When I was searching for my first road motorcycle I knew I wanted something sporty that looked like it was purpose designed for the race track.
And I found that there were a couple of different categories that fit the bill, being sportsbikes and supersports bikes, however how these bikes were different eluded me.
Here’s what I found out when I put my mind to researching exactly what the differences were…
The differences between sportbikes and a supersport bikes are:
- Seating Position – more aggressive on a supersport
- Performance – usually higher performance on a supersport
- Weight – supersport bikes have aggressive weight reduction
- Race Focus – supersport bikes excel at track work
- Cost – supersport bikes generally cost more
While I really do love the look of the slightly sleeker supersport motorcycles I was also aware of the fact that they aren’t always the most comfortable or practical of bikes to use as a daily ride, and daily riding is something that I had to do for my work commute.
And just to clarify, when I talk about supersport bikes I’m talking road legal motorcycles that also perform exceptionally well on a race track.
So I went in search of which sport style bike was best for me, comparing different models within the same brand of motorcycles and eventually comparing models across different brands to really narrow down the best choice for my personal circumstances.
And the first thing that I always checked was the comfort of the bike which rested squarely with the seating position…
Sportbike Vs Supersport Bike Seating Position
Supersport motorcycles have a very aggressive forward-leaning seating position which also forces the riders legs to be tucked up quite high, whereas a regular sportbike is more relaxed with the rider being slightly more upright and legs a little straighter.
Supersport bikes are built for all out performance and part of that is making the rider as much a part of the bike as possible, which is evident in the seating position.
The foot pegs are such that the legs are pulled up high and fit snuggly into the contours of the bike, and the seating position is significantly forward leaning to help the rider tuck under the windscreen for the least wind resistance possible.
You can usually tell a supersport style motorcycle quite easily by comparing the seat height with the handlebar height.
If the handlebars are approximately level with the seat, and sometimes even slightly below, then you’re looking at a supersport motorcycle.
Additionally, supersport bikes will often come with no pillion passenger seat or foot pegs whereas sportbikes will always have this option.
Mark’s Decision: while I wanted a bike that looked racy and would give me a good scare if I twisted the throttle far enough, I also needed it as a daily ride and so comfort had to win out and I opted for a more upright sportbike rather than an all out supersport.
Sportbike Vs Supersport Bike Performance
On average, supersport bikes have greater horsepower and torque than sportbikes, and will handle better when cornering. This is due to the engineering of the motorcycle components themselves, plus the likelihood of a supersport motorcycle having a lower centre of gravity.
Supersports are typically track focused and everything in their design is geared to this, much more so than a regular sportbike.
Having said this there are some low engine capacity so-called supersport bikes such as the Kawasaki Ninja 400 that will be easily outperformed in many respects by a sportbike, however given its’ slightly more aggressive seating position it has a supersport spirit and can be an excellent option for new riders who want more of a supersport experience.
So let’s do a quick comparison of a similar capacity sportbike and supersport bike to get a great idea on how their performance differs.
As you can see in the picture below we’re comparing the 2018 Kawasaki models of the Ninja 650 sportbike and the Ninja ZX6R supersport (similar to a Yamaha YZF-R6).
The first thing that stands out, as discussed earlier, is the seat height relative to the handlebar, with the ZX6R on the left having both at almost the same height for a more forward-leaning seating position, and the 650 on the right being more upright for comfort given the handlebars are reasonably higher than the seat.
We can also see in the table below that while the engine sizes are similar, in fact the ZX6R actually being 50cc smaller, the power and torque output on the ZX6R is reasonably more than the 650 due to its track and performance focus, and its design of an inline four cylinder engine as compared to the parallel twin cylinder engine of the 650 sportbike.
Mark’s Decision: in Australia new riders are limited in the power to weight ratio of their motorcycle for two years, and the most powerful bike I could get that also ticket the ‘comfortable riding position’ box was a sportbike. I quickly found out however that it had more than enough power to keep me very humble, give me a scare, and pull the front wheel off the ground. Sportbikes are no joke!
Sportbike Vs Supersport Bike Weight
Compared to sportbikes, supersport bikes will have more aggressive weight reduction to ensure as much performance as possible is extracted from the motorcycle.
