Friday, July 21, 2006

Flexi-flyer: Suzuki GSX-R750 (1985-87)

The very first GSX-R. The repli-racer-for-the-road saga begins...

This, the first GSX-R, was definitely was a head-banging, hell-raising, outlaw. The bike was very light for its time, what with Suzuki using an aluminium alloy chassis and magnesium bits in the engine. The bike featured oil cooling (called SACS – Suzuki Advanced Cooling System) for more efficient heat dissipation, stout, 41mm front forks, twin 300mm dia brake discs at front and those twin round headlamps which later became such a Gixxer styling trademark.

The bike’s 749cc, DOHC, 16-valve inline-four was peaky and made most of its power only in the higher reaches of its rev range, which made it a bit of pain to use around town. But then the GSX-R was never made for drop-the-kids-to-school or fetch-the-groceries duties. It was meant for the dedicated, hard-core sportsbike rider who was more interested in getting his knee down than cruising down some Euro-boulevard desperately trying to look cool. Back then, the metrosexual male hadn’t been invented yet and women only rode Vespa scooters. Twist the throttle hard and the GSX-R delivered, waking up at 7000rpm and then screaming all the way up to its 10,500rpm redline, by which time you’d be doing more than 200km/h.

As you would expect, the first GSX-R wasn’t anywhere near perfect. In trying to reduce weight, Suzuki had, perhaps, gone too far – the ‘perimeter’ alloy frame couldn’t cope with the power and was prone to flex, as were the rather skinny wheels of that era. There wasn’t a great deal of feedback from the chassis, the rear shock was too soft and had inadequate damping, and at times, the brakes could be a bit temperamental! But while all this made it tough to pretend you were a Barry Sheene for the road, there’s no getting away from the fact that this first GSX-R was a landmark machine. Future generations of motorcyclists would thank the Gixxer, and Suzuki, for the current, 180bhp, open-class two-wheeled rocketships we see today.

GSX-R 750 (models F, G and H)
Years: 1985 - 87
Power: 80bhp@10,500rpm
Weight: 176kg
Top Speed: 205km/h
0 – 400m: 12.65 seconds

Other GSX-R stories:
Twenty years of the Suzuki GSX-R
Late 1980s/early 1990s GSX-Rs
GSX-R1000 vs Westfield XTR4 video!
Late 1990s GSX-R
Limited edition GSX-R Phantom


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gunslinger: Suzuki GSX-R750 (1988-91 models)


The 1988 Suzuki GSX-R750 'Slingshot'

In addition to SACS and Hyper Sports, this Suzuki GSX-R also had ‘Slingshot’ emblazoned on its flanks. This came from the bike’s redesigned Mikuni carburetors, which had straighter intakes for better combustion efficiency. This GSX-R, with its then radical, all-new styling, looked menacing. Mess with it and it would kill you.

Power was up to a real world 92 horsepower and the bike was capable of doing more than 230km/h in a straight line. The new, shorter stroke 749cc inline-four got a new bottom end (adapted from Suzuki’s own GSX-R1100), revved quicker and higher than the old model’s engine and was less peaky. While the older GSX-R didn’t wake up at all before 7,000 revs, the new one started making its grunt from 5,000rpm onwards – a big improvement for low speed, city riding. In a surprise move though, the M model went back to a longer stroke engine (perhaps to improve rideability and further reduce peakiness…?), which also made a genuine 100bhp for the first time.

The bike’s chassis was a strengthened, beefed-up version of the first GSX-R’s perimeter alloy frame, and steering geometry was made more radical in order to quicken the steering. The M version was the first production motorcycle to get upside-down (USD) front forks, which are now almost ubiquitous on all sports machinery. The ‘Slingshot’ GSX-R also got wider wheels, stickier rubber and higher-spec, multi-adjustable suspension – all of which helped in making it a better tool for the racetrack, where a lot of these bikes ended up being used. With its near unburstable engine and its proclivity for wheelies, stoppies and other acts of assorted two-wheeled hooliganism, this was a ‘proper’ Gixxer and a worthy successor to the first bike.

GSX-R 750 (models J, K, L and M)
Years:
1988 - 91
Power: 92bhp
Weight: 208kg
Top Speed: 235km/h
0 – 400m: 12.22 seconds

Right click and download a motorcycle-usa.com roadtest video of the 2006 Suzuki GSX-R1000 here


An old sketch of the Slingshot GSX-R, which I made in 1992
This video shows 20 years of evolution of the GSX-R...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

MV Agusta: You've come a long way baby!


On top of our list of lust-worthy MVs is, of course, the very beautiful MV Agusta F4 1000, a more powerful version of the earlier F4 750, which was, by far, the most mind-blowingly beautiful motorcycle to ever come out of Italy. And the 1000 continues to flaunt the same lines. It’s amazing, really – the 750 made its debut way back in 1997. Giacomo Agostini, who won multiple motorcycle roadracing world championships on MV Agusta bikes in the 1960s, unveiled the F4 Series d’Oro at Milan Show back then. And yet, the shape looks so terrific even now. I guess Tamburini has something special. He knows how to pen lines that stir our souls. Or maybe it’s something about Varese, in Italy, where the MV Agusta factory is situated.

To come to the bike itself, the 1000 has better ergonomics and is more comfortable than the old 750. Its 998cc inline-four revs to 11,750rpm, produces 166 horsepower, and the bike will do close to 290km/h. Plus, it’s littered with those desirable little bits which make it so lust-worthy – the exquisite chrome-moly chassis, 50mm Marzocchi USD front forks, beautifully machined alloys, and single-sided swingarm. Anything that can make a Japanese 1000cc superbike seem commonplace has got to be something really special. The MV Agusta F4 1000 S is that something. Italian motorcycles rock!

