Monday, March 3, 2014

Parsing Superbike Rules

Back in the days before Mikhail Gorbachev summarily executed Communism, the U.S. had a huge strategic interest in Russia, but virtually no knowledge of what the country’s leaders were thinking. In the absence of any good spies for our side, all we could rely on was a type of intelligence specialist known as a Kremlinologist.

Kremlinologists looked at things like, the order of the limousines as they lined up to pick up Party members after meetings, or, how many cases of what quality of vodka were delivered to whose dacha; they used that kind of more-or-less-openly available information to try to determine who was in favor in the party, and from that, what the inscrutable Commies might’ve been up to.

I’m kind of a Kremlinologist of motorcycle racing. I don’t have many inside sources, and I’m certainly not privy to Dorna’s secret plans. But I wonder if the change to Superbike homologation rules means more than just, they want Bimota to field a team this year.

Over the last few years, it’s become a lot easier to meet the FIM’s minimum-production-quantity rules in the SBK class. In 2007, just before the global economic meltdown, these rules were published for the 2008 season:
  • ≥125 units on hand prior to homologation inspection (a month or so before the racing season starts). Motorcycles must be on sale to public at that time.
  • ≥500 units produced by the end of June, Year 1.
  • ≥1,000 units produced no later than end of December, Year 1.
At that time, the FIM said that beginning in 2010, the minimum production run in Year 1 would be raised to 3,000 units. This seemed to indicate a move to limit pseudo-manufacturers like Petronas. (I doubt they ever even made the first 125 machines!) Most recently, I think the rule called for 2,000 machines at the end of the second year.

Now, the FIM says...
  • ≥125 units on hand prior to homologation inspection (a month or so before the racing season starts). 
  • ≥250 units produced by the end of Year 1.
  • ≥1,000 units produced no later than end of Year 2.

This recent change clears the way for Bimota (which was unable to complete homologation requirements in time for Phillip Island) to compete in the remaining races. It also takes some pressure off Erik Buell, who (even with Hero’s financial help) may have been hard-pressed to produce 1,000 bikes this year.

When Dorna took over SBK, there were many who thought they’d basically kill off the series, to reduce competition for MotoGP. But now, I wonder: Does Dorna imagine a future in which the major manufacturers—Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki & Ducati, certainly; possibly Kawasaki, BMW—compete in MotoGP while SBK’s field is skewed towards smaller, niche manufacturers like Aprilia, Bimota and Buell?

Two series set up like that would segment the market of potential participants, and might not cannibalize each other quite so much.

That said, another outcome could be that the lower production requirements could actually encourage big manufacturers to produce more ‘homologation specials’. Sportbike riders who remember the heady days of the RC30, Yamaha OWO1, or later the ZX7RR wouldn't mind...


  1. How do EVO and Open classes fit into this? I'm so confused.

    And what happens if what you homologate is not what you produce in year 2? I imagine, for example, Buell may be making some changes to their bike.

  2. Mason,
    Both EVO and Open classes seem to fall under the same homologation rule. The machines are homologated for the series, once they're approved, factories can supply or support teams, or privateers can just buy them and have a go. I think that minor updates are allowed, as long as no changes are made to those parts that the rules specifically say must remain stock.

  3. Definitely good that more bikes can participate. Homologation specials could be fun and lust worthy bikes. Maybe they will even allow riders with personality to ride them as well.