Real World Motorcycles Pt1 – With Phil Hall
The recent announcement, after what seems like forever of spy shots and hints, of the supercharged Kawasaki Ninja track bike and its milder running mate has again brought to the forefront the question of just how fast do you need your bike to be?
Yamaha’s revealing of two R1s (one for road and one for track) has continued the trend with Honda sticking its nose in the picture with the quasi-MotoGp replica which still only exists in prototype form but looks certain to be built.
Pounds will get you pennies that, if the Suzuki MotoGp effort meets with any sort of success at all, an “RR” version of the GSX-R 1000 will appear, all electric blue and brash to join the rest of them.
BMW already have an RR version of its 1000cc sports bike and Aprilia has its “Factory” version, lighter, more powerful and faster than its already ridiculously race replica’ed RSV4.
Where will it end? The answer is that it won’t. In the same way as we wondered 10 years ago how riders could control a 200bhp grand prix bike, we now wonder how they can control a 250bhp race bike. The search for more power combined with the ability to USE that power through advanced electronics will continue unabated.
In 1973 Kawasaki introduced the Z1 and it amazed us with 83bhp. No electronics and a hinge in the middle of the frame with the wheels wrapped in barely-adequate Japanese rim protectors masquerading as tyres. Surely nobody could need any more power than that? But riders tamed it (sort of) and the search for more performance went on.
Until today when we have road bikes that are capable of doing double (nearly triple) the posted open road speed limit for most states without breaking a sweat, going from 0-100km/h in under 5 seconds and getting you booked for doing more than 100 before you have even got out of first gear.
Do we need all that power? Of course we don’t. Only in the Northern Territory can you legally go faster than 110 on the open road and there aren’t any corners there! Anywhere else in Australia, any of the modern sports bike can shred your licence without even turning a hair. Our news bulletins are regularly dotted with reports of motorcyclists being detected doing the other side of 160 on the open highway and anecdotal reports (you have to be a great deal more careful boasting about your exploits in these days of social media) suggest that much more destruction of the speed limits is taking place below the radar (if you’ll pardon the pun).
So, if for the most part, your riding is taking place in areas where the speed limit is carefully and rigorously applied, why do you need a bike that will triple it? Why have it if you can’t use it? Part of the answer is found at the head of the article. Your super-dooper crotch rocket CAN get up and boogie if you take it to the track. The popularity of track days has never been higher. What started out as a means whereby riders could sample riding on a track and hopefully go on to become race riders has failed to deliver on the promise.
Instead many riders now have in the garage a hotted-up street bike that is modified way beyond what would be legal at a race meeting and they ride them in a way at track days that would be frowned upon in the far more restrictive atmosphere of an officially-sanctioned event. And, their track days are more frequent and cost them less than what it would cost them if they were to go racing.
But, go to any “riders’ road” (the Adelaide Hills, Royal National Park, the Black Spur, etc) any Saturday or Sunday and you will find the sports bikers there. Resplendent in their unmarked racing leathers, knee pads and expensive gear, they alternate between talking about riding fast and actually doing it. In the process they often risk life and licence in the never-ending search for that “extra fast time” and infuriate other road users in the process. This generates further bad publicity in the press and has the knock-on effect of attracting the wrong sort of attention at the legislative end of town.
There WILL come a time, mark my words, when our law-makers WILL move to cap power and the speed capabilities of our motorcycles. It may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. The now almost universal use of ECU’s in modern bikes will make it ridiculously easy for a sealed, tamper-proof ECU to be fitted to every bike that will not only LIMIT its capabilities but will also link in with GPS and data-logging centres that will be able to monitor everything we do on our bikes. Play with the electronics in any way and an inbuilt immobiliser will stop you in your tracks and report your tampering. There will be no chance to hide, nor to “fudge” it in any way when the letter comes in the mail. Electronic proof will make it a “pay up or else” proposition.
It all sounds very George Orwell and 1984 doesn’t it? Except that 1984, which, as a high school student when I read the book, seemed ridiculously far into the FUTURE, was 30 YEARS ago. What Orwell foresaw as radical and impossible in 1949 (the year I was born) has long since been surpassed by levels of electronics and government snooping that he could never have foreseen in his wildest imaginations.
