The different varieties of racing motorcycles look similar but in reality there is a big difference between the racing F1 level ‘prototypes’ being raced in MotoGP by Marquez and Rossi and the supposedly road legal(ish) machines ridden by Jonathan Rea in Superbike racing .
What we know as ‘Superbike’ racing should cover motorcycles which are available to buy by the public.
Realistically though that is about as factually correct as the speeds provided by your internet provider before you sign up. (Hello BT Broadband).
Even the comparatively basic Kawasaki superbike ridden by Jonathan Rea to 4 consecutive World Superbike Championships contains £100Ks of mods some of which come directly from the factory in Kobe. To account for the fact that the ‘normal’, ‘street level’ Superbikes class has over the years become so exotic, a class below Superbike was created – ‘Superstock’ to allow between genuinely standard kit.
Take a look however at BBCs Ulster’s thrilling coverage of the Northern Ireland road races and you might notice Peter Hickman’s Superstock BMW bares quite a resemblance to his BMW S1000RR Superbike. That’s because it is the same machine. The S1000RR is racing is so stock, they actually have to deactivate some features such as traction control from the stock machine to allow it to race in the British Superbike championship – which does not allow driver aids.
After years of tentatively dipping their toe in motorcycle racing BMW have found themselves with machinery in 2019 that is capable of podiums at British and World level in genuine stock form as sold on their showrooms. Allegedly their main problem right now is traction, actually translating the power from their standard road bike into power professional racers can actually use on closed race tracks!
BMWs special sauce in the BMW S1000RR amounts to Variable Value Timing. This has been a feature on cars for years but, like turbos and superchargers, VVT has never really become a standard two wheels – until now. For the technically challenged, and I would include myself on this, this is to do with cams. Cams which are the rods at the top of the engine which control how fast valves open, and therefore how much oxygen or fuel is being fed in at any given time. Standard cams operate in time with the engine speed, and open the valves with springs.
Ducati have long known this is the way to get more power as their distinctive engineering feature is ‘desmodromic’ valves. These use tiny gears from the cams instead of springs to open and close the valves. Desmo is a trademarked feature of Ducati however, and as well as being as Italian as pasta fazool, it does mean you need Michelangelo to get your bike properly serviced.
Suzuki and Honda have had some form of VVT for a while, but in a more conventional form where the cams can change just the speed of the opening and closing of the cams to suit the type of power required from the engine.
BMWs new version of VVT, called ShiftCam, affects not only the timing of the opening of the valves, but also their height, shape and duration of opening according to engine requirements at the time.
This is all wizzy stuff, and likely to be as useful as hydrogen pumps for airships when electric bikes make their eventual mass market appearance, but for now it means that if you have the cash, and the nerves and skill of Peter Hickman, you can potentially win serious motorcycle races on a machine you can drive straight out of the shop. (Note – There is a six month waiting list).
It also means, with the return of the factory Honda team and new hardware from Kawasaki, Yamaha and Ducati, AND this new ShiftCam BMW superbike maturing as a serious weapon, next years World Superbike Championship might be the best 90s revival since Twin Peaks The Return.