It’s one of those questions you hear at the bar: “What’s the fastest motorcycle in the world?” Then an argument ensues as each proponent of one bike or another defends his or her favorite for the next half hour or so, before some other equally weighty question arises. This article seeks to answer the question first by defining the terms involved—what’s a motorcycle? What do we mean by “the world”? Then it looks at the times recorded for the motorcycles that meet the definition of motorcycle. It offers a list of the top ten in order of their recorded speeds, showing their suggested price tags and general availability in the United States. It also suggests that there is a time and place for speed, and that riders looking for speed should be looking to clubs and tracks, not roads

It can evoke a barroom debate or a (fairly) civilized discussion in a library or living room; it will certainly occasion some words around many campfires whether in the mountains of Montana or on the flats of Australia. It will cause people of decades difference in age to come together to disagree—what is the fastest motorcycle in the world? After the owners of the sexy sports cars have zipped their sports cars into their fancy car covers, when they want to consider riding with their heads out in the open—what is ride they choose?

Like most questions of this sort, the answer depends on a huge set of qualifiers and variables. The first, of course, requires that we all agree on what we mean by “motorcycle.” This becomes critical as we examine the range of vehicles that are or have claimed the title of “fastest motorcycle.” So, what is a motorcycle? While the very first motorcycles had three wheels, it wasn’t long before the general standard became two wheels, and almost all definitions today would suggest that a motorcycle has two wheels—three at most. When a vehicle has four wheels, its stops being a motorcycle and it probably becomes an automobile, a car. Further, a cycle is a vehicle that the driver controls by riding astride the engine/gas tank. Not at all like what one does in a car. And there is no steering wheel; you control the thing using handle bars, on which the controls for shift and brake are located.

Next—are we talking about every possible motorcycle ever to be constructed ever, or are we talking about a vehicle that someone might possibly hope to acquire some day? (Given winning the lottery or whatever) Let’s discount the once-in-a-research program prototype that someone may run sometime on a race track somewhere and talk only about those models which have been offered for sale (no matter how limited those offerings may have been) to the public. A “production” motorcycle. Heaven knows there may be all kinds of records set by one-of-a kind models that will never be reproduced—what is the value of that? Don’t you want to own the record-setter? So we want to limit this to a “production motorcycle” that is available for purchase to the public.

Now we’ve limited what we’re talking about when say the “world.” We mean the world of people who might be able to buy and ride (even if in a limited way) the world’s fastest motorcycle, a 2 (or maybe 3) wheeled vehicle.

You’d think this is one of those questions you could look up in one of those Books of World Records. Not quite so fast. Those books face the same issues that we’ve already discussed. Not to mention they are not immune to commercial pressures.

OK, so is there a “fastest motorcycle in the world” to be identified? The answer is—probably –maybe. On any given track, on any given day—yes! Tomorrow--???The fact is, carburetors/fuel injectors are notoriously flakey—who knows how barometric pressure will affect your rig tomorrow? Why do we do time trials anyway?

We’ll start by eliminating one contender. The Dodge Tomahawk is not a motorcycle. We can already hear the choruses of dissenting cries out there. First, it has four wheels. Not even three. Four! And each has independent suspension—as if to suggest it is not part of the part of the main unit. Second, its engine is borrowed from (gasp) an automobile. OK, that may not be a deal breaker, but it’s certainly a deal bender, don’t you think? Where’s the motorcycle purist in you anyway? I mean, we could take a Ferrari and put it on three wheels…and?? But seriously, the current speed record holder is the Tomahawk at something around 350 mph at Bonneville Salt Flat Flats, Utah. On four wheels. So if you believe that it is a motorcycle, that’s your answer to the question, and we’re done here.

But if you prefer to be a real motorcyclist and want your bikes to run on the usual two wheels, please continue. There are five serious contenders for the title of fastest motorcycle in the world, with Kawasaki’s Ninja H2R heading the list. Timed as fast as 249 mph, it can be purchased for a mere $55,000 (plus delivery, licensing and taxes). This is not a street bike; its use is limited to the track, but it is a production bike; that is, it is, it is regularly manufactured by Kawasaki and carried by dealers (in very limited numbers) around the world. According to the Kawasaki website, the inventory for 2019 is sold out. But you can probably get on the list for next year. Check the website or visit your local Kawasaki dealer—they will be very happy to accommodate you!

