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The Slow Death of the Sportbike Market, and Why It is Not a Surprise

We saw an excellent article on the Cycle World website earlier today about the apparent decision by Suzuki to discontinue the iconic GSX-R750 (sales of this model will continue in the U.S. market next year, but European sales have ended thanks to strict emission standards, and the cost of bringing a model into compliance with these new standards when the particular model does not sell well). The fact is that sportbikes, with their radical ergonomics, have continually declined in sales. Sub-1,000cc models might be the most affected by this trend.

Sportbikes still have their place (we have Kawasaki’s excellent 2019 ZX-6R in our test fleet currently), but their popularity for street use has plummeted. As we noted in an article titled “Upright is Alright” more than a dozen years ago, street performance is not hampered, in general, by upright, comfortable ergonomics. You can take a look at our recent article about the importance of rider skill versus motorcycle specifications, as well.

For years, we (and our readers) complained about the fact that state-of-the-art engines and components (including suspension and brakes) only appeared on radical sportbikes … not on the more comfortable, upright, standard machines. That is no longer the case, of course, so a rider can enjoy the benefits of new technology on a comfortable mount.

Another factor might be the decline in the fascination with road racing. Do you want to pretend you are Valentino Rossi when you climb aboard your street bike? That may have been a bigger factor in consumer decisions years ago.

In any event, the rise in popularity of more upright motorcycles, including Adventure models, has largely squeezed out sportbikes … to the point that Suzuki has discontinued development of one of the most important models in its history.

204 Comments

  1. Oldfarrts says:

    I,m 63 ,owned to many bikes to list , now ride a 2006 900 hornet , it,s fast ,but very streetable ,handles like a sports bike ,but is comfortable for longer rides , my last bike was zx750r .that thing would start to hurt me after 1/2 hr but was a blast !! wish I could have both .But , insurance companys have black listed such SS bikes .
    So the Honda naked bike does both , a good commuter and a weekend sport/tourer .I totally see the big swing to such bikes for young and old , I have 110 hp on tap witch is way more then I need . 200 hp would be fun but just not needed on the street .Great for adrenaline rushes ,but bad for licence and wallet, and possibly your health .
    I totally understand the fall of the SS bike sales . But understand the thrills they dish out . In the end “whatever works for you ” .
    Young people in the future will only dream of what we expearianced as they buzz around on little electric scooters .

  2. Blast Off says:

    I’m 53 and still love sportbikes. Got one (14R) for the street and one (GSXR600) for the track. The tracker beats me up a bit but I don’t care. Draggin’ knees around a roadcourse is worth the soreness. I’ll do it for as long as I’m physically able.

  3. Ricardo says:

    I am 56 year young and still enjoy riding my ’05 Ducati 999, just the sound of the Termi exhaust is enough to get me going plus the great engine performance, I do agree with the other people here, that sport bikes are really hard to ride in the city streets, so most of my riding is on twisty roads or my yearly travel to Deals Gap. Always taking it easy since this beast is way over my skill set. So in the end it’s whatever bike moves you that you should be riding, just enjoy it.

  4. Jeremy in TX says:

    My comment was not directed at millennials. It was directed to someone who would make a silly, blanket statement about an entire generation as an excuse for why another entire generation might not be doing as well as he thinks they deserve.

    I’m a gen-xer, not a baby boomer. In fact I was surprised to learn that I only missed the cutoff to be considered a millennial by a few years. Two of my three siblings are millennials. Got nothing against millennials… Or gen-xers or boomers or anyone else. And I don’t make excuses or blame others for obstacles in my path. I overcome what I can and accept what I can’t.

    • JB says:

      I’m not sure if you were responding to me from way down below, but I myself was responding to Grover — not you.

  5. HokieColt says:

    Very interesting responses. I think a lot has changed in the last 30 years. I’m 51 years old and I remember the first type of bike I wanted to get was a sport bike (GPz 550 was the bike I lusted after). My first bike was a 96′ ZX-6R. I loved that bike. My second was an SV1000S. Another great motorcycle (but more comfortable). I’ve had a Harley Crossbones since 09′ and I just picked up a 2018 SV 650 ABS because I wanted something affordable, fun to ride, comfortable and easily modified.

