Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: WorldSSP - Revolution For The Squeezed Middle

Gordon Ritchie has covered World Superbikes for over a quarter of a century, and is widely regarded as the world's leading journalist on the series. MotoMatters.com is delighted to be hosting a monthly blog by Ritchie. The full blog will be available each month for MotoMatters.com subscribers. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

The second biggest category within the second biggest global bike racing series has always been something of a halfway house in terms of its public profile. The FIM Supersport World Championship’s overall reputation, relative status and true importance is therefore always a good topic for bar room discussion. If only we were allowed to go to the bar, of course.

Featuring riders on the way up, riders on the way back down, and some riders simply finding their personal ceiling or a natural specialisation in 600cc racing, WorldSSP has often been the best class to watch.

WorldSSP has always waxed and waned in how far it ever emerges from behind the more puffed-up and attention-grabbing WorldSBK class. Since MotoGP has propelled itself into a nearly global motorsport must-see, at the expense of the WorldSBK paddock in general, WorldSSP has arguably been even more hidden from view than at any time in its turbulent life.

It did pretty well in many ways long before the uncertainty of the current era, moving from a World Series to a full FIM World Championship in 1999, even seeing off the MotoGP paddock’s direct rival ‘Thunderbike’ class. Having production bikes in the MotoGP paddock was always an awkward fit for the long term. Four stroke engines… less so.

WorldSSP’s overall relevance has, however, been under siege recently thanks to changes in the bike buying trends of global customers, and especially those in its one-time heartlands of Europe and North America.

Older, not bolder

The sheer thrill of road riding on a high revving middleweight race replica, which can be more feasibly taken to its limits than a 1000c version, was always one attraction. The relative affordability of insurance for younger riders was another plus point. Almost every significant factory made a machine that was easily homologated for full race use (straight from the packing crate in proddy races too, no less). Not only that but the manufacturers developed updates and new tech every couple of years or so.

There is no argument that WorldSSP racing was compelling, constantly refreshed and vibrant. The racing is often great even now, but the outside marketplace has changed beyond all recognition since the early Noughties.

Riding 600s on the street in anything like they way they should be ridden has always been a youthful pursuit, and the greybeards that make up most biker demographics now prefer cubes and comfort with their fix of speed, and have little fear of insurance premiums after they are ‘over the hump’ of their three score year and ten allocation. To be honest, there are a dozen reasons why people do not buy 600s race replicas for the street any more, hence the poor sales figures of late.

Where has that left WorldSSP in terms of eligible machines?

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Anthing Gordon Richie has to say about WSBK is something I want to read. Although I covered mostly GPs, the four years I spent in that great SBK paddock working in that friendly atmosphere and, especially, with Gordon, were the best. It wasn´t quite true, but Flammini made us believe we were in bike-racing Camelot. 

Off the bat, I have to admit That I just haven't watched WSSP in years, and it sounds like I've been missing out a bit. I follow Moto3/2/GP religioiusly, and WSBK has been absolutely fantastic, but I just can't seem to get myself to watch WSSP and I don't know why. I hope the experimentations the Brits are going for pay off. Racing series have to evolve with the times, especially production-based racing (see DTM and Aussie V8 Supercars). Would naked bike racing ever be considered at all? I know you can't just go chasing trends, and the fascination with that segment won't grow forever, but it's definitely the hot thing right now.

Interesting read! I follow MotoGP, Moto2 and WSK in that order. I occasionally watch WSS and Moto3. WSK is lucky that BSB is going to expiriment with 600 fours, larger trples and even larger twins. However, since 600 fours are disappearing from production, they are going to have to do something more than Triumphs and Ducatis. Both of those should have an advantage over R6's. Maybe WSS needs to be downgraded further to some sort of middlweght twins class. It seems like the Japanese and Aprilia all are introducing new twins these days. Just a thought.

Maybe WSS is going to trancend commercial bike sales. Like Moto3, what does it have to be in line with? Dumb comparison of prototype and production bikes right there. But does it need to be POPULAR or does it need to be available? Small runs of middleweight race bikes can work, and already are. WSS is broadening their bike complexion. 

Racing. Is there something to race? Yes! 

Looking fwd to triples and twins. (No, the almost liter bike Duc won't be left without restrictor, it has been done). Good riddance R6 Cup. Feck changing to 650 twin standards. And feck racing naked bikes! But notice the interesting case of the "new" Triumph "Street Triple." Same chassis as the Daytona. Getting a Daytona fairing. Motor tune/top end/rev limit in flux. Lovely triple gets a boost from 675 to 765 (merry Christmas MV Agusta!). Does it matter what we call it? I LOVE these bikes. More with all the liter bikes going digital missiles. 

Dreamers optimism admittedly, but a really nice outcome could arrive in which (starting w the R6) the class shifts from road going sport bikes to middleweight RR homologation specials. Preferred! AND expands with twins/triples? Dream class. Go ahead Suzuki, how incredible can your GSXR600RR special be? Will someone in the 4's game pop out a twin for the occasion? Does Aprilia or BMW find it too tempting to miss out on? Aprilia RS919 Twin w kit suspension/brakes etc al? Honda, you are the manufacturer I am pondering, going to sit this out when you could pop out a bike to formula and win? Then, oddly, does the market find itself with the Cinderella balanced sport bike fresh formula it craves, sparking a market uptick? A pendulum swing back from our scrambler/retro years? But "new" for the trend chasers. Tail, wag dog.

Thanks Gordo!

Good feature by Gordon. As a Superstock 600 racer myself (albeit on national level in Sweden, so a far step down from WSS), I am concerned of the future of the "middleweight" class. The reason I have stayed in 600 racing is its great combination of real racebikes and relative affordability vs Superbike racing (tyres not the least). The overall dominance of Superbike class together with the rising popularity of SSP300 here in Sweden (which is similar to the trend elsewhere) is concerning for the 600 class, diminishing both in start field size and relevance in machinery.

In my opinion there is too big of a gap between SSP300 and Superbike, so a middleclass is needed. To replace 600 with naked bikes would be sad from a racing perspective even if the relevance to what is sold at the dealers is there. So I am as well curious of the outcome of BSB middleclass this season.

I still don't understand why there's no naked class in the WSBK paddock. All I see on my daily commute through London are MT-07s, CB-600s, Street Triples etc etc. It's what the public are riding, surely there would be interest in watching them race? Leveling the playing field would be a pretty straightforward task for someone like Scott Smart or Stuart Higgs. It would be 'real' bike racing.

Since WSBK has become ReaSBK, I was watching the two other classes more and skipping the big bikes.

Not subscribing to the SBK series this year. Wish they had a cheaper subscription for just the 300s and 600s

For me it's MotoGP, moto3, BSB, WSBK, moto2 in that order. I rarely watch the support races in wsbk or BSB, probably because I don't know who's who so don't feel particularly invested and, after watching 3 or four races over a weekend I'm about done. Perhaps I'll pay more attention this year - I know from attending the odd event each year that the racing is just as exciting as the big bikes.

I wouldn't want to miss this seasons wsbk! JR has been under serious pressure for the last couple of years and, while he managed that with aplomb, there's every chance this year could be where wsbk starts to become seriously interesting again.