View From The High Banks
Weight: 170 lbs.
Skill Level: Pro
Avocation: Retired World Champion
It's hard to believe how far bikes have come in the five years since the accident that ended my racing career. I stalled my Ducati at the start of the 2001 Daytona 200 and got hit from behind, breaking my arm and leg real bad. I was fortunate to recover 100 percent.
I've done a little supermoto racing since then, and I try to ride motocross at least once a week. As for roadracing, I rode with Mike Smith at Little Talladega once last year, but that's it. I just got a Yamaha YZF-R1 LE, though, so I'll probably do some track days soon.
I got excited when Motorcyclist called to ask if I wanted to help test these new middleweight sportbikes. The fact that we were going to ride at Barber made it even sweeter. I'd never ridden there. But when I did it reminded me of Brands Hatch in England, my favorite track. I like the ups and downs, the blind stuff, just like my home track, Road Atlanta
I rode the Triumph first and was pleasantly surprised. It felt like one of the Japanese bikes to me. It's got a different sound to the motor, because it's a triple, but the way it handles and all, I was totally taken by it.
The engine is so smooth, and it just keeps pulling. I wasn't on the bottom too much, but I saw the blue shift lights a lot on top-very cool! The suspension was a little soft in the back, so it wagged its tail some. I think it was packing up, sitting in the bottom of the stroke. That's the only thing that held it back.
The Yamaha was the first bike I've ridden with a fly-by-wire throttle; everything I ever raced had carburetors, even the Lucky Strike Suzuki I rode in the 500cc Grands Prix. I could tell it's different-just the connection between your wrist and the seat of your pants. I never did get the tire to spin up. If I did, I didn't feel it.
The engine feels electric, and it's really fast on top. Heading up to the chicane on the back straight, it was just hauling. It doesn't have much midrange, though; it just screams a lot. I was shifting when the light came on at 16 grand instead of holding it to the 17,500 redline. You're definitely working harder on it, shifting a lot more than on the other bikes.
With its slipper clutch, the R6 wants to back around going in, which helps you start your turn. I didn't feel comfortable doing that just yet, but the bike was ready to do it. I like the way it handles, too. It's really light feeling. When you think turn, it turns. It's really sharp in everything it does.
The Honda, on the other hand, was much more stable. Entering the corners and braking, the back's not wanting to pass the front. Steering-wise, the CBR feels heavier. It turns in nicely, but there's a point there where you need to make the rest of it happen. It tends to want to go that way a little bit and you need to make it come this way. But overall, I was pretty happy with the way it was working. It's easy to ride, that's for sure.
I felt right at home on the two Suzukis. It's funny, but they still kinda feel like the GSX-Rs I raced in the late '80s. I didn't like the 750 as much as I thought I would, though. It squatted in the rear and ran wide, especially in the fast chicane on the back straight. It needed some more preload in back, but it was about out of adjustment.
The Kawi was the most comfortable bike for me to ride. I felt more like I was sitting down in the bike instead of up on top of it. Being a tall guy, I like to get down in it, you know? I liked the feel of the clutch and the midrange power, and the steering felt real neutral; it wasn't too quick or twitchy or anything. It was real stable and the suspension seemed fine. Definitely my favorite.
Like the GSX-Rs, the ZX-6R felt familiar, like the Muzzy Kawasaki I raced in '90. It's kinda thicker through the middle than everything else, kinda heavy, a little softer, a little slower ... not in speed, just in the way it steers. But I still went quickest on it; my best lap time was a 1:38 flat. That's 10 seconds off the times the AMA guys do now, but I don't think it's too bad after a five-year layoff. I mean, I was on a streetbike with mirrors and lights and I felt like I was just rippin'! It really felt like I was on a racebike again.