Performance limits on the way

By Terry Snelling

Source: 22 February 2000

BIKES could be fitted with speed limiters or have their power restricted in a voluntary move by the major Japanese manufacturers to defuse growing safety fears about motorcycles capable of speeds nearing 200mph.
Talks have already started between Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha. They are becoming increasingly concerned that governments are about to step in unless they act first. There is no firm timescale, but MCN expects an announcement in the next few months.

Firms have already been warned privately that the development of faster and faster models like Honda's 176mph Super Blackbird, Suzuki's 194mph Hayabusa and Kawasaki's new ZX-12R will not be allowed to continue unchecked.

And the argument against the high-performance machines is not just about safety. Increasingly, officials now believe it is simply "socially unacceptable" to build road bikes capable of such high speeds. There is also concern about a power and performance war developing between rival manufacturers.

If the Japanese big four do introduce restrictions, it will mirror a move by some European car manufacturers who have a top speed limit of 155mph for their models. Japanese car makers have a 276bhp limit.

At this stage it is unclear whether bike manufacturers would opt for a power or speed limit and at what level they would be set. However, insiders say a speed limit is more likely as power in itself has not been a major issue.

Once the Japanese have set a limit, European firms including Ducati, Triumph and BMW would be expected to fall in line. There are already national power limits of 100bhp in some European countries and French safety officials are understood to favour EU-wide performance limits of around 134bhp or 186mph.

One industry insider told MCN: "This is an extremely delicate issue. We have been told that if we continue to make bikes which are faster and faster, then something official will be done to stop it. "Both we and the car industry are being told that if we want to avoid clumsy and damaging legislation, we've got to take action ourselves and be seen to be acting responsibly.

"The simple fact is that unless we agree a reasonable limit, we will have a limit we may not like set in law. "People who ride bikes may not like this, but the men who make the laws are not going to change their minds."

Kawasaki has yet to release official power figures for the ZX-12R, but officials made their views clear as the bike was unveiled at the Paris Show last October. "French officials were on our stand discussing the ZX-12R and starting to get shirty," said Kawasaki UK boss Geoff Selvidge.

"Manufacturers are now trying to reach an agreement on performance, because they are concerned that if they don't do this European legislation will come down with a power restriction."

Selvidge admitted he may choose not to give an official power figure when the ZX-12R goes on sale here within the next few weeks. MCN believes Kawasaki will claim 178bhp at the crank.

"One concern of ours is that any claims we make could accelerate the chances of an official power limit," he said. "The factory has asked that we don't release actual power figures because the issue is so sensitive."

French officials are not alone in their concern. Talk of top speeds edging ever closer to 200mph has also set officials from Holland and Germany twitching. An alliance between the three, who are major power brokers in European politics, could be enough to start the process towards a continent-wide power limit.

And in Britain speed has been high on the agenda for months, with campaigners calling for bikes and cars to be fitted with devices that automatically limit their speeds in built-up areas.

If an agreement on speed or power limiting is reached by the Japanese manufacturers then it is likely that the ZX-12R will be the last of the current generation of super high-performance bikes. Ironically, that may help to make the bike even more desirable as a cult machine.