I've ridden the future and it's 100bhp

Would a 100bhp limit be the end of motorcycling?

It's an age-old internet debate: 100bhp is all you need.

If you live in France, it's all you're allowed. The 100bhp limit was introduced there in the '90s and it's still going strong today. Well, strong in a restricted kind of way.

The Hype

Over the years there has been much hype that the 100bhp limit is coming to the UK. As far as I can see, it's mainly a myth perpetuated on a regular basis by a certain publication. Nothing like a bit of fear to help your copy sales, just look at the Daily Mail..

Having not affected accident statistics, the EU are putting pressure on France to remove the 100bhp limit, so are we really likely to get it in the UK? It's Politics, it's the EU. The truth is, no-one knows. Least of all me.

What we do know is that ABS is coming and anti-tampering is being proposed. It's not entirely out the question that a horsepower limit could come into effect sometime in the future, afterall, the Health & Safety trend these days is to protect us from ourselves. So let's assume a 100bhp limit comes in and we're stuck with it, what now?

The Future?

Out in Portimao, on a Bridgestone S20 tyre launch, there was one bike in the pits that wasn't getting a lot of love: the 2012 R1. It was a French model, restricted to 106bhp.

I had to have a go.

I wondered whether the power characteristics had been squashed down via the ECU, so that it behaved like an R1 just on a smaller scale or if it would feel like an R1 until it hit 100bhp and then the delivery would come to an abrupt halt. There was only one way to find out.

Leaving pitlane, all signals were good; the R1's cross-plane engine still sounded as menacing as ever as we rumbled along in second gear at 40mph. As I approached the end of he pit wall, a couple of bikes fired past under brakes, a Daytona 675R and a Fireblade. A couple of targets to pick off.

I was nervous with anticipation, looked down and the rev needle was at 5,000, I genuinely had no idea what was in store but with the other two bikes disappearing, I pinned the throttle ready to reel them back in.

The revs picked up sharply as the R1 surged forward and started to stretch its legs. My natural reaction was to shift my weight over the front to counter the oncoming wheelie, but it never came. I short-shift to third, drive hard around the first couple of rights, it feels good. Into the first uphill lefthander, I feed the gas on somewhat tentatively at first and as the track unwinds infront of me I keep the throttle pinned. Then it happens.

Right at the point where the motor wants to take off, it instantly runs out of power. It jerks once like the bike has run out of fuel but then the power remains flat, even though the engine is revving. It's like you've been hit by a 100mph headwind.

Seeing as you don't have the drive down the straight, if you want to catch up with the guys infront - which I did - then you have to try and carry corner speed and work the bike as much as possible under the 100bhp limit.

The pre-conceptions are that 600s carry corner speed and 1000s can't. Not having any data-logging kit, it's impossible to say what my corner speed actually was but when you're arriving at a corner at the same speed as a 600 and you've done the majority of your braking, I don't see why you can't carry 600-style corner speed. There's only about 10kg difference between an R6 and R1, afterall.

Is it all in your head? If you arrive at a corner on a litre-bike at 120mph and scrub your speed off to 60mph, the corner might feel slow. If you arrive at the same corner on a 600 at 90mph and scrub speed off to 60mph, the corner could feel faster when it actual fact you're probably going around it at the same speed..

I had the traction control switched off and was trying to wring the most out of the R1 out of the corners, treating it like a 600, driving way harder than I would on a full-fat litre sportsbike. The rear starts moving but the power limit shows its hand and again, putting a stop to any wild highsides and instead I short-shift to keep on the torque and build speed.

The restricted R1 pulls out of a corner with much more poke than a 600 but you're not revving it. It's as if you're on a sighting lap and yet you're trying like you're on a do or die qualifying lap.

Coming out of Portimao's final right-hander onto the straight, I'm right behind a big lad on an R6. This is going to be interesting. I get the run on him out of the corner and as we approach the rise onto the straight I'm right on his back wheel. I move to overtake but the R1 runs out of puff. I get back in the slipstream and the R6 just edges away at walking pace. It's unrestricted and running a sports exhaust. Every last horsepower counts.

He brakes early. The R1 is showing 140mph as the straight drops away into the first corner. On an earlier session, the full-power ZX-10R was showing 179mph. I brake in exactly the same place as I would on a 600, tip in at what feels like a much faster speed than I would have carried on the 10R because I'm leaving no stone unturned to catch up with the two bikes ahead. The front feels good. I tap the power and the rear lets go - a small out of the seat moment - but nothing too bad. In my mind I'm riding a 600 but the bottom-end delivery is as sharp as a normal litre-bike.

It takes me a couple of laps to get used to this weirdly challenging ride. It teaches me that I can run a much faster corner speed than I was comfortable running on a regular litre superbike - destroying a pre-conception I've held for almost a decade. It makes me realise I am lazy on a superbike and rely on the huge reserves of power to make up for a slower corner entry. I'm a big fan of traction control but in trying to maximize on all the areas where I can get the most from the R1, I had the traction control switched off and I worked the motor harder off the bottom end than I ever would have done with a full-power machine, at angles of lean where previously I wouldn't have gone near the throttle.

It took some learning. My brain was neither in 600 mode or 1000 mode, it was juggling the two and sometimes getting it a bit wrong; in 10 laps I was out of the seat twice and occasionally braking much earlier than I needed to - because alarms bells were telling me I was on a litre-superbike and really ought to scrub off a bit more speed before tipping in - but I learned so much at the same time. The Fireblade got away but catching and passing the Daytona 675R was one of my most enjoyable on-track experiences, making me focus solely on what I could make the R1 could do better than the 675R and not relying on straight-line speed.

Tomorrow's World

If there was a Europe-wide 100bhp limit, there wouldn't be a lot of point buying an R1 or continuing to make one with 170bhp. Sportsbikes have dropped off France's top-selling chart and for good reason.

I don't want any sorts of limits to be enforced but I can't help but think that a mass 100bhp limit would create a huge wave of evolution and innovation in an industry that's been cranking out slightly lighter, sharper, faster bikes for years with just the occasional left-field surprise every now and then. Would it be a bad thing if showrooms were full of engines that produce eye-watering amounts of torque not horsepower? I'd be up for it.

Is 100bhp all you need? I'd definitely recommend riding a 100bhp restricted litre superbike, it makes you think about each and every one of those hundred horses you've got and how best to use them but there's something about an excess of power that will always stir the soul.

Enjoy it while you still can.