Why does the Canadian Superbike Championship exist?
It is a simple question, but one that I have heard asked over and over for the past 10 years. I like the people who run the series, and I know how much hard work it is to keep it going. Anyone who has volunteered to marshal, or solicited sponsorship, or tried to organize a kids’ birthday party for that matter, appreciates the difficulty in successfully aligning so many people, venues and financial stakeholders together. It is a gargantuan task and one that the CSBK organization handles very well. But the question isn’t are CSBK capable of pulling it off, or litigating the quality of the series, but whether it is a series in search of an audience.
I will state now that this column is a personal opinion. I do not have enough supporting data to cast CSBK as viable or not, and I am not attempting to boil the blood of fans for the sake of provocation. I am asking the same question that I hear every time I talk to readers at a show, or fans at Shubenacadie and Mosport during CSBK events. I am airing what everyone has heard and thought. The series is weak.
Attendance is low. Energy is absent from the crowd. The competition trackside isn’t competitive. For the past five years I have gone to the Atlantic round and in all cases the venue was empty on Sunday. The Toronto round I attended wasn’t much better. Every year the number of competitors seems to diminish. The food vendors are on-par with what my local area high school offers during the fundraiser. I see the same fans year after year, in fewer number, and almost no women or children. In lulls between races, the quiet is depressing.
Motor racing is hurting all over the world. Even MotoGP is suffering from reduced viewership and many of the races in fringe markets like Qatar feature empty grandstands. But the case for CSBK has a second side, one which I and a limited number of people in the Canadian motorcycle community have been crowing about for a decade. It’s out of touch with the market.
In Cycle Canada, other motorcycle magazines and all over the shops and motorcycle shows across this country for decades, the market has been one tailored almost exclusively to men over 45. As a man who is just shy of that mark, I should rejoice but instead I recoil. I have my share of greying hair, and I do prefer the music of my time to most of the contemporary variety, but I do not want my industry, my hobby and my favourite sport to tune itself to my tastes. I want it to be a pluralistic, innovative place driven by youthful energy.
CSBK is painful to watch because it reminds me of my parents’ generation. I love them, but loathe the stubborn clawing at a past that will never return. The beer and tobacco sponsors are gone. The big-haired umbrella girls are gone. The public’s interest in a loud, smelly sport that is completely contrary to mainstream society’s environmental zeitgeist is zero.
You, readers of Cycle Canada, may not like that last statement, but it is true. Most Canadians live in cities, are literate in climate science, and nearly half of us are under 40. Those oft-maligned millennials make most of the consumer economy and they are not interested in driving out to some remote track to spend a hundred dollars and watch men in leather suits shuffle around a crumbling asphalt paddock and eat a cold hot dog.
CSBK is not helping sell motorcycles in Canada. Honda Come Ride With Us days does. The Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival does. And, if we speak about racing, flat track racing does. A Flat Track Canada event is loud and smelly too, and also off-the-beaten track. But the short events, intense competition, and low cost of entry make it fun. There is always music, and there are always children. There are even children riding, because unlike superbikes, you can let a kid play on a PW80 in a dirt field without risking serious injury or spending a fortune.
I grew up in the superbike era and I adore them. As I have stated many times, I find the fully-faired sport motorcycle to be the apex of the spieces. I watch MotoGP. I sketch sport bikes in my free time. And I love the noise and smell of a highly tuned Japanese superbike. But that culture was a product of its time, and we can’t go back.
No one is buying GSX-Rs and Panigales anymore because they are, and it pains me to admit this, stupid motorcycles. Dangerous, expensive and impractical, they are as silly as a stretched out chopper or flared disco pants. We are all allowed to love whatever we love, but let’s face facts: the superbike concept is dead. Watching CSBK is like watching a beloved dog on life support. We had some great times together and admire its tenacity, but secretly I want it to die quickly.
Long may the private track day and organized club racing live. I am not wishing any ill fortune or loss of livelihood to anyone. I just feel that all that talent and resources would be more profitably spent re-imagining motorcycle competition in Canada in a way that is in-step with the times. I remain hopeful that it will happen. And even more hopeful that by some fluke the superbikes will come back some day. . . .