    I think there are a few reasons for the decline of sales…

    a) Cost – The current batch of 600’s are 10K and up. Even with inflation, they have become expensive. Throw in the cost of insurance and you have a very expensive proposition.
    b) “Race on Sunday, buy on Monday” – I know that applies to NASCAR, but when I really started getting into bikes, we had several American riders that were consistently in the mix with the best in the world for the top spots in racing. Lawson (my favorite), Merkel, Chandler, Russell Spencer, Schwantz, Roberts, Rainey, Polen…. the list goes on and on. I wanted to be like these guys. The AMA was an integral factor in getting folks interested in racing and as a result buying sport bikes. I’m glad that racing has made a comeback in the states, but it just isn’t the same.
    c) The advent of super standards – Finally, I think that if you can get 90% of the performance of a comparable sport bike BUT be in a comfortable position AND spend less money, you’ll go with the cheaper more comfortable option.

    I seriously considered the GSX-R 750 when I bought the SV. In the end, the decision came down to cost, insurance, and comfort. I could have just as much fun on the SV as the Gixxer for a lot less money.

  6. Gary says:

    Okay, you’re right … I’ll fess up. Sport bikes are stupid and so are the guys who ride them. Especially the ones who go to track day and pretend to be racers. If you race … fine, you need the aerodynamic edge. If not, you are just a posing weasel who looks like you’re humping a football. My bad. 🙂

  7. Gabriel says:

    I suppose I was lucky having gotten a DUI at age 21 because it scared me from going fast and jacked my insurance up so high (on an 84 Buick no less) that I couldn’t have afforded another ticket anyway, but that conservative driving got me through my 20’s until I was old enough to know better. I got my first proper sport bike at 32 and by then I knew enough to keep my wrist under control. Still, I mourn the loss of any segment of the market as they all play a role in keeping the sport alive. I think there will always be sportbikes available because there will always be racers and hardcore enthusiasts who want one, but I totally get the manufactures pulling back from making and developing them as they have been. Certainly not like they were during the early aughts. I wonder if a more a’la carte sales model where a buyer could spec a brand new SS at the dealership with a list of options, do you want low clip ones or risers, fully adjustable TiNi coated forks or plain Jane or something in between, magnesium wheels or cast aluminum, etc. how much can you afford to upgrade or finance at the time of purchase?

  8. Jose says:

    It’s not a mystery. Sport bikes are a young person’s thing, with flashy graphics, cutting edge tech, blinding speed and ergonomics that need the rider to be in shape.

    The sport bike riders of yesterday have aged out, wanting to ride farther or more comfortably. The youth of today have no money to spend on luxuries like high performance sport bikes because the baby boomers have wrecked the world for everyone.

    • Motoman says:

      “The youth of today have no money to spend on luxuries like high performance sport bikes because the baby boomers have wrecked the world for everyone.”….. Wow! That’s a mouth full, of vomit.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Yep. Always kind of sad to blame someone else for one’s own failings. That’s what is ruining the world for everyone.

        • Dave says:

          Except they’re not failing. They’re doing better in every way than we did prior to workforce age and they’re getting less for it.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            My comment was not directed at millennials. It was directed to someone who would make a silly, blanket statement about an entire generation as an excuse for why another entire generation might not be doing as well as he thinks they deserve.

            I’m a gen-xer, not a baby boomer. In fact I was surprised to learn that I only missed the cutoff to be considered a millennial by a few years. Two of my three siblings are millennials. Got nothing against millennials… Or gen-xers or boomers or anyone else. And I don’t make excuses or blame others for obstacles in my path. I overcome what I can and accept what I can’t.

  9. None says:

    I stopped riding sport bikes years ago. It simply wasn’t fun to ride them on the street, in traffic, 99% of the time. They have really become, for all intents and purposes, track day only bikes, so it’s not a surprise to see that their sales have fallen off.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The article is about the slow death of the “supersport” bikes.

  11. ross says:

    Sportbikes are dying a slow death, and it’s our fault.

    Raise those taxes. At least 80%.

    All youngsters will get free sportbikes and insurance, alongside all the other free stuff.

    Gixxers and Ninjas everywhere! Problem solved, you can all thank Bernie.

  12. Gary says:

    Good riddance. I never understood the need to tie yourself into a pretzel shape to go riding. Never owned a “sport bike,” but I’ve owned high-performance bikes. No chiropractor bills.

    • Anonymous says:

      Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I’ve never understood how sitting on your tailbone with your legs spread in front of you like you’re visiting the gynocologist, and holding up minivans in the middle of corners is desirable, but I don’t begrudge you the right to enjoy… whatever that is.

    • Motoman says:

      You might understand if you ever raced or did track days on one. I agree they are narrow-focused bikes, however.

    • Gary says:

      Never said it was wrong. I said I didn’t understand it. Have spent plenty of time on race tracks as a class C racer, motocrosser, and hare scrambles. Never on a road course, though. You’ve got that part right. One out of three ain’t bad I guess.

