Pocket Rockets – 2016 LAMS Austest “Lite” | Bike Tests | Latest Tests
LAMS legal and licenced to thrill. We put five different capacity learner-approved sportsbikes to the test on road and track
Over a couple of weeks we gave the LAMS supersports plenty of the sort of action that most of these will see throughout their life: city traffic. Although they look like racers, it’s important for all these bikes to be user-friendly for learners, and most at home in the rush hour race across town.
Broadford State Motorcycle Sport Complex is the perfect circuit to ride these bikes. Its tightly packed layout gives you just enough room to stretch their little legs down the straights, and packs in plenty of technical cornering to test braking and chassis performance.
Our five test riders rated the bikes in five areas: useability (user-friendliness), fangability (sporting prowess), desirability (kerb-appeal and kudos), quality (fit and finish) and value. Apart from one big loser, the individual gongs were spread fairly evenly, with no category being won by more than three points out of a maximum of 50. For the overall winner, the top four overall scores were split by just 15.5 points from a maximum of 250.
Sub half-litre supersport bikes constitute a huge slice of the worldwide motorcycle market, outselling the large capacity superbikes they mimic by a massive margin. So although the big boys get the limelight, it’s the minnows who do the heavy lifting in terms of keeping the wider industry in good health and turning a profit.
Under Australian law, all the current crop of pocket rockets that fall into this half-litre bracket are also learner legal, or more specifically LAMS approved. But you don’t have to go back too far in time to find quarter- and half-litre supersport bikes which would never have made it onto the LAMS list in a month of Sundays, and for very good reason. Sadly, for some of us at least, these days are over. The days when insanely potent two-stroke GP race replicas such as the Suzuki RGV250, Kawasaki KR1S, Honda NSR250, Yamaha TZR250 and Aprilia RS250, were readily available and even fair game for L platers. Not to mention the four-cylinder two-stroke Yamaha RZ500 and Suzuki RG500, and V-three Honda NS400 race replicas. All these bikes had GP-type aluminium twin spar frames, powerful twin-disc front brakes, and engines just a breath away from the GP racers of their parent factories.
These days, small capacity race replicas are quite a lot more sensible and subdued in their specification. For a start, they all have four-stroke engines in order to comply with the stricter emissions regulations of modern times, and could never make as much power as a comparable two-stroke. Secondly, they are now generally built for a lower budget buyer, to cater for the fact that the biggest numbers are sold in the emerging markets of Asia and South America, where an affordable price is paramount. Small-capacity supersport bikes nowadays are more likely to feature cheap-to-make tubular steel frames, single-disc front brakes, and engines shared with the company’s other basic unfaired commuter models – they have almost nothing in common with thoroughbred racing bikes such as Honda and KTM’s Moto3 machines.
Rather than roadbikes mimicking their racing equivalents, we are moving into times when the reverse is more likely. Dorna has been busy trying to formulate a junior class based on widely available production roadbikes to eventually run alongside the WSBK series. This is proving a little difficult as each manufacturer has a slightly different idea about which engine capacity to offer, but then that’s what happens when you don’t have a race class to orderly align naturally competitive foes.
Illustrating the variety of engine configurations which have evolved in the junior-supersport category, in this test we have assembled 250cc and 373cc singles, and 296cc, 321cc and 471cc twin-cylinder machines. Each has its own distinct character, but all offer sportsbike styling in a learner friendly package.