In boxing, a middleweight is a tough guy who weighs less than 160 pounds, which is realistically interpreted to be between 154 and 160. In motorcycles, where displacement creep has been a fact of life for quite a few decades now, we must define middleweight in a much less precise way. In the 1960s, a Triumph 650 was a big motorcycle. But now that the mighty Triumph Rocket III displaces 2294cc, we have no choice but to call the brand’s 800cc adventure bikes and 865cc air-cooled Twins “middleweights.” In fact, even though 675s are the smallest bikes Triumph makes, we’re going to call the Street Triple R a middleweight, too, mostly because it’s 76cc bigger than the Japanese 600s that have defined our middleweight class for years.
Ducati’s original “superbike” was a 750. Then came the liquid-cooled 851, and now the Panigale displaces 1199cc. Ducati’s smaller V-Twin began life as the Pantah 500 (circa 1980), grew to 650, 748, 749 and finds itself now an 848. Well, why not? According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average weight for men aged 20 to 74 rose from 166 pounds in 1960 to 191 pounds in 2002, while the average weight for women the same age increased from 140 in 1960 to 164 pounds in 2002.
Really, you have to give the Japanese credit for not going totally out of control with cc obesity. Ever sinceKawasakigave the original Z1 903 cubic centimeters in the early ’70s, all ofJapan’s Open-class “true” sportbikes have hovered around the one-liter size. And ever since the first modern liquid-cooled middleweight Honda Hurricane got here in 1987, the Big Four have been almost always in agreement that a middleweight sportbike should displace 600cc—displacements that have been enforced by racing. Though “superbikes” used to be 750s, changes in racing rules stretched them to 1000cc, with only the Suzuki GSX-R750 left. Since it shares nearly every part with the GSX-R600, are we forced to also call it a middleweight? Why not?
Don’t even get us started with the cruisers, which swing in size from the aforementioned 2294cc Triumph down to the 234cc Honda Rebel. “Middleweight” cruisers must range anywhere in between those extremes, but then the definition also varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Honda’s biggest cruisers displace 1312cc, making its middleweights a quartet of 745cc Shadows. But Star’s 1304cc cruisers are middleweights compared to its 1854cc heavyweights. Suzuki andKawasakicruiser lineups are likewise misaligned. Is it all about keeping up with the Davidsons, whose beginner bike is 883cc and latest Twin Cam 110 displaces 1803cc? Thank God for Victory, all 13 of whose 2012 models use the same 1731cc “Freedom” V-Twin engine.
Tourers? If the Honda Gold Wing GL1800 and BMW K1600GT are heavyweights, does that make the Honda ST1300 and BMW R1200RT middleweights? It’s like saying George Foreman Junior: It sounds oxymoronic. At the end of the day, all we’re left with when it comes to defining “middleweight” is, “it depends.” Which is just the way we like it: We can justify including practically any bike we want to.
The point of all this is that while the latest 1199 Panigale or Kawasaki ZX-14R might get the magazine cover, the advertising hype and the showroom drool, most buyers will roll out on something other than the priciest, most-powerful bike in the store, simply because most of us are middle-class people buying middle-class motorcycles.
We’re here to reassure you that’s hardly ever a bad thing. An 848 Streetfighter makes way more power and is easier to ride than the 851 that blew our socks off in 1989—and our socks (possibly the same ones) are no less threadbare now than they were then. You might lap Misano faster on a new Panigale, but just about any other Ducati is better for popping down to the Piggly Wiggly or commuting to the cubicle. A new CVO Harley-Davidson Softail Breakout is cool if you’ve got $26,000 rattling around in your piggybank. But is the $11K Star Stryker (on sale all over the Internet for around $9K) only 35 percent as good an experience?
Sometimes, excess doesn’t succeed. There are good reasons why the 820-pound Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 and the brontosaurus are extinct. At the other extreme, though we’re big fans of the Honda CBR250R and other small bikes, there are plenty of times when your position’s being overrun and you want a little more firepower.
It all reminds me of the time I asked a friend’s wife if she liked it better on top or on bottom. After a disgusted eyeball roll and thinking about it a while, her answer was, “I think I like it in the middle.”