Analyzing WorldSBK's 2020 Rev Limits: Tenor, Soprano, Castrato?

If anybody tells you it is easy to make modern day Superbikes truly competitive with fixed tech rules that are identical for every bike, smile warmly and move on to a more stimulating, reality-based conversation. Possibly the single most difficult thing to do is make sure the final on-track performance of what started out as commercial products in the market place, all with their own unique marketing USPs and familial DNA helices, is to design the final tech rules. After all, some donor bikes are still relatively cheap and low-tech and some are sold right on the forty grand limit for eligible WorldSBK machines, complete with an electronics suite fit to control the International Space Station. Or even a design concept that is MotoGP-driven, rather than coming with an extended warranty requirement in the original engineering brief.

Enter a plethora of performance rules for WorldSBK, which extend to cost-capped parts and approved racing parts, which can include concession parts, as one profound balancing rule element if your bike qualifies. But all of these operate under the catch-all of the ultimate balancing rule - Maximum Rev Limits.

There, I capitalised the initial letters, to show how significant this one can be.

World vs WorldSBK

WorldSBK operates a differential rev limit system, based from the outset on the real world engine performance of the stock bike. This rev-limit philosophy operates not only between manufacturers, but also between each manufacturer’s homologated models. So the superseded (but still homologated) Honda from 2019 has a different upper rev limit than the more radically designed new stock bike’s homologation. That 2020 model simply revs higher than the old one does, even before a single head gasket has been unsealed, and so it will start with a higher permitted rev limit.

You could still run a Ducati Panigale V2 if you so wished in WorldSBK, but beyond that remote possibility all WorldSBK machines are now four-cylinders of some kind, with the same 1000cc engine displacement. That does simplify the job of the FIM and Dorna to control ultimate engine performance, but given that not all WorldSBK machines are created equal on the street, the data that they use to bring forward the max revs at the beginning of each homologation is based on measured performance of each machine.

The most recent rev-limits have just been published. In essence the first-time rev balancing rules for a new model are best explained by a direct quote from the FIM rulebook. “The initial rev limit will be the dynamometer measured rev limit of 3rd & 4th gear averaged, plus 3% or 1100 rpm above the dyno measured max horsepower rpm of a production machine, whichever is lower.”

Fairness, calculated

So that’s the basic starting point when a new bike comes along. The decision to increase or decrease peak revs bike-by-bike is arrived at via an algorithm, based on real results and other factors. After a cycle of three rounds of the championship the powers-that-be use peak rev limit changes, usually in 250rpm increments that can be up, down or no change, as a dynamic way to balance the championship’s competitiveness. Honda got 500rpm more in one go once, so there is flexibility built in beyond a rigid 250rpm single step, and the tech ref’s rule is final anyway.

What is involved in the algorithm is startlingly complicated to all but the most case-hardened metal heads. It’s to be found in section of the new FIM rulebook, if you really must… Get the kettle on and put the phone on silent if you wade in that deep.

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Thank you for a well explained piece. However I shall need to read it again several times and probably sober to understand it. So do you think the Rea/Kawasaki combo will win again?

Gordo you've got a great writing voice, thanks for contributing. Your work is a pleasure to read.

Howdy St Stephen.

You have my sympathy with regard to where you are at.

I'm on the South island of New Zealand.     In between Antarctica & Phillip island. Looking forward to two days riding, flying to Sydney. Paying for excess baggage, because I have my riding gear as well as all the usual stuff. Then picking up a tow vehicle. Buying a bike trailer. Loading one bike. Driving to Wollongong. Picking up a Ducati and loading it on the trailer. Would like to do a track day in the next week or so. Then depending on which roads are opened or still closed due to bushfires or more recently flooding.  Hitting the highway or the coast road to get to Cowes Phillip island. Hoping to be on the island by Thursday week.

If it was easy everybody would be doing it.

Apical, thank you for politely putting up with my whining. Er, whinging. I will really miss WSBK on this continent this summer, particularly LS.

I did attend WSBK at Philip Island in 2017 (unfortunately only in an econobox rental car). It is the most beautiful racetrack I've ever seen. And my spouse would even like to return, if only to see the penguins!

I am often accused of living in a motorcycle paradise here in NorCal, but it does not compare to the South Island. Five years ago spent two weeks in your backyard on a bike, and don't recall a single bad road between Nelson and Invercargill. Many were spectacular. And likely much better than the roads on the South Pole, maybe moving isn't such a great idea after all.


More fabulous value from Motomatters!

I was going to check out the algorithm but really couldn't be bothered because I think I can assume that it doesn't carry a bonus rev loading to account for Ducati's horrendous HR management, or a discount factor to be applied relative to the elasticity of Kawasaki's budget if they get behind. And I agree that something, oh anything, had to be done to restore some sort of competitive context to WSBK, cause somehow Rea winning all the time seems a LOT less entertaining than Marquez winning all the time.

Nice explanation of the state of play. I do wish that there was just a blanket 15,000ish rev limit but the cat is probably out of the bag for that to happen now. Fingers crossed for a more competitive championship again this year.