2017 WSBK: The Return of The Homologation Special
If you're an avid follower of Super Bike racing, then you're in for a real treat in this upcoming season at both the British and World Series. 2017 is welcoming back homologation specials, meaning more exotic builds and a return of the “race bikes for the road” phenomenon.
The first homologation special was also arguably the most successful racer
What's a homologation special?
Simply put, it's a bike that's built to take advantage of the World Superbike Championship (WSBK) rulebook, which only allow manufacturers to race bikes that are available for purchase at your local dealer.
What's so special about that?
Well, bikes that are good for the road aren't usually as good for racing (things like lights or a sidestand get in the way), so a manufacturer would have trouble mass producing a homologation special that would meet minimum production numbers for it to qualify as a “available for purchase” bike.
These days though, that minimum is 500 bikes, which is much more realistic in the declining sport bikes sales era and this is paving the way for the return of exotic new builds such as the Honda CBR1000RR SP2, Kawasaki ZX-10RR, and Suzuki GSX-1000RR.
The first true homologation special was Honda’s RC30 (or VFR750R to give it it’s official name). The RC30 was designed to win the new World Superbike Championship which had its inaugural season in 1988 and, in the hands of American Fred Merkel, it did just that.
Honda’s thinking was direct: if WSBK machines had to be based on bikes that the public could buy, then they’d just build a WSBK racer for the road and simply strip the road gear off it and go racing. They did, they cleaned up, and that became the path for other manufacturers.
The first to follow suit was Yamaha with its FZR750R (also known as the OW01) in time for the 1989 WSBK season. Costing £13,200 at a time when the FZR1000R road bike was only £5,899, the OW01 was nothing short of exotic. Although its frame was based on the FZ750R, the new bike was worlds apart with its pukka race motor, flat-slide carbs, titanium con rods, close-ratio gearbox, Ohlins shock and four-butterfly EXUP valve.
The wane of homologation specials
However, WSBK's limitation of 750cc for four-cylinder machines in WSBK remained at 750cc so the R1, along with the likes of Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 and Honda’s CBR1000 could were not eligible to race. Manufacturers kept having to build hugely expensive 750cc machines in order to remain competitive.
Then, in 2003, the rules changed. A new 1,000cc limit was brought in for any bike in WSBK. The age of the homologation special seemed to be over and, for a while at least, it was.
But in 2017 a new era will begin.