Superbikes: Mat Mladin's Suzuki GSX-R1000 - Dumbed Down?

Mat Mladin's Yoshimura Suzuki Superbike may be slower than in years past, but it still warps time and space

Four laps into my stint on Mat Mladin's AMA Superbike Champ-ionship-winning Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000, I finally build up the courage to roll the throttle wide flippin' open. The resultant rush is literally breathtaking-the same stomach-churning sensation I felt when I dove out of an airplane. Heading onto Auto Club Speedway's banked pit straight, the front Dunlop finishes its salute to the sky as I shift into third gear. I keep the throttle pinned through fourth and fifth as the massaged motor propels me forward on a tsunami-like swell of power that overwhelms my brain's ability to keep tabs on time and space. If this is what a "neutered" 2009 AMA Superbike is like, I can't imagine the full-blown machines Suzuki ran previously!

"The K8 [model year 2008] Superbike was putting out about 205 horsepower. The K9 Mladin won on this year has about 190," explains Yoshimura Suzuki crew member Denis Ackland. "But it's not just the horsepower; it's how fast it spun up. If you were to stand behind the K8 and the K9, you'd know which one was the Superbike. One would sound angry, the other just like a streetbike."

In years past, there was much bemoaning the predictability of AMA Superbike racing. Yoshimura Suzuki teammates Mat Mladin and Ben Spies were winning by 10-second margins, frustrating racers and spectators alike. When the Daytona Motorsports Group assumed control of AMA Pro Racing in '08, a flurry of rules changes attempted to level the playing field and revitalize the ailing American racing scene.

The DMG's initial class structure was met with stiff opposition. The new series organizers proposed a Daytona Superbike class featuring a motley crew of middleweight fours, triples and larger-displacement twins running in place of the 1000cc Superbikes. Heavily invested in Superbike racing, the Big Four Japanese manufacturers objected, and instead proposed a nearly unrestricted Factory Superbike class. When the smoke finally cleared, the rulebook contained two compromise classes: American Superbike for 1000s and Daytona Sportbike for middleweights, triples and twins.

But while previous AMA Superbikes were heavily modified inside and out-featuring extensive engine work, works suspension and chassis parts, and exotic electronics-the new American Superbikes must be built using only readily available, homologated parts. Modifications are limited to minor cylinder head work, exhaust, fork internals and aftermarket shocks, brakes, wheels and electronics. Teams must also use spec fuel and tires, of which they are allowed a set number per event.

Yoshimura Suzuki team coordinator Rich Doan explains: "In '08 the bike was full works, a real Superbike. Pretty much the only difference between the AMA bike and the World Superbike was the cams. [The AMA permitted changes in duration but not lift.] Before we had factory titanium con-rods and lightweight, forged pistons. Now we can't touch anything below the head gasket."

As a result, the current Superbikes aren't far from those on your local dealer's showroom floor. "But the fans don't want to see stock bikes," complains Doan. "They come to see equipment they can't buy. They come to see the fastest riders on the best equipment. It's been dumbed down and equalized. They've taken the 'super' out of Superbike."

The rules changes haven't done much to tighten up the racing, either. With Spies gone to World Superbike, Mladin ran about a second per lap slower in '09 than he had in '08, yet still regularly finished well ahead of his competitors and went on to take his record-setting seventh championship. The Australian joked that his times had nothing to do with the bike; he'd just gotten tired of the DMG's foolishness and had lost interest in the series.

Regardless of how "un-super" the American Superbikes are, the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 is still an impressive machine, and I was plenty nervous about riding it. After all, it produces nearly one horsepower for every two pounds of its 370-lb. weight. Did I mention that I'd never turned a lap at the Fontana facility?

Ackland finishes unrolling the tire warmers and nods. I climb aboard and discover that the sky-high seat and low clip-ons force me into an ultra-aggressive stance. The cockpit is complex but organized, and completely unrecognizable from stock. A Yoshimura gull-wing top triple clamp resides behind a large Motec dash that registers everything from fork travel to lambda sensor readings. On the right clip-on is the kill switch, the pit-lane speed-limiter and the launch-control button, used to curb wheelies and wheelspin at the start. On the left handlebar is a repurposed ignition switch that allows a choice of two ignition maps, and below that a set of arrows for toggling between traction-control settings. "Mat pretty much always ran with it set to zero; he was faster that way," Ackland points out. I set it to three of five and ride cautiously onto the track.

