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.

Rea's form from his WorldSBK debut, and indeed his race-winning pedigree in British Superbike, show his natural ability and speed, and his six seasons with Honda, which culminated in finishing third in the standings in 2014, show that he extracted every ounce of potential from the Fireblade. When Rea moved to Kawasaki in 2015 many riders at the time commented that the writing was on the wall, and that with Rea already a top class rider, he would be unbeatable with the best machine underneath him.

The team that has surrounded him, led by Pere Riba, has enjoyed unprecedented success, but still there are questions from some quarters about Rea. His riding style and professionalism would thrive in any era of WorldSBK and he's had to beat some world-class rivals over the years in SBK with Marco Melandri, Chaz Davies, and Tom Sykes all former world champions.

Carl Fogarty (Four time WorldSBK champion, 59 wins and 109 podiums, Three time Formula 1 World Champion, Senior TT winner)

For many fans, Foggy is WorldSBK. The determination etched into his eyes as he focused on the grid is a defining memory of the golden era of WorldSBK for a huge number of fans. The Briton was an unbelievably determined rider who was able to wring every last drop of ability out of himself. There were times when Foggy was a tour de force out on track, and his wins, with two different manufacturers, came against the likes of world champions Troy Corser, Scott Russell, John Kocinski, and Colin Edwards, with Nori Haga and Frankie Chili also playing key roles. The competition on the grid was tighter during this era because in part there was only a handful of bikes that could win, not that dissimilar to the current era. For much of Foggy's career, if you wanted to win you needed a Ducati, and the grid was filled with lots of the Italian machinery.

Of course to come out on top of this you needed to be the best Ducati rider, and Fogarty certainly was that throughout his career. His ability to dominate teammates and use mind games was legendary, and last year Aaron Slight said, “Foggy's a nice guy now but at the time he was awful. He came up me and apologized about it and he's good now, but that doesn't make up for being a **** back then!”

In ten seconds, Slight perfectly captured Foggy's approach to racing; never give an inch and push the boundaries as far as you can.

Troy Bayliss (Three time WorldSBK champion, 52 wins and 94 podiums. British Superbike champion)

Replacing a legend is never easy, and it fell on these Australian shoulders to handle the weight of expectation that came following Foggy's retirement in 2000. Bayliss immediately stepped up to the mark and no one has a better record than the former MotoGP race winner.

His 52 wins and 94 podiums give him a better success rate on both counts than Rea. The fact that he did it in different eras is unique. His first title came in 2001 with the Ducati 996 in a time prior to electronic aids on the machine, his last crown in 2008 came with those aids turned up to the max. Two completely different bikes with completely different riding styles but still Bayliss prevailed.

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Total votes: 31
Total votes: 35

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Comments

Nitro Nori, thanks very much for reminding me. Nobody did it like Noriyuki Haga. Haga San raced in 500cc GPS & MotoGp, BSB and apparently was still racing in the CIV this year on a supersport 600 at 43 wow that is longevity!!

Talking about longevity, I was at the Hidden Valley circuit near Darwin earlier this year, & saw Troy Bayliss win an Australian superbike race at the age of fourtynine. That's also awesome.

Troy Corser sounds even more impressive in your article Steve. From memory Corser was also AMA superbike champion in 1994 on the Fast by Ferracci Ducati, the year after he won the Aussie title. That is he won on debut in the USA. In WSBK I've been told that if Corser hadn't done so many victory wheelies after winning race one he would have had less engine failures in race two. This was back in the days when both races where on Sunday. It was suggested that Troy Corser might have won the championship in 1995 as well as 1996 if he saved the wheelies until after race 2

I'm an Australian & a big fan of Aussie riders, but would you believe I think I must give my vote to the TT racer cool Carl Fogarty. The Isle of Man makes the difference in my mind. It's not that I like foggy but the mountain course separates gods from mere mortals. I was at Phillip island in 2000 I think it was & saw Carl's crash through the binos. Aaron Slight went to the inside, Carl chose to ride around the outside of the back marker Robert Ulm ? To this day I think Carl dropped the inside shoulder to clip him as he went past. Whether Carl meant to or the slow rider had a slide or picked the bike up as Slightly overtook, I'm not sure, anyway the contact was harder than any rider would have chosen. Carl went down & the rest is history.

