The return of the sensible sportswoman – Editorial n° 165
The editor’s column, first published in issue 165:
Sport bikes never went away, they just got more radical.
Going fast on a motorcycle is one of the pleasures of riding. Feel the wind, hear the noise, enjoy the rush of endorphins when you put the throttle on, get the bike going, rock it hard in the turns, find the edge of your tires, your performance and capability.
It’s not really about outright speed – you went faster on a plane. Airbus is however a very well named company, because it has never sought to raise the heart rate of its passengers, despite traveling at hundreds of kilometers per hour.
Second gear through a racetrack hairpin can be a lot more energizing, even if you’re likely to be doing less than 80 km/h.
About 20 years ago, sports bikes were turning into racing bikes. The process actually started before that—Ducati fans refer to the 1970s 900SS as a bike that was somehow race-ready out of the crate.
The reality was that Ducati’s quality control was so poor that many machines required a complete check, tightening and almost reassembly before a smart person took one anywhere near a racetrack, but you understand my drift.
But in 1985, Suzuki introduced the GSX-R750, and it really was a game-changer. Loosely based on endurance racers of the day, it had an aluminum chassis, full racing fairing, clip-on handlebars and a high-performance engine.
Compared to other production bikes turned into racers of the time, it definitely looked like the commodity. And he’s still in production today, one of the cutest runway refugees you’ll find.
On a circuit, I have always liked the GSX-R750. More torque and less frantic than the Supersport 600s and nowhere near as intimidating as the 1100 and 1000, the 750 was easier to ride than both. With only one season of Formula 3 two-stroke racing under my knee scrapers, I could never get the most out of the 600 or the 1000: the 750 was a great balance.
Of course, I couldn’t get the most out of a 750 either, but I felt smoother and faster.
Over time sport bikes became more and more trail focused as I got older and grumpier, muscles screaming in protest (usually the next day) at the abuse of moving around on the bike multiple times. times per turn.
Riding each new generation of racing machines was a privilege, and as the electronics improved, I got faster while feeling safer. No more unexpected sphincter-kinking power slips as power overtook traction while already riding at the limit of my ability.
Driving the GSX-R1000 and FZR1000 at Oran Park in the 1990s had been downright scary, driving the ZX-10R at Sepang in 2015 was exhilarating. Traction control, modern tires and my own maturity made this day one of the highlights of my career as a motorcycle journalist.
Fast forward to today and my track time is quite limited, so the opportunity to race the new Yamaha R7 at Sydney Motorsport Park should not be passed up.
I had an absolute blast.
Compared to the ZX-10R, or even the last decent ride I had on what was known as the Eastern Creek Grand Prix circuit on an R6, the R7 has a basic chassis, low horsepower, rudimentary suspension and electronics that have no rider assistance beyond ABS.
Keeping a throttle pinned for more than a split second is a rewarding experience. I could do it multiple times per lap on the R7. I accelerated a little early coming out of the slow hairpin and the tire shook in protest, but that was just a reminder that smoothness is fast. Erratic is not.
Speed, of course, is relative. I’ve done a lot of laps at racetracks, although they’ve spanned over 30 years. I could tell without looking closely that some of the people I was sharing the tarmac with that day hadn’t done a lot of time on the slopes…if I passed them in the twisty bits they would come back racing down the straight, the R7 in the lead at 213 km/h on its digital speedo.
I would often catch them in the first turn, where I could let off the throttle and tip the lightweight Yamaha around without much effort on the brakes (of course a better rider than me would hold the throttle longer on the straight and use their brakes to get the right corner entry speed).
“…smooth is fast. Erratic is not.
But it was turn two, an uphill left-hander, that really sorts out the experienced from the newbies. I was often confused by the lines these riders took, so much so that I often slowed down and waited for them to move, even waiting for the exit of the corner when I put the throttle earlier and drove hard, to manage to turn three more early or use the pace to get past so I can lead them into Turn 4.
Doing this showed how skill and experience are more important than power. And how to drive an R7 lets you develop those skills in a non-threatening way. How the difference between the slowest I went and the fastest I did on any given lap was a much smaller gap than so many riders on super-powered machines who could descend the straight line at warp speed but seemed to work at the rhythm of the turns.
The R7 is one of a small but growing group of sportbikes that don’t try to deliver the last word in performance. They offer real performance, are not very uncomfortable, are affordable and look good.
I had a great time on the track and I was surprised the following days that I didn’t feel as tired as I expected, which is probably also due to the bike: it’s not as demanding physically to ride than faster bikes.
– Nigel Paterson.
Photography by Colin Chan