The Ninja H2R has a 4-cyinder, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled super-charged engine and a six-speed transmission. Despite the fact that it is limited to track-only use and has a price tag higher than many luxury cars, it is in high demand among motorcycle speed buffs.

In a close second place is Marine Turbine Technology’s Y2K Superbike. So far, Y2K has been officially clocked at 227 mph, although MTT “guarantees” that its bikes will achieve 250 and says that no buyer has ever asked for his money back. Y2K is powered by a Rolls-Royce Allison -250-C20 Gas Turbine jet engine. The Y2K is (or can be) street-legal. It can also be ordered in almost any color the buyer desires (not an option for the Ninja). It is by far the most powerful motorcycle on the planet, with 420 horsepower generated by that huge engine. It was Jay Leno’s (the former late-night TV host and long-time car and motorcycle aficionado) favorite motorcycle for a while; he claimed it melted the bumper of a car behind him when he accelerated away from it. Here’s hoping Leno reimbursed the poor unsuspecting driver of the melted bumper. It will soon—probably later this year—be available in a three-wheeled version. It is in a good position to exceed the speed set by the Ninja H2R, if someone wants to set up a time trial. Oh, yes—the price tag? Save your Euros, your dollars, your gold bars—it’ll set you back $200,000 plus the usual delivery, etc. Once again, see the website if you want more information.

In third place with a clocked speed of 217 mph is the BMW S1000RR. This bike can be either a track or street bike, depending on how it’s configured. It has head and tail lights, so it’s easy to license. It comes in several color combinations (though not as many as the Y2K). This big German beauty with its four-cylinder liquid-cooled engine has three “Ride” Modes: Rain, Sport, and Race to insure the best settings for the dynamic traction control and Automatic Braking Systems. These combine to make this bike one of the best handling of the bunch. In addition, the instrument panel is very clear and easy to read, making it very rider-friendly. The next news—the bottom line—the price tag for the BMW S1000RR is a bit under twenty grand, depending on what additions you make to its base. BMW dealers are found in most major cities.

In fourth place—yes, we do have a Honda. The Honda CBR1000RR, also called the Fireblade. It has been measured at 199 mph. This motorcycle can be configured for street, track or even off-road. It has a four-cylinder, in-line liquid cooled, fuel-injected engine. If you choose Honda, you can’t select any color but one of the two Honda red/black combinations. It has head and tail lights, so licensing is not a problem. It’s a great-looking motorcycle, a truly worthy descendent of Honda’s Blackbird of ten years ago—and with some tinkering, it could probably go even faster than it has been ridden thus far. In any case, it’s a pretty fast and dependable bike just the way it sits. What does it cost? About $16,500. And Honda dealers are everywhere.

In fifth place, is Suzuki’s Hayabusa. One of the best things about this bike is its name: “Hayabusa” which means peregrine falcon in Japanese. The name was chosen by Suzuki because the model was especially developed to compete with a Honda model called the Blackbird early in this century. Peregrine falcons are known to prey upon black birds (at least they do in Japan). So Suzuki built the Hayabusa to take on the Honda Blackbird—on the track as well as in the marketplace. It’s a great tale of industrial warfare, with reverberations still being felt on raceways around the world, even if other players may have eclipsed the originals in the cast.

Suzuki’s current edition of the Hayabusa is moving right along, having been clocked at 199 mph. That’s not as fast as a peregrine falcon can fly—the real bird can reach speeds of 220 mph when diving toward prey from great heights. But it’s still pretty fast. The Hayabusa has a four-cylinder, liquid-cooled, fuel injected engine. Two color combinations are available—metallic gray or shiny black, each with the Hayabusa logo on them in red. The Hayabusa can be had for $14,800 plus the usual delivery and licensing charges. Suzuki dealers are also fairly common. Hayabusa riders are also a close-knit group; there are clubs and on-line blogs of the followers of this bike.

