The Future for 600cc Sport Bikes Is Still Gloomy

Somehow, I expected to see signs of revival for the 600cc sport bike class at this year's EICMA show, but the reality proved me wrong. No major improvements and updates for 600cc bikes arrived, and this only makes my gloomy anticipations seem more likely to be true.
Last year I talked to BMW and Kawasaki officials, who told me that the supersport class was dwindling, and new discussions I had this year confirmed the trend.

Still, the conclusions I reached last year got yet another explanation for the slow death of the segment, and it doesn't make things look better either.

An exclusive interview with BMW's Ola Stenegard put things bluntly. Making a 600cc bike does not differ too much from manufacturing a liter-class superbike from a technological standpoint. Both machines are crafted using almost the same parts, with the differences between them being rather minor and related to scalability.

Still, Mr. Stenegard revealed that developing and manufacturing a 600cc bike involves development and production costs that are comparable to those of 1000cc motorcycles, even though the price tag of these machines differs quite a lot.

From the last year experience, we know that "the sales aren't there," which literally means that manufacturing and selling 600cc machines is no longer such a lucrative thing. I also talked to Yamaha's Theodoros Papadopoulos, and he maintained a good spirit. He told me that Yamaha didn't lose all hope for the segment, especially as the R6 machines are still very competitive in national series.

In World Supersport, Yamaha's best-positioned machine ranks 12th, and there is clearly room for improvement, but Mr. Papadopoulos assured me that these bikes are still hugely popular in all markets.

Now, even if this is true, in the end, it's sales that drive a product. No matter how many used bikes may be out there in the people's garages, new ones must be sold in sufficient quantities in order to keep a product alive and provide return of investment funding the development of future editions.

Unfortunately, it looks like the interest of major manufacturers is slowly drifting away from this segment, with the superbikes clearly being favored. Some makers opted for increasing the displacement of the (former) supersport bikes and getting them closer to the "magic" 1000cc figure. Still, the 600cc machines remain without any significant improvements, and this can be observed all over the industry.

Even the FIM is considering adding a smaller cc class in the regular series

The FIM has also started mentioning the possibility of adding more competitions to the current list of racing series, obviously for the smaller-displacement machines.

It is hard, if not even downright impossible to ignore the 300cc machines, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki are having such a success with, and considering the fact that these machines are ridden by youngsters, the move sounds legit, to say the least.

The future of road racing series depends on attracting young people to the sport. Some of the big names in the business are drawing nearer to the end of their careers, and the need to have big stars in the series is unquestionable.

Sports need heroes, idols, icons revered by the young generations, motivating them to lay the hammer down and start working hard for a chance to rival them.

But there are issues with this, on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, the licensing restrictions prevent young people from riding 100hp-ish bikes and there are two intermediate license categories that must be obtained before having an A license.

Usually, this happens at the age of 20-22, when it's rather too late to become a "new rising star." Marc Marquez showed us that one can in fact already be a MotoGP World Champion at that age... but still guys like him were not allowed to ride an R6 on public roads.

The fact that new riders can't lawfully ride a 600cc in their early days means they will not buy these bikes. As most of these machines are above double the max power allowed before A2 restrictions are applied, they don’t even qualify for the job, making riding one a matter of choosing to ride on the wrong side of the law.

On the other hand, the US are overly restrictive as far as having youngsters involved in pro racing goes. The matter has been discussed more than once, but little progress has been achieved.

Wayne Rainey is trying to make a change supporting the new MotoAmerica series and lobbying for allowing young riders into the pro sport scene. Colin Edwards has also mentioned this issue more than once, indicating this type of rigidity as one of the main causes for the absence of American riders in MotoGP.

But change takes time, and time may be the one thing 600cc machines don't have if more manufacturers draw the line and see that these bikes are hardly worth making.

BMW and Ducati say no to 600cc machines

As far as I was told by officials, BWM and Ducati have no plans to enter the 600cc segment. There will be no S600RR. As for a potential Ducati 600 Panigale, you can keep on dreaming. The "small" version just went up from 899 to 959, so the message is clear.

Triumph seems to be quite keen with their Daytona 675 machines, as they make steady progress. Still, House Hinckley has also operated engine displacement increases for their long-standing Modern Classic range, and seeing the 675 "growing" will not be surprising.

My guess is that manufacturers will keep on making small updates to the existing bikes, and will be careful to observe where the rest of the market is heading for. That is, no longer spending the big bucks on all-new generations of 600cc bikes, but trying to make do with tweaking the existing ones.

If FIM kicks off the small-displacement road racing series, there might be more money to be made with it for manufacturers, and the pressure on the 600cc may increase. For what I know, BMW could deliver a G310RR (not the official name, I just made it up now) quite easily...

I'd like to be wrong; 600ers are a ton of fun, but it's the second year when I get the same feedback from the heart of the industry, EICMA. Here's my two cents, how about yours?
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