Below are some pics of an MV Agusta F4 in Rothmans livery. Yeah, Rothmans-liveried Fireblades we've seen, but an MV F4 in Rothmans colours? That's a first!  :-)

image host image host image host

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Striking Trike

My friend (and ex-colleague at CAR India) Jayesh, having a go on Timothy's trike!

Ex-motocross racer, ex-stuntman, motorcycle workshop owner and talented moto-craftsman he may be, but the most notable thing about Timothy Lewis is his ever-ready laugh and his infectious enthusiasm for motorcycles. And since he’s never satisfied with stock, he’s always looking at building something new, doing something nobody’s tried before. Money is not a driving factor for him – if he thinks he’ll enjoy building something, he’ll go ahead and build it anyway. Which is why this three-wheeled contraption exists. I asked him why he built this machine. He laughed and shot back, ‘why not?!’ Can I ride it? 'Yeah, sure!'

So we find ourselves on the Bandra-Worli sealink at six in the morning. As photographer Pratul sets up his photo equipment, there is already a crowd gathering around Tim’s trike. People want to touch it. Sit on it. Someone asks me when the machine is being launched in India. Another one wants to know how much it’ll cost. Timothy is standing on one side, smiling quietly. In the meanwhile, Jayesh (who’s now studying at IIM and is an MBA in the making…) has donned his jacket and helmet and is ready to ride the trike for pictures. And he actually manages to pull away without stalling the engine. Bravo! After a few runs up and down the sealink, security guards arrive on the scene to chase us away. We take the action to Bandstand, in Bandra. The crowds continue to gape and point. For those 30 minutes, Jayesh is Shah Rukh Khan.

But to come back to the machine itself, it’s no ordinary bodge-chop job. It’s been done with care and is finished quite well. The engine has been taken from a Maruti 800 and is fitted with a high-lift camshaft, resulting in a slight increase in power. Start the thing and it throbs quietly, while Timothy tells us it’s very reliable. I’m sure it is. The front forks are really long and the bottom legs are taken from a Honda CBR1000F. The front wheel is a 15-incher, clad in meaty Dunlop 170/80R15 rubber. Steering this thing takes some doing, believe me.

The gearbox is from a Maruti Omni, and transfers power – through an Omni differential – to the rear wheels. Which, by the way, have been taken off a Mazda Miata. You operate the clutch with your left hand and shift gears with your right, using a Premier Padmini’s column-shifter. Of course, shifting gears requires the rider to let go of the handlebar, which is a bit disconcerting. As this… vehicle gathers speed, it becomes increasingly disconcerting to let go of the handlebar and shift up another cog. Thank god for the M800 engine, because with anything more powerful, things would have been terrifying. Especially given that the only brakes here are from a Bajaj autorickshaw. ‘These would have been sufficient for a Bullet 500 engine, which I was planning to use earlier,’ explains Timothy. Oh, well.

We’re hungry by now, so we troop into an Irani joint for a spot of breakfast. Over Keema Pao, masala omelettes, bun maska and tea, we ask Tim what’s next on his list. What’ll he come up with next? ‘That,’ he says with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘is a secret! But I can assure you that nobody in India has tried anything like it before.’ And he laughs.

Timothy, the builder of this three-wheeled special, can be reached on +91-9820241057

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Campagna T-Rex: Three-wheeled madness




It costs US$50,000, has three wheels, and looks as dramatic as a Lamborghini Diablo. And, oh, it almost goes as hard as one too!

The Campagna T-Rex is powered by a Kawasaki ZZR1200 inline-four, which makes 152 horsepower. It's Canadian creator, Daniel Campagna, spent more than eight years designing and developing the T-Rex. Daniel has done time as mechanic to Formula 1 legend, Gilles Villeneuve, so he'd know a thing or two about high-performance machines. And indeed, the T-Rex goes from zero to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and hits a top speed of 240km/h. It weighs only 408 kilos, so acceleration, while not in the same league as the newest litre-class superbikes, is still tremendous. Plus, it seats two people in comfort. One more addition to my dream garage...!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Rider Alert!


Next time, also wear a jacket and a helmet...

A few months ago, we saw a summary of the latest MAIDS (Motorcycle Accidents In Depth Study) report, which is funded by the Association of European Motorcycle Manufacturers (ACEM), and is perhaps Europe's most thorough study of motorcycle accidents. Based on investigations of 921 motorcycle accidents (including 103 fatalities) in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, the study throws up findings that could be useful for two-wheeler riders everywhere – despite obvious differences in machinery, state of roads, traffic behaviour patterns and various other factors.

According to the study, passenger cars are something two-wheeler riders must be really wary of – most collisions happen due to car drivers failing to see riders at all. But don’t blame everything on the driver – rider inattention was deemed to be the cause of accidents in almost 11 percent of the crashes.

How about speed, the universally-maligned factor when it comes to mishaps? According to MAIDS, more than outright speed, it’s the sudden stop, which gives little or no time for the driver of the following vehicle to react, that causes accidents. However, the study does note that big speed differentials – going significantly faster or slower than surrounding traffic – is a major factor that was responsible for causing 18 percent of all crashes studied. Also, as you would expect, severity of injuries goes up sharply with crash speed, so think before winding open that throttle.

In the study, nine percent of helmeted riders who crashed lost their helmets during the crash – either because they didn't fit properly or because they weren’t fastened properly – so buckle up! And if you’re thinking of drinking, then riding, you’re an idiot – the MAIDS study showed that five percent of those who crashed had been drinking.

There are other factors to consider. Tyre failure caused 3.6 percent of the accidents), brake failure caused 1.2 percent of the crashes, and tricky weather was deemed the culprit in 7.5 percent of the cases. Keep your eyes wide open while crossing intersections – that’s where over 50 percent of all accidents happened. MAIDS also says that untrained riders are more likely to panic and crash, while riders who had undergone some kind of formal training were more likely to take some avoidance action.