So, enjoy your crotch rockets while you can. While the occasional speculative suggestions may come up about increasing speed limits on arterial roads and multi-lane highways, don’t expect it to happen any time soon. The trend of speed limits is always downwards and it will continue. Governments, by default, take from the citizenry and, having once taken, hardly ever give back especially if there is a buck to be made in the process which, in the case of the prosecution of lower and lower speed limits, is certainly the case.
There is a cartoon doing the rounds at the moment that says, “The first bike race began the day the second bike was built.” It’s pretty true. As long as there are red-blooded young males out there (yes I know I am stereotyping but I do so on pretty solid ground) Rider A is going to want to see if his bike is faster than Rider B’s. We have already established that the “take it to the track” mantra has had some effect in letting these guys use their bikes’ potential while preserving some safety but even the track day environment is too artificial for most riders. Winning on the STREET is what matters to them.
I’ve never actually owned what we now call a sports bike. They came along when I was already into the “mature rider” phase. But I have ridden one or two and I can see the attraction. The instant rush of power and the arms being pulled out of their sockets is intoxicating. The pin-sharp accuracy of the handling and the “neatness” of it all is amazing. But the ergos killed me pretty quickly and the need to constantly reference the speedo to get some sort of mental handle on what I was doing was too distracting for me.
Now I can hear some readers grinding their gears here and telling me that I don’t understand, and perhaps I don’t. I THINK I do, but you are entitled to your opinion. The modern sports bike ECU enables you to “tame” a 170bhp engine and ride the thing around town like a commuter bike, without snatching, baulking and fuelling issues, I know that. The power if only there if you ask for it, otherwise it’s a mild little pussy cat. Yes, I understand that, too.
So is it, in the end, all about the “look”, the image? If the ability to use and maximise the potential of your bikes is being increasingly restricted and proscribed, are we left with a bike that answers the question that nobody asked? Sales statistics are telling us that sports bike sales are falling, despite the average one now giving you Ferrari-embarrassing performance for around $20K.
In Sydney there is a classic car club which you can join for about $3000 I have been told. That eye-watering fee enables you to regularly drive your choice of one of the fleet of exotic Ferraris, Porsches and Lambos owned by the club. “Well, now, maybe that’s not such a bad price after all,” you might be thinking. But, wait. Yes, you can drive one, along with a group of other club members who head out every weekend to explore the winding roads around Australia’s biggest city. BUT, you can only drive them in convoy with the other club members. You are restricted in that you are limited by the speed of the lead car which is driven by a club official at what is usually BELOW the posted speed limit and you are NOT ALLOWED to overtake! I kid you not.
Sorry, but I can think of more enjoyable ways of parting with three grand. But the lesson for our GP-replica bikes is here. What is the point, apart from the pose value, of having a GP-replica bike if you can’t use it the way that it was intended to be used? (or even a FRACTION of its potential?) I can think of few things that would bring about terminal anger faster than renting a Ferrari and then being told that I cannot exceed 80km/h. It is a similar scenario.
The search is on for a real world solution. I respect and admire people who ride sports bikes and who ride them well. But I wonder if, perhaps, they could get their jollies on another sort of bike and still have as much fun…?
NB: Yesterday, the 11th December, marks the fourth anniversary of the death of Max Pinch in a motorcycling accident in Kangaroo Valley. Maxie was a local legend, having been a graded road racer during the 70’s and having built up a reputation as a fearsome road rider as well. Many a young pup went away from an encounter with Maxie feeling chastened and somewhat foolish. Though small of stature, Max was a giant of a rider and, at the time of his death, had just returned from an 18000km circumnavigation of the continent on his little GS BMW. Max also owned a beautiful 50th Anniversary R1 (the bike on which he was killed) and a CBR250RR Honda. He confessed to me in a candid moment that the bike he enjoyed riding the most was the 250 and that he could go as fast up Macquarie Pass on it as he could on his R1. Food for thought.
RIP Max Pinch.