That was T.B. 21's chance to move up for BSB to WSBK.

Carl for my money despite his imperfections.

Total votes: 29

Another interesting comparison is to ask "is the current Kawasaki the most dominant bike in the history of WSBK"?

 

Total votes: 23

If we count Ducati twins with steel tube frames as the same bikes, they probably still beat Kawasaki, including Tom Sykes & Scott Russell with Jonathan Rea's amazing record.

Is WSBK going to Ireland next year??

When is the bloody WSBK calendar for 2019 coming out, damm Dorna !!!

Total votes: 26

to call all steel trellis Duc's as the same bike, just ask Frankie Chili who built his famous 998.5 because he couldn't get on with the double sided swingarm 999. 

From early 851/888/926 Desmoquattro, to the 955/996 Desmoquattro's, to 998 Testastretta, to 999 Testastretta, to 1198 Evo Testastretta the old tractor's went through some massive changes in frame and engine architecture. Even bikes that look externally similar such as Fogarty's shallow sump desmo 955 and Chili's deep sump testa 998.5 (with it's "Kayalami" frame) are vastly different.

So yes, apart from totally different they are very much alike, lol. 

 

 

Total votes: 12

I remember having dinner with KR Jr in South Africa after the qualifying, when Vale was still on a 250. He asked me who  I thought was the biggest name in Motorcycling at the time, I said in UK it had to be Foggy. Words like that mf followed and a quick change of subject :). After the race, Elvis Gobert was off his head in a bar, offering a fight with a couple of very important team managers who shall remain nameless. Foggy was a real pain but what a rider, the same mould as Doohan, he didn't enjoy it particularly apart from the winning bit and stamping all over the opposition. Second loser didn't matter to either of them.

Total votes: 27

Your mention of bright stars moving through the series on their way to motogp reminded me of Ben Spies. I don’t think his 2009 performance gets enough credit. New bike, new tracks, new series and he dominates first try against the like of Haga. I wonder how dominant his reign in wsbk would have been if he hadn’t moved on to motogp.

Total votes: 13

I'll agree for now.(and see where JR finally finishes) Bayliss is simply a marvel, and his moto career is nothing short of awe inspiring based on his late start and just incredible focus. The man went from 29 yr old (bricklayer?) to WSBK champ in 3 yrs. I met him once at Laguna 2005 and told him he was my hero, and he said, "nah mate, just got a wife and kids to take care of." What a stud, I wish he would have had the same success in MotoGP, but the wild card win on the same day Nicky won the title was enough to let me die a happy man one day.

Total votes: 27

/spray painter. Troy gets my vote too. 

 

Total votes: 20

I've been watching WSBK since it's inception and if posed this same question I'll certainly argue in defense of Troy... though which one really depends on the week you ask me. ;)

Total votes: 29

Because Serena Williams hasn't won more Grand Slam tournaments than anyone else.

Margaret Court is sitting on 24 (including a calendar year Grand Slam), albeit from a different period so the question is whether you can compare across eras is valid.

No question Troy Corser would be the best if the championship was raced on pre war supoercharged flat twins. He might even be the best of all if you could guarantee him a bike and tyres that he was happy with all race long. On form Corser is my favourite to watch and he did win on more than one make but others might shade him on race and season long focus.

 

Total votes: 13

Greatest superbike rider of all time; Mat Mladin.

If Mat cared what other people thought, he might have walked away from the large checks he was getting being a big fish in a small pond over here in the states at that time and go back to Europe (Had a Factory Cagiva 500cc ride in 93), but alas his record speaks for itself. Seven championships only interrupted by Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden.

AMA Superbike Champions 1999-09

1999 Mat Mladin,2000 Mat Mladin, 2001 Mat Mladin, 2002-Nicky Hayden 2003 Mat Mladin, 2004 Mat Mladin, 2005 Mat Mladin,2006-8 Ben Spies, 2009 Mat Mladin.