      • Anonymous says:

        You said “good riddance”. That means, “If I don’t care for it, nobody needs it”. If you don’t understand sport bikes, don’t buy one. But let the rest of us have our fun.

      • Motoman says:

        I’m surprised you don’t “understand” the different ergonomic needs of different venues being a former racer.

      • paul says:

        To Gary I call BS, you clearly “said it was wrong” and now you are trying to back pedal out of it.

      • Gary says:

        Okay, you’re right … I’ll fess up. Sport bikes are stupid and so are the guys who ride them. Especially the ones who go to track day and pretend to be racers. If you race … fine, you need the aerodynamic edge. If not, you are just a posing weasel who looks like you’re humping a football. My bad. 🙂

  13. todd says:

    I should ask all the people at work. There’s about twelve millenials (5 women) I work with that ride on top of the 5 “middle age” male riders including myself. Everyone rides a sport bike except one woman that rides a dual purpose and one Yamaha Majesty I haven’t pegged yet. The older guys ride an “adventure” type bike, me on my sport touring, vintage cafe racers and a classic Ducatis. The one cruiser is a Yamaha Bolt (he’s in his late-30s). I can’t imagine any of the young kids spending $3,000 for insurance but, you never know. This is in the San Francisco/Oakland area.

  14. Phil says:

    No one would buy a car without seat adjustment. Yet this is the norm for sports bikes. If they had adjustable pegs, seat height and optional bar risers, I think they’d sell a few more, as they wouldn’t be so track focused…. all the time.

    Owners should be able to switch between sport touring mode (maybe “less extreme” mode is the correct term), and track mode – with a minimal amount of effort. Currently you only get track mode, which makes these bikes 45 minute motorcycles. I should mention I have a current ZX10, so I’m well aware of sport bike limitations on the street – but I love it anyway.

  15. Allansb says:

    It is unfortunate to see the GXR’s go, but these bikes are impractical, relatively expensive and costly to insure. For those still interested in this class, Kawi and Yamaha are still there. I’m also one of those ‘older’ riders, but I have an Aprilia Tuono V4 which gives me all the thrills I want without the cramped riding position of the RSV4. I also ride a Yamaha XSR900 which has great ergonomics and plenty of power in a relative lightweight. Performance and corner-carving are available on many bikes without sacrificing comfort.

  16. takehikes says:

    I’ve been buying and riding bikes for 50 years. Bought one sportbike and sold a year later. Many of us are looking for a multi-tool when it comes to a bike. They are single purpose.
    Truthfully probably the most versatile bike ever was the original Honda 750-4. You could cruise on it, commute and with a bit of help ride “sporty”.

  17. Bill says:

    Too bad. I’m over 60 and have been riding for almost 50 years. I have ridden and owned mostly hard core sportbikes, as well as a few sport-tourers and standards. I actually find sportbikes quite acceptable for long rides. I prefer their lighter weight, and forward riding position, especially at higher speeds. I find the upright bikes make me uncomfortable sooner, particularly my tailbone and elbows. Motorcycles aren’t about comfort… if I want to be comfortable I’ll take the car or truck.

    I hope they continue to build them faster and lighter until my riding days are done.

    • Anonymous says:

      I knew an older fella, probably in his 60’s, that regularly rode an RC51. He rode it from Canada to Mexico and back, several times. He was strongly considering picking up another RC51 that he found still in the crate for the future when he wore out the first one. On top of that, this guy was over 6 feet in height. He just loved that bike.

  18. Willie says:

    “I miss the 600 dearly. It’s like a teenage girlfriend, hot and a whole lot of fun!”

    Lol – so true!

  19. Michael Walker says:

    So many bikes are outright passenger unfriendly. They have seating accommodations most appropriate if your lady has an @$$ similar in shape and density to a piece of toast. Capabilities impossible to fully exploit on public roadways. I see guys on sportbikes on the highway, right hand on throttle and left arm propped on the tank for support, because they are tired of propping themselves up on clip ons in full race position.

  20. Dan says:

    I loved my 95 ZX6R but by today’s sportsbike standards it would be a comfy sports tourer. Everytime I sit on a sportsbike now its impossible to get my feet back high enough to go on the pegs. True, I’m older but most (OK I know there’s the honda CB650) sportsbikes are too sharp-edged and uncomfortable now to be daily rides for a lot of us. Plus I think my Kawi was around $7K out the door, which is about half of what the new 600s cost. And given their fragility, insurance is sky high. Combine all that with less affluent younger people who aren’t as inclined towards motorcycles anyway and where’s the mystery of why sales are plummeting.