That’s the top five, but there are an additional four worth looking at. Each of these has a solid track record with more than one good time trial under its belt--and a price tag under three figures. If you’re really interested in riding really fast, let’s go ahead and look at the rest of the list.

Next is another Kawasaki entry—the Kawasaki Ninja ZX14R. This motorcycle is far more accessible than the H2R. First, it costs less—under $15,000. Second, it can be street legal. (It has lights, etc.). It has been timed at 186 mph. It’s a four-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine. It has a good lineage, with all of the Kawasaki cycle family behind it, and the open road in front of it. This Ninja has been clocked at 186 mph. Kawasaki promotes this bike as the “quarter mile king.” It is equally at home on the street (if you ride sanely). It’s dealer price tag is $14,500 plus all of the usual stuff.

Next is an entry from Italy, where the motorcycle and scooter almost rule the urban streets, and the Italian hills are full of screaming bikes every weekend. Many of those bikes are made by MV Agusta. The MV Agusta F4 1000R is a crazyfast bike that can take on those hills as well as an ordinary track and do just fine. However, this is not the easiest bike to ride; as reviewers have noted, this is not a bike for beginners. But if you have a few miles under your tires and you’re looking for Italian style and verve—not to mention a top speed of 186 mph—consider the MV Agusta FV1000R—for around $26,500 plus the other usual charges. You may have a hard time finding a dealer.

For a lower price tag—you can grab a Yamaha YZF-R1, another four-cylinder liquid-cooled engine bike that is quite speedy—182 mph in speed tests. It’ll set you back $16,700, plus taxes, etc. This one has traction control, ABS, and a superior electronics package. It may be a good choice for one who’s moving into the high-performance motorcycle class. Yamaha dealers are usually easy to find.

Another Italian entry in the field is the Aprilia RSV 1000RR. This sleek bike has been clocked at over 175 mph. It has a four-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine. It comes in red, black or a silver gray finish with distinctive Aprilia graphics. Its price tag is about $17,500 and there are not a huge number of dealers in the US.

There are at least six or seven other motorcycles that have been clocked at various tracks in the world at more than 150 mph. Several of them have been rated as “difficult” to ride by the experts paid to evaluate such things. One hopes that you don’t make a speed bike your first bike. Speed on a motorcycle is something you have to move up to; you should think of it as something to be earned, sort of like merit badges. The penalty for going too fast before you’re ready to handle it is too awful to contemplate, and it may involve the lives of others as well.

You are well advised, therefore, to do long and careful research before you consider purchasing a “speed” bike. Owning such a bike, especially if you have licensed it for street use, involves a heavy responsibility. It can be tempting when riding that beast you know can do 200 mph to let her go now and then—but you must learn to restrain those horses for the correct venue—the track—for those bursts of high speed.

Join a club, get together with others who share your passion, and enjoy your new-found joy in the speed of your machine—but do it as safely as you can. You do no one any favors if you spread yourself all over the pavement somewhere. Speed and traffic simply do not mix.

If you choose to enter the exciting world of motorcycle racing, be sure to get the advice of those who have been racing a while. They will be quick to tell you that caution in racing is not cowardice; it’s good sense! It allows you to race again another day.

Speed is an enticing mistress, that’s for sure. And motorcycles, too, have a special and almost magical hold on many people. Put the two together, and the combination may be irresistible for some. How fast can you go? The lure of becoming “the fastest”-- at least on this day on this track for this time trial or this race—it’s a deeply human thing. We’re born with an innate competitive spirit, and we want to win, and then, you add to it, the primal joy of just plain going fast! Not a lot can beat the two!

No doubt there will be new claimants for the title of ”fastest motorcycle in the world” during the next several years. Someone will probably come up with a way to further enhance one of the existing bikes, or maybe somebody will develop an entirely new supercharged engine we haven’t even considered yet. But for now, anyway, the title belongs to Kawasaki’s Ninja H2R-a track-only bike, at about 250 mph, but it’s followed pretty closely by a bunch of street-legal bikes from all over the world. If you want to go fast on two wheels and have the money, you have plenty of choices!