Speed restrictions are easy to clamp on, but they don’t always work. Two-wheeler manufacturers and government bodies need to work together, promote rider safety training programs and perhaps even reward riders who go for these training programs, by having policies which dictate lower insurance premiums for properly trained riders.

Sure we love our motorcycles and there is absolutely no need to panic and start thinking of giving up riding. Just be aware of the dangers that exist and on the road, be supremely alert, ride defensively and be safe. We owe it those who love us.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Suzuki GSX-R750: Twenty years of sportsbike supremacy

The 1985 GSX-R750 had 80 horsepower, weighed 175 kilos, did the standing quarter-mile in 12.65 seconds and had a top speed of 205km/h

With Suzuki lavishing cutting-edge sportsbike technologies on the GSX-R750 right from the word go, the Gixxer was destined for greatness right from the beginning. First shown in 1984 at the Cologne Motor Show in Germany, the first Suzuki GSX-R750 arrived like a rude jolt to the motorcycling world’s collective consciousness. It looked like a ‘proper’ racebike and with a claimed 100PS (more like 70-75PS in the real world) on tap, went like one too. Well, almost. When it went on sale in 1985, the GSX-R750 gave other sportsbike manufacturers a new role model to look up to, and priced at the equivalent of around Rs 2.5 lakh at that time, it was a machine which enthusiasts could actually afford to buy, run and god forbid, even crash…

There have been other greats in the 750cc superbike class – the Honda VFR 750R (RC30), the Yamaha FZR 750RR (OW01) and the Kawasaki ZXR 750 (later, the ZX-7R and ZX-7RR) were also instrumental in pushing the power/performance envelope ever further. But gradually, over the years, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki have given up on the 750 class, choosing instead to concentrate on 600cc and 1000cc machines. Ever since Honda launched the CBR 900RR in 1992, the Tadao Baba engineered Fireblade has set the tone for modern-day open-class superbikes. Those looking at reasonably high levels of performance combined with light weight and agile flickability buy 600cc ‘supersport’ machines, while those looking at ultimate tyre-shredding performance go for 1000cc superbikes. So it’s no surprise that most manufacturers have, more or less, abandoned the 750 class. And that makes me admire Suzuki even more for sticking to their guns and still continuing to make an absolutely cracking 750.


Actually, many believe that a 750 still offers the best balance between the light weight and the handling advantages of a 600 and the outright power of a 1000. In fact, even Kevin Schwantz (FIM 500cc Motorcycle GP world champion, with Suzuki, in 1993), who rides all GSX-R bikes regularly, admits that the 750 is the one which is the handiest and which allows him to really exploit its power to the fullest.

The latest 2006 model K6 GSX-R 750s have been worthy successors to the first 1985 Gixxer. The legendary blue/white colour scheme continues to this day and looks better than ever before. Styling is now based on Suzuki’s MotoGP bikes, what with the GSX-R getting a short, low-slung muffler, super-slim fairing, nose-down stance and lines dictated by advanced aerodynamics. With each passing year, the GSX-R750 becomes quicker, faster, more flickable, and better handling than ever before – all essential ingredients for that distilled GSX-R750 experience. Like it’s been for the last 20 years, the current GSX-R750 continues to offer the best of both worlds – the light weight, agility and flickability of 600cc machines, and the awesome power of 1000s. I want one... :-)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Wayne’s World


Wayne Gardner, 500cc world champ in 1987...

Before Mick Doohan came along and won five consecutive 500cc motorcycle racing world championship titles, there was another Australian who took the 500cc crown Down Under. Wayne Gardner, who won the 500cc championship in 1987 on a Honda, was a spectacular racer and a tough guy to the core – a man known for his ‘win, or die trying’ attitude which he brought to the racetrack. In fact, along with Kevin Schwantz, Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson, Gardner was one of the top motorcycle GP racers of the 1980s.

The wild one, from Woollongong, Australia, got his first podium finish back in the late 1970s, aboard a privateer Yamaha TZ250, soon after which he started racing 350cc and 750cc machines as well. By the early 1980s, Gardner was racing against men like Kenny Roberts, Randy Mamola and Barry Sheene. He was racing in the British Superbike championship and the British TT Formula One championship in 1983 and took 7th place in the 500cc world championship in 1984, the year when Eddie Lawson took his first 500cc crown.

In 1985 and 1986, Gardner took 4th and 2nd place respectively in the 500cc GP class, and was finally 500cc world champ in 1987, also winning a couple of Suzuka 8-hour races in Japan along the way! Gardner continued to race motorcycles till 1992, when he announced his retirement. He was 2nd in the 1988 500 cc world championship, 10th in 1989, 5th in 1990 and 1991, and 6th in 1992, his final year in 500s. He later moved on to racing cars, but even though I don’t know if he’ll ever admit it, I’d bet the maximum amount of fun he ever had was racing motorcycles.

Recently, in a dream-come-true moment, we had a chance to do a quick interview with Wayne. Here's what the man had to say:

Wayne, do you watch MotoGP these days?

Yes, I follow MotoGP closely. I watch all the races on TV and I go to Phillip Island when they are racing down there.

From the mid-1980s to today, what're the biggest changes that have happened in top-flight motorcycle GP racing?

The sport is a lot more professional now, in the sense that there is more money, bigger teams, and bigger budgets. Coverage has increased, speed and technology has advanced. But there isn’t the same camaraderie as there was when I was racing.

Is the rider/team/race organiser relationship the same as it was 20 years ago?

Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years. Since Dorna came in, and has controlling rights over the sport, it is now a lot more professional. It is a lot more money-orientated now, which is really a good thing as far giving the sport a higher profile. But the problem is, Dorna are trying to emulate Formula One standards. I don’t think this concept will totally succeed as it is an entirely different industry. I guess we’ll just wait and see what happens.

