The pinnacle of motorcycle technology and engineering

We’re talking here, arguably, about the pinnacle of motorcycle technology and engineering. For decades, sportsbikes have represented the cutting edge of performance (though nowadays adventure bikes get a lot of focus), and the riding kit has maintained a similar pace of development. So it’s tempting to say you can’t go wrong with what you buy. Except you can. Here’s what to watch out for, starting with machine choice.

Choose the right bike

There are plenty of sexy-looking second hand sportsbikes available, and many are a very good buy. In the 1990’s machines like the Ducati 916 and Suzuki GSX-Rs established the benchmarks for desirability and race-track capability you could afford. They’re already recognised as modern classics and mint examples, perfectly maintained, lack little in comparison to today’s 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 it’s 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.

Buying new

Newer, lower mileage machines generally present fewer problems. But you still have to factor in running costs. Insurance will be higher, you’ll burn more gas and you’ll 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 you’ll 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 don’t 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

It’s therefore pointless trying to list all the 600cc and above sportbikes and categorise them. Ride them. And don’t be afraid to say, “You know what? I don’t think I’ll get the benefit of the S1000RR’s 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. It’s 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 KTM’s 1190 Adventure knocking out 134hp.

Choose the right gear

Having selected your dream machine, what do you wear?

One or two-piece?

If a track day features in your future, you’ll want leathers. One or two piece, it’s 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, it’s 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. You’ll 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 it’s all about fit. Tinted visors and low light don’t mix. So, if there’s a chance you won’t 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. They’ll 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 don’t 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.

Choose the right accessories

You’ll 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 you’ll 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.

Choose the right luggage

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 you’re 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.

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