At the end of last year, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer gave a wide-ranging interview to Cycle News covering a number of fascinating topics. The quote that stood out for me, however, was more alarming than intriguing:
“If your Superbike is reaching 200 horsepower or more, it’s impossible to argue that it belongs on the street. It really doesn’t, anymore … As soon as the RC16 is available for customers we will stop with the RC8. The design (of the RC8) is outstanding. I would say it’s still state of the art, and there is nothing else like it. It’s a classic Superbike. But with the increase in safety concerns, I’m afraid bikes like this don’t belong on the street, only on a closed course.”
So, to be clear, this is the CEO of a performance motorbike company telling us that we don’t need high performance bikes. I suggest you read the interview for yourself, it really is very interesting. I don’t necessarily disagree because, as Stuart Garner (CEO of Norton) said in an interview in 2013, we have been force-fed Japanese superbikes since the 1980s and this has guided our collective idea of what a motorbike should be.
In 2009, BMW launched the S1000 RR and it was the first bike of its kind to have ABS. Now the game has moved on and BMW is offering bank-sensitive ABS. Undoubtedly BMW do a great job and design fantastic bikes but, for me at least, motorbikes are about engagement. A motorbike is freedom, not just from your mobile phone or front-facing speed cameras, but freedom from interference. Freedom from the nanny state we are developing that tells you someone else knows how to run your life better than you do. Want to ride into a corner too hot and lock up? Fine, in my opinion that is my own decision – and my own stupid fault.
So, my feeling is that if I want to buy a 200bhp motorbike I should be able to. However, just because I can doesn’t mean I will, because realistically no ordinary rider could handle a 200 bhp bike on the road without electronic assistance. So by being stroppy and insisting that it is our right as citizens to ride ludicrously powerful machines on the road, and subsequently buying one, we are actually depriving ourselves of the pure freedom traditionally offered by a bike. Until recently I had a BMW 335d coupe and it was a sublime car, it really was hard to fault. It was also suffocating in a way that my 2012 Triumph Bonneville, which is undeniable slower and less advanced, could never be. The BMW was an excellent car, but as a mere twitch of your foot on the accelerator pedal took you to 70mph it was not a car that you could make the most of on the road.
I am aware that this blog has slowly meandered through my thoughts like the river Amazon, and I shall attempt to reward those of you who have stuck with it to this point by drawing it together into some kind of sensible conclusion. Yes we have the engineering knowledge and ability to build motorbikes with 200bhp, or even 300bhp, but by riding them on the road and not the track we are missing the point of a motorbike. Of course you shouldn’t ride them on the limit on public roads, of course you can’t turn the traction control off – that wouldn’t be an expression of free will, it would be unrealistic. My conclusion is similar to one offered by my colleague Martyn Roberts in his earlier blog – the true enthusiast will forego the pursuit of numbers and focus on the experience and the level of engagement. My interpretation of Mr Pierer’s remarks is not that we can’t be trusted with fast bikes on the road, but that they are pointless in that environment because you can’t ride them anywhere near their potential. For my money, a Norton Domiracer ticks all the boxes. It might only have 80bhp and weigh 175kg but I would wager that you would never ride it without a smile on your face and surely that is what motorbikes are all about.