Honda CBR Fireblade

Reinventing the wheel

Suzuki KatanaFor years the 17-inch front wheel has been the choice of mainstream superbike manufacturers. But it wasn’t always this way.

It was in the mid 1980s that the humble hoop at the front of bikes came in for some quite detailed attention. Kicking off the decade and most Japanese litre bikes such as the Suzuki GSX1100 came with a whooping 19-inch cart wheel at the front. This dropped to an 18-inch for late model Honda CB900Fs and other middleweight bikes.

But then everyone went crazy for the sweet 16.

Suzuki  RG500Kawasaki’s GPz900R had one. Yamaha’s FJ1100, FZ750 and RD500 used one. Suzuki stuck to an 18 incher on its GSX-R1100 and 750 but shod the RG500 and RG250 with a dinky diameter wheel. Honda’s VF range all had one and so did the first VFR750 model. Keeping it all corporate the class of 86 125’s all had one except Kawasaki’s AR125 – but Kawasaki did use a 16 inch wheel at each end on the GPZ600R.

Having been pioneered by Grand Prix racers for better handling, it’s strange to think the 16 inch wheel became obsolete so quickly. Soon the manufacturers, and the racing world, opted for the charms of the larger 17 inch. Except for Honda, who wheeled back out the 16-inchers for the 1992 Honda FireBlade and sticking with it until the RRY model(2000-2001). Although the design of tyre meant that it ended up with the rolling radius of a 17 inch wheel anyway.

Kawasakki Ninja 600RThis leaves me with a question – the motorcycle racing world has gone onto use the 16.5 inch wheels as the best choice to dominate rids around the world. Yet road bikes seem stuck on whole inches either side.

We’ve seen a lot of changes over recent years. Carbs are gone, injection is in. The materials used for frames and bodywork are stronger yet lighter. Plastic has come to replace glass lamps. Calipers are radial rather than radical. It seems like one of the longest surviving specifications on a motorcycle chassis is the size of the front wheel – isn’t it time someone reinvented it?