I could be wrong, but I feel like the demise of the sportbike has been greatly exaggerated. That or I’m confusing the demise of the sportbike with the demise of myself? We’re junkies loose in the pharmacy with all kinds of motorcycles here at MO, but every year – or at least every couple of years – when it’s time for the big Superbike Comparison!, well, all of us get even more amped-up than usual.

Sales of “Traditional” bikes are up again this spring about the same amount that sales of sportbikes are down, a thing we’re partially responsible for here at MO as we tout nakeds and ADVs, scramblers and scooters… But please don’t take that to mean the manufacturers should ever take away our gnarly, fuel-gargling, tire-wrinkling (yet Euro4-compliant!) Superbikes. No, please, not that! Fine, we’ll sacrifice the 600s and 750s, just keep the large-caliber stuff coming.

I think the manufacturers keep making them faster and more expensive because deep down the people in charge are like us: junkies. Just as Harley-Davidson has always sold by far the lion’s share of over-900cc motorcycles in the U.S., there’s always been a much smaller but equally dedicated core group of international Superbike nuts. Does racing make any sense for the factories that engage in it, i.e., nearly all of the big fish except Triumph? From a purely bean-counting standpoint, it probably does not. And yet here we all are in our Rossi hats and vintage HRC t-shirts, panting in front of the big screen TV for the Catalunya MotoGP. If you have to ask, you’ll never understand.

For us, the motorcycle is by definition a high-performance machine, and the open-class sportbike is the epitome of high performance. Now that both my parents have been deceased for some time, I require a larger dose of danger every year, as the only one left to frighten is myself. It’s what Casey Stoner says in this Mat Oxley article about why so many F1 fans are now MotoGP ones: “Fear is part of what gives you the adrenaline rush, it’s part of why we love to do what we do, because it gets your heart racing, it gets your blood pumping,” he said. “It’s that slight bit of fear that keeps you interested.”

Fear of not being able to fit into this Dainese suit now and then is the only thing that keeps me from becoming Fat Bastard.

Fear of not being able to fit into this Dainese suit now and then is the only thing that keeps me from becoming Fat Bastard.

The chance to ride these things every year or two is also a big compensation for leading the monastic and impecunious life of the itinerant motojournalist. Not only does that core group of enthusiasts keep these bikes alive at the big factories; it also assigns the best, freshest brains to try to outdo the competition. Keeping up with their thinking requires us old dogs to learn new tricks, which I’m convinced is a major component of keeping old dogs tricky.

The last time I was at a riding school must’ve been 10 years ago, when we were getting all our downshifting done before turning, then trail braking into the corner. This year at Auto Club Speedway, I was chit-chatting with Kawasaki’s Joey Lombardo, who’d been chit-chatting previously with former AMA roadracing champ Jason Pridmore about how the latest auto-shifters now allow us to shift (down, at least, with the lever unflipped) whenever the heck we feel like it, even mid-corner, and how lean-sensitive ABS has made trail-braking (which sounds suddenly kind of dainty) really just plain old braking hard all the way into the apex. Well, lean-sensitive ABS and really amazing tires make it possible.

Kawasaki Whisperer Joey Lombardo (talking to Aprilia guy Shane Pacillo) has an espresso-dispensing rolling hardware store along with all the latest helpful hardware hints.

Kawasaki Whisperer Joey Lombardo (talking to Aprilia guy Shane Pacillo) has an espresso-dispensing rolling hardware store along with all the latest helpful hardware hints.

I’ve been meaning to write a column about how tire warmers should just be banned, but since we had all seven Superbikes hooked up to them at Auto Club last week, what the heck: About session three on day one, I finally remembered to just blast off without taking it easy for a lap to let the tires warm up. I think I’d always depended on that out lap to let my brain get warm, too, but there’s no time for that in the modern world. (That could be another column; WFO on a cold brain.)

You still don’t have to have tire warmers if you’re just doing track days, of course, but you might as well not enter an actual race without them. And that’s true now as well of other technology like the quickshifter. On the road, I’m just as happy to blip the throttle a tad and downshift for myself, but at Fontucky there’s at least one place where that automatic smooth downshifter makes perfect sense. Since you can brake hard leaned way over now, you might want one more downshift just before the apex, and now you can have one without upsetting the chassis in the least: The Aprilia RSV4 was easiest for me to do that on, and the CBR Honda right behind it… the BMW is good, too, but the German bike insists you have the throttle all the way closed. Which is so typically German. (I always have the gas cracked a little, and usually dragging the rear brake, to combat the dread lurch when getting back into the gas.) Anyway, the other less-optioned-out base model bikes in the test suffered a bit by not having a quickshifter. Wait! I will speak no more about the upcoming track portion of the Superbike Schlongfest, since we haven’t posted it quite yet…

Upshifting, well, it’s not exactly the same as the seamless gearbox that MotoGP gets, but the quickshifter-equipped bikes let you just keep the throttle pinned, that is, if you had the courage to pin it in the first place. With a couple of these bikes knocking on the 180-horsepower door, you sort of feel like there’s plenty of accel at part throttle; are we sure we want all of it just now?