  21. Clumsyfingers says:

    I sold my 600 last summer, and even though I only put 400 km on it in the last year and thoroughly enjoy my sport tourer, I miss the 600 dearly. It’s like a teenage girlfriend, hot and a whole lot of fun!

  22. matt says:

    I really don’t get how there are so many people who buy a SS/SB. I rode a S1000RR for 30 minutes a week ago – the position was idiotic, the back of my helmet was digging into my jacket so turning my head was cumbersome. I rode a ZX636 for a 20min session at a track day – that was way more livable but the weight on the wrists was nuts and again, having to crane one’s neck to see forward got old after a couple of laps. Spinning the motor past 10 large felt really wrong but I’m sure that could get accustomed to. What’s nuts is that the S1000RR there’s no point is pushing the motor past 6k on the street. It’s a decently smooth and quite well-fueled engine (Ducati and Aprilia suck at it by comparison), but completely annoying (engine clatter). The gas tanks on the Jap4 SS/SB especially the Zuk and Zed are ridiculously wide. I don’t need my hip joint dislocated, thanks. I guess it’s no wonder so few log any hours/miles on them. On a slow year I do at least 12,000 miles and generally double that. I can totally see why so many SS/SB riders ride in 30 minute increments.

  23. carl says:

    I N S U R A N C E !!

    • Hot Dog says:

      I agree with you on the insurance aspect. America tends to lean towards less government intervention hence we don’t have a teared licensing system. When a young/unexperienced person can go out and purchase one of these beasts, inevitably they trash it. They trash it and the insurance companies drive the rates up and up. A viscous circle where the noose gets tighter and tighter.

      In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s there was a lot to be excited about, with all of the engine configurations, frame technology and tire development. When I would attend a racing event, there was a buzz in the air fueled by smells, sounds and speeds that were unimaginable. The one major missing component to Superbike racing was the lack of local and regional advertising. If a person was at a event, they were more than likely a enthusiast, not some Joe/Mary who just happened to wonder upon the event. I lived 100 miles from Brainard and never saw a poster in any bike shops advertising bike racing. I was dumbfounded when I saw the shaft drive on Dr. John’s Moto Guzzi endurance bike the first time. I was hooked when I first drove into the Brainard facility and Schwantz/Rainey came sliding under the bridge I was on-Stupendous indeed!

      Now everyone seems disconnected and polarized. Bikes are so good now it’s a shame more don’t take advantage of them. I hope this is just a slow down and we go back full circle.

    • Dave says:

      High insurance rates for sportbikes is nothing new. In 2002 I was quoted $2,500/yr for a used Honda Superhawk at 30 years old (got a much better rate elsewhere). I understand why, the rate at which sportbikes are totaled out can be ridiculous.

  24. arrowrod says:

    We will see. Supposedly, there are now more jobs than people looking. A couple of extra dollars a month, and the average Joe will get a motorcycle with a loan.

  25. Bubba Blue says:

    The term “sport bike” was always a misnomer to the extent that poseurs thought they needed a sportbike to go sport riding on the street. Riding a motorcycle is a sporting challenge on any motorcycle at any time, if it’s a Harley CVO Electra Glide Ultra Classic or a Honda 50.

    “Sport” in sportbike is the lay down riding position which is useful on a race track. And racing motorcycles on a race track is a sport. But the riding position does not make it a sport, the motorcycle does.

    Conversely, racing sportbike motorcycles on the street isn’t a sport.

  26. Jim Logan says:

    I think it is a shame to see them go. High performance sport bikes brought a level of performance to people who could never afford cars with similar performance. I have a friend, retired racer, who once told me that for him there is nothing like the sound of a 600cc super sport at 15,000 rpm. The raw acceleration available from a sport bike is one of the life’s greatest thrills (in my opinion).

    I also like that sport bikes tended to be light weight. I am 65, one of my bikes is a SuperDuke. The performance and comfort are great, but I wish it was about 50 pounds lighter.

  27. Jose says:

    The prices of this machines had skyrocketed and insurance for the young population is almost untouchable. So, how can a young individual can afford such bike? Well, several years ago the 3 major manufactures came with an Idea… Let them apply for credit and if qualified we will issue a Revolving Credit Card. With this type of credit you don’t need a full cover insurance (very irresponsible)…I think they stop doing this. And the truth is they have become to expensive for this generation, with 100k or more in students loans…

  28. Sam says:

    We have an aging demographic that still largely holds the purse strings to future motorcycle industry growth and guess what????: I would say that most of us don’t like the ‘Clip on-rear set’ 95 lb and 4ft-5in tall Quarter horse Jockey position although we love the sophistication and performance of the 600cc through open class bikes but won’t buy them anymore because we are older and like our comfort:)

    Prices for anything but an entry type bike have gone through the roof and it’s no wonder that sales are going down all across the board: $35 to $40,000 Goldwings, Harleys and BMW’s and Ducati’s, keep all but the ‘upper middle class’ off of these bikes.

