Lean and Mean Machines

On Main Street and the track: This year's sexiest sportbikes

They're the bad boys of the motorcycle world. Sportbikes are lithe and lean, deliciously sexy, impossibly fast. Manufacturers race their latest designs every March at Daytona Bike Week -- for good reason: "Win on Sunday, Sell on Mon- day" is a proven industry maxim. U.S. sales of sportbikes are up 122% in the past five years. This year, most of the all-new bikes are midsize models that race in Supersport championships, where rules mandate that the bikes on the track be virtually the same as the ones in the showroom. We went to Daytona Beach to look at the best of this year's crop.

Honda: It's All in the Family

Honda borrowed technology and looks from its Grand Prix race bike for the CBR600RR, which wowed the crowds by winning the season opener at Daytona. A new compact engine and redesigned fuel tank on the $8,599 RR help distribute the bike's weight around the rider for better handling. For improved street manners, Honda's CBR600F4i -- last year's World Supersport champion -- is still available for $7,999 (hondamotorcycles.com).

The Brothers Kawasaki

Kawasaki is fielding two new bikes this year, the NINJA ZX-6RR with a 599cc engine aimed at the racetrack, and its street-friendly twin, the $7,999 ZX-6R. The single-R version gets its edge from a 37cc-larger engine that puts its power at the midrange, more accessible for everyday use. The second R costs $400 more but gets you the special Team Green color and some extra racing components (kawasaki.com).

It Looks Sleek -- And Runs That Way, Too

Yamaha came up with a new casting technique for the chassis of its YZF-R6 that yields a lighter frame. And by reducing 16 welds to 2, there are fewer seams, for a far sleeker look. New five-spoke wheels are stronger and lighter, too. So far this year, riders of the $7,999 R6 have taken four of the top five slots in the AMA Supersport Championship race series points standings (yamaha-motor.com).

Put Up Your Ducatis

Fans either love or hate the styling of the new $13,495 DUCATI 749, taken from its big brother, the 999. But there's no question that it's a more refined motorcycle than its predecessor, with better handling and more horsepower from its redesigned V-twin engine. The S version, for $1,300 more, has upgraded suspension components and adjustable foot rests and seat (www.ducati.com).

By Rob Doyle

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