Which current day MotoGP rider do you admire most?

Definitely Valentino! I am a huge fan of Rossi and it would have been fun racing against him as he is safe, and fast, and enjoys his racing.

What's more important in racing – man or machine?

The man. The rider puts in at least 70 percent of the result. The team and machine make up the other 30 percent.

Do you, in some way, continue to be associated with HRC?

No, I have no business association, just continuing friendship with some of the Honda staff...


This is the man in whose footsetps Casey Stoner must follow...

Do you think MotoGP is moving in the right direction?

No, I don’t feel it’s moving in the right direction. I think they should have stayed with the 1000cc capacity and tried to reduce the speed by some sort of restrictors, be it air restrictors, or fuel capacities etc. Because going to 800cc is just going to dramatically increase the cost of the sport. The engineering costs will make it extremely difficult for the manufacturers to be able to afford to continue racing at such a high level. This isn’t Formula One!

Your thoughts on World Superbike racing...?

I follow Superbike racing and I think it’s a great series at a relatively controlled cost level. It did lose some steam when it was just a Ducati race, but now that the Japanese manufacturers are in with their 4-cylinder bikes, and also the introduction of controlled tyres (Pirelli) for all the riders, it’s now producing some great racing and is a great breeding ground for future MotoGP racing champions.

Do you ever go to watch motorcycle stunt shows?

I don’t go to stunt shows but I have a great appreciation for the guys who can do those tricks. I wish I could do them!!! Evel Knievel would have to be my favourite stunt rider.

Which motorcycle manufacturer's work do you admire most? Why?

Honda. From what I know about Honda, and their direction and their quality of people, I believe they have the most advanced engine design and engineering in the world.

What do you think of 1000cc, 180-horsepower sportsbikes being available to the average rider?

It’s not a good thing. They are hugely powerful bikes, and fun to ride, but very dangerous to the irresponsible average rider. I’ve been saying for the past few years that the governments will eventually wake up to how powerful and dangerous these machines are and will start to govern the machine by power outlet, or some form of licensing restriction, a bit like when you are restricted when you have your learner’s licence. The 1000cc motorcycles should only be for the highly experienced and sensible rider.

Did you ever feel scared when you were racing?

Yes! But it is very important to feel fear in motorcycle racing as it gives you respect for the motorcycle.

In racing, what was more difficult for you – the physical part (training, diet etc) or the mental part?

The physical part and dieting was the most difficult for me. I enjoyed the mental competition. I am highly competitive by nature and hate losing.

Who were your toughest competitors ever?

Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.

What is your opinion of some of the recently constructed racing circuits in China and the Middle-East?

I think it’s great. It’s great to see the Middle-East and Asian countries taking an interest in the sport as this just broadens the interest around the world, which is a great thing. I have never ridden on their tracks, but I would love to at some stage in my life….before I get too old!!!

Quick Shift
Current street ride: Honda CBR1000
2-strokes or 4-strokes: 4-strokes
Cruisers – yes or no: No
All-time favourite racing motorcycle: 1992 NSR 500 and Honda RVF
Most memorable race ever: 1989, Phillip Island
The motorcycle racer you admire most: Valentino Rossi
All-time favourite street motorcycle: Honda CBR1000 and MV Augusta F4 1000
Ferrari or Lamborghini: Ferrari
Favourite food: Italian and Thai
Most memorable post-race party: World Championship Party in Brazil – 1987
Isle of Man TT or the Paris-Dakar: Paris-Dakar


Here, go for a ride with Wayne Gardner on his Honda NSR500!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Urban Mobility: Are Two-Wheelers The Ultimate Solution?


This Erion-tuned CBR929RR really should be ideal for any daily commute...

Rising prices of petrol and diesel, and traffic congestion that’s getting unbearable - these are just two factors that are making cars almost redundant for many. It doesn’t matter anymore whether I can or cannot afford to buy a car. It doesn’t even matter that my employers offer to pay for the fuel. What matters is traffic in Mumbai (where I used to live, before I moved to Pune three months ago...), which gets worse every day. At any given point, any day of the week, roads are clogged to bursting point with cars, UVs, autorickshaws, trucks, buses and two-wheelers. It’s one gigantic, smoke spewing, honking, weaving, swearing, struggling, simmering cauldron of catastrophe. And I haven’t even started talking about the months when it’s raining.

For me, and I’m sure countless other people in Mumbai, getting from home to office and back every day is one big challenge. Is there a solution? Clean, quick and efficient public transport systems – those that aren’t crowded enough to make you dread going to work – will happen when (and if at all…) they happen. In the meanwhile, perhaps it’s time for a lot of car users to start looking at the humble old two-wheeler all over again. Traffic congestion and parking woes are less of a problem on nifty little scooters and motorcycles, and you’ll be burning less fuel in the process. In fact, according to one research report which I read recently, two-wheelers account for only one percent of the fuel consumption in individual modes of transport, 0.5 percent of total road transport NOx emissions, and 1.6 percent of the total PM emissions. A large part of this can probably be attributed to two-stroke engines having died out in most countries. Also, these figures are for the European market and I do suppose they might be higher for India, but you’ll probably agree that these facts and figures should command some serious attention from road users everywhere.

Of late, there’s been a significant increase in motorcycling in several countries in Europe, with people turning to motorcycles to beat traffic congestion during their daily commute. We are talking about people who can easily afford to buy one or more cars (and most of whom already do own at least one car), and yet, these people are turning to small two-wheelers for traveling within their cities. Already, some EU countries have a formal national strategy for promoting the use of motorcycles and scooters, along with clearly defined lines of action in terms of rider training, and smart traffic management which favours two-wheeler users. Policy makers in some of these countries have realised that greater adoption of two-wheelers, rather than space and fuel hogging four-wheelers, can greatly improve urban life, and hence, integrating two-wheelers in their transport policies has become a clear priority for them.

