Features 18 Sep 2014

Viewpoint: Special edition superbikes

The essence of high quality limited-run motorcycles.

When someone says ‘limited edition motorcycle’ you tend to think big dollar, small production run and incomparable performance. But these days the tag has been watered down and the true essence of a limited-edition motorcycle has been lost.

There are now three tiers of these ‘special’, or ‘limited edition’ motorcycles. The first bunch is the pretenders: bikes with a bunch of accessories and an evocative model name from a Friday afternoon marketing meeting.

By packaging up a bunch of accessories or options you usually get a lot of value for your money, but the bike is nothing out of the ordinary. These not-so ‘special models’ aren’t seen on sportsbikes or nakedbikes too often, but come end of model year or model run you’ll start to see them pop up as old stock is flogged off to make way for the next year’s model.

Source: Yamaha Motor.

Source: Yamaha Motor.

The next group of ‘special models’ is your up-spec models, or what are sometimes labeled ‘Special Editions’. Usually featuring better suspension, wheels, brakes and carbon on a sportsbike or nakedbike, they are always a better value-for-money proposition than a base model motorcycle. Some manufacturers give you more power with their up-spec models too. They just cost a bit more, and rightly so, but aren’t too far removed from any base-model production machine.

The final group of ‘special models’ are the real deal: true limited-edition motorcycles. These are the ones that you put your name down on a list for along with a deposit most of the time. These are the kind of machines MV Agusta has been very successful with building around the F4 and the original 1999 F4 750 Serie Oro and $185,000 F4 CC are two such examples. They are both as rare as hen’s teeth thanks to a small, limited production run and leaders in performance at the time.

Ducati has, for a long time, made a number of model variants in its range and not too long ago built perhaps the ultimate limited edition motorcycle in the GP-engined Desmosedici RR in 2006.

Source: Ducati.

Source: Ducati.

These days, they have the full spectrum of models within the range of 1199s that includes the base model 1199, up-spec 1199S, race-focused 1199R and the truly limited-edition Superleggera. You’ll be lucky to grab one of 500 of those weapons that have been built!

It’s not only the Europeans that have built up-spec machines. Yamaha went and built the R1 SP in 2006 with Ohlins suspension, Marchesini lightweight forged alloy wheels and slipper clutch.

Today Honda’s CBR1000RR Fireblade SP runs top of the line brakes, suspension and a blue-printed engine. Go back a bit further in history and you’ll see in 1988 Kawasaki built a KR-1S for the street and KR-1R for the track with a close-ratio gearbox and bigger carbies.

Source: Honda.

Source: Honda.

While Yamaha’s SP could be seen as a way to flog off all the five-valve per cylinder engines before the four-valver came along in 2007 and the Fireblade SP and KR-1R a way to flout production racing rules in certain racing series, they were and still are based very closely on the base model machines.

The true limited edition machines from Japan are the likes of the Honda RC30 and RC45, Yamaha OW01 and OW02 (R7) and Kawasaki ZX-7RR. Building a base to launch a successful production racer was the objective with these machines and a highly sought after, high performance machine was the answer. It is a trend that may happen in the not to distant future as WSBK moves towards more production-based rules.

For now it looks like Kawasaki will be the next one to release one of these true, limited-edition motorcycles of the ilk of the Desmosedici RR – the Ninja H2. Kawasaki has said, “the Ninja H2 will not be a replacement, but a stand-alone model. It certainly won’t be mass-produced therefore it will not be ‘inexpensive’. It most certainly will be amazing!” And from what we’ve seen of the H2 so far, there’s no doubt about that.