South Australia is currently passing legislation to jail riders (and drivers) for up to five years for speeding, yet the ‘300km/h club’ still boasts plenty of motorcycle members. If your pockets are deep enough, you can currently select from a range of production bikes which boast a top speed of 300km/h-plus. Spannerman investigates the present and predicts the future.
How fast is 300km/h? Few of us have experienced it, even owners of bikes capable of it. It’s one thing to have the capability but it’s entirely another matter to exercise it. If you crouch on an airstrip, keep the throttle open and watch the numbers build on the digital speedo, you enter a surreal world where you’re deafened by the noise but the scenery actually starts to look like it’s going slower. The drama occurs when the digital numbers finally say ‘300’ and you back off. By the time your speed is slow enough again to consider turning around, you can no longer see the point at which 300km/h was reached. It’s as if you’ve been defeated by the curvature of the earth.
Where can you do this? Certainly not on public roads in Australia, yet there are a handful of production bikes capable of this speed and a couple capable of much faster.
Current star of the show continues to be Kawasaki’s H2R. It’s been top of the heap since its introduction in 2015. INFO MOTO hasn’t yet been blessed with a ride yet but ex-British Superbike champ and friend of INFO MOTO, Paul Young, managed to get a dealer-owned example to Phillip Island in Victoria not long after the model was released.
“To get an idea of where it sits in the scale of insanity, I had a look at what the world’s best race bikes clock at Phillip Island at the time,” says Paul.
“Fastest WSBK speed recorded at PI in 2014 was Jorde Torrens on the Aprilla RSV4 RF at 324km/h, but this was undoubtedly achieved with the aid of a multi-bike slipstream. The fastest top speed in qualifying was 314km/h by Sylvain Guintoli’s Honda CBR1000RR.
“In comparison, the fastest MotoGP bike at the 2014 Australian GP was Marc Marquez’s Honda with a top speed in qualifying of 346km/h.
The highest numbers I saw on the dash (on the H2R) before focusing on making it into turn one was 335km/h but, as with any production bike, the H2R’s instruments are a touch optimistic. The V-Box GPS logger recorded a genuine top speed of just under 318km/h but the bike is capable of much, much more.”
Young estimates a top speed of over 360km/h (overseas motorcycle journals say as much as 400km/h) and it’s all yours for around $55,000 plus pre-delivery inspection costs.
The trickle-down effect in marketing encourages manufacturers to make hero statements with their most outstanding bike. The modestly-performing 300 and 400cc models in most manufacturers’ ranges look like their immensely more powerful siblings and almost have the same proportions. The practice of not putting the engine capacity on the side of the fairing means the casual observer often can’t tell if the bike they just saw ride by was a 300 or a 1000. It’s a practice that probably suits both capacity classes: it makes the owners of the smaller bikes feel more substantial and hides the capability of the larger bike from scrutiny.
The ‘hero’ statement did, however, attract the attention of legislators in various countries around the year 1999 and, rather than have government-enforced controls, the Japanese manufacturers allegedly entered into a gentlemen’s agreement to limit top speed to 300km/h.
I say ‘allegedly’ as there’s no paperwork or contract available to verify this. It seems like it was a handshake and the only real evidence is that, suddenly, there were electronic controls on Japanese-manufactured bikes which closed them down at 300km/h.
Suzuki’s infamous Hayabusa was faster when it was released in 1999 than it is today but while the modern bike hides its charms, it’s a relatively simple matter to release the real beast. Motorcycle writer Guy ‘Guido’ Allen (AllMoto.com) owns a Phil Tainton-modified Hayabusa which is easily capable of 330km/h.
Honda was the only Japanese manufacturer to openly state that it would no longer make production bikes capable of exceeding 300km/h but, despite not talking about it in public, it seems the other Japanese manufacturers have followed the party line.
Yes, but what about the Kawasaki H2R? It’s in limited production and is not road-registerable. If you want the H2R vibe, you wouldn’t be unhappy with the performance of the base H2 model, also supercharged, currently available for around $41,000 rideaway.
