Things come into being by means of ideas and concepts. Few thoughts or ideas are completely brand new. Motorcycles, like music, clothes, buildings, even iPhones, are created on the basis of what went before. Standing on the shoulders of giants, designers create new concoctions and life evolves. The importance of the intentionality that springs into a specific new creation should not be overlooked.
In the world of motorcycles, such intentionality is evident in motorcycle design – steering rake and trail, wheelbase, engine power output, weight, the state of wind protection, seating arrangements and control point positions – each is tailored to achieve a certain final result. If you find yourself frustrated at the controls of your bike, before you find any deficiency in the tool between your legs, ask yourself if you’re using it as it was designed.
Clearly jumping on a Goldwing or Victory and attempting to hustle it down a B road at extreme lean angles might not be quite what the designers had in mind, and so your willing ride might struggle to comply with your request. Large touring bikes are all about relaxed, effortless cruising, not racing around at maximum lean angles. They are about a soft, somewhat distanced relationship with the road. Comfort takes priority over weight saving. The stereo takes precedent over reducing weight and a comfortable foot peg position takes precedent over maximum clearance for lean angles when cornering. Expecting a Goldwing to perform well on a track day will only bring disappointment. It might be a laugh, but it’s not going to be that satisfying. That was obvious, and if you’re a sportsbike nut, you’ll know what I mean. But there are other ways of looking at this ’mismatch’ situation which grate just as easily, but not for the reasons you might think.
Let’s take the polar opposite of the Goldwing, something like a RSV4 or Yamaha R1; bikes which are designed to go as fast as possible on Tarmac. Bikes which are hard, uncompromising and illicitly quick. These bikes give you the rider the maximum feel so you know what is going on beneath the front and rear tyres. Control points are communicative, the seat thin, the riding position is extreme pushing weight over the front wheel, and throttle, brakes and steering are as sharp as a tack. These bikes were designed for the racetrack, and work best at the high levels of commitment, focus and commitment expected there. But take a track biased bike and put it on the public road, for a long period of time and you may find yourself feeling equally frustrated, not being able to ride the bike the way it wants to be ridden. You may also find the shouty feedback a bit overwhelming after a few hours, like being surrounded by s load of screaming kids when you want to lie back and chill out. Perhaps this is why extreme machines fall out of favour as people age….
Anyway, if a bike is designed for 200mph top speeds, the chances are it won’t feel that involving when pushing the national speed limit. Your choices then for riding satisfaction are threefold;
- You can ride the bike at the speeds it was designed for on the road,
- You can ride the bike predominantly on track, or
- You can ride around obeying the law and feeling frustrated.
So if you find yourself trying to turn your sports tourer into a track weapon and feel disappointed that it won’t perform, ratchet your aspirations back a couple of clicks and you’ll find your ride much more enjoyable. Equally, if you feel frustration riding your 200bhp monster on the public roads; if you feel like you’re riding a caged tiger, book yourself on a track day and let your hair down properly.
And so we come to the importance of what is termed a ‘flexible’ bike. Most of us want to ride our bikes on the road at least some of the time. That means restraint, or it means a bike which allows us to ride mostly within the law and still feel a sense of satisfaction. It feels nice to push the envelope, but when the envelope only starts getting pushed at 140mph, perhaps it’s time to get something which starts falling apart at slightly lower speeds?
In the car world, such a sentiment has been imbued into the Subaru BRZ / Toyota GT86. Rather than seeking to increase power & grip the car was designed around finding limits of traction, or pushing envelopes at completely road legal speeds. The car was deliberately fitted with low grip tyres for this purpose. It’s clever when you think about it. We get our kicks at speeds which mean the police don’t get theirs.
So what is the magic formula for ‘engagement’ on the road? Well, I still think a sportsbike is hard to beat. The communication, the willingness, the precision, the engines. What we do want to see are traits which make the bike fun, manageable at ‘normal’ speeds i.e. torque at low revs (flexible engine), comfortable ergonomics, comfy seat, everyday usability, adaptive suspension for comfortable pottering. It’s not hard to see why the BMW S1000RR sport is selling so well.