Ben Spies showed up and killed WSBK field his first season because he had to defeat Mat Mladin for years, the one man AMA superbike winning machine. They almost would talk to each other, and if you can beat Mat for a few years you likely have Biaggi, Haga and Fabrizo covered. Less it be forgotten that former WSBK champ Neil Hodgson showed up on a Ducati factory ride proclaiming hoping to get the trifecta of Superbike championships (BSB,WSBK and AMA) in 05 only to never get a win against the Matt and Ben show at the time. Only Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden defeated Mat in a straight up championship once he got rolling with Suzuki, and they both did pretty well for themselves.

Total votes: 35

Trickier proposition than first glance.

Glad to see Ben Spies - best single season performance (he hadn't been to most of those tracks before? Is EVERY round his home round?!). And yes he was more a Superbike rider than Motogp one.

Flipside for Biaggi, I don't think of him as primarily a SBK guy.

It can't JUST be the numbers in SBK, or we lose folks who had fewer years in that paddock. Context seems important. Polen doing it out of the back of a van for contingency money is pretty amazing. Tough to disregard my dislike for Foggy. And ultimately this is a fools errand, ya rat bastard Mr English...but I will bite. Via ruling them out and leaving one standing...

Bayliss. His blood smells like Superbike. If you haven't watched "Troy's Story" do, it is a goodie.

Total votes: 28

Mladin never came onto the world stage, if you don't race against the best, you can't be the greatest. On that note I would nominate Shane Byrne, but ultimately discount him the same reasons. The guy has 6 British titles and 2 wins in WSBK, as a wildcard entry no less. But his full time WSBK results weren't so stellar, to say nothing of his disastrous run in Moto GP for Aprilia,KTM and then Honda.

.

In their respective series Mladin and Byrne stand above everyone else, but at world level it's Foggy, Rea or Bayliss. Foggy, for all his abrasive qualities, was spectacularly good a winning races in arguably the most competitive years of SBK. Bayliss might have re-written the record books, but he got to racing late. Rea's numbers speak for themselves, some might argue that the era he competes in is less competitive, but it can also be argued it's less competitive because he is just that much better.

Total votes: 13

Greatest WSBK rider.

I have to go with Fogarty, 4 championships in arguably the most competitive time in WSBK history. Plus he left Ducati for Honda RC45 for a season, got some wins when Slight couldn't (Slight was more consistent though) then came back and won some more with Ducati.

 

Most impressive single season for a rider: Ben Spies

Total votes: 21

They're all champs.

I'd probably like to have a pint with Troy Bayliss the most, if that means anything.

Total votes: 13

If "greatest" is most wins or most championships then the statistics are there for all to see, no discussion needed. So then, do Fogarty, Rea and Bayliss sit at the top just because they stuck around? Would Edwards, Kocinski and especially Spies have eclipsed them with more seasons (and health)? Yes, I admit my U.S. bias...

Or, maybe all it takes is English as a native tongue (26 of 31 champions by my count)!

(and maybe a 33% displacement advantage?)

Anyway, the most dominant WSBK performance I have witnessed in person was Spies in 2009, beating Rea (OK, on  Honda, but still), Checa, Haga, Fabrizio, etc. Would have loved to see Spies and Bayliss straight up in their primes.

 

 

 

Total votes: 31

"...Would have loved to see Spies and Bayliss straight up in their primes..." Completely agree, it would have been an even more epic season.

Total votes: 26

2 other great riders for different reasons come to mind as well.

Honorable mentions:

Scott Ru$$ell 1993

-93 WSBK champ, 93 Daytona 200 Winner, 93 Suzuka 8hr winner. WSBK 94 runner up, then downhill from there. Also the only inline 4 cylinder bike to win a WSBK championship in the 750 rules era. Not sure Fogarty ever had a better competitor than Russell for 2 years.

Anthony Gobert

-Maybe the best rider on any equipment when the track was Philip Island or Laguna Seca.

Total votes: 22

Roger Freeth, Andrew Johnson, Malcolm Campbell anyone who raced superbikes at Mount Panorama, Bathurst.

Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser, Joey Dunlop, John McGuiness, Shane Byrne how can I decide on one, it's like asking me who is my favorite child.

