Opinion

Who Is The Greatest Superbike Rider Of All Time?

Jonathan Rea made history at the weekend by claiming a record setting fourth consecutive WorldSBK title. The Northern Irishman is at the peak of his powers but where does he rank in the all-time list?

“Who's the greatest” has been a question asked in every sport over the years. Whether it's Muhammad Ali proclaiming himself the greatest, or Tiger Woods being anointed by the masses, a general consensus quickly forms about a pecking order.

In football it quickly comes down to Pele or Maradonna, Ronaldo or Messi or another combination from a certain era. In tennis it comes down to dominance over a sustained period with one era blending into the next of Rod Laver to Bjorn Borg to Pete Sampras to Roger Federer. Motorcycle racing is similar in a lot of ways, with riders typically earning their titles in spurts of sustained excellence.

Superbike racing is however a curious subset. With domestic series feeding into World championships and some of the brightest WorldSBK stars being offered MotoGP seats after only a couple of years, at the same as riders step across to Superbike racing from Grand Prix for only a handful of seasons at the end of their careers, it's a strange combination of fluidity and constant change. When you ask a Superbike fan who the greatest is, you certainly get more than your fair share of choice.

Jonathan Rea (Four time WorldSBK champion, 68 wins and 131 podiums)

Recency bias will place Rea at the top of the list of many fans, but a constant thorn in his side are the references to racing in an era of lesser competition and Rea having the best bike. In terms of the machinery the best riders almost always end up on the best bikes in any championship.

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MotoMatters.com Travel Guide – Race 02, Argentina, The Wild, Wild West

From Qatar, the MotoGP circus heads west. A very long way west, out towards the western edge of the Argentine pampas, and Termas de Rio Hondo (a fun game for fans to play is to check every article written by MotoGP journalists and see how many times they have spelled Termas de Rio Hondo with an A on the end instead of an O). The Argentinian round of MotoGP is crucial to Dorna, giving it a foothold in South America, a key market for the manufacturers, and a region in love with motorsports.

Ideally, a Grand Prix in Argentina – or Brazil, or Chile, or Peru, or Colombia – would be held at a track near one of the great cities of the region. But the tracks build near Buenos Aires (or Rio de Janiero or Sao Paulo in Brazil) are all relics from a previous era, when rider safety was not the paramount concern it is today. So instead, MotoGP heads to the middle of nowhere, fortunately, to one of the fastest and finest tracks on the calendar. It is, by all accounts, a wild affair, though it is not a place I have visited myself. But from what I have been told, it is a memorable event to attend.

MotoMatters.com Travel Guide Rating:

Atmosphere factor:  9 
Exoticness factor:  8 
Cost factor:  10 
Non-racing factor:   6 

Explanation of this table

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MotoMatters.com Travel Guide – Race 01, Qatar, Jewel Of The Night

As I will be writing my MotoGP travel guides in the same order as the calendar, I will start it in the same place that MotoGP kicks off every year: in Qatar. Why does it start in the middle of the desert so very far away from the vast bulk of MotoGP fans? The answer is simple: money. Qatar pays a lot of money to be the first race of the MotoGP season (and the last race of the WorldSBK season). So if you want to see the MotoGP season opener, you have to travel out to a sandy peninsula in the Persian Gulf.

MotoMatters.com Travel Guide Rating:

Atmosphere factor: 6
Exotic factor: 7
Cost factor: 8
Non-racing factor: 3

Explanation of this table

Where is it?

The Losail International Circuit is located some 30 kilometers north of the center of Doha, the capital of Qatar. It is situated just off the Al Khor Coastal Road. It is clearly visible from the plane when you fly into Doha, and visible as you drive to the track because of the floodlight system, which appears after the bulbous blue-and-white Lusail Multipurpose Hall, a sports facility.

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Opinion: 2017 – A Year Of Change, A Year Of Farewells

2017 has been a strange year in motorcycle racing. We have had one of the best ever seasons of racing in MotoGP, with close finishes and a surprise title challenger. We have seen one of the best ever WorldSBK riders stamp his authority on the series, though that has also seen the championship suffer partly as a result. We have seen young talent come through in the support classes, and older talent recognized and appreciated. There has been much to celebrate.

But there has also been much to mourn. 2017 saw two of the most iconic names in motorcycle racing lose their lives, ironically, both in traffic accidents and not on motorcycles. Nicky Hayden was killed while out training on his bicycle, hit by a car as he crossed a road at a treacherous crossroads. Angel Nieto suffered head injuries when he was hit by a car while out riding a quad bike on Ibiza.

Nicky Hayden – great rider, great human

Though Nicky Hayden is not a candidate for the greatest rider of all time from a results perspective, his impact on the sport is undeniable. He may only have had three Grand Prix victories to his name, but the way the American won the 2006 MotoGP championship etched him indelibly into the memories of racing fans for all time. The emotional highs and lows of that season, the dedication and consistency he put into it made him a popular champion, despite beating Valentino Rossi, something Rossi's fans tend to regard as unforgivable.

