Journalists are trained to avoid hyperbole, but it’s a fact that sportbike enthusiasts have never had a better choice of amazingly fast and competent superbikes than those available this year – no hyperbole necessary!
BMW’s S1000RR has ruled this class and received dozens of upgrades to make it even more competitive for 2015. Ducati’s 1299 Panigale is more powerful and more nimble than its 1199 predecessor. Aprilia’s RSV4 gets a massive 15-hp boost and updated electronics. And Yamaha’s spellbinding R1 promises to elevate the category with an industry-first Slide Control System that adds a new dimension to traction control. Throw in the SP version of the lovable CBR1000RR from Honda and Kawi’s ZX-10R, our reigning Japanese literbike champ, and we had a sextet of wonderful sporting machines to play with.
Each bike is massively powerful, so we needed a test venue that allowed throttle stretching for more than just a few seconds. A circuit that has played host to both World Superbike and MotoGP would do nicely, so we made plans to attend Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as part of a Keigwins trackday. Kudos to Szymon Dziadzia, the new owner of K@TT, and operations manager, Jesse Carter, who have taken over from Lance and Linda Keigwin and continued the club’s well-organized and fun-loving reputation.
Perfect! Well, there would be no EBR 1190RX like we had hoped before Buell’s company tanked again. And MV Agusta was unable to get us a new F4. But we still had the hottest new sportbikes of the year ready for our testing. Until we didn’t.
First, Aprilia had to back away from its original delivery date for the RSV4 RF, amended to just hours before we needed to set off for Monterey and Laguna Seca and resulting in a postponement of our dyno testing in advance of our trackday. Okay, roll with it…
Then, just a week before our trackday, came word that Ducati was backing out of our track test due to the unavailability of a technician to support us at Laguna. Argh! On the plus side, Ducati would have a bike for us just days after our Laguna date. On the downside, one of the most scintillating sportbikes ever made wouldn’t be part of our track shootout. Conducting a superbike test without the potent Duc simply would not do.
But so much planning had gone into this test, and so much momentum was at play. We had manufacturers making the trip up to Monterey, we had a dozen Pirelli tires being shipped to us, and we had motorcycle racing icon Doug Chandler booked as our truly fast guy for our testing – DC10 has won on dirt tracks, captured three AMA Superbike titles, and is one of the few to have beaten Kevin Schwantz on identical equipment in six races when he rode for Suzuki’s 500cc Grand Prix team in 1992. There was no way this plan was going down without a fight!
So, I called, emailed and texted every Ducati-related contact I knew of in the hopes I could dig out a 1299 Panigale – a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. I put my head down with a racer’s determination. A dozen leads were chased via a variety of very helpful friends and acquaintances who did everything they could to summon a Panigale for our Laguna test. A loan was arranged, then canceled. Then again. And again.
With just days to spare, I was put in contact with John Clelland, president of the NorCal Ducati Desmo Owners Club, who graciously posted a call to Panigale owners on the group’s website. A couple of possibilities looked promising, but it wasn’t until we found a 1299 S owner whose heart was as generous as mine was desperate that we had finally secured a Ducati for our test at Laguna.
Jacob Tolley rode his Panigale from his job in the Bay Area to Laguna the night before our test, just as he promised, allowed us to spoon sticky Pirelli Supercorsa SCs onto the 1299’s forged-aluminum wheels, and let us ride his dream machine as much as we wanted. Tolley’s name will reverentially be passed around the MO office for years!
Finally, we went about testing the best sportbikes in the world on one of the best racetracks in the world, accompanied by one of the best motorcycle racers America has ever spawned. The stress was over, right?
Well, it was until the late afternoon when a crazily ambitious R1 rider attempted a ludicrously late-braking move in Turn 11, blasting past Evans (on the avoid-crashing-at-all-costs Ducati) and plowing into the front wheel of the Aprilia RSV4 RF as Troy was tipping it into the corner. Bam! – and the only street-legal 2016 RSV4 on the continent, according to Aprilia, was laying on its side. Fortunately, Troy was almost entirely unhurt in the collision, and Aprilia reps Shane Pacillo and Alex Frantz were on hand to ingeniously patch up the RF for our further testing.
Whew, we eventually got through our day of testing at the track with no further incidents or crashes! So, as we headed to our street testing, no more worries, right? Well, wait until you hear about the seized brakes on one of the bikes when we publish the Street portion of our superbike shootout this Thursday. It all made me think of Lloyd Bridges’s character in Airplane!