Categories: Features
3 years ago | Updated 3 years ago

Whatever! – Too Much Fun

You really do have to be careful what you wish for. Before I came to 1.5 years ago, my tastefully graying hair had me relegated to “testing” the occasional cruiser or scooter at the Big Magazine when nobody more competent could be found. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was shuffling around the office rooting through musty old files in my slippers, Bartleby the Scrivener style, to put together some sort of retrospective. Or maybe rounding up six old superbikes from my era and getting them running so the popular kids could go out and ride them. It was very, ahhh, peaceful. It felt like the long slide toward the abyss had begun…

Cut to one week ago, Laguna Seca raceway, and the 2015 MO Open Class Comparison! (which will be posted sometime next week). As the Yamaha R1 growled onto the front straight out of Turn 11, skimming its front wheel a few inches off the pavement (no special skills required, thanks to a surfeit of horsepower and wheelie control) and shifted itself into third with just a suggestion from my toe (electronic quickshifter), hurling me under the bridge at 130 or more mph and over the blind rise of Turn 1, I once again asked myself the question that often pops into my head riding bikes like these: Why doesn’t somebody take this thing away from me?

I never was the fastest motorcycle rider even before I became eligible to order from the senior menu at Denny’s, but I’m not the slowest one either – and we also brought along a special guest tester who knows his way around Laguna better than most. It would cause legal problems if I inserted a picture of Calvin & Hobbes airborne in their flaming sled here, but that’s exactly how I felt at various points around Laguna Seca; eyes wide open, hair on end, and for a few laps at a time, truly “in the moment” as the gurus say, in high-speed pursuit of the rest of the (mostly faster, dammit) MO crew and our special guest tester from Salinas. We’re not in the library anymore.

The MO crew swings into action. Also the Kawasaki crew (Joey Lombardo, hiding) and the Aprilia crew (Shane Pacillo and Alex Frantz, behind their bike). Honda sent Rick Zwart in a downsized race transporter (Sprinter van) with a spare CBR.

It’s pretty sweet that traction control, lean-sensitive ABS and IMUs have all gotten here just in time to save me from myself, but at a price: The bikes go a lot faster than they used to. Laguna Seca’s always been infamous for its elevation changes, but the rates of climb and descent have gone from propeller to jet age since last time I rode here. (The last time may have been new GSX-R1100s, on Dunlop D204 tires, when street motorcycles couldn’t possibly get any faster!) Not only just after the Turn 1 hump, but climbing the hill toward the also-blind Corkscrew feels like a great leap of faith: You actually have to wait for the weight of the bike to come back to earth before mashing the brakes. After the Corkscrew, the gentle downslope through Rainey Curve has become a roller coaster plunge, and that positive-cambered curve now looks like the Wall of Death. The physics of the thing all the way around feel multiplied by about 2. It would be interesting to compare my lap times to the ones I did on a Honda RS125 during an AMA race in, I think, 1993; does 22 years plus 5 seconds quicker equal 110-times faster?

I could’ve ridden up in Troy Siahaan’s trusty ’94 Ranger the day before our track day, but rode up on the BMW S1000RR instead – largely because it was in my garage, and it’s the first “superbike” (I can remember) with electronic cruise control. The bike is pretty sporty ergonomically, but the ability not to have to hold the throttle on all the time does wonders for making it not so bad at all over the course of a 400-mile day. I’d wanted to go one of a few back ways, but a flight delay getting home from the Catalunya GP late the night before meant I didn’t get a very good drive out of the house the next morning and had to mostly blast up California 101 with the BMW’s CC set on 83. A beautiful ride even so.

The day after our Laguna Seca test (which wound up being a pretty long one since we changed all the bikes back into street tires at the end of it), I again had the option to throw the bike on back of Troy’s truck and myself into the cab. But there I was in Monterey with my choice of five of the greatest current-model sportbikes on the planet, right at the northern end of a magnificent stretch of Highway 1. How could I not ride a bike back to Orange County? I jumped on the CBR1000RR, Editor-in-Chief Duke on the BMW. In a car, you’d be frustrated by the slow-rolling tourists. On these bikes, we barely noticed them.

Jay McNally himself, of McNally Multimedia, wanted to shoot us on Highway 1, but a problem with one of the bikes meant we shot him instead on the way home. Yes that’s a Yamaha R3 jacket.

That was a Thursday, followed by 2.25 entire days of rest and no motorcycles (save for the Honda PCX150 I used to gather Father’s Day supplies; the weekend before had been the Catalunya GP, and the one before that the Sacramento Mile). But on Monday, it was back on the Superbikes again for some street riding and video/photo gathering – a day which began at 7:30 am at the MotoGPWerks dyno, and ended over 12 hours later in the San Bernardino Mountains after riding all over God’s SoCal creation, including up and over the most excellent Angeles Crest Highway.

After the photographers had used up, as my old pal Tim Carrithers used to say, “the final photon” of available light, we all rode back down the mountain in the dark, followed by a brisk ride over the freeway system homeward with myself on the Honda and Dirty Sean Alexander on the Panigale. I haven’t had a ticket in years, and I don’t know why? The older I get, the more the new motorcycles seem to want me to not waste any of the time I have left. Touch wood.

Sean Alexander, Editorial Director, worshipping his own God in his own way.

Today, I’m sitting here writing this column, but waiting for Brad from Kawasaki to call so I can ride our Vulcan S down and swap it for an H2! The fact that there is no MO HQ means we’re in a constant flurry of moto logistics; Tom Roderick tries to keep the spreadsheet updated so we all know who’s got which bike, which Duke and he use to figure out which comparison tests can happen when.

Video conferences are like comedic monologues: John, if you can take the FZ-09 to Evans (Burbank), then he can return it to Yamaha (Cypress) and pick up the Bolt C-Spec, while you pick up the NC700X at his house and swap for the CTX700 at Honda (Torrance). Drop off the CTX at Tom’s (Long Beach) and pick up the BMW. Then Tom and Evans can meet at MotoGPWerks (Anaheim) to dyno those bikes while you and Troy (Altadena) ride the BMW and the whatever … And everybody’s going on press junkets and having personal lives while all the plates are spinning. Anyway, if I’m not on a motorcycle three or four days a week, pinwheeling from place to place on everything from scooters to Panigales to Harley Street 750s, then it’s a slow week. But not as slow as one in the library. The more I ride, the younger I get. Lately I’m Calvin’s age on the inside, approximately six. But too old on the outside, sadly, to travel with a stuffed tiger.

Like the old Sinatra song says, ‘How lucky can one guy be?’

Tags: john burnsliterbikeshootoutwhatever