Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Stock Market Derivatives

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.

No sooner had the idea of a full World Championship for so-called production machinery been agreed in 1988 than half the manufacturers had already created homologation special road bikes which then dominated most of the early results. But that was only part of the story, then and now.

WorldSBK has never been a true production racing series, whether you started in year dot with a super-special 851 Ducati or a humble Kawasaki GPX750. Chassis or engine; you could legally muck about with them.

Really, quite a lot.

WorldSBK racing has always been a production-derived championship. Real road bike models, but with lots of modifications for racing.

I say this as a polite reminder to all, because the MotoGP world is massing on the borders of WorldSBK’s tech regs minefield yet again, poking around with what seem to be very sharp bayonets and no clear understanding of what WorldSBK is or has always been.

The recent talk from some high-level sources is that we need to go ‘back’ to the days when the FIM Superbike World Championship featured real production bikes. Back to something that never existed.

Dorna and the FIM have made the current WorldSBK rules as closely matched between competing models as possible. Given the breadth of ideas of what a road-going Superbike is, from manufacturer to manufacturer, they have done pretty well.

Stock parts, relatively speaking, abound. Controlled-cost racing parts are the new normal. Using exactly the same key parts as the factory bikes have is becoming more prevalent, not less. Up to and including ECUs and electronics. Tyre options? Same.

So now we have to move onto the assumed desirability of going further toward street bikes in WorldSBK. Superstock racing, we can infer, after some recent statements from the top?

Well, let’s examine that basket case of potential puff adders with some care.

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Difficult decisions are to be made. Optimization and moving targets. Each always a compromise, with good points and bad ones. What are the prioritized goals? How best to achieve them?

The rulebook is alive, always evolving. As do the bikes, teams and riders. The new Ducati has moved the posts. The Honda moved the posts too, albeit dragging the other direction. We lost the fabulous Aprilia in the fray, after it had a heydey in the previous era of higher engine tune.

This is an age of electronics. The BMW began it. Yamaha made the next move. Suzuki made the next one, calling it quits on the whole affair. Honda has sat and waited, watching. Kawasaki stepped forward with a "goldilocks" bike of mild electronics and superb conventional package.

Ducati...BOOM. And the BMW is on a mild introductory engine so far this year w the new bike to get it developed, wait for the late arrival. As we know, they make something great and then run that generation a LONG time. Sykes may be about to arrive at the front with Beautista and Rea. And/or, BMW also may have their eye already on likely 2020 rules as they work with the new bike? We are about to have a 4th really strong bike in the series.

The current RPM chop suey is a temporary strategy to level the playing field, keep manu's/bikes in the series, and get an idea of what to do next. There are many more minor things to consider. How important is it to have wildcard local riders participate (continuity of rules w National series')? So forth, these are many. But what is primarily going on now?

In addition to the new era of bike development hinging on electronics for big bikes, the other major factor is that DORNA now has both MotoGP AND WSBK. Rather than compete, they can harmonize.

Naturally, MotoGP is to be the prototype series and WSBK differentiated as the production bike series. MotoGP has made a big shift towards cost savings, accessibility to smaller teams, evening out/leveling the playing field, and bringing the grid closer together. It is WORKING. The racing is as good as EVER. More organizations are getting involved. It is only a matter of time for us to have a Chinese or Indian team, for instance. The competition is AMAZING. Interest is on the rise.

DORNA is now gathered in the kitchen of WSBK to do something similar. They must be thinking that it is imperative that manufacturers get to work on their own electronics in the series. It is a big deal. And, there is going to be a step down in the height of allowable changes in the bikes from stock in the rulebook. There is a LONG way to go between Superbike and Superstock. We needn't set up a straw-man false dichotemy argument of one vs the other, as it is a continuum. And one that they have been forever see-sawing around on.

Thanks for mentioning the global economy Gordon. It matters in the equation. It is hard to overrepresent the impact the 2008 near depression had on our sport, since performance bike sales tanked. Plus developing parts of the global market have also had a swell of wee scooter/small bike needs guiding production and money. Why do we have 300 Supersport at ALL? Ask SE Asia. Where did all the Middleweight Supersport bike sales go?! Poof. Tastes changed too, but the economy was a bigger factor.

Our Litre bikes went from 150HP to 200HP. Our 600's basically dwindled to a trickle, left with the R6 cup dripping a few bikes. And small displacement sportbikes have returned en masse, both on streets worldwide and club racing.

The 1000cc bikes have made a big move towards MotoGP. The R1-M has electronics lifted right off of their M1. It was not long ago that the MotoGP bike WAS this WSBK. What is this Aprilia MotoGP but an evolution of their actual RSV4 CRT machine? This has been literal, not figurative.

So WSBK is about to get a makeover. It will be an optimization. It will have compromises. It will upset folks. It will bother purists. It will have us romantic re a certain era. It will excite others. It will offer something. The adjustment will be difficult and costly in the immediate term.

It can't have spec electronics. BSB will continue to be something different and very special. Costs will come down. The competition will increase and the grid will tighten up tip to tail. There will be a winner and a loser in the change. There will be secondary effects in the way that Superbikes are designed. We are likely to get EVEN BETTER bikes available to buy. More teams can compete with less money. Honda may produce that V4 with a nice electronics package finally. Aprilia may return. Suzuki will not. A question mark lay in how they will manage the Ducati overdog now that there is no mere twin cyl restrictor plate to be had - they took aim at this formula and NAILED it. And, headlight stickers. Okay...if you insist. Gross!

I am looking forward, given the golden age of MotoGp that has unfolded.

You have me curious about this comment, ‘shrink.
Surely this is part of the reason for BSB’s (and MotoGP’s) recent success? I’m not sure I see the point in trying to rein in costs if we still allow teams/factories to explore the farthest reaches of the electronics rabbit hole.
This is a major component in why we have so many possible winners at any given BSB round. Making all the bikes accelerate +\- 0.5% of each other via electronic optimisation removes the space that rider talent fills.
Just my opinion but I think it forces manufacturers to build a better base bike if they are unable to mask faults and foibles with a barrage of 1’s and 0’s. Peak power is great for the sales brochure but I’ll take a bigger number under the power curve than a highlighted number at the top of it.

Hooray, someone else is in here! Sometimes I miss our 40 comment chit chats. Started talking to myself.
Electronics and the 1000cc production bikes have become a central essential feature (Suzuki aside). Why restrict what they run (reduce what costs?), or miss the opportunity to showcase them...plus perhaps it differentiates it from MotoGP again as a wee bonus.

Just watched all the Irish NW200 races today (McWilliams still has it!). Little idea how the Suzuki can do the business against the new BMW w/o T/C. BSB is incredible (congrats Redding btw) but it is apples and oranges with the WSBK formula. It is a really special thing showcasing more the riders and smaller projects, whereas the Manufacturers have more keen interest in winning the WSBK war. With their electronics increasingly front and center.

What are your thoughts 749?

Nice piece!
Odd that you do them as a stream of consciousness on a phone. Good luck w your racing comeback!
Ego is defined as "storying me and the world" - a neurotic endeavor.
Reflecting on experience of oneself that is matter of fact is self observation.