Duke’s Den – Motorcycle Riding vs. Car Driving

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Surely, nearly everyone can agree that it takes more skills to ride a motorcycle than it does to drive a car. After all, a car will never tip over if you stick your foot in a patch of gravel, and they’re all but immune to collarbone-cracking high-sides.

“Okay, Cap’n Obvious,” you might jibe. “We already knew that.”

While this premise is quite evident, illustrating it clearly can be challenging. That’s why I was intrigued to read a review of Porsche’s scintillating new 918 and a tale from its track test.

Written by fellow motojournalist Basem Wasef in a Wired article, Porsche’s new ubercar is mind-meltingly complex. It uses 50(!) electronic control units to preside over its trio of powerplants: a 4.6-liter V-8, a 156-hp electric motor on its front axle and a 129-hp rear electric motor, among countless other electronic systems. The petrol engine boasts 608 hp on its own, that’s 132.17 horses per liter  (which would be just average performance for a sportbike engine) the highest specific output of any normally aspirated automobile engine – and revs to a stratospheric (for a car) 9,150-rpm limit.

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With rarefied technology such as this, it comes as no surprise that Porsche’s fastest-ever street car (purportedly 214 mph) requires boatloads of cash to park it in your garage. Its $845,000 base price is more than most anyone’s home, and if you want the Liquid Metal Chrome paint, that’ll add $63,000 to your invoice!

However, the close-enough-to-one-million-dollar car posts some outrageous performance numbers. In its hottest power setting, which delivers a combined 893 hp, the 918 is said to do the zero-to-60 sprint in a face-flattening 2.5 seconds.

Wasef drove the 918 at the fantastic Circuit Of The Americas track near Austin, Texas, where velocities and cornering loads are extreme. The 918’s performance prowess were put into perspective by sending one of Porsche’s factory racing drivers, Patrick Long, out on track in a Porsche 911 Turbo S. Although able to hit 60 mph in just 2.9 seconds and costing a princely $181k, Wasef notes that the most powerful 911 seemed like it was struggling to get out of its own way relative to the 918.

“Through the 918′s windshield, the whale-tailed ride slip-slides its way into corners and seems pokey on the straights, while the 918 corners flat and launches ahead like it’s powered by Jet-A-infused afterburners.” Wasef adds that Long revealed he was frustrated at not being able to out-pace the journalists.

Now for the motorcycle-salient bit. I imagined a similar scenario with motorcycles, in which I’d share a track with, say, Valentino Rossi. In this imagined setup, I’d ride VR46’s Yamaha M1 MotoGP machine, while Rossi would ride Yamaha’s hottest sportbike, the YZF-R1. However, this fantasy comparison would undoubtedly be vastly more humbling than the car journo vs. factory driver situation outlined above.

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In terms of getting around a racetrack quickly, I’m pretty fast in relation to the general motorcycle population. Most anyone who has ridden on racetracks is faster than those who haven’t, and my speed puts me into the fastest group at trackdays. But as fast as I may be, I’ve been around racetracks long enough to know that I fall well short of the pace set by expert-level racers.

So, even if I was astride the million-dollar MotoGP bike, I realize there would be no way in hell I’d be able to keep up with Rossi on the R1 streetbike. And I’d bet Vale could cut a quicker lap on the 600cc R6 streetbike than I could on his GP bike, at least around a shorter racetrack.

There’s so much more to riding a motorcycle fast than driving a car fast. The steering and cornering process on a bike is vastly more complex and physical than simply turning a steering wheel in a car. I’ve been to a few automotive events at racetracks, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was among the fastest journalists. But, at a bike launch, I might only be mid-pack among moto scribes.

040714-marquez-honda-motogp Photo by GEPA Pictures

My humble-brag concludes by acknowledging my fellow motorcycle riders as a breed apart from the norm. I congratulate you for not being limited by modern society’s quest for safety above all – even at the expense of smiles and exhilaration – and prefer instead to challenge yourselves in the refreshing breeze aboard a motorcycle.

And if you can afford Porsche’s incredible 918, forgo the custom-fitted luggage option ($19,900) so you can afford a really nice motorcycle or two!

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  • Basem Wasef

    So true; there are many more aspects to riding technique than there are to driving– lean angle, front or rear braking, and weight transfer, to name a few. I often say you can get just as much– and sometimes more– of a thrill from a $12,000 sportbike as you do a million dollar car.

    • Kevin Duke

      And, of course, a 918 does pathetic wheelies!

      • Kevin

        Yeah, but Gene Snows’ 1966 Dodge Adventurer mid engine cab-over pickup truck did fantastic wheelies.

  • priap1sm

    I read somewhere that driving / racing a car uses 150 muscles, and riding a motorcycle uses 350.

    I race cars and have done tons of track days in motorcycles–the difference between car drivers is always a lot smaller than bikes. Signing up in too low a group at a motorcycle track day and the closing speeds can be terrifying! Bikes are definitely more of a challenge. On the other hand, you don’t need an ambulance at many auto track days.

    Love ‘em both.

  • Old MOron

    Yeah, but the pretty girl always goes home with the guy in the million dollar cage.

    • Kevin Duke

      Most girls, maybe, but not the best ones! :)

      • Oslo Norway

        I know the best ones, I married ‘em, a bike works just fine…

    • jng1226

      And then she sneaks out of the mansion to go have real fun on the back (and in the sack) with the moto-head!

  • JMDonald

    Riding and driving can both offer the Zen experience I believe we are all after. I have had a passion for both since I was about 12. I can even appreciate it when moto journalists get to ride machines I will never be able to or can only dream of. I don’t claim expert rider or driver status. I only know what I like. I like riding and driving. Ride and drive safe.