Manufacturers agree to end top speed race

By Terry Snelling 29 February 2000

SPEED limiters will be fitted to new bikes for 2001 as part of a voluntary agreement drawn up between the major Japanese and European bike makers.

Last week we revealed manufacturers were being forced to consider a speed or power limit to appease those politicians who are becoming increasingly concerned by the high maximum speeds of some bikes.

Now we have discovered that senior representatives of Japanese and European bike makers have already met in Italy and come up with a 186mph (300kph) speed limit. And this is just a first step. Lower limits are expected in years to come.

The limit will be imposed on any 2001 model bike which would otherwise go faster. First examples will be seen at the Munich bike show in September.

Only two bikes are likely to be affected at first, the 194mph Suzuki Hayabusa and the new Kawasaki ZX-12R. The Kawasaki's top speed is yet to be tested, but it is expected to be capable of even closer to 200mph than the Suzuki.

In the short term, the agreement could be good news for both firms. It's likely the move could inspire many riders to buy bikes which beat the limit while they still can. It could also do wonders for the secondhand values of those bikes in years to come.

The manufacturers have been forced to act after warnings from officials in Europe unhappy about the ever-faster speeds of modern machines. Politicians are describing it as "socially unacceptable" to have bikes capable of top speeds approaching 200mph.

Ducati's technical director Massimo Bordi said: "We now have a preliminary agreement that there will be no bikes capable of more than 186mph at the Munich bike show this year.

"There will then be a further reduction in speed for the following year. I am in favour of 174mph at the second stage, yet there is also pressure for us to go as low as a 155mph maximum. There will be many more meetings before there is a final decision.

"Everyone is concerned about this issue, but the Japanese must respect our opinion because it is in Europe where the rules are made. If the Japanese don't do it right, the European legislators will do it for them.

He explained that the motorcycle industry must take the initiative on limiting speed or risk governments introducing licence laws, taxes or insurance pressures which could severely damage business.

"We must do all we can to avoid government action, and do a lot more to improve the image of all two-wheelers. "It's not easy for Ducati," said Bordi. "We only produce superbikes, so the risk is that the politicians could destroy our entire business.

"For normal road riding, 170mph is fast enough. It's not only about speed. It's more about acceleration, driveability and cornering."

Ducati's fastest bike, the 996 SPS, is capable of just about 170mph. BMW's fastest bike is the 153mph K1200RS. Perhaps it is no surprise that the German firm favours a 155mph limit. To be fair, it already limits its cars to that speed.

"155mph on public roads is enough," said BMW's Hans Sautter. "Ten years ago the car manufacturers were competing to build the fastest car and governments became concerned.

"Mercedes, BMW and Audi agreed on a voluntary 155mph limit and from that moment there was no more talk of official action. Motorcycle manufacturers must follow this example.

"We don't believe 175mph is any more dangerous than 155mph, but that's not the point. It's now a political issue. Certainly, 186mph is too fast. No-one goes that fast, it's just for the bike owner to boast about."

Triumph has refused to confirm that it will comply with any "gentlemens' agreement" on speed. And MCN has been unable to pin down Bimota, traditionally the maker of some of the world's fastest bikes. It remains to be seen if a voluntary speed limit would be accepted by politicians if some low-volume bike manufacturers refused to be part of it.

Rebel car producers didn't jeopardise the European car agreement on a 155mph limit. Politicians were satisfied even though Porsche and Ferrari refused to sign up to it.

European-wide bike rights campaign group FEMA thinks the speed agreements will get the politicians off the bike manufacturers' backs. Manager Eric Thiollier said: "The political message to manufacturers has been to stop the race to be fastest. As long as there is a limit, the race is over," he said.