061417-whatever-superbikes-auto-club-speedway-map

Yes, yes we do! We’ve got traction control! Turn 2 feels like you could get off and walk, since you just came off the banking doing 170, but turn 3 is a paved Sacramento Mile, a big left where you just feed the bike gears starting from second like stoking a steam locomotive, and you’re turning left long enough to have time to climb off the side of the bike like Marquez even if you move over there at sloth pace. Years ago on a literbike, turn 3 was sphincter-clenchville. On these bikes with TC, it is moto-nirvana, feeling the rear tire slip and grip in a way that used to require real expertise. Now all you have to do is roll the gas on, though smoothly is probably still important. These bikes teach you how much traction a motorcycle has. Now that my brain is coming up to temperature, I catch and pass the fat man on the Ducati who’d been blasting past me all morning Ahahhahaaaa…

Hah! It’s such a rush you don’t want to let go of the gas pedal, which takes us full circle to appreciating once again the miracle of lean-sensitive ABS (try to remember which bikes have it and which one you’re on) and the ability to downshift at full lean (on the bikes with up-and-down quickshifters), as turn 4 is in your face quicker than it was the previous lap. Toward the end of day two, instead of two downshifts before turn 4, it’s one before Turn 4 and one more downshift halfway round it (thank you, Joey); that gets these bikes lifting the front wheel down that next little straight (and you can’t go over backwards thanks to wheelie control) wooohoooo, who knew I was so damn good?

Well, of course I’m not and never was: It’s the bike(s). Just about everybody in the fast group passed me, and though we decided we wouldn’t be able to use lap times for the big shootout (because a few sessions were spoiled due to crashes and an oil spill), I did learn from BMW rep (and WERA fast guy) Steven Weir, that my fastest lap on the Beemer was about 14 seconds off an actual competitive one. A lifetime, really, but I swear if I had two more days I would find those 14 seconds somewhere!

Also I can quit whenever I want to. You begin to understand why serious racers will rob and steal to support their habit. That’s the effect these motorcycles have on the psyche, and why we’re hooked on them like no others. They’re the green light at the end of the pier; we’re Gatsby but less dead. It eluded us this time, but no matter, tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . And then one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Hah! Chrissy documented me passing at least one person on her cell phone! That, or he’s going around the outside…

Hah! Chrissy documented me passing at least one person on her cell phone! That, or he’s going around the outside…

Hey, I like the past. But open-class sportbikes just keep getting better. At my age, they may be the best part of the future. They’re incredibly exhilarating, the most intense fun you can have on two wheels and, no, you are not too old. These things will take years off your life. I got your adventure-bike right here.

  • JMDGT

    I will always lust after the newest superbike. I may like my bikes more naked these days but who can resist a beautiful full function modern technology sport machine. Not me.

  • Chris

    Preach it, my brother!

  • John B.

    You sure can write! I hope your son heeds your advice at least with respect to writing. Sometimes the young bulls don’t want to hear old bull stories.

  • Max Wellian

    You can have my share. Didn’t even like the pretzel boy thing when I was boy as pliable as dough. These days, insurance for the torture devices is just too much dough.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      What about speeding tickets? (Got one today).

      • Max Wellian

        Or worse, reckless driving tickets for popping wheelies. Of course these days with all the nanny controls, that’s probably not as big of a deal.

    • Mad4TheCrest

      Max, my insurance went up when I switched from an 1198 Ducati to a Triumph Street Triple 675cc. Turns out some insurance companies go by stats on claims attached to a model of bike and not displacement or performance, so … don’t give up hope for affordable insurance for that liter-class hyperbike if you really want one 🙂

  • LOL at “Schlongfest.” Did I ever tell you I misused the word “schlep” and David Edwards corrected it? True story.

    • john burns

      He was putting you through the infamous CW schlep test.

      • And then Paul Dean told me to not use Yiddish, because the readers just want information, preferably in non-archaic language.

        • john burns

          the constant struggle to not over-entertain the reader remains a CW hallmark to this day.

          • Buzz

            I hear they’re banning the use of “silky-smooth” transmission because it’s just too cray cray.

      • Thad Stelly

        Er…

      • john burns

        DE was a great editor, tho, he put out a good magazine and gave me some of my best assignments/best stories. The pre-www era!

        • Mad4TheCrest

          DE was a stabilizing influence, maybe too stabilizing in the long run I guess, but as a fan I liked the mix of content he helped establish.

  • Lisa Glover

    WFO on a cold brain. That is priceless.

  • Old MOron

    Of all the MOronic goodness I’ve read over the years, may this episode of “Whatever” always exist. Preserved in the ether for ever and ever, may Google always be able to find it.

  • DL Nielsen

    Even though I don’t like the riding position of a sportbike, or superbike, I love their derivatives: Aprilia Tuonos, Yamaha FZ-1s, er FZ-10s, etc. Without the superbike, there wouldn’t be the more comfortable (relatively speaking) go-fast naked version. So in that respect, I do like superbikes, long may they live. And us enthusiasts, too. 🙂

  • jjjjjjay

    Following Whatever! with “I could be wrong”… kind of dissimilar tones…haha… However! The rest of the spiel gets us all going in the best possible register, impossible cravings. Never fulfilled, satiated only on rare days, and only more trouble where those came from, but what trouble!

  • Mad4TheCrest

    Damn, Burns, you are wrecking my carefully thought-out rationale that led me to downsize from a liter-class sport bike to a mid-size naked (it is sporty, though). Seems like just yesterday you were extolling the virtues of bikes with no more than 100 bhp on these pages, and making me feel smug about my decision. Now you are making me reconsider and review my accounts to see if I can swing one of these electronically-guided missles. If I succumb and shell out, I may need you to explain to my wife.

    • john burns

      Sorry, Mad. I don’t know what came over me… tell her your doctor prescribed it instead of testosterone replacement therapy.