Munch had a cool idea. He thought it'd be interesting for people to discuss the pros and cons of the types of bikes they like to ride. The idea is not to start a flame war, but to give other people with different tastes a glimpse into your world...or more specifically, to give all those asshole cruiser guys an idea of what they're missing out on ;)
I'll start off with a review of Sport Bikes. I'm not talking Ninja 500R sportbikes here. I'm talking about race-bred supersports:
Ducati 848, 1098, 1198
Aprilia RSV, RSV-4
Triumph Daytona 675
Aesthetics: Alright, let's point out the obvious. Sportbikes just look sweet. At least I think they do. So sleek. So fast looking. So aggressive. To me, they look like birds of prey. I dig. Don't forget the appeal of their sound....*gets goosebumps*...freakin' terrific. Instead of what I perceive as the series of eardrum-shattering nuclear farts coming out of a Harley's exhaust pipes (I'm sorry, I'm sorry, just allow me ONE little jab?), a tuned sportbike exhaust sounds like a feral roar.
Speed: This one's easy. They're fast. Sphincter-tightenningly fast. You have not experienced acceleration until you've let it wide open on a supersport. You know, that or been an Air Force pilot.
Precise and easy-to-ride: A good sportbike is very easy to control precisely. It's funny, given that we spend so much time convincing nublets to avoid the big-bore sportbikes as their first bikes, that I should claim they're easy to ride. But they are...for experienced riders. That becomes apparent when you take the bike past the comfortable threshold that most other bikes live below. Braking hard at high speed for instance, though normally something that would upset a "normal" bike, doesn't shake a sportbike at all. Quickly throwing the bike from one side to the other between turns feels natural rather than frightening.
Practicality: I'm just sayin', the next time you get chased by evil government double-agents on the interstate, there's no better vehicle to be in/on for under $15,000.
Practicality: Ok, so maybe I lied. Sportbikes are not terribly practical for everyday use. People who love them use them anyway sometimes, but anybody who pretends that an R1 makes a good 'round-town commuter is full of @#$%.
Long-ride/slow-speed ergonomics: This is probably the most-raised problem with sportbikes. They're just not comfortable for the long term, or at slow-speeds. The riding position on a true sportbike is very aggressively slanted downwards: relatively high seat and low bars. Check out the difference between my GSX-R and Elwood's Sportster:
Since you can't put weight on the bars and continue to have control over steering inputs, you need to keep your upper body up using your lower back and butt muscles. This is certainly possible during a 20 minute trackday session or a 45-minute grand prix, but even an athletic person will start to feel discomfort in their back after a long ride. The seats are also generally firm to provide good feel and keep you in place, and don't really feel great after an hour in the saddle. If you ever have to wear a backpack or messenger bag, that added weight on your back will just make everything worse.
Boring in the city: Sportbikes are good for one thing: zipping through corners. Going in a straight line on a sportbike is boring as hell, and uncomfortable. Cities are grids of straight lines. Boo. Worse than that, gears are so tall that you'll never ever shift. I sometimes get into 3rd gear on higher-speed arterials, but for the most part, I'm in 1st or 2nd around town.
They're touchy: It's strange that I'd say this just after saying they're easy to ride and precise, so let me clarify. I'm talking about two different things. Before I was referring to the fact that the bike will make it easier to ride at a higher level (faster, cornering harder, braking harder). That assumes, however, that you've mastered smooth motorcycle operation.
Sportbikes will absolutely punish mistakes like nothing else. Which is going to be easier to ride smoothly: a DR-Z400SM or a GSX-R? Surprise! The DR of course. The GSX-R requires incredibly subtle control of the throttle to avoid jerking around or shooting off like a missle. The engine braking is much stronger on the gixxer. Get off the gas abruptly and you might as well have mashed the rear brake. The brakes need to be applied very smoothly so as to avoid a faceplant. The bike is very top-heavy and as small handlebar turning range, lock-to-lock. This makes it very easy to drop the bike to either side when doing tight low-speed maneuvers, as you have to lean it MUCH more to make up for reduced turning range.
Why people ride them; why squids love them
The pros I listed above are all reasons I ride a sportbike, but more than anything, it's because I love cornering. I take my sportbike to the track as often as I can, and I swoop through corners all day long. I don't ride it in the rain, I don't get groceries with it, I don't tour with it, and I sure as hell don't take passengers around. I would therefore never recommend one to somebody who needs, more than anything, a constant mode of transportation. Sportbikes are just impractical for that.
The real question is, if that's the case, why do you see so many on the road? Here are a few reasons:
2) People are obsessed with their image
3) Many men need a fast bike to feel like their penis can be seen without a microscope
4) A lot of people like going fast
From my limited sampling of random riders on the road, my perception is that MOST people on sportbikes on the street fit the following criteria:
1) Speeding (yeah yeah, we all speed; I'm talking lane splitting at 95 mph)
2) Quite young
3) Under-protected (not wearing nearly enough gear)
4) Incredibly enough, always male
5) Demonstrating many signs of poor riding technique
In particular, there are a bunch of really common and easy-to-spot signs of squiddly sportbike behavior. Here's a summary:
Supporting body on hands: This is one of the biggest mistakes on a sportbike. On a cruiser, you can get away with it to some degree because so much of your weight is on the seat. On a sportbike you can't. You won't be able to steer if you're putting all your weight on the bars. Sign #1 that a rider has his/her weight on the bars is that his/her arms are straight/locked. While I do this sometimes while stopping at a light to rest my back a bit, you should NEVER be straight-armed in a turn:
Afraid to lean: The foremost manifestation of lean-fear is that the rider is "crossed up," pushing their bodyweight AWAY from the turn. In doing so, they force the bike to compensate by leaning in further, putting them at greater risk and reducing traction. Here's what that looks like:
On the street, I usually try to keep a pretty neutral riding position to minimize the profile of the bike (hanging off makes you+bike wider). Here's a correct neutral position:
The most comical are the riders who really want to hang off, but are also afraid to really do so. They end up really crossed up and looking almost like a baby monkey clinging to its mother or something. Ironically, Mick Doohan, one of the "greats" of MotoGP professional motorcycle racing, was extraordinarily guilty of this. Note how his upper body is actually turned away from the turn, spine twisted:
The bottom line
I'm pretty sure that most people on sportbikes are terrible riders. They want to look the part, but haven't done the work to get there. They're afraid of their bikes, as much as they flaunt them, and are being ridden, rather than doing the riding. Don't let these guys color the way you look at those bikes. The bikes are incredible machines and can be used safely, responsibly, and to great effect. Just as not every Harley Rider is one of these:
...no every sportbike rider is one of these:
Some of them look like this: