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Friendly Fire - Honda CBR1000RR VS Suzuki GSXR1000

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I can ride a superbike. But can I ride a superbike? The former is the result of riding barely tamed missiles, getting more comfortable each time I've gotten on one. The latter, a product of watching madmen at the Isle of Man TT.


You've seen it before, haven't you? The wind howls, beating off mountainsides. Perhaps it's the mountains that howl. But soon you realise that nature's voice is being drowned by the howl of man-made chaos. Light glints off metal and plastic, failing to define shadows that move too fast for cameras to focus. Aerodynamic faces smoothly convince the air in front of them to make way, front wheels refuse to touch the road. You see figures crouched on colourful rockets, their worries far more solid than air - stone walls, lamp posts and the like. The last bit is what sets the Isle of Man apart from run-of-the-mill races - brave men who find skimming a stone wall with their shoulders at over 200 kph a comforting thing. And of course, I want to know what it feels to ride like that. To enable these racers to do those heroic things, their bikes need to be absolutely sublime and not scare the hell out of the poor sod in the seat. Not surprisingly, the 'Blade and the Gixxer happen to be two IOM favourites. These bikes are a doddle to ride on the street every day, letting riders believe that they've actually tamed their steeds. Their gigantic power is delivered with a disposition not unlike a friendly puppy and both feature near-GP-spec handling. So can a relative newcomer like me challenge a dyed-in-the-wool racer on one of them?   Enter the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade, a motorcycle that has dominated the IOM in recent times. The outright lap record, the Senior TT, Superstock, you name it - all records show the Fireblade's name next to them. The production bike has been credited with being so good at everything that it's almost a little boring! 'Not involving enough,' complain riders. Or is it that being sterile at relatively moderate speeds allows the 'Blade to be unruffled at warp speed? Is this the secret to the Honda's dominance? Piloting the 'Blade is me, daydream racer par excellence. All I needed was someone to ride with, and who better than an ex-professional racer? So we called upon Amol Talpade. Be it road racing, motocross or rallying, Amol has done it all, racing for the TVS factory team more than a decade ago. And he's still got the same sort of mad glint in his eyes that TT racers seem to have. Even madder is his black Suzuki GSX1000R, equipped with a wake-the-dead Jardine exhaust. It's an older model, a 2008 example, to be precise, and I quite fancy my chances against him on my latest-spec Fireblade. But the Gixxer's one of motorcycledom's all-time favourite motorcycles - one that has been there and done that. It was king of the hill until the Fireblades and R1s of the world radically reinvented themselves and left the mighty Gixxer playing catch up.   However, today, it's me and the 'Blade who're playing catch up. Right from the word go, the Gixxer's tail lamp LEDs imprint their pattern on my retinas, while the Jardine fills my helmet with an almighty roar. Riding as fast as I can, I keep up with him and try to get used to the pace. 'Hey, this is not bad!' I think, and even before I can pat my own back a bit more, I notice that Amol is riding with one hand on the 'bar. That does it. All charged up, I whip the 'Blade to go faster, and Amol gets the message. On the straights, there's virtually nothing to choose between the both of us – with similar horsepower between our legs. In corners however, he shows me how it's done. A booming downshift, a quick flick, and he's opened up a few bike lengths between us. With every corner, I see what he's doing and try to replicate it. Soon, we're taking a set of corners repeatedly, trying to sort out lines, while Aneesh tries to capture us in a frame. 'Slow down!' he yells. 'Yeah, right,' we say. Now I cannot even bluff that something with 180 bhp and two wheels is 'sterile,' but I sort of get what people are on about. The 'Blade does feel like it's doing all the work, leaving you to ponder about lines, braking markers and the like. The world is indeed a better place when you're attacking the twisties on a superbike. Even more so if there happens to be another superbike next to you at full lean. So what if he outbraked me as if I was standing still? The 'Blade feels superb in these conditions, even though our test bike's tyres had next to nothing left in them. Still, it handled well enough to allow me to keep up with the Gixxer. Until, that is, Amol started sliding the bike into corners, something that I'd seen only on TV. At that point, the few persisting wisps of hope vanished. I mean, you gotta know when you're beat, right? I chose a vantage point and sat on the 'Blade watching Amol. He was absolutely monstering his bike through the twisties, with either wheel struggling to maintain contact with the tarmac. I couldn’t even try that on my R15 long-termer. Mind-boggling, that's what it is.   So what did I learn from this exercise? First if all, I've got to be fit if I want to ride a superbike hard for more than ten minutes. The extreme performance (to put it mildly) means that the otherwise painless tasks of hanging on under acceleration and bracing myself against braking, left a sensation not unlike a Chinese torture rack session. And that's the first ten minutes. Secondly, I've got to wrap my senses around the turn of speed. I had to continually tell myself, 'Yes, you ARE going that fast!' Barely a twist of the throttle and I was braking for my life again. But to be fair, it's just a matter of getting used to it, and I did manage fairly well by the end of the ride. Also, I learnt not to hang off the bike like a chimpanzee, as I was initially doing. There's at least four trees worth of rubber on offer, so a little shift of weight to either side works better than being in a precarious position under a bike that weighs the better part of 200 kilos. Finally, I've got to get a superbike. For all my passion for motorcycles, I'll do myself a gross injustice by never owning a superbike in my life. And I hope I remember to ride it like it’s meant to be ridden, too. While we were nowhere near the level of riding you see at the tiny land mass next to England, I'd say I got what I wanted to see - an improbably brave chap riding an impossibly quick machine. Superbikes are the most thrilling form of transportation ever crafted by man, a harmony of art and engineering that appeal to the most primal of instincts inside us. And I'm happy I get to ride them once in a while. Now, I just need to learn how to ride a superbike.