A recent survey carried out in Europe, for what was called the National Motorcycle Week, revealed that two-wheeler riders, as well as a large majority of non-riders, agree that the top three benefits of traveling to work on a two-wheeler are reduced journey time, reduced cost (compared with cars and/or public transport) and a general reduction in congestion on city roads. And as a reflection of that increasing general acceptance of two-wheelers as a more viable mode of city transport, sale of scooters in the UK has increased from 500 units in 1993, to 8,000 units in 2004. There’s also been a drop in new car registrations in the UK and in France. Cars have, indeed, served us very well for the last many decades, but given the ever-increasing congestion on our roads, how long will it be before the car simply ceases to be a viable mode of transport, at least in cities? Some major cities in the West levy ‘congestion charges’ on car users who use their vehicles in city centres during peak rush hours, and it seems inevitable that something on these lines will have to be done in India as well. If not now, maybe five years down the line.

With monthly sales of more than 6,000,000 units, India is already one of the biggest two-wheeler markets in the world, and it’s growing. Our Central and State governments should certainly ensure they include motorcycles and scooters in mainstream public transportation planning, and help create an environment that allows two-wheeler riders to commute easily and safely.

Urban Mobility: Are Two-Wheelers The Ultimate Solution?


This Erion-tuned CBR929RR really should be ideal for any daily commute...

Rising prices of petrol and diesel, and traffic congestion that’s getting unbearable - these are just two factors that are making cars almost redundant for many. It doesn’t matter anymore whether I can or cannot afford to buy a car. It doesn’t even matter that my employers offer to pay for the fuel. What matters is traffic in Mumbai (where I used to live, before I moved to Pune three months ago...), which gets worse every day. At any given point, any day of the week, roads are clogged to bursting point with cars, UVs, autorickshaws, trucks, buses and two-wheelers. It’s one gigantic, smoke spewing, honking, weaving, swearing, struggling, simmering cauldron of catastrophe. And I haven’t even started talking about the months when it’s raining.

For me, and I’m sure countless other people in Mumbai, getting from home to office and back every day is one big challenge. Is there a solution? Clean, quick and efficient public transport systems – those that aren’t crowded enough to make you dread going to work – will happen when (and if at all…) they happen. In the meanwhile, perhaps it’s time for a lot of car users to start looking at the humble old two-wheeler all over again. Traffic congestion and parking woes are less of a problem on nifty little scooters and motorcycles, and you’ll be burning less fuel in the process. In fact, according to one research report which I read recently, two-wheelers account for only one percent of the fuel consumption in individual modes of transport, 0.5 percent of total road transport NOx emissions, and 1.6 percent of the total PM emissions. A large part of this can probably be attributed to two-stroke engines having died out in most countries. Also, these figures are for the European market and I do suppose they might be higher for India, but you’ll probably agree that these facts and figures should command some serious attention from road users everywhere.

Of late, there’s been a significant increase in motorcycling in several countries in Europe, with people turning to motorcycles to beat traffic congestion during their daily commute. We are talking about people who can easily afford to buy one or more cars (and most of whom already do own at least one car), and yet, these people are turning to small two-wheelers for traveling within their cities. Already, some EU countries have a formal national strategy for promoting the use of motorcycles and scooters, along with clearly defined lines of action in terms of rider training, and smart traffic management which favours two-wheeler users. Policy makers in some of these countries have realised that greater adoption of two-wheelers, rather than space and fuel hogging four-wheelers, can greatly improve urban life, and hence, integrating two-wheelers in their transport policies has become a clear priority for them.

A recent survey carried out in Europe, for what was called the National Motorcycle Week, revealed that two-wheeler riders, as well as a large majority of non-riders, agree that the top three benefits of traveling to work on a two-wheeler are reduced journey time, reduced cost (compared with cars and/or public transport) and a general reduction in congestion on city roads. And as a reflection of that increasing general acceptance of two-wheelers as a more viable mode of city transport, sale of scooters in the UK has increased from 500 units in 1993, to 8,000 units in 2004. There’s also been a drop in new car registrations in the UK and in France. Cars have, indeed, served us very well for the last many decades, but given the ever-increasing congestion on our roads, how long will it be before the car simply ceases to be a viable mode of transport, at least in cities? Some major cities in the West levy ‘congestion charges’ on car users who use their vehicles in city centres during peak rush hours, and it seems inevitable that something on these lines will have to be done in India as well. If not now, maybe five years down the line.

With monthly sales of more than 6,000,000 units, India is already one of the biggest two-wheeler markets in the world, and it’s growing. Our Central and State governments should certainly ensure they include motorcycles and scooters in mainstream public transportation planning, and help create an environment that allows two-wheeler riders to commute easily and safely.

Urban Mobility: Are Two-Wheelers The Ultimate Solution?


This Erion-tuned CBR929RR really should be ideal for any daily commute...

Rising prices of petrol and diesel, and traffic congestion that’s getting unbearable - these are just two factors that are making cars almost redundant for many. It doesn’t matter anymore whether I can or cannot afford to buy a car. It doesn’t even matter that my employers offer to pay for the fuel. What matters is traffic in Mumbai (where I used to live, before I moved to Pune three months ago...), which gets worse every day. At any given point, any day of the week, roads are clogged to bursting point with cars, UVs, autorickshaws, trucks, buses and two-wheelers. It’s one gigantic, smoke spewing, honking, weaving, swearing, struggling, simmering cauldron of catastrophe. And I haven’t even started talking about the months when it’s raining.

