What is the Difference Between a Sportbike and Supersport bike?

On rides with my buddies, we almost always end up discussing a variety of bikes. One category of motorcycles which always gets mentioned is the supersport category. Honestly, I have often wondered what makes a bike a supersport and how it is different from a sportbike or other categories of bikes. So let’s dive into this post and see the actual differences and what makes these categories different.

A supersport is usually a 600cc or 1000cc engine (usually inline 4) motorcycle, which is superior in performance to a sport bike because of its engine tuning, riding position, electronics and overall ergonomics and setup. Supersport bikes are typically racing bikes that are tuned down just enough to make them street legal bikes. That is why they often have “RR”, which stands for Race Replica, in their model name, signifying how they are very close to their racing version. For example, the Honda CBR1000RR and the Honda CBR600RR are both supersport bikes, whereas the Honda CBR500R ABS and the Honda CBR 650R are just sport bikes.

It’s important to note that the definition of what constitutes a supersport bike is not strictly universal. Also, the naming convention of using RR in the model name to denote the supersport nature of the motorcycle is loosely held.

Let’s look at some characteristics in which sport bikes and supersport bikes differ.

Engine capacity and tuning

Sport bikes: Have engine capacities ranging from the ~250cc mark up to 1000cc. These have a mix of engine setups such as single units and parallel twin. The KTM Duke 250 would qualify as a sportbike with its performance-oriented tuning. 

It has a sporty element and is much superior to a standard bike. Unlike race-oriented Supersports, the engine delivers more torque in the lower rev ranges.

Supersport bikes: These are typically the 600cc or the 10000cc engine capacity. Most of these are typically inline 4. However, they can also be a triple unit engine, as in the case of Triumph Street Triple. Take, for example, the Yamaha YZF R6. This motorcycle has such suitable racing DNA that its 600cc, fine-tuned engine gives 1000cc fully-faired sport bikes a run for their money.

The bike handles extraordinary well in cornering. The engines typically come alive as one moves from the lower revs to the mid and high. That is because a race bike from which supersport bikes are derived is set up to produce max power in the higher rev range. So a sportbike might seem faster off the starting line but will get squashed as speeds increase and revs go higher. The Supersports are built and tuned to max out power at the top of the rev ranges.

Riding position:

Sportbikes: can range anywhere from being comfortable (usually) to being uncomfortable (not so much). The Kawasaki Ninja 650, for example, or even the Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX, are both sports bikes as classified by Kawasaki. They both have a more relaxed riding position and don’t require the legs and knees to be as high up as on Supersports such as the ZX-10R.

Supersports: since they are essentially Race Replicas, the committed riding position with lowered-down clip-on handlebars makes it much more demanding to ride. The foot pegs are generally higher to achieve greater lean angles as might be required at high speeds. Since all-out performance is the focus while keeping them street legal, these are taxing to ride over long distances. On the race track, however, the Supersports shine!

Weight and ergonomics

Supersports has always focused on keeping everything about the motorcycle as close to track riding performance as possible. That is why they tend to have lesser weight to improve the overall power-to-weight ratio. Motorcycle manufacturers focus aggressively on weight reduction to get as much performance as possible. Using lighter materials such as carbon, aluminium, titanium, etc., such as in exhausts and sprockets, is commonly used to reduce weight.

Supersports also have a much greater focus on aerodynamics and performance first ergonomics. The positioning of footpegs, the suspension setup, fairings, seating, handlebar position, and single rider seating will make city riding suck. But you will jump joyfully on long roads with no traffic and nice bends. Think racing, think race track, think Supersports.

Costs

It is a bit obvious that Supersports will cost you more to own, ride and maintain. They are more expensive to buy in general. Owing to their performance first nature, they will cost more to service and maintain. Everything from tyres to fuel to spare parts is going to cost more. And if you catch the track riding bug, it gets exponentially more expensive.

Two days on the track could mean changing the tyres, a ton of fuel, changing the brake pads, accelerated wear and tear to the chain set and more!

So think before you decide to get a Supersports!

What are the big names saying?

Here is how Kawasaki lays out its current line of sports bikes, Supersports and even hypersports, which we have left out of the discussion for now.

Some of the Kawasaki range:

SportbikesSupersports
Ninja 400Ninja ZX-6R
Ninja 650Ninja ZX-10R
Ninja 1000SXNinja ZX-14R

Some of the Honda range:

SportbikesSupersports
CB1000R BLACK EDITIONCBR600RR
CBR500R ABSCBR1000RR-R FIREBLADE SP
CBR650RCBR1000RR
CB650R
CB500F ABS
GROM
CB300R
CBR300R

Some of the Yamaha range:

SportbikesSupersports
MT-07YZF-R1M
MT-09YZF-R7
YZF-R6
YZF-R3

Are they street legal?

Yes. Both sportbikes and supersports are road/street legal. The reason the Supersport bikes class exists is to make the race bikes road legal. With the least amount of mods from their WSBK or AMA versions, for example, these RR – Racing Replicas are legal for street use.

What are some other categories of motorcycles?

It is worth noting that there are several categories of motorcycles which have little or significant overlap with the sport and supersport categories. Superbikes are one such category. The superbike class of motorcycles would essentially be a subset of the Supersports class.

They would be the top performers of the supersport class of bikes. Some others include naked bikes, hypernaked, adventure touring (Kawasaki Versys 1000), supersport touring (Kawasaki Concurs 14), motocross, trail/off-road, supermoto and dual sports.

Conclusion

It wouldn’t be wrong to look at supersport bikes as sportbikes on the far end of the performance spectrum. As you improve the performance of a sportbike, it gets closer and closer to a supersports.

Similarly, if one were to reduce performance and make supersports less edgy and easier to ride, they would become more and more like a sportbike. Or if you take a race bike and reduce only that which is necessary to make it road legal, you would have a supersport ride! Now that would be a simple and distilled understanding of the differences.
Ride safe!

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