Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Brainstorming New Rules

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.

Sorry to leave you on an old-fashioned matinee cliffhanger last time, but here is my answer to what the WorldSBK technical regulations should be from now on. In these days when homologation specials are set to take over all over again, WorldSBK is about to be dragged back into a less road bike-relevant arms race. Smells like more cost and complexity to me.

It is also a contrary vector to the desire to have more streetbike-derived World Superbikes. A desire that appeared to be universal, until recently.

Personally, I can handle as much roadgoing exotica as you can throw at me, but it is not what we were all led to believe was WorldSBK’s future tech, even very recently.

Having dealt with the realities of current WorldSBK tech and why free electronics is still a big deal for the manufacturers in the previous column, the solution of how to make sure everybody is competitive requires full-spectrum mathematics rather than simple arithmetic, under the current rules regime at least.

But the necessity to find competitiveness for all is still the same Holy Grail, even if one manufacturer builds a €40,000 hyper-special street bike or another builds a more regular multi-cylinder Superbike for half that amount. They all still need to arrive on the grid with a podium-capable bike, somehow or other. Or else what’s the point of racing at this level?

With some current homologated WorldSBK models needing scrutineers who are also amateur palaeontologists, and yet some other bikes needing ex-NASA rocket scientists to understand their digital and metal nuances, WorldSBK is not like racing apples versus apples. As a starting point at least.

Dorna/FIM have made great strides in evening out rules so that everybody can compete on a basically level footing, and for a fair cost, from the very top factory-supported teams to ambitious privateers.

But… even allowing for Alvaro Bautista’s unquestioned 2019 excellence - a brilliant showing in almost every race - the way the new Ducati V4R works on track has also been class leading. It seems no less than an upward paradigm-shift. From its winglets to its blurry wheel rims, you can see it take metres out of even the most recent race winning bikes in every corner exit.

When it is set up properly, of course.

Why Chaz Davies has not emulated Bautista yet, when he has a record of 29 career race wins on three different manufacturers’ machines, is a combined sports psychology/engineering degree thesis all its own. So it is not an easy bike, the new Ducati. Which usually means it is a pretty extreme bike. Like we hadn’t noticed...

Deep down, however much Bautista has provided the human delta in the final results, everybody knows that the factory Ducati is the new WorldSBK reference bike. A brilliant piece of work with MotoGP DNA, track smarts - and muscle. It seems the clear new golden horse, even if only one shining knight has fully tamed it so far.

On this evidence, right now might be a good moment to start to reel in WorldSBK’s understandable but self-harming desire for ever-faster race engines. The rules currently prevent each manufacturer building a bike which is too far over its ‘natural’ peak revs and power as a donor road bike. But currently everybody can go to 103% (or 1100rpm, if lower) of their own peak revs to start, including the Ducati V4R. That already has a rev-range in the clouds as a showroom bike and ends up further in the stratosphere as a race bike.

So the direction for manufacturers under these current rules is now clear - start with a psycho-revvy engine in the next road bike so you can go even higher to beat the Ducati for punch and speed. And by the way, that high tech direction will deliver more extreme engine character and require more sophisticated electronics to keep things relatively tame exiting and entering corners… Experts only need apply. Sounds doubly expensive now, does it not?

There is an impending game of engine one-upmanship that probably should be avoided, especially as Dorna and FIM have said they want greater tech space between the MotoGP and WorldSBK categories.

So what’s the big solution I have yet to suggest?

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It's been beaten to a fine pulp this, but I have to reiterate and agree with Gordo that WSBK can learn something from BSB.  A lot.  BSB routinely produces wild racing. 

WSBK should be the new superstock as Gordo said. 

I agree with some of this in spirit, and please hear the tone here to be a kind but straightforward one. If I have a bike in this race, it is caring about the series. Nothing to sell or get over here.

"WorldSBK is about to be dragged back into a less road bike-relevant arms race. Smells like more cost and complexity to me."
I disagree. Teams will spend less with rules reducing spec 25% towards Superstock. Manufacturers already have a race for selling liter roadbikes. It demands electronics.

However, "the new wonder bike gets absolutely no extra revs at all" isn't workable, as it is chasing the wrong end (rev limits) with a moving target. Maddening, and leaves insufficient consistency. It is expensive for teams to be chasing changing bike spec. It excludes small teams. Not synching up with any National series removes wildcards. It is also overly gifting to crap stock bikes.

The Yamaha may be the big loser next year as tune rules move 25% towards Superstock. Everything is great for the bike except perhaps outright power from the crate. The last go around of this (periodic, pendulum/cyclical) spec reduction we lost the Aprilia in JUST the same way. Remember?

Electronics "freer the older the chasing bikes" is another moving target chasing the wrong end of things. This is a nightmare scenario for obvious reasons.