For me, and I’m sure countless other people in Mumbai, getting from home to office and back every day is one big challenge. Is there a solution? Clean, quick and efficient public transport systems – those that aren’t crowded enough to make you dread going to work – will happen when (and if at all…) they happen. In the meanwhile, perhaps it’s time for a lot of car users to start looking at the humble old two-wheeler all over again. Traffic congestion and parking woes are less of a problem on nifty little scooters and motorcycles, and you’ll be burning less fuel in the process. In fact, according to one research report which I read recently, two-wheelers account for only one percent of the fuel consumption in individual modes of transport, 0.5 percent of total road transport NOx emissions, and 1.6 percent of the total PM emissions. A large part of this can probably be attributed to two-stroke engines having died out in most countries. Also, these figures are for the European market and I do suppose they might be higher for India, but you’ll probably agree that these facts and figures should command some serious attention from road users everywhere.

Of late, there’s been a significant increase in motorcycling in several countries in Europe, with people turning to motorcycles to beat traffic congestion during their daily commute. We are talking about people who can easily afford to buy one or more cars (and most of whom already do own at least one car), and yet, these people are turning to small two-wheelers for traveling within their cities. Already, some EU countries have a formal national strategy for promoting the use of motorcycles and scooters, along with clearly defined lines of action in terms of rider training, and smart traffic management which favours two-wheeler users. Policy makers in some of these countries have realised that greater adoption of two-wheelers, rather than space and fuel hogging four-wheelers, can greatly improve urban life, and hence, integrating two-wheelers in their transport policies has become a clear priority for them.

A recent survey carried out in Europe, for what was called the National Motorcycle Week, revealed that two-wheeler riders, as well as a large majority of non-riders, agree that the top three benefits of traveling to work on a two-wheeler are reduced journey time, reduced cost (compared with cars and/or public transport) and a general reduction in congestion on city roads. And as a reflection of that increasing general acceptance of two-wheelers as a more viable mode of city transport, sale of scooters in the UK has increased from 500 units in 1993, to 8,000 units in 2004. There’s also been a drop in new car registrations in the UK and in France. Cars have, indeed, served us very well for the last many decades, but given the ever-increasing congestion on our roads, how long will it be before the car simply ceases to be a viable mode of transport, at least in cities? Some major cities in the West levy ‘congestion charges’ on car users who use their vehicles in city centres during peak rush hours, and it seems inevitable that something on these lines will have to be done in India as well. If not now, maybe five years down the line.

With monthly sales of more than 6,000,000 units, India is already one of the biggest two-wheeler markets in the world, and it’s growing. Our Central and State governments should certainly ensure they include motorcycles and scooters in mainstream public transportation planning, and help create an environment that allows two-wheeler riders to commute easily and safely.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Schwantz Speaks!


Used to watch (on television…) Kevin Schwantz racing in the 500cc FIM Motorcycle World Championship, in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson were also very good, but Kevin Schwantz was something else. He was awesome. He was God. He was the best of the best. Even though he won just one world championship (in 1993) as opposed to the seven which Valentino Rossi has already won, in my mind, Schwantz will always be the greatest. So it was a very special occasion when we got to interview him recently. Here’s what the man had to say:

Is there any MotoGP rider today who reminds you of your own days in GP racing?

Rossi. And I say I wish I could have done it that good!

What’s the biggest thing in racing that’s changed since the mid-1980s?

It’s how big the hospitality side has become.

In racing, what’s more important – man or motorcycle?

It used to be 90% man, 10% machine. Now it is 75% and 25%.

What’s your opinion of the forthcoming 800cc MotoGP machines?

I am happy with MotoGP and its direction. 800cc is a good change and I don't think it will slow them down.

Who do you think is the most awesome motorcycle stunt rider ever?

Stunting is bad for our image as motorcyclists! Stunting has no professional place and therefore it is done mostly on public roads. I don't know any stunters.

In terms of motorcycle engineering prowess, which manufacturer’s work do you admire most?

Suzuki. The GSX-Rs all impress me. I will always admire Suzuki for the size of the factory (how small they are) and how good their product is.

What do you think of 1000cc, 180-horsepower sportsbikes being available to the average rider?

Motorcycles just like cars are getting lighter and faster, and I hope always will. As riders, we need to be taught more and better, and wear the proper gear. Arai helmet especially!

Did anything in racing scare you ever?

I was scared after Rainey got injured.

What do Suzuki need to do, in order to win a MotoGP championship?

The tires need to be consistently better to help Suzuki make big improvements to the bike.

What do you think of the Isle of Man TT races?

Dangerous, but they are part of our sport.

Do you ever miss your racing days?

I race for fun in the US. It will always be in my blood. MotoGP is for younger guys.

Do you know anything at all about India?

I don't know much about India. I would have to come visit your country and learn more about your people.

QuickShift
Current street ride: Suzuki GSX-R1000
Valentino Rossi or Freddie Spencer: Rossi, no doubt
Cruisers – yes or no: Yes. It's a motorcycle
All-time favourite racing motorcycle: Suzuki RGV 500, 1993 model
All-time favourite street motorcycle: Suzuki Hayabusa
BMW bikes – yes or no: Yes. It's a motorcycle
Ferrari or Lamborghini: Ferrari
Max Biaggi, in one word: Good
Favourite food: Mexican
Most memorable post-race party: Jerez, 1989

Watch the inimitable Schwantz in action on his Suzuki RGV500


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sportsbike development: No looking back!

It really is amazing how motorcycles have moved on in the last three decades. There doesn’t seem to be much of a market for high-performance bikes here in India and hence we have missed out on all the action. But worldwide, the pace of progress has been absolutely astounding. In the west, Joe Average – with an average job, average income and yes, average riding skills – can go out a buy a motorcycle that’ll accelerate from zero to a 100 km/h in about three seconds and go on to a top speed of more than 300km/h. And to top that, such motorcycles cost only as much as a basic family hatchback, are as reliable, and are freely available to anyone who can afford the insurance. No question about it then – right here and now is the best time for people who love fast, powerful bikes.

