Riding a motorcycle means something different to anyone that rides. Some ride to relax. Some ride because of the freedom it makes them feel. Some ride as a primary means of commuting.
However, there is that subset of riders that ride for the adrenaline. The riders that want to redline at 16,500 RPM, that want to have to buy replacement knee pucks for their one-piece leathers because it’s been worn down so much on the track. The ones that want to go super fast.
In this list, we’ve put together what we believe to be the top 10 supersport bikes of 2021, before the 2022 models and model refreshes come out.
10: 2021 Honda CBR600RR
This is nothing against the superb Honda CBR600RR, it’s just that out of all the amazing new and continuing supersport motorcycles in 2021, someone had to come 10th.
The CBR600RR is a great introduction into the reason that more displacement isn’t always better. With a ridiculously gutsy 600cc inline-4, the little bike from Honda has become the standard-bearer for what true sports riding is about. It leaps off the line, it controls beautifully through corners, and it has a really positive, confidence-inducing brake feel from both the front and back.
Add to that the many years that Honda raced in both World SBK and MotoGP when they had 600cc classes, and all that racing technology and knowledge is laser-focused into a street-legal bike that can ride as hard as you want, and keep begging for more. A mild update in 2021 is the addition of the same winglets that are found on its bigger brother, the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade.
9: 2021 Suzuki GSX-R1000R
The 2021 Suzuki GSX-R1000R is quite possibly the best iteration of the legendary “Gixxer.” After years of refinement and testing, the bike is now a combination of excellent engineering, amazing styling, and some pretty unbelievable numbers.
Powered by a 999cc inline-four, the GSX-R1000R makes near-as-makes-no-difference 200 BHP. It is low, mean, with aggressive gearing and a riding position that could generously be called a sporty tuck.
What places it at only #9 on this list, however, is that this isn’t the easiest supersport to just swing a leg over and ride. In fact, the bike is downright beastly and it has gained a bit of a reputation for spitting a rider off that tries to push just that one percent more than it wants to go. It doesn’t have the second R for no reason. This is a race bike with indicators and a number plate. Respect it, and it will thrill you. Abuse it, and it will launch you into the nearest tree or gravel trap.
8: 2020 Ducati Panigale V2
Ducati brought out their flagship Panigale V4 bikes in 2020, but they also remembered to honor what came before. Before 2020, the Panigale was called just that, the Panigale. Now, with the V4 out, the Panigale has undergone a bit of a makeover.
The “junior” bike is known as the 2021 Panigale V2. With a 955cc superquadro V-twin engine, it produces a track-friendly 155 BHP. Compared with its bigger V4 brother, it is slimmer, with a redesigned silhouette that emphasizes a forward tuck position, and is lighter by a few pounds.
What the Panigale V2 is, in essence, is Ducati focusing on what made the original Panigale such a roaring success. It’s also a bit more friendly than the firebreathing V4 line, which also makes it a perfect bike for someone looking to get a track bike that brings that Italian feel at an “affordable” price.
7: 2021 Aprilia RSV4 RR
Now we’re getting into the serious stuff. Aprilia is one of those manufacturers that makes no bones about the fact that most of their street supersport bikes are, in fact, racing bikes with a different ECU tune, wing mirrors, and indicators.
The RSV4 RR is the ultimate expression of this, as the bike even shares the base name of the RSV4 Factory Works SBK bike. It is powered by a 999cc V4 engine that produces a roaring 201 BHP. In fact, this bike would place much higher up the list, but Aprilia has seen fit to focus most of their development attention on the new 2021 RS660, itself a superb sportbike, and have left the RSV4 RR in the same spec and trim as it has been for a few years now.
It’s when you get the RSV4 RR on the track, however, that you feel that racing DNA. It wants to lift the front wheel coming down the straight. It barely dives when you brake hard. It grips like a monster in the corners and slingshots you out of them at warp speed. It’s an approachable bike as well, happy to go at four-tenths as it is at ten-tenths.
6: 2021 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R
No list would be complete without the supersport bike, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R. What it is, is as close to a perfect midrange supersport bike as you can be.
Kawasaki has been racing bikes since the very first one rolled off their production line. Motocross, supermoto, rally, track, supersport, you name it, they’ve raced it. With its legendary 636cc inline-four, it puts out a silly 127 BHP. It’s silly because of where all that power lies, way above 10,000 RPM. So to get the most out of the ZX-6R, you literally have to rev the nuts off it, which is perfect for the track.
This is not to say that the ZX-6R isn’t well behaved on the regular street. In fact, it is downright flattering, with a smooth mid-range that will let you cruise for miles without encountering the sometimes jerky, twitchy throttle response that some other supersports have in their mid-range. It’s also one of the more aggressive-looking bikes you can buy these days, which is never a bad thing!