Total votes: 23

was that foggy was a mouthy k##t, and that's about it for him.  Yes he could ride but I also seem to remember that most of the time he had a 250 (or there abouts) cc advantage and didn't do what his team mate Kocinski did on the honda.  Other than that Spies, Nitro, Go-Show were probably the riders I remember as being outstanding.  Bayliss and Rea are probably there but their opposition (lack of) sometimes possibly not helping, the thing I like about Troy (both of them) and Rea is they appear to be genuine.  Will probably never forgive Matt for not going to WSB but he helped me get through a particuarly tough time in the 90s' by just being Matt so if I do eventually meet him I owe him a beer.

I like WSB because it seems to have riders who have not been born into the sport.

Total votes: 21

Thinking of the past greats reminds me how great WSBK used to be to watch, which makes me realise how far it's fallen. WSBK was the main reason I got my first motorcycle 20 odd years ago. Foggy literally banging fairings with Corser,,  Chili and Slight, Kocinski and Gobert on tracks ever like old Hockenheim and Brands Hatch, with Nutter wild cards on hot factory spec machines carving up the regulars for good measure. What a pale shadow of those glory days WSBK now is. I had hoped Dorna would do what needed to be done to fix the series but as ever it takes years of crap racing until the organisers see a problem. These days if I can be bothered to turn the races on I'm usually asleep by halfway. It's criminal that it's been allowed to be so poor for so long. Aftermarket electronics and ECUs need to be banned altogether, the bike runs with whatever traction control it comes stock with and that's it. You'd straight away remove one of the main ways a factory can dominate the series agaist teams without the budget to have a gazillion software gurus programming the bike, cutting costs while making the racing closer. Superstock is so much better to watch than WSBK for that very reason. Who cares if it makes them a second a lap slower?? Fair play to Johnny he's wiping the floor with Sykes, but I just can't compare what he's doing to what Foggy and Bayliss did in WSBKs Halcyon days. Kawasaki electing to spend their bucks on WSBK instead of GP is killing the series with the tech regs as they are. And this is from a green blooded Kawasaki guy who's owned a ZX6, 7, 9 and 12!

Total votes: 12

Merkel... Rode that POS Honda RC30 with early Pirelli (also POS) tires and kicked ass. Of course at that time the Italians would "get into a corner and pull the pin". After that Spies and Bayliss.

 

Who remembers that non official race in Mexico? in 89'.

Total votes: 20

Haha, first time I've heard "POS" and "RC30" in the same sentence......that is one POS I wouldn't mind sitting in my garage!

Total votes: 14

Maybe not the greatest but probably the most underrated is Doug Polen. The most SBK wins in a single season (17) 2 time SBK champion 91-92.  Went back to the USA at the request of the Ducati factory to win the AMA Superbike Championship in 1993. Only rider ever to win All Japan Roadrace title in two classes in same year (Formula 1 and F3 1989). First person ever to win AMA 600 and 750 Supersport Champion in same year (1988). World Endurance Champion in 1997 and 98. Suzuka 8 hours winner 1994. Put 80K miles on his van one year travelling all over the USA winning Suzuki GSXR Cup races and collecting thousands of dollars in contigency money. Won races and championships on Suzukis, Ducatis, and Hondas.  The guy won at everything he ever attempted.

Total votes: 20

Not the greatest ever maybe; but I've never seen any rider look as good as he did in 2011. His overtakes were a masterclass, and as he wasn't a great qualifier, he had to make them (which made for great entertainment). He was looking great in the latter of 2010 too. As he was so dominant they sandbagged Ducati by 6 kg the following year, which I thought was very unfair considering the next best Duc in 2010 was 9th. The extra weight led to him pushing too hard in 2012 and the crashes returned from his MotoGP days.

Also, very nice guy.

Total votes: 25

Mat Mladin greatest of the ex-grand Prix racers.

I've remembered that mighty Mick Doohan also raced superbikes at Mount Panorama. Sir Mick won the Arai 500 at Bathurst & made most of the field look slow. Mick won both superbike races at Oran park in 1988, (Swann series I think) & won a superbike race at Sugo Japan iirc.

Yes, don Carlos Checa is also awesome.

Total votes: 10

If memory serves, only JR had the organisers pull a spark plug lead off (metaphorically speaking), then got told to go race and still showed his class and skill.

I do wonder how some of the greats, mentioned above, would have responded to such a handicap? I'd have paid good money to be a fly on the wall of the pit garage, when that message got passed to KF!

Total votes: 18