It’s interesting to see how ‘superbikes’ have evolved over the years. The first mass produced four-cylinder bike from Japan, the late-1960s Honda CB750 weighed 240 kilos, had less than 70 horsepower on tap and on a good day, would do about 200 km/h. The 2006 Yamaha R6 weighs 160 kilos, has 133 horsepower and does more than 250 km/h without breaking a sweat. Comparing the old CB750 and the newest R6 in terms of acceleration and handling would probably be akin to comparing your living room sofa with a Greyhound. One is big, soft and gentle. The other is lean, quick and vicious.

So how is it that modern day motorcycles are able to offer performance that’s so hugely in excess of their 1960s/1970s brethren? What exactly has changed? Well, everything really. Engines, to begin with. In the old CB750’s time, two-valve cylinder heads were the norm, unlike the double overhead camshafts and four-valve cylinder heads that are popular today. And given carburetors and their float chambers (which only allow certain mounting angles), inlet/exhaust ports were often restricted from offering their best. Today, four-valve cylinder heads allow the combustion chamber to be more effectively shaped and also allow higher compression ratios.

Carbs have made way for fuel-injection, which means far more precise fuel metering. Clever, electronically-controlled throttle valves allow much bigger air/fuel intakes than what was possible back then. Intakes are partially restricted at lower engine speeds (thereby ensuring adequately high air velocity in the intake tracts and preventing fuel from dropping out), but are opened up fully at higher speeds for The Full Monty. EFI systems can also be mounted at much more extreme angles than carburetors would allow, usually giving the air/fuel mixture as straight a run at the combustion chamber as possible. Again, the result is more efficient combustion and more power.

Modern engines are ‘oversquare,’ where the bore is bigger than the stroke. The pistons in such an engine have shorter distances to travel, compared with the pistons in an ‘undersquare’ engine of the same capacity, which allows for much higher rev limits. Witness the new Yam R6 again, where the four-cylinder 600cc engine is redlined at 17,500rpm – stratospheric when you compare it with the old CB, whose four-pot 750cc unit would not go beyond 8,500 revs. Credit must also be given to advances in materials technology, which allows for lighter, stronger and more durable pistons, cams and con-rods.

If power outputs have skyrocketed, braking, handling and grip have also kept up. First, the brakes. In the 1960s/1970s, you were lucky to have disc brakes at all – most bikes were making do with drums. Bikes which did have disc brakes at the front were fitted with one small disc and a small, single-piston caliper. Modern superbikes have huge discs – two of them – at the front, gripped by four- or six-piston calipers. Stoppies, anyone?

Motorcycle suspension has become far more sophisticated too. USD forks reduce unsprung weight at the front and given their stout dimensions, just refuse to flex. Some manufacturers also apply special coatings to the stanchions, to reduce stiction. At the rear, shock absorbers often use rising rate springs and are adjustable for preload. Suspension on the more expensive bikes is also adjustable for compression and rebound damping so that owners can tailor the handling of their bikes to their own tastes.

Also in the interests of handling, lightweight and strong aluminium beam frames are used, which keep the centre of gravity low and which are largely free of flex – giving riders the confidence to push ever harder. Rake and trail figures are also much lower now than they used to be, which has made even big bikes more ‘flickable’ then before. And finally, wide, sticky and low-profile radial tyres make sure that in high-speed cornering, riders usually run out of courage before they run out of grip.

Lighter, more powerful and ever faster – that’s the mantra for sportsbikes. And thankfully, there’s no looking back.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Motociclo Bello!


I often wonder what it is about Italy. It’s a small little country, and unlike Japan or Germany, it’s not generally regarded as being particularly advanced in… well, anything. With one exception though. Italian motorcycles. And cars for that matter. Some of the most exquisitely beautiful motorcycles available today are from Italy. Which is delightfully surprising, because none of its neighbouring countries is anywhere near Italy in terms of motorcycle building abilities. French motorcycles? When was the last time you heard of a Voxan? Germany? Except for the BMW K1200R and the R1200GS, I can’t think of a single German motorcycle that I’d want to have anything to do with. Austria? The KTM 990 Super Duke is interesting, but apart from that, absolutely nothing. And it’s the same story with Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Algeria, Bulgaria, Croatia, and… I can’t think of any other countries in that neighbourhood. Motorcycles from these European countries? Zero, zilch.

While the Japanese are certainly making some of the most powerful, quickest, fastest, and fun to ride motorcycles (which are also very reliable and affordable…), the Italians have taken the art of making motorcycles to another level altogether. The engine performance may be just about equal to, and in many cases below that of similar-spec Japanese bikes, but when it comes to styling, the Italians are Gods. Take one look at the MV Agusta F4 and tell me if you think its lines can ever be improved upon. The F4 750 was launched in 1997, and ten years on, it’s still the best looking motorcycle in the whole world. And the other MV, the Brutale 910 isn’t too far behind either.

The man who designed the F4, Massimo Tamburini, also designed one more motorcycle which the world will never forget – the Ducati 916. While Ducati have, since then, moved to the 999, the new bike certainly isn’t as svelte and sexy-looking as the old 916. Which is understandable perhaps. Tamburini is Italian. Pierre Terblanche, who designed the 999, hails from South Africa. At least the Ducati Monster, especially the S4R, continues to look good as ever. The new Ducati Sport Classics have more style, more beauty than the best Milan fashion houses put together, and the Paul Smart replica is to die for.

Though I rate the Bimota Mantra as one of the ugliest bikes ever made (but then it was designed by Sacha Lakic, a Frenchman, not Italian…), I have been a big fan of other Bimotas. The SB6 and the YB11 was really good looking, and the even more gorgeous Furano, fuel-injected and packing 164 horsepower, was, for some time in the mid-1990s, the fastest production motorcycle in the world. And what motorcycle enthusiast can ever forget the hub-centre-steered Bimota Tesi 1D, so radical, so beautifully engineered and so deserving of success? What a pity then that Bimota have never really managed to earn enough money for proper, full-scale R&D operations. Still, the new Bimota DB5 and the Delirio are some of the most sumptuous motorcycles produced anywhere.