Spec is coming down a notch for 2020, the Kawasaki will remain solid next year. The BMW will arise poking at the front. And, our wonderful problem child of a Ducati will stay right where it is? It isn't so easy to set up though, mind you.

1000cc bikes from the factory have reached not just a quantity of performance but perhaps somewhere new qualitatively. Electronics and Aero are the new norm. Power then also, from 190hp to 240hp - what ARE these bikes now? The GSXR1000 is not a Panigale V4R. Qualitatively. The kit level is so high too. Honda may have just ditched their Fireblade lineage in favor of a V4 with an electronics suite fit for a SBK available at a showroom. Perhaps we will see, like Yamaha did with their R6s, a continued run of the old pedigree for those that want an affordable analog bike. Fine with that. That I had that bike and it hated me being on it aside.

WSBK must make simple consistent rules with a minor increment of change. They cannot make the old Honda (or Suzuki) compete with the new Ducati. Nor should they. They should not exclude the current Ducati, BMW or Yamaha from being as great as they are either.

BSB is an interesting comparison, but also apples to oranges. If we exclude the (fantastic!) goat path tracks and focus on the shared ones, we can see something of use. Give me a moment.

The Honda V5 in the 1st MotoGP era is a bit like this V4 Panigale. Hats off to them for disturbing the peace. Good for BMW making such a good chassis, effective electronics, strong motor, and ease of set up. Shame on Honda for leaving fantastic riders like Camier out to override it into rear pack mayhem...his shoulder is fooked at the moment for a reason. Same for their disregard for Ten Kate. WSBK isn't responsible for Honda's negligence and underfunctioning.

Costs stay down keeping rules consistent, and spec of bikes somewhat relatively closer to the crate. We don't want #s of bikes on the grid to dwindle either. We used to work in weight min limits ($ on unobtanium chassis bits). Also, bore and stroke (power and rev ceiling). Aero from stock isn't much an issue for teams $. What is new for us is the electronics primarily, and the motor spec stock of the 2019 Ducati (and perhaps BMW once we see their full fat engine). One thing that can be done is to specifically homologate a Factory Approved Kit for bikes, bringing engine internals to a clear specification. Ducati already HAS it, and other bikes will be able to do the same. Materials of parts, mainly. Each Manu has a race partner (Yamaha, Ten Kate etc) or it is in house (HRC). Same for electronics, but instead of materials here, it is sensors primarily. Functionality CAN be monitored via required access to laptops, and this is already in place. Volkswagen "clean diesel-gate" like spy shite is very unlikely and preventable, just like any other cheating. It is already a thing. So like bore limits, we get electronics functionality limits. If the Manu wants their road going bike to have NASA F1 shite, go ahead. But not in competition, there is a functionality ceiling. Kept constant but able to periodically (several seasons) change.

So in short, this ^

Suzuki, Aprilia feel free to partner with someone to make this R kit and hop back in. But you still need to sell some bikes, so good electronics must be coming to your litre machines. MV Augusta, you need reliability. Try a big triple?...

For not competing with, my favorite big bike is the Aprilia. And a GSXR750 for the Goldilocks good old days, or better yet the Triumph 675R mildly Supersported. If I were an inline 4 project worried about next year's rules (Yamaha?) and engine tune, I might develop a triple and put it out at a slightly higher displacement than half the "old days ratio" used for twins. Force WSBK to allow it. Win the electronics war via rideability and conventional grip. Force a restrictor plate deal. Yamaha has the motor. Triumph does if it cared to. MV Augusta does. Suzuki and everyone else could. It is the magic outsider's move after the "answer to Kawi/Rea" one being made by Duc/BMW/(Honda?) now.

Cheers mates!

Has the horse already bolted?

Ducati use desmo on street bikes so they have a technological advantage that it has taken street unfriendly pneumatic valves to match in MotoGP.

Can a street based valve spring 1000 four reliably run close enough to 16000rpm to match the V4R?





The sport bike market has fallen off a cliff. How long do you think there is going to be a Super Bike series if the manufacturers can't sell these bikes. MotoGP works because you can't buy their bikes. BMW and Ducati can sell bikes because they have a small, exclusive market.  Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki work on mass marketing, a model doesn't sell. it's gone.  With the current popularity of under 400cc bikes and the dualsport/adventure, cruiser and sport touring bikes the big 4 are looking to exploit a new demographic of younger new riders and aging veteran riders. Even Ducati and BMW are moving in this direction. i.e the Ducati Streetfighter V4 and Multistrata, the BMW 1800cc cruiser.  In the near future the premier classes in WSBK will MotoE and WorldSSP300.

Underwhelmed mates.
Am I missing something in the forum perhaps?
Any deep dives to dives to be taken

Hello motoshrink. Are you on the forum?

The search in the forum doesn't work.

You can find me by searching through the members by joining date. Apical signed up on March 30th 2011.

Send me a PM or I'll be at Assen on Friday listening to Kropotkin.