The Superbike World Championship began in 1988, being open to modified versions of road bike models available to the public. For many years, the formula allowed for machines with 1,000 cc V-twin engines (principally Ducati, but later Aprilia and Honda) to go up against the 750 cc four-cylinder engines (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki). For the first few seasons Honda won with the RC30, but gradually the twins got the upper hand. Using 1,000 cc V-twin engines benefited Ducati and it was able to dominate the championship for many years, but the 750 cc was second or third each year between 1994 and 1999.
Held under the FIM, the Formula TT from 1977 to 1989 once constituted the official motorcycle World Cup. Having proven itself both popular and commercially viable, it was decided by the end of the 1990 season to end the Formula TT and the Superbike World Championship would succeed it.
From 1993 to 1999 Carl Fogarty and Ducati dominated, Fogarty won the title a record four times and finished as runner-up twice on factory Ducatis. Troy Corser also won the 1996 title and finished as runner-up in 1995, both times on a Ducati.
Realizing that 1,000 cc V-twin engines suited the superbike racing formula more, Honda introduced its own V-Twin powered motorcycle the VTR1000 SPW in 2000. The result was clear right away as Colin Edwards won the championship in the bike's first year of competition. Ducati regained the title in 2001 with Troy Bayliss. Colin Edwards again reclaimed the title in 2002 on the same VTR1000 SPW bike.
Colin Edwards won his second championship in what was arguably the most impressive comeback in the history of motorcycle racing. The season started with Troy Bayliss winning the first 6 races and by the end of race 1 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca he had 14 wins and was leading the championship by 58 points. Race 2 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was the start of Colin Edwards' comeback, he went on to win all 9 remaining races and (aided by a race 2 crash for Bayliss at Assen) Edwards won the championship at the final race of the season at Imola. The final race of the season saw both riders fighting wheel to wheel for the entire race. The race is known by fans as the "Showdown at Imola".
The manufacturer's championship was won by Ducati. During these years the Superbike World Championship reached the zenith of its popularity, with global fan and full factory support.
In 2003 the FIM changed the rules to allow 1,000 cc machines (twins, triples or four-cylinder) to race. Rule changes in MotoGP to allow four-stroke engines meant that the Japanese manufacturers focused their resources there, leaving the Superbike World Championship with limited factory involvement (only Ducati and Suzuki).
2003 also saw the entry of Carl Fogarty’s Foggy Petronas FP1. The bike was developed under the previous regulations and was powered by a three cylinder 900 cc engine. With most of the field running Ducati motorcycles, the championship received the derogatory title "the Ducati Cup". The factory Ducati Team entered the only two Ducati 999s in the field, taking 20 wins from 24 races in a season where all races were won by Ducati. Neil Hodgson won the title on a factory Ducati.
In an effort to create a more competitive field in 2004 organizers announced a series of changes to the championship. The most significant was that from 2004 the teams have had to run on Pirelli control or 'spec' tyres. The decision to award the control tyre to Pirelli was controversial. The Pirelli tyres were considered to be below the standard of Dunlop and Michelin that most of the teams had been using. Dunlop looked to take legal action against the decision while Pirelli claimed that Michelin and Dunlop were also asked if they would be interested in the one-make tyre rule contract.
Partly as a result of the control tyres, Motorcycle Sports Manufacturer Association (Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha) announced that no MSMA teams would participate in the Superbike World Championship, later modifying their statement allowing Ducati to participate.
A few privateers chose to run Japanese bikes in 2004. Ten Kate Honda with Chris Vermuelen as its rider, won races and actually contended for the title that eventually was won by James Toseland and Ducati.
Following Ten Kate Honda's success Japanese motorcycles made a return in 2005 with major teams from all four Japanese manufacturers run through teams ran by European importers. Troy Corser won the 2005 championship, giving Suzuki its first Superbike World Championship title.