And the list doesn’t end with MV Agusta, Ducati and Bimota. There’s also Aprilia with the very beautiful and aggressive RSV 1000R and the slightly insane Tuono. There’s Moto Morini, with their mind-blowing Corsaro 1200. And there’s Benelli and Laverda and Moto Guzzi, whose long-departed Sei 900, Jota and Le Mans 850 are still remembered with so much fondness, by fans of Italian motorcycles. No doubt, Italian motorcycles have always been special in ways that cannot be explained by real-world logic. Let’s hope they stay that way.

Ducati Desmosedici RR: Whatever next?!


Ducati had announced their intent during the World Ducati Week, back in May 2004. And today, in June 2006, they’ve kept their word. 989cc L4. 205 horsepower. About 165 kilos dry weight. And a top speed in excess of 320km/h. Ducati’s Desmosedici RR, the world’s first road-legal MotoGP replica is go. Okay, so the road going Desmosedici RR has about 35 horsepower less than the bike which Loris Capirossi rode to victory in this year’s MotoGP at Jerez. And Ducati are only building 400 of these bikes, of which more than 300 are already spoken for. Plus, each RR will cost in about US$65,000 so it’s not like you can just rush to the nearest Ducati dealership and put down a deposit on one. But yes, if there’s one thing in the world which makes me want to earn more money, it’s this Ducati. It’s gorgeous beyond its sand-cast aluminium alloy crankcase and cylinder heads. It’s glorious beyond its titanium con-rods and valves. It’s desirable beyond its magnesium engine covers…

Stunning it may be, but the Ducati still isn’t the last word in straight line performance. That honour would have to go to the MTT Y2K, the world’s first and only turbine-powered motorcycle. The Y2K has a Rolls-Royce Allison turbine engine, which makes 320 horsepower, and the bike is capable of hitting a top speed of about 365km/h. Want to see the bike in action? Want to listen to that turbine engine spooling up? Watch this video. Awesome, eh? Forget comparing its performance with other bikes – the Y2K raced an L-39 Aerovodochovy jet aircraft (for a television documentary filmed for Discovery channel), and won repeatedly, over several runs.

All right, most of us would never be able to go shopping for a MotoGP racer replica, or a turbine-powered jet bike. But if you must have 200 horsepower and 320km/h, there’s still hope. The Kawasaki ZZR1400 for example, which costs a relatively modest Rs 7.25 lakh or so. On the track, and off it, the Desmosedici RR will be in a completely different league altogether. And in a straight line, the Y2K will blow the fairing off the ZZR. However, on the road, the ZZR’s 190 horsepower, massive acceleration (in stock form, it does a sub-10 second quarter mile…), and 320km/h top speed should be just about adequate for most.

Performance sells. And just now, it’s selling more than it ever has in the past. Which is ironic really, given the ever more stringent enforcement of speed limits in most parts of the world. But that’s not stopping more manufacturers from getting on the speed and performance bandwagon. It’s gotten to the point where BMW, whose motorcycles most people only associate with genteel tourers, were rumoured to be going to MotoGP in 2007! Not that it's going to happen, but still...

MotoGP bikes for the road and the quest for 400km/h notwithstanding, there’re also other interesting things happening in the world of motorcycles. The German-built Neander for one, which is probably the world’s first motorcycle to be powered by a turbodiesel engine. The 1400cc unit makes 200Nm of torque at 2600rpm and the diesel bike can accelerate from zero to 100km/h in four seconds. Top speed for this 310 kilo cruiser is 220km/h, so laugh at the Neander at your own peril. More oddballs? Take the very recent British-built Gibbs Quadski – a 140bhp quad, that’s also a jet-ski. Its wheels retract at the touch of a button when you want to use it on water, and the thing can do up to 80km/h on either land or water. Production, I kid you not, is expected to begin within the next three years. What will they ever think of next.

Update (26.09.2006): Ducati have got more than 700 orders for the Desmosedici RR and are planning a second production line to meet orders!

Mods and Ends

We motorcyclists like the idea of bolt-on performance. If replacing a couple of stock parts with a few easily available (and not hugely expensive) aftermarket items gives us a bit more horsepower and a few more km/h, we’re all for it. And hence, this month, my Hyosung Comet GT250 has been at the receiving end of two transplants – the stock air-filter has been replaced with a K&N unit, and the standard, super-quiet (and very heavy!) exhaust can has been replaced with a much lighter, free-flow, stainless steel aftermarket can. And while I agree it’s morally reprehensible, the very restrictive catalytic converter has also been assigned to the dustbin. The shock has been cranked up to max preload setting in order to put a bit more weight on the front wheel and to make it steer a bit more quickly. It works!

We haven’t yet had a chance to pit the bike against our V-Box test equipment, but what I can tell you at this time is that with the K&N filter fitted, the bike definitely does feel like it’s breathing more easily, and the engine is revving more freely now. Fitting the filter took a fair amount of work – fiddling, drilling and fettling – but it’s finally working perfectly now. We haven’t re-jetted the bike yet, but once I log a few hundred kilometers, we’ll see if that’s needed.

With the new free-flow exhaust can, the Comet finally sounds like a proper V-twin motorcycle rather than an electric sewing machine. With the cat-con dumped, and this free-flow system in place, the bike is revving all the way to redline and easily going up to an indicated 145km/h. It’s also noticeably more responsive at lower rpm, and an earlier low-rev flatspot seems to have been eliminated completely. Perfect! Now all that remains is to pit the bike against our V-Box and see how it fares against a stock bike...

Also see:
Hyosung TrendKiller and GT650X