There are plenty of sexy-looking second hand sportsbikes available, and many are a very good buy. In the 1990s machines like the Ducati 916 and Suzuki GSX-Rs established the benchmarks for desirability and race-track capability you could afford. Theyre already recognised as modern classics and mint examples, perfectly maintained, lack little in comparison to todays bikes.
Beware of buying second hand
But there are loads of other older sportsbikes that have been thrashed and crashed, often seeing use as race bikes. You might be tempted because its cheap, but a bike like this is a potential death trap. On a machine with this much speed potential everything needs to be working 100%. And repairs, let alone a full restoration, can be expensive because of the high-grade engineering involved. Think very carefully before buying a second hand one, even as a track bike.
Newer, lower mileage machines generally present fewer problems. But you still have to factor in running costs. Insurance will be higher, youll burn more gas and youll get through tyres much quicker. In fact all consumables will need replacing more often: chains and sprockets, brake pads and fluid, clutch plates, the lot.
When it comes to choosing a machine, be honest about how much track time youll do. Many things that make a great track bike make for a pain in the neck in road riding. Literally. Still, there are plenty of wicked track tools that dont require a trip to the chiropractor after a long ride.
Among the most modern sportsbikes there are indeed no bad ones. But they can be radically different: to ride and as an ownership proposition. The best advice is to ensure you test ride as many bikes in the category as you can. This will give you an idea of what they are like as a day-to-day road bike. The bike reviews are all very well, but what suits the bike journo may not suit you at all.
Ride before you buy
Its therefore pointless trying to list all the 600cc and above sportbikes and categorise them. Ride them. And dont be afraid to say, You know what? I dont think Ill get the benefit of the S1000RRs 190 horsepower. I rather like this immaculate used R1200S instead: much more comfy and fast enough. All high-performance bikes deliver way more power and speed than you can use on the road. Compromise is not a dirty word. Its not all about sportsbikes, either. There are some classy, high-performance Nakeds and Sports-tourers around. And the lines are blurring with the likes of KTMs 1190 Adventure knocking out 134hp.
Having selected your dream machine, what do you wear?
One or two-piece?
If a track day features in your future, youll want leathers. One or two piece, its up to you. Just make sure a two-piece connects with a full-circumference zip: track organisers will demand it, for very good reason.
Choose only a known brand, the best you can afford. It should feature CE armour in knees, elbows and shoulders, hip pads as a minimum (preferably CE armour). The suit or jacket will likely not feature a back protector: you wear a separate one, usually with belt and braces or sometimes a vest. A back hump is NOT a back protector, its an aerodynamic aid only.
As always, a good two-piece, waterproof, breathable Cordura, or similar textile, suit covers a lot of bases. So you could go that way for road riding. But if you want to wear your leathers, remember they are not waterproof. Youll want a good quality, seam-sealed oversuit that you can stash in your tailpack or tank bag.
Helmets and visors
Racers wear full-face helmets for a reason. Do the same. Choose one that meets safety standards, then its all about fit. Tinted visors and low light dont mix. So, if theres a chance you wont be back till sundown, fit a clear visor and wear sunnies. Or pack a clear visor in your tailpack.
Race-specification gloves offer the best protection you can get. Many come in a 365 version with a breathable, waterproof liner and which are a little warmer than standard. Look for scaphoid-protecting (wrist-protecting) sliders on the heel of the hand.
Race boots again offer the best protection available and are the perfect complement for a performance bike. Theyll have heel and toe cups, shin armour, ankle armour, twist-resistance, sole shank and toe sliders. Check the fit carefully with a good walk around the shop.
Keep yourself protected
If you dont want to wear the full kit for a short run, make sure you still wear motorcycle-specific protective gear. That means abrasion resistance and armour for jeans, jacket and boots.
Youll almost certainly want swing-arm bobbins to help locate a paddock stand. Other crash bungs and engine case covers are a sound idea if you intend to do a few track days. Tank knee pads are brilliant for helping to lock onto a bike: try them and youll wonder why you never used them before. Some riders like a double-bubble screen to tuck behind, but they can cause turbulence depending on your build. Most of us are suckers for a fruity pipe but they frequently require dyno time and a fuelling remap. Budget accordingly. Rearsets and bespoke clip-ons are luxury items but the adjustability might be worth it, allowing different riding positions for road and track nirvana.
A top box is going to look pretty naff on your Gixxer. Ditto a set of Metal Mule panniers on your Ninja or Fireblade. A rucksack will really cramp your style and can be dangerous in a crash. So youre left with the usual soft luggage options (tank bag, tail pack, throw-over panniers), or the versatile Ventura rack system: from New Zealand, no less.