2006 saw the return of Australian Troy Bayliss to the Superbike World Championship after three years in MotoGP. The combination of Bayliss and Ducati proved unstoppable and they dominated the season, winning 12 races. Honda-mounted James Toseland and Yamaha's Noriyuki Haga battled for second with the British rider coming out on top. Defending champion Troy Corser on a Suzuki was fourth. 2006 gave the feeling that the Superbike World Championship was 'back' following the years of decline in 2003 and 2004.
With MotoGP machines reduced in capacity from 990 cc to an 800 cc maximum displacement, 1,000 cc Superbikes, both at World Championship and top national championships (AMA Superbike and British Superbike) become the largest capacity bikes (but not the most powerful) being road raced in 2007. While superbikes remained two or more seconds per lap slower than MotoGP bikes at most tracks where both raced, they had equal or more power.
Troy Bayliss attempted to defend his title, riding once again a Ducati 999. Though 999 production ended in 2006 and the bike was replaced by the Ducati 1098, Ducati produced 150 limited-edition 999s at an elevated race specification to satisfy homologation requirements. Bayliss' main rivals in his title defense included former MotoGP rider Max Biaggi riding a Suzuki, 2004 champion James Toseland riding a Honda and Noriyuki Haga riding a Yamaha.
The combination of some uneventful races in MotoGP and some exciting races in SBK saw the championship's popularity increase even more.
The championship was won by James Toseland in the season's last race. His 415 points put him two points ahead of Noriyuki Haga, with former MotoGP winner Max Biaggi following with 397 points on a Suzuki.
After introducing the Ducati 1098 in 2007 powered by a 1,099 cc v-twin engine Ducati requested that Superbike rules be changed to allow v-twins of up to 1,200 cc compete against 1,000 cc four-cylinder bikes. Ducati argued that they no longer produced a road-going 1,000 cc V-twin superbike and that the level of tuning now needed to make their 999 competitive on the race track was too expensive. Ducati said they would quit if the rules were not changed, while Alstare Suzuki team boss Francis Batta also said that his team would quit if the new rules gave Ducati an unfair advantage.
The FIM eventually included the 1,200 cc displacement limit for twins in the 2008 superbike rules. According to the new rules, twin-cylinder motorcycles would be 6 kg heavier than four-cylinder machines (168 kg to 162 kg) and would also have a 50 mm air restrictor fitted. The weight limit and the intake-restrictor size of twin machines would be updated, if needed, during the Championship, by a system analysing the race points obtained.
The new rules also changed the minimum number of bikes required to acquire homologation. For 2008 and 2009, all manufacturers, regardless of total production numbers, had to produce a minimum of 1,000 bikes to acquire homologation. From 2010 onwards, the minimum production number was increased to 3,000 bikes. In the past, smaller manufacturers were allowed to build as few as 150 bikes to meet the homologation requirements. Manufacturers took advantage of this by producing 'homologation specials'--highly tuned versions of their road bikes with performance parts designed especially for racing.
The 2008 SBK championship was dominated by Troy Bayliss of Australia, on his Ducati 1098, who concluded his season and his career with a double win at the brand new, 195-million-Euro Portimao circuit in Portugal, after which he retired.
During the offseason, Yamaha lost Noriyuki Haga to Ducati, who signed him to replace the retired Troy Bayliss. His place was taken by 3-times AMA champion Ben Spies, who was expected to give Haga serious competition.
Ben Spies took a record 11 poles in the 14 round series and 14 wins (17 podiums) in 28 races; his main rival Haga was more consistent, finishing on the podium 19 times but winning only 8 races. 2009 also saw the debut of BMW and the return of Aprilia. Aprilia took a fourth final place in the championship with Max Biaggi, while BMW finished thirteenth with Troy Corser.
2009 Champion Ben Spies moved to MotoGP. James Toseland returned to the championship after 2 seasons in MotoGP and took Spies place at the Sterilgarda Yamaha World Superbike team, partnered by fellow Brit Cal Crutchlow. The factory Ducati team retained their two riders.
The 2010 season started on February 28 at Phillip Island and ended on October 3 at Magny-Cours.