To illustrate the point, a 1998 Yamaha R1 and a 1998 Yamaha R6 have the same power-to-weight ratio, but when 1000c bikes went north of 150bhp from about 2005 on, and successive tough emission standards clipped the 600’s power to not much more than 100bhp, the performance gap grew and the supersport bike’s fate was sealed until eventually it became extinct.
As the mere thought that, once upon a time, supersport bikes were the weapon of choice and mattered commercially takes a lot to get your head round today, it’s even more of a mind bend to know that they mattered so much that manufacturers went to the trouble of making super trick, low volume homologation specials for supersport racing.
Toseland, Vermueulen, Xaus, Kiyonari, Brookes, Jones, Crutchlow, Sykes and O’Halloran – to name a few – all came through the World Supersport Championship and cut their teeth there long before you ever heard of them. It’s the arena where they and many others had their first taste of world championship racing in full view of the World Superbike paddock and all the factory teams. Keen to get noticed and make a mark, the racing was no holds barred, and the class earned itself the title of Axe Murderers by commentators and fans, which only added to its popularity and cult status.
The combination of the huge popularity of the Supersport race class with fans and booming sales in the showrooms of 600cc bikes meant the manufacturers didn’t treat it as an irritating sideshow that was just something to put on the schedule to justify the ticket price. They bought into it and made their road bikes hardcore. They had people all over the world scouting for talent in domestic championships to ride them on the world stage. And on very rare occasions they would even succumb to the rule book and make pukka homologation specials to try and give themselves a performance edge, just like they did with their superbikes. For some, winning in World Supersport meant almost as much as winning in World Superbike, specifically for Ducati and Kawasaki. Both factories went to the trouble of making a very small number of modified versions of their existing road-going supersport bikes. The Ducati 749R and Kawasaki ZX-6RR are possibly the least well-known homologation specials there are. Both are as scarce as hen’s teeth, and after months of chasing down leads and calling in favours, we finally got hold of two of the rarest road bikes we’ve ever had in the magazine.
Let the riding and anoraking begin…