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Opinion: Why Valentino Rossi Will Try To Ride At Aragon

20 days ago today, Valentino Rossi fell off an enduro bike at slow speed, breaking his tibia and fibula in the crash. That night, he had pins fitted to fix the bones, and went home the next day to recover. It looked like his championship was over. He would have to miss both Misano and Aragon, and that would put him too far behind to ever catch up.

20 days later, and Rossi has already ridden a motorcycle on track. Twice. On Monday and Tuesday, he rode a Yamaha R1M around a damp Misano. A few laps on Monday, a total of 20 laps on Tuesday. The press release Yamaha issued said that he finished the second day "with an improved feeling and a more positive impression compared to yesterday." Translation? He's going to try to ride at Aragon.

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Editor's View: The Danger Of Expanding The Calendar

It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season. (I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict.)

This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world. From India, through Southeast Asia, motorcycle racing in general and MotoGP in particular has a huge following. But the only country in the region which has a race is Malaysia, hosting its Grand Prix at Sepang.

So expanding the calendar to include Thailand is a welcome addition for fans in the region. If the financial and logistical problems with organizing a race in Indonesia ever get sorted, then there might even be a third race in the region, at the Palembang circuit in South Sumatra. Given the massive interest in MotoGP from that country, it is a racing certainty that any race there will be a complete sell out.

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2017 World Superbike Riders

The new season is upon us and, as the riders go against the clock in anger for the first time this year, let’s catch up with who is riding what bike and on which team, and just because nothing challenges the fates like scrying the future, we will make some bold and inaccurate predictions. There are twenty riders, ten of whom have won a world title while three of the rest have a national title under their belt.

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Opinion: Can Cameron Beaubier Revive the Stature of US Racing?

When opportunity comes knocking, it is a fool who does not open the door. That is especially true when the opportunity is as unique as the chance to race at a World Championship level event. Given the chance to shine on the world stage, you have to take that shot. So when Cameron Beaubier was asked to replace the injured Sylvain Guintoli inside the Pata Yamaha team for the Donington round of World Superbikes, I cannot imagine that he hesitated for very long before jumping at the chance.

As commendable as Beaubier's choice is, it comes with some considerable risk. Not just to the reputation of Beaubier himself, but also to the standing of American motorcycle racing in the world. As arguably the best motorcycle racer in MotoAmerica, the US domestic championship, his performance will be weighed on a silver scale, and used as a yardstick for the standard of racing in the US. The hopes and dreams of many a young American racer may lie fallow if Beaubier falls short.

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Editor's Opinion: More Knee Jerk Rule Changes in Response to Sepang

Farewell, MotoGP penalty point system, we barely knew you. In a press release issued today (and rather bizarrely, leaked to a Spanish journalist two days ago) the FIM announced that the Grand Prix Commission had decided to modify the penalty point system. From now on, the only penalty to be imposed will happen once a rider accrues a total of ten points, at which point they will be disqualified for one race. The penalties for four (starting from the back of the grid) and seven points (starting from pit lane) have been dropped. At a stroke, the penalty point system has been emasculated.

In fact, it is worse than that. The penalty point system was introduced to try to clamp down on persistent offenders of relatively minor infractions, and especially of Moto3 riders waiting on the racing line for a tow. The idea was that putting those who had not learned their lessons after the first couple of warnings would start to feel the consequences of their actions if they were subject to a rising scale of punishments.

Get out of jail free card

That system is now gone, but the penalty points remain. In effect, the punishment for persistent offenders has been as good as removed. Riders can look for a tow, pick up a point here and a point there, and get away scot-free. Meanwhile, Race Direction and the newly appointed FIM MotoGP Panel of Stewards have not been given an alternative for punishing persistent offenders.

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2016 World Superbike preview

New rules, new bikes, new teams, new riders and a new weekend schedule, the World Superbike championship is very different for 2016.

With races on both Saturday and Sunday, adjusting to the new format could spring a few surprises. The 2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden joins the Ten Kate Honda team and current British Superbike champion Josh Brookes brings his Milwaukee team to the world stage with stunning looking BMWs. Yamaha returns at the hands of Paul Denning’s squad, fielding Alex Lowes and Sylvain Guintoli.

The new schedule

There are a few minor changes in scheduling, but the most visible changes will be World Supersport gaining two Superpole sessions, the same as World Superbike qualifying, and the first Superbike race taking place last thing on Saturday. This change means riders get more time to rehydrate and relax between races and any crashed bikes get more time to get repaired.

Oh, and you might see champagne being drunk on the podium after both races for the first time since the championship started.

Teams and riders

Kawasaki Racing Team

Very little has changed here, with reigning world champion Jonathan Rea and former champion Tom Sykes returning on the ZX-10R. Still very green, still very fast. The only change is Rea’s bike no longer carries the number 65 as he’s wearing the number one plate this year.

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