Lieback’s Lounge: March 2019
The 21st-century sport motorcyclist is spoiled, and I’m proud to be one. But, I’m also proud I cut my proverbial teeth, and a few portions of my body, during the pre-technical age of the modern sportbikes.
From multiple-level traction control systems to anti-wheelie to cornering ABS, the modern sportbike has it all.
The only performance factor holding these magical bikes back is rider ability. Sadly for some, the technological sportbike age comes at the sacrifice of proper riding technique, and that just the maybe the trouble with all these fancy technological aids.
Whether on the track or the back roads, those motivated to master the art of speed have rider aids to mostly keep them in the safety zone if something goes wrong.
This allows these new riders to push farther than a sportbike rider who began mastering speed in the early 2000s, 1990s, or earlier. I focus on the turn of the century because new sport riders back then (like me) learned on a breed of high-performance machines that required much more rider input.
Think of the Japanese liter bikes from around the turn of the Century—the first-generation Yamaha YZF-R1, Honda CBR929RR and RC51, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, and the Suzuki GSX-R1000. These motorcycles made massive horsepower that was only tamable through your wrist and brain, not the bike’s electronic brain.
This created a totally different learning curve, and the riders who learned how to ride fast safely had to fully trust in their mental and physical abilities over the bike’s electronics.
If they lost focus for a mere microsecond, it could cause serious pain. I know because it happened to me multiple times. I don’t complain, though I reflect on those incidents often.
This typically happens when I sometimes am a bit stiff in the left knee, which sustained 93 stitches due to a crash aboard my Ducati 1198 base model (read: no electronic aids), or my numb right thumb due to a crash aboard my CBR929RR (again, no rider aids).
These accidents slowed me down for some time, and I had to work with serious intention to regain a deep focus and trust in my ability. I believe riding quick and efficiently is 90 percent mental, and just 10 percent physical. This goes for mastering techniques in your mind first, which trump physical shape.
There is much more mental fitness needed to take on the TT rather than any circuit for 30 laps, though a bit more than mere mental fitness is needed for the modern-day TT riders. Even Valentino Rossi related to the madness it takes to ride the TT with speed.
During an interview with Top Gear, Rossi said, “I did a lap of the Isle of Man, and I understand why people love this because it’s f**king awesome. It’s unbelievable, great. But, unfortunately, it’s too dangerous. Sometimes, riders are crazy.”
Back to the bigger percentile of us mere mortals—modern technology like rider aids and tire advancements have loosened the grip on my psyche when riding at speed.
I admit that I can push that extra bit I wouldn’t have 20 years ago, regardless if I had more stupidity-based courage over the experienced-based courage I have today.
I love older sportbikes, but sometimes the mind is still coddled by electronics. As journalists, we ride the latest and the greatest, and there was one week I went from riding a Ducati Panigale V4 at Valencia to riding an RC51 at New York Safety Track.
By turn two on the RC51, I was forced to take a step back and remember I must fully connect the right wrist and fingers to the brain. But from there it was pure fun—a bit more challenging, but serious fun. Riders trained with electronic fanciness may never experience such fun.
I’m no Luddite, and I embrace modern sportbike technology. But, I think newbie track riders, or those about to take serious on-road risks, should learn how the basics of body position, throttle input, and braking on motorcycles void of electronic aids. That way they can get their mental ability up to full speed before relying on bikes that magically can do no wrong.