5: 2021 BMW S1000RR
The 2021 BMW S1000RR is one of the finest European bikes you will find in the supersport category. Being typically German, it is built extremely well, is beautiful to ride, and has that undertone of “I can handle much more than you’re asking me to” when you give the throttle a little blip.
Powered by a 998cc inline-four that is precision made with millimetric perfection, it produces 205 BHP and enough torque to reverse the spin of the Earth. It also handles beautifully, telling the rider through all his or her contact points exactly what the bike is doing at all times.
It is the base bike that the mental HP4 track bike is based on, and if that doesn’t tell you how great the S1000RR is, nothing will. It is the ultimate expression of German perfection on two wheels. No ifs, ands, or buts.
… unless you really are mental and go for the new 2021 M1000RR bike that BMW’s M Division has come up with, which is the S1000RR but on an extreme diet and with a much, much more aggressive ECU and response.
4: 2021 Yamaha YZF-R1
For the longest time, the R1 was the undisputed perfect supersport bike. The 2021 Yamaha YZF-R1 continues that tradition by being the fourth-best bike on this list, only beat out by a reinvented supersport and two other extremely special bikes. We’re expecting that with the rumored R7 coming, that in 2022, the R1 will become the #1 again in response, and that is nothing if not exciting.
As it is, the R1 is powered by a 998cc crossplane crank inline-four, that produces 198 BHP. Where the R1 has always, until now, held the crown was in its approachability. The R1 almost literally talks to you. Many new R1 riders, when switching from their previous bikes, comment on the nearly telepathic response that the R1 has.
This is helped by years of Yamaha racing experience shaping how the suspension and ECU are set up. It is compliant on the road, but show the R1 a track or a corner, and it is almost tugging at the leash in anticipation. Lean it in, and feel how the suspension and tires tell you what’s going on, the engine buzzing through the frame to let you know if you need more throttle, and the bike itself saying “come on, more lean in the next corner!”
Put simply, it’s intoxicating when let loose on its natural playground, the race track.
3: 2021 Kawasaki ZX-10R
The 2021 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R is a beast of a bike, being the original base bike that the deranged 400+ kph capable H2R was based on. They both use the same 998cc inline-four, the only difference being that the H2 whacked a supercharger to the front of that engine.
The ZX-10R has undergone a reinvention for 2021, with the engine having technology and lessons from the World SBK champiosship incorporated. Using a new valve train with finger followers that keep them open that tiny microsecond longer, more power is generated, boosting the output to 200 HP. A new exhaust also allows that engine to scream louder, so you will definitely hear a ZX-10R when it screams by.
As expected when Kawasaki reinvents a bike, the electronics on the ZX-10R are top-notch. On the street, you have a new 6-axis IMU, cornering ABS, up/down quickshifter, and the like. Also, unlike other bikes that have incorporated winglets to improve downforce, the ZX-10R has “winglets” hidden beside the headlights. Acting more like venturi tunnels, Kawasaki claims that downforce is improved by 17% over the 2020 ZX-10R.
2: 2021 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP
The 2021 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP, apart from being one hell of a mouthful, is also one of the most hotly anticipated supersports in a generation. The reason is that this bike is the culmination of years of engineering and design efforts to bring the legendary RC213V racing bike to the common man.
Finally available for sale in the US, sales have been stellar. Powered by a 999cc inline-four that shares the same bore and stroke of the RC213V race engine, it produces 215 BHP. Where the excitement comes from is in the form of its engineering.
The CBR1000RR-R is one of the most aerodynamically stable bikes that Honda has ever produced. A massive front air intake feeds the hungry cylinders, while passthrough vents on the fairings deflect air up and around the riders’ legs, providing a virtual air shield that lets wind simply slip by.
Combined with active Ohlins suspension and racing-grade Brembo ABS braking, if any bike deserved to continue on the legendary Fireblade name, this is the beast to do so.
1: 2021 Ducati Panigale V4S
Our best bike of the year couldn’t be anything other than the 2021 Ducati Panigale V4S. The flagship supersport from the Italian marque is perfect in almost every way. The looks stir the emotions. The feel of that V4 rumbling away below you stirs the heart. The roar of its exhaust stirs the soul. And the handling stirs the supersports brain.
The beating heart of this bike is a 1,103 cc Desmosedici Stradale 90° V4, capable of 215 BHP at 13,000 RPM. That is paired with active suspension by Ohlins that adjusts to rider inputs via a super-intelligent throttle-by-wire system and accelerometers that track the bike along six axes.
The handling is positive and reinforcing, letting you lean into a corner with confidence that the bike will do what you want it to. The braking is race-grade, and the bike has two brains, controlling the engine with one, and the braking/throttle/suspension with the other.
But something that the Italians do, every single time that a new bike is released, is perfect the supersports form. There isn’t a single bad line or angle on the V4S. Even the winglets, which help keep the front of the bike down at speed, are a work of art. It is the expression of the supersport ideal, mixed with beauty, that wins our hearts for 2020.