    Cars and pickups are out of reach if it were not for 72, 84 and 96 month financing!

    Give me a GSXR750 with higher, normal handle bars, a real comfortable seat, a larger fuel tank and mid foot controls low enough not to cause cramping and I’m there! NO NO NO, don’t detune it just leave that wonderful engine alone:)

    Sam:)

    • matt says:

      > with higher, normal handle bars, a real comfortable seat

      There’s ‘technically higher’ and then there’s ‘correct’. The S1000R has ergos almost as severe as the Tuono v4 and neither qualify as proper standards, IMO – just modestly less irksome sportbikes. Thing is Aprilia built a proper upright with the v2 bikes. The FZ09 is arguably a bit too upright. Drop the pegs of the GSXR by 40mm and raise the bars a good 80-100mm above the triples and now we’re getting close. Instead of playing games with holes in the triple-clamps, bolt on some risers (raid the SV650 parts bin) and some trivial changes to the rearsets and instant SS/SB that can actually be ridden. If you want to go all ‘racer-boy’ swap in a different bar for a measly $20-$120.

      Suz had a prime opportunity to make a ‘naked’ GSXR and they fouled it up something fierce with the recent GSX-S750/1000.

  29. Neal says:

    My sporty naked is comfortable with enough power, brakes, and suspension that my willingness to push it will always be the limiting factor in how fast I go… but that GXS-R600 I had was just an incredible machine. It felt like the result of decades of refinement, with a rock solid chassis and just an awesome motor. I’m getting to old for it but think I’d get another 600, maybe a used CBR.

  30. HalfBaked says:

    The sport bike is dead. Long live the sport bike!

  31. Joe Bogusheimer says:

    I guess I was an old man already at the age of 29, because that was when I bought my first new bike (after a series of XS400s and a DT200) in ’96, a Kawi ZX-6E – the more street oriented model, not the then still pretty new ZX-6R model. I quickly discovered that I couldn’t really live with that riding position, especially as I wanted to do some touring, and got a ZG1000 Concours the next year. Since then I’ve had a naked bike (ZRX1100), an ADV bike (V-Strom), and currently a sporty half-faired bike with tubular handlebars (FZ-8S). If I’d had the money when I was 20, I still probably wouldn’t have bought a GSXR, because even at that age it was clear that for me the riding position was just too extreme (late 80s GSXRs were probably even worse than the new ones in that regard). With a couple of neck injuries over the years since then, today I have trouble even lifting my head far enough to see down the road when hunched over in a typical repli-racer crouch.

  32. J Wilson says:

    The heyday of the 600 and 1000 sport bikes was the 90’s and 2000’s, where a ‘sweet spot’ of cheap/easy credit, insurance not yet jacked up from the carnage, and the ‘arms race’ where these bikes were updated / replaced every two years by the manufacturers in lock-step with a big connection to AMA Racing.

    Unfortunately, lots of kids bought these rocket sleds as a first bike (!!), and not all the results were good.

    These days, virtually all the conditions have reversed. Insurance can be astoundingly high. Cheap credit is gone after the economic roller coaster of the last 10-15 years. AMA Racing, and its’ effect on the buying public is a fraction of those days. I also think there’s not the obvious step-up from 600’s to 1000’s there once was.

    For me, the idea that I can walk in to a dealership and buy a motorcycle with 200hp available, box-stock, on street tires and pump gas, is mind-bending, and as far past my nerves and skills to where I’d feel the same if somebody tossed me the keys to an F22.

    Don’t get me wrong: If you have the skills, the nerves, and wallet to comfortably ride a Panigale or something similar, I think it’s just great that these things are better than ever. I just think the population in that group is far smaller now than 20 years ago.

  33. Dave says:

    I’ve had a few Sport bikes. I really like them a lot but they are uncomfortable in day to day riding. They make sense in the twisties, nothing better. But, with bikes like KTM’s Super Duke you need not compromise comfort, performance and outright power. Much better ergonomics. If more bikes were made like the Super Duke, I think they would sell. Though I am older, I still appreciate these attributes and probably always will. Just don’t “detune” them.

  34. allworld says:

    Race replicas are for the young with good backs. I remember a cop pulling me over and when I took my helmet off he said “aren’t you too old for a bike with clopons?” I have been riding uprights/streetfighters/nakeds ever since.