“You don’t need a liter bike!” I scream it from the rooftops hoping that every fledgling rider out there will hear me, but then I quickly scurry down the stairs to my MT-10 and ride home, hoping that none saw my hypocrisy. The argument against liter bikes is a hard one to make when only people who ride them truly know why they’re completely ridiculous. The truth is that no one really needs to, or should, have a 200-horsepower vehicle that weighs 450 pounds. So why is it that they are idolized and so sought after by the masses of two-wheeled enthusiasts? To put it simply, the reason that liter bikes are so reviled is that when you boil it down, they’re truly, really dumb. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Liter bikes have such a face-melting amount of power that they can’t be used in an effective way, really, anywhere. There is a reason that most bikes over 80 horsepower have extremely close 0-60 times, and that is that without modification. Approximately 80 horsepower is the maximum amount of power that a bike can put down under 60 MPH when paired with the common sportbike wheelbase and rear tire size. Anything over that amount of power just causes wheel lift and cannot be utilized until after 60 mph. This is what makes bikes like the Suzuki SV650 or Yamaha R7 so much fun on the street, as they have about the maximum amount of power that can be utilized in most street situations paired with a robust torque curve.
Why is it that liter bikes are so sought after even though they can’t be fully taken advantage of most of the time? It’s as simple as the fact that we, as enthusiasts, like to romanticize excess. The idea of riding something every day that is capable of walking all over supercars is appealing to us. Even though we probably won’t spend much time actually walking all over supercars, it’s nice to know that you could. It’s a very dumb concept to justify buying a very dumb machine.
The problem with liter bikes has very little to do with the bikes themselves. Once you have a few years of riding experience under your belt and can effectively ride a middleweight motorcycle (600 to 900 cc), there is not much more involved when it comes to operating a liter bike. It is much less a skill problem than it is a mental problem. With most middleweight motorcycles, you can wring out a gear or two without getting into too much trouble. But when it comes to liter-class motorcycles, they are simply unable to do that on the street, with most of them coming out of first gear somewhere around 80 MPH.
To be able to, for lack of a better term, survive owning a liter bike, you need to be someone who is okay with not using the bike’s entire capability. It’s nearly impossible to fully utilize a liter bike legally anywhere on the street, considering that most of them have trouble keeping the front wheel down under 100 MPH. For the most part, 99% of your street hooliganism can be accomplished on a 600 cc without being significantly slower. That’s not to say that there is no fun in excess. The amount of one-wheeled shenanigans that I may or may not have gotten up to on my MT-10 is more than enough proof that liter bikes are a riot when treated with the proper respect.
Why Shouldn’t You Get One?
We’ve all seen them in the wild, riding with no helmet, wearing nothing but flip flops, cargo shorts, and only sunglasses between their faces and 140 mph winds, proudly tearing down the highway on their brand new R1M in a hurry to meet God. They’re probably on their way to the local bike night, where they can stand next to their trusty steed feeling superior, knowing that they bought the “best” bike. They do this all while blissfully unaware that the chicken strips on their tires are so wide that they’d make the colonel jealous, a clue-in to those around them that they are probably “over-biked.” These guys are the titans of the highway, the masters of speed, and, most importantly, they are the reason why motorcycle insurance is so expensive. While they occupy the lowest common denominator, everyone in the bike community has met a rider like this, the shining example of someone who should not own a liter bike.
This is not all to say that liter bikes are some sort of forbidden fruit that no biker should ever partake. They just require much more discipline, and knowing whether you have it is the hard part. If you have it in your head that a 600 cc supersport is just too slow and that you need something faster, you likely lack both the discipline and skill to safely own a liter bike. Those 600 cc supersports are anything but slow. They just require more skill to coax the power and speed out of their high-revving engines. Anyone can whack open the throttle in a straight line. By band-aiding your lack of skill with a liter bike, you rob yourself of vital growth as a rider. Only when you are fully comfortable on a motorcycle do you truly begin to improve yourself as a rider. When riding a certain machine becomes second nature, you begin to develop techniques that would have never occurred to you if you had been solely focused on properly operating the machine, rather than the ride itself. These are the sort of techniques that will later define the line between being able to ride a liter bike and being able to have fun on a liter bike.
When is The Right Time to Buy a Liter Bike?
In truth, there is no right time to buy a liter bike. They are completely unnecessary, and you can have just as much fun on a middleweight as you can on a liter bike. But if you are like me and many other riders, and just need to know what utterly dumb, silly, and downright goofy amounts of power feel like, you should at least make sure you meet a couple of criteria.
The first is that you have been riding for a few years and have gotten completely familiar and comfortable with riding a middleweight machine. Even better, get some advanced rider training to improve your skills. Go to at least a few track days, which will let you explore your bike’s limits and get comfortable handling it at speeds you should ever achieve on the street. You don’t need to set new lap records. Your goal should be to become a better rider. Learning how to handle a middleweight sportbike at its limits is an essential step on the way to managing a liter bike, where those limits, as well as the stakes, are even higher.
The second is that you are positive that you have the self-control to keep your wrist in check. If you are positive that you meet both of those criteria, then you can consider getting a liter bike. Just make sure you are positive, because if you aren’t positive, the rear bumper of a truck will gladly call your bluff, and it will win.