the F3 675’s beautiful and draws crowds like very little else. In fact were it not for its bigger and better version, the F3 800, we’d be ranking it higher still.

6. Kawasaki Ninja 650 (from £6899)

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.

5. Yamaha R6 (from £12,221)

Yamaha are pretty much alone among the Japanese ‘Big Four’ manufacturers in developing its middleweight sports offering as seriously as its superbikes (Kawasaki’s 636cc ZX-6R isn’t eligible for racing so has a slightly more road bias) and this latest R6, last given a thorough overhaul in 2017 is, as a result, every inch the ‘junior R1’. 

Current EU regulations may have neutered its performance slightly (in road trim its 116bhp is actually down on its predecessor) but that gets easily boosted for the track and its slick and exquisitely handling chassis, sophisticated electronics (for example it has six-way traction control) and astounding brakes make up for it. 

On the down side, it’s certainly not cheap and makes Kawasaki’s latest ZX-6R seem a bargain. When was the last time that a Japanese sports bike cost almost the same as its MV Agusta equivalent? 

But it is, almost certainly, the most advanced and fine handling of the breed.

4. 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…

3. MV F3 800 (from £14,380)

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, focussed chassis; sublime cycle parts; 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.  

And if all that’s not enough, there’s even, like the 675, an RC ‘Reparto Corse’ full race replica version with even more exotic components and spec.

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 £10,149)

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!

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