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Digital Subscriptions > Fast Bikes > Issue 324 March 2017 > THE MARCH OF PROGRESS

THE MARCH OF PROGRESS

Two of these machines represent the very best that motorcycling could offer for its generation. But what about the third? How will the Energica Ego make its mark on motorcycling decades from now?

There are many marks along motorcycling’s relentless march forward that denote a point of progress. Initially little more than a steam-powered pushbike, the motorcycle has first lovingly embraced the internal combustion engine as its eternally beating heart, then settled on basic chassis design before making massive progress in braking and suspension to a point of arrival called convention.

Early breakthroughs by the British, French and Germans were later capitalised on by the Japanese from the 1950s onwards. More recently tastes have reverted back to European flavours in this post millennium age, while the Indians and Chinese are doing the copy and paste thing for their own markets.

We’ve only been riding the things for 150 years, but the most staggering advances have been made in the last 30 years – a quantum leap made in the last decade or so. Anything before this can be seen as mild evolution of a mode of transport compared to this recent revolution; there have been small steps, incremental gains, with little in the way of a back-to-the-drawing-board mentality in evidence.

The very earliest machines looked not dissimilar to bikes from the Sixties and Seventies thanks to hamstrung technology and the dominance of the auto industry sucking up talent, ideas and resources.

After this, however, massive changes in engineering, design, electronics and manufacturing have caused a wholesale change in what a motorcycle is – and what it is ultimately capable of. Though 1969’s CB750 is largely considered to be the first superbike, it looks nothing like a superbike that we recognise today. The first Suzuki GSX-R750, however, now that’s a game changer. There have since been more revolutionary moments in motorcycling – the first FireBlade, Yamaha’s debuting of the YZF-R1 and the applecart upsetting BMW S 1000 RR – machines that have come along every 10 years or so to wholly revise the natural order of things.

These have been real leaps, moments that have set the benchmark and defined the whole industry for the next decade. Quite simply, without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Both of these bikes represent huge breakthroughs in the evolution of the sports bike.

The start of something special

Now that the Japanese were fully engaged in racing, the Suzuki GSX-R750 was a vision of the future. Weight, power, ancillaries and aerodynamics were all honed to levels unseen on a production bike to create a package that really was ready to race from the showroom – with Mick Grant taking the production TT race and that year’s superstock title in some style aboard a virtually bog-stock Gixer. Kevin Schwantz also did the business in the Transatlantic races of the era, too. Of course, there were issues, but Suzuki managed to get the fundamentals cock-on.

The numbers might not allude to it now, but 176kg and 106bhp married up with half decent suspension and brakes resulted in a weapon to terrorise country roads and tracks the world over. Against the likes of the VF and VFR750, FZ750 and GPZ750, the Suzuki had it all its own way, and constant development and spawning of other models (the 1100 would come a year later, the 600 in a decade then, finally, the 1000) would see the GSX-R marque being the most important over the next 30 years.

Upping the game

Ignoring the first FireBlade, the 1998 YZF-R1 and 2005’s GSX-R1000, all three of which built further upon the philosophy of the original Gixer, the next momentous mark in biking’s time line was the dawning of the electronics era. Officially, Ducati was first to claim this title, with the 1098R the first proper bike possessing traction control, but the BMW S 1000 RR took this rider aid to another level – as well as leaving the biking world flabbergasted at the performance levels of the inline four litre bike. This in turn made the Japanese firms’ seemingly incremental efforts over the last two and a half decades seem somewhat half-cocked.

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