Given motorcycling’s aging demographic, it’s unlikely most of you have ridden a Superbike lately.
Or even a Supersport 600.
And that’s fine. I’m not having a shot. After all, I’m just a year shy of the big six-o myself. So it’s not like I’m out cutting sick laps on the latest 200-plus horsepower track-weapon all that often either.
But I did the other day, and it was, as always, revelatory.
The bike in question was a 2020 Yamaha R1. But you could substitute any brand, because at the pointy end, they are all much of a muchness to the Great Unskilled and Unwashed – of which I am one, though I am probably cleaner than some of you hoary old piss-dribblers.
So the R1 arrives at my house, and because I live scant minutes from the legendary Putty Road, I stare at it for a few hours, knowing full well what awaits, and then I mount up and off I go – all 59 years of me. And let’s face it, I’ve never been one of those slightly-built, snake-hipped ladyboys, so there’s that to consider as well.
Ten minutes later I am fully engaged in the bends at the northern end of the Putty, the so-called Ten Mile. It’s so called that because there’s 16km of relentless, beautifully cambered and surfaced corners that range from 15km/h to 55km/h. And there’s 99 of them, and I flatter myself I know them because I have ridden them so many times.
But everything is different on a Superbike.
Because Superbikes are designed for one glorious reason alone – and that’s to demonstrate the manufacturer’s grasp of the purest motorcycle concept on earth – speed.
Superbikes are designed to go fast and if they’re not going fast, they’re not fulfilling their design brief. And I don’t mean “fast” like ordinary “I’m having a real go on Sunday” fast. I mean proper fast – real heart-in-dry-mouth, pay-serious-attention, O Sainted Jesus! fast. It’s the kind of fast all of us pretend to, but few of us can lay true claim to.
You all know some motorcycle media hire a former racer to test a Superbike. I’ve always thought this to be kinda stupid for two reasons.
Firstly, a racer’s views on a bike have no relevance in the real world. No normal human can ride a Superbike like a racer can. And secondly, racers can’t write, pretty much exactly like I can’t race. They’re painful to read and I am painful to watch. So I don’t race. And they shouldn’t write.
Anyway, here’s me and the R1 fully engaged in the Ten Mile. Neither of us are truly happy.
If the thing could talk, I’m sure it would be saying: “Oh come on, bitch-boy, you call that fast?”
And I’m just grunting and levering my manifold old injuries from side to side, fully cognisant the R1 is light-years away from being pushed to its limits, but also fully cognisant I’m going to jail for a long time if a Highway Patrol car should suddenly appear.
I arrive at Grey Gums, and just about fall off the side of the thing. My neck aches, my back is spasming, and my thighs are throbbing like a drum. The R1 just sits their ticking with a smirk on its evil face.
Once upon a time, a man of any age and whatever skill could buy a litre superbike and commute on it. They were softer and milder back then. They are now so wicked they need a computer to stop you killing yourself. Make no mistake, there’s not a Superbike out there now that isn’t entirely focused on demolishing lap-records. Of course you can still ride them on the road, and you should because they are the absolute nil plus ultra of a bike manufacturer’s art. Just understand that road-riding is not what Superbikes are about anymore.
Ergonomically, they are a race bike. I know this because I have ridden two ASBK race bikes and they feel the same – just even more feral at the throttle.
But damn me for a cussed and recalcitrant sinner, I still love the buggering shit out of them, because they are pure and uncompromising, and an utter delight at speed.
They are what a motorcycle is when it’s being the best motorcycle its maker can create.
The problem is me. I’m polluted and impure. The years have made me thus. And I damn my body for betraying me in that regard. Happily, I understand they can still lower you onto and lift you off one of these race-crouch jiggers using a small crane.
That means I will still relish the chance to ride every superbike I will ever get my hands on.
After all, I ain’t dead yet, am I?
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.