Examples of how weight is reduced in a supersport motorcycle include:
- Upgrading your exhaust to a much lighter, performance unit;
- Switch from a steel sprocket to an aluminium one;
- Install a light-weight lithium ion battery;
- Lose weight… as in your own bodyfat;
RELATED: check out my side project on getting as lean as you want – the leaner you are, the faster your bike goes!
Mark’s Decision: weight didn’t really factor in for me when buying my bike. I got the bike I liked for other reasons and was confident that if I dropped any sport or supersport bike that I could pick it up.
Sportbike Vs Supersport Bike Race Track Suitability
Supersport bikes are purpose designed and built to perform extremely well in a racetrack environment, owing to their aggressive seating position, weight reduction and performance capabilities. Whereas sportbikes, while still excellent performers in their own right, are designed as a blend of racetrack capability and riding comfort.
Both sportbikes and supersports have racing elements to them, however supersport bikes are tailor made for trackwork and often take many design cues from their full-on racing series counterparts.
On average they will have less wind resistance, great torque and horsepower, and a better power to weight ratio than regular sportbikes and will quite easily outperform them given the same or similar engine capacity.
Having said that though, any motorcycle at all can be tracked, so if you have a sportbike and want to get racy with it them have at it at one of your local track meets.
Mark’s Decision: track suitability wasn’t a consideration as I had no road bike experience at all. I plan to take my bike to a track day sometime soon and I’m sure it will perform beyond my personal riding capability, and that will do me just fine for now.
Sportbike Vs Supersport Bike Cost
Compared to sportbikes, supersport motorcycles usually cost more to buy and service due to their increased performance characteristics, lighter and more high-tech components, and in some cases their rarity.
If you have a budget limit then you may well be forced to start off with a sportbike and switch to a supersport as your finances improve.
But not only are the upfront costs going to be potentially higher, the ongoing maintenance costs can be higher as well.
Everything from performance fluids and fuel, to higher performance but shorter lifespan engine components, to tires.
My suggestion is that before you go shopping for your next sportbike or supersport bike, set a budget amount for what you can spend and what you can afford to maintain, and only then go shopping.
That way you won’t be looking with so much interest in something you can’t afford, and hopefully it will stop you from buying the best of the best when in reality it’s really not in the budget yet for you.
Mark’s Decision: This was a factor when purchasing as I had a budget limit. However as we’re limited on power to weight ratio for new riders in Australia this law forced me into the mid-range bikes so there was no way I was getting a $20k+ supersport even if I’d wanted to.
Should You Get A Sportbike Or Supersport Bike
Whether a sportbike or supersport bike is suitable for you will depend on your riding experience, your primary purpose for owning the motorcycle, and how much comfort you are looking for or are prepared to forego.
I won’t reveal quite yet which motorcycle I bought for my first bike, but I can absolutely guarantee that the size and type of bike I got was easily enough power and performance for me with my very limited experience and to go higher would have put me in considerable danger.
I realise there’s an urge to get the most powerful monster of a bike available however if you’re a new rider I would very strongly recommend against that.
You can see my reaction to a reasonably powerful road bike in the video at the end of this article, and as you’ll see it was pretty intense for me!
If you need to ride your bike every day for work or similar reasons then being in a comfortable position will go a long way towards enjoyable riding.
Being in an unusual position, as you can be on a supersport bike, can make riding a miserable experience when you need to do many hours a week of commuting.
Of course each to their own and not everyone will agree, however to make sure you get the best bike for you personally I’d recommend test riding each type just to get a good feel for the seating position before buying.
Comfort was touched on in the last point, however it goes deeper than how much time you spend cruising each week, you will also have to take into consideration any injuries you have that may make a supersport quite problematic to ride.
I’ve experienced this in a sense, I found that I was riding my bike for a couple of hours each day to commute to work and after a while the constant stress going through my throttle arm caused tendonitis in my elbow and put me out of action for a few months.
The more leant over you are on a bike the worse this particular type of injury can become in a short amount of time.
Mark’s Decision: In the end I chose a 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 650 KRT as my first road motorcycle, and I bloody love it! The local laws mean that it had to be detuned until I get my unrestricted bike licence but at around 50 horsepower and a bunch of torque in the parallel twin engine it still outperforms damn near every car on the road and it picks the front wheel up if I want it to quite easily.
At the end of the day my bike puts a layer of ‘awesome’ over everything else I do in life, and while I’ll no doubt eventually upgrade, I’m in no rush whatsoever to do so!