Meanwhile, in Europe
Italian manufacturers obviously looked with bemusement at the Japanese 300km/h limit and realised if they could get their bikes to go faster than 300km/h, they’d have a selling advantage over their Asian brothers.
MV Agusta’s F4R 312 is called that because its top speed is 312km/h. Ducati was more discreet with its Panigale where the speedo blanks out after 300km/h has been reached.
BMW doesn’t make a public fuss about the top speed of its S 1000 RR but 305km/h is ordinary and 320km/h is possible. The first-generation S 1000 RR would do 160km/h in first gear.
Two things get in the way of much higher speeds. One is power. Kawasaki’s H2A needs 243kW at 14,000rpm to get to its top speed. Doubling the power would only increase the speed marginally. Past a certain point, the relationship between power and top speed becomes distorted. Much more power is required to make small gains in speed.
A closely related factor is aerodynamics. You may have noticed that most of today’s large-capacity naked bikes have a top speed of around 230km/h. It’s uncomfortable to ride them much above 180km/h and wind resistance past 220km/h is such that you’d need an enormous increase in power to fight it.
Adding a fairing, particularly one purpose-built in a wind tunnel, makes a huge difference in how power can be turned into speed. Suzuki’s Hayabusa is still among the best examples of this. Its engine is a modest 1340cc. Suzuki makes much bigger engines which are located in much slower bikes. The fairing on the Hayabusa is still something of a benchmark.
The age of speed
While manufacturers obviously still get marketing advantages from leading technology expressed in terms of top speed, the marketplace is clearly moving. A relatively recent survey conducted in Great Britain with a sample group of 5000 riders revealed that only five per cent of bike buyers are now motivated by speed. In fact, speed was swamped by what the survey conductors described as ‘garagisters’ – 50 per cent of respondents who preferred more practical involvement with their bikes and personalising them to get a closer relationship.
We’re still riding on roads built largely in the middle of the last century and we’re riding through far more built environments. Even on divided freeways, the heavily enforced speed limit is usually 110km/h. The Northern Territory passed through a brief period where it imposed a 130km/h limit on previously unrestricted roads only to find that crashes increased rather than decreased. There was a short period where speed limits were unrestricted again but the 130km/h limit is now back in place.
The South Australian government is currently considering legislation which will jail riders (and drivers) for excessive speed. Currently, the maximum penalty for speeding is a fine of $1690, the loss of nine points and a six month loss of licence. The new legislation will apply if you’re caught at more than 55km/h over the speed limit in 60km/h or under zones and 80km/h above limits over 60km/h. If you’re caught on a 110km/h freeway doing more than 190km/h, you could be jailed for up to three years. If the event involves a police chase or results in injuries, the penalty can climb to five years. Unfortunately for us, the case study in its PR campaign is a motorcycle hitting the back of a ute.
Track days are an escape route for fast bikes but most circuits don’t have long enough straights to explore top speeds. What to do?
Have we reached peak speed?
The will has long gone in Australian politics to allow for high speeds on public roads so it’s entirely possible 300km/h may end up being a plateau of performance engineering. Future generations may look back on our era as the golden age of speed.
Adventure tourers are currently filling the void. Out in the bush, nobody can see you and 100km/h on some bush tracks can give the same thrills as 300km/h on tarmac.
Ironically in these days of heightened (and justified) environmental concern and probably to the chagrin of safetycrats, electric motorcycles could easily set performance benchmarks that internal combustion-engined bikes could only dream about.
As far back as 2013, an electric bike was the fastest motorcycle up the legendary Pikes Peak by 20 seconds. A motor which produces maximum torque from zero revs has obvious advantages.
The era of the internal combustion engine is nearing its end and with it will probably go the relevance of high speed. The 300 club’s days are numbered but, unlike those who came before or afterwards, at least the members of it will have something glorious to talk about in the retirement village. We’ve lived through the golden age.