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Hail the New Supercharged Era

Maybe I am a bit too eager to see the dawn of a new turbo era, witnessing motorcycle history in the making once more, but I just cannot help it. I will be honest and say that I never understood why the turbo engines have become so rare during the past several decades. Aside from the bigger cost of these machines, they seemed to offer any biker’s dream: more power, without having to make the engines bigger and bigger, and obviously heavier.
Suzuki has already announced their plans to go supercharged with the Recursion concept, Honda is also rumored to work on a new smaller but more powerful turbo version of the engine currently bringing the VFR1200 to life, while Kawasaki is weeks away from unveiling their all new Ninja H2 supercharged series bike. Gas prices are always going up, while emission standards are becoming more and more restrictive so going turbo makes sense. But will it become a new trend?

On this matter, opinions vary quite a lot as both turbo and crankshaft-powered superchargers have their pros and cons, and some riders won’t even want to hear a word on forced induction systems. While these fellows obviously have the right to voice their opinion, I’d rather not start a brawl on who is “truer,” the turbo biker or the aspirated one.

On the downsides of running a supercharged bike (engine- or exhaust gas-powered) is the higher complexity of the engine, which also triggers more maintenance work and higher costs when things break down. However, reliability should not be a problem for the big manufacturers which can invest a ton of money in actually testing the living hell out of their engines and bikes prior to staring selling them. Of course, the recent issues with BMW prove that these big guns are not always that good at testing their own technology… so we might expect issues.

However, a well-tested engine which gets the “good to go” seal of approval should not cause problems, especially if the customer complies with the maintenance and check-ups. With DIY supercharged engines, things may indeed not be that smooth, as they often require aftermarket pistons and tweaking and setups have to be quite precise in order to avoid damaging the engine. Again, under normal circumstances a builder like, say, Honda should not have any problems creating a whole forced induction engine that is also reliable.

In my book, choosing turbo or supercharger is a matter of costs versus benefits, like pretty much the rest of the things which make the motorcycle world go round. Still, with these engines capable of producing more power from the same or even smaller displacements, it would only seem normal that the industry goes “force-fed.”

Especially when the same power rating is the ultimate goal, naturally aspirated engines will post worse mileage than the turbo/supercharged ones. The optimized fuel consumption translates into less emissions, as the same displacement will produce a higher output, and this is a good thing. Instead of increasing the displacement and weight for more power, why not keeping the bikes in the same cc range and adding turbo?

One of the first examples that came to my mind was the 942cc KTM 950 Adventure introduced in 2003 and how it first went up to 999cc in 2006, then to 1,195cc in 2013 and one year later to 1,301cc. The 950 Adventure weighed 189kg dry (), while the 1190 tips the scales at 212kg, and I am waiting for the official 1290 Adventure data…

Since it looks like riders and/or bike manufacturers are always looking for more power, how about trying to figure out a way to generate it without adding more bulk to the bikes? Again, it’s not about turbo versus supercharger, it’s all about gaining a lot of extra power from a smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient engine. Isn’t this supposed to be the ultimate goal of all development efforts?

Now, with three of the big Japanese manufacturers (provided the Honda rumor is true) already thinking very seriously about going turbo/supercharged, at least with a few models first, I may just allow myself the liberty to daydream and hope that all the technological progress which has created stronger and lighter materials and alloys, top-notch injection systems, extensive use of carbon fiber and carbon-derived composites may have been just about enough for a new generation of high-performance forced induction motorcycle engines, and prove once more that better does not necessarily come from “bigger,” but can also arrive via “smarter.”


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