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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