“The greatest gift that a motorcycle can give you is freedom
– freedom from fear.”
I read the above words from a well written column by the legendary and three-time World GP Champion Freddie Spencer in one of my favorite American motorcycle magazines. In the column, he talked about how technology has changed the way people ride especially with modern superbikes and GP racers.
He said that compared to the monsters that he raced during
his career, rider input now is less essential on modern bikes. He observed that
electronics, like traction control, took away the precision from the rider’s
hands, enhancing the performance with electronics instead of the rare personal
gift or riding talent to understand and interact with the bike and the
conditions while executing precise control inputs. Nowadays, in MotoGP, a
better electronics package can mean a run for a championship or a mid-pack
struggle. It takes away the fun and the real challenge. And a mediocre rider
can hang it with the top aliens more easily. During his time, if he gives his
old-school race bikes too much throttle, he suffers the consequences
immediately. The margin of error was infinitely much smaller.
While this may be true for racing, such is not the case for street
bikes. Electronics (coupled with advancement in tires, suspension and chassis
design) made it possible for many to safely ride the superbikes of their
dreams. According to Spencer, technology has made it better for general sport
riding by softening the impact of increased performance in modern bikes,
allowing more riders to enjoy sport riding. I agree with him 100%.
Two decades ago, it was a challenge to ride a 150hp
superbike near the limit of its full potential. The fast and unforgiving liter
bikes were scary for most riders, the reason why the 600cc segment became the
biggest sellers as they provide friendly sub-100hp engines and smoother power
deliveries. Cost was not the real issue since the gap is not that big, it was
fear. The margin of error is also small but they happen at a slower rate with
usually less consequence for the ordinary rider.
Today, due to the rapid march of electronic riding aids like traction control, cornering ABS, anti-wheelie, power modes and clutch-less shifting, the top of the line superbikes with up to 200hp plus engines outsell the smaller bikes and grab all the headlines. This is because more riders can ride them without scaring themselves too much. The superbikes of today like the Ducati Panigale 1299S, and Panigale, BMW S 1000 RR, Aprilia RSV4, Kawasaki ZX-10 and H2R, MV Agusta F4 and the Yamaha YZF -R1, all have cutting edge electronic riding aids that allow any rider with adequate physical ability to ride them at a clip way beyond their riding skills.
Today, a recreational rider can have a choice to dial up or down the traction control, power modes and even the suspension behavior to reduce his margin of error and increase safety. Even if the new bikes have more power, can accelerate harder and can corner faster, the electronic aids soften the overall impact to the rider, boosting his confidence and riding satisfaction.
Technology helps lift the rider’s fear of modern superbikes.
As rider skills improve over time and with practice, so does confidence and
enjoyment. Riding a motorcycle already gives a spiritual fulfillment, a sense
of freedom and adventure. For most, getting rid of most of the riding fears,
whether with the help of electronics or with natural ability, can only be a
Spencer did not say that his time was better than today. He said that now it takes a different set of skills, bike communication and level of trust with the bike in order to ride fast, “When you ride you are completely in the moment, completely uninhibited and confident in your own ability. You are alive. A feeling that is one of the greatest, most intimate gifts we can experience. It’s why we ride!
– Al Camba
This was published in the 2015 Maximum TORQUE’s Issue Number 7
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