The GSX-R's "stinkbug" stance is the result of abundant rear ride height, added to make the bike steer quicker and help keep the front wheel on the ground. There's also an extra inch of foam stacked on the seat, an ergonomic tweak to accommodate Mladin's 6-foot frame. Shifting follows the normal street pattern to accommodate the limited flexibility in Mat's left ankle, the result of an airplane crash nearly 15 years ago.

Tipping the bike into the first chicane, I nearly run off the inside of the track as it snaps over alarmingly fast. Steep steering geometry, lightweight magnesium Magtan wheels and pointy Dunlop rubber make the bike turn much quicker than stock. It's unnerving at first, but within half a lap the rapid turn-in feels divine, and lets me go from straight up to cranked over in a split second.

As with most racebikes the suspension is firm, but not as stiff as when Mladin rode it. The fork's 1.1-kg/mm springs have been swapped for 1.0s, which are better suited to the lower g-forces generated by a mere mortal. Although they felt rock-hard when I bounced up and down on the bike in the paddock, the Showa fork and Ohlins TTX shock feel wonderful on the track, especially when leaned over gliding toward an apex. The bike's precise handling, heart-squeezing acceleration and freakishly strong Brembo brakes let me do things I had no intention of doing, like skating the rear tire into turns and wheelying from corner exit to braking zone.

The power is astounding. There are no steps or dips, just potent midrange that morphs into arm-stretching top-end rip. Wheel-ies occur frequently and unexpectedly. It's an absolute rush to ride, but I can't imagine the skill and nerve it would take to race it.

So, where will AMA Superbike racing go from here? Mladin's domination has finally come to an end, the Australian retiring at the end of the season. After more than a decade of racing in the States, that decision was bound to come sooner or later. But Mat is quick to point out that the DMG's Byzantine rules helped make it sooner. Honda and Kawasaki are out, too, leaving only Suzuki, Yamaha and the various privateer efforts.

"Right now, there's no returning champion and no dominant rider," Doan observes thoughtfully. "It's going to be a hell of a battle." So the DMG's rules changes were successful? "I wouldn't say that. With Mat and Ben gone, it's just a natural changing of the guard."

My time aboard Mladin's Superbike melds into a nirvanic blur of acceleration, braking and slanted views of the horizon. Blazing down the pit straight, I see a small figure beside the banking. As the GSX-R inhales the yardage between us, the figure grows into the familiar shape of Sport Rider's associate editor, Troy Siahaan, waving frantically and pointing at the pit. While I'd been scheduled to take just five laps, I'd somehow lost track of time and turned nine. Blame it on the GSX-R's ability to warp the space/time continuum.

By The Numbers
Mat Mladin
Seven-time AMA Superbike Champion

From lap times to pole positions to national championships, Mat Mladin has laid claim to nearly every AMA Superbike record there is. Here's a rundown of the impressive numbers he's had a hand in...

7 AMA Superbike Championships
82 AMA Superbike race wins
27 Previous win record, held by Miguel Duhamel
12 Single season AMA Superbike wins
10 Race wins in 2009
9 AMA Superbike Championships won by Yoshimura Suzuki in the past decade
52 Consecutive Yoshimura Suzuki race wins
38 Age at which he retired
24 Age at which he started competing in AMA Superbike
1996 First year racing in America
**4th ** Position at the end of his first AMA Superbike season
11 500cc Grand Prix starts (1993 season)
6th Best 500c GP finish
18 World Superbike starts
1 World Superbike poles
4th Best World Superbike finish (Laguna Seca 2003)
55 Career AMA Superbike poles
3 Consecutive AMA Superbike Championships (twice)
47 2009 championship points margin
1 Points behind teammate Ben Spies in the 2007 championship
2 Daughters with wife Janine: Emily and Jessica
2 Number of races he boycotted due to safety concerns in 2009, at Topeka, Kansas
2 Number of riders who beat him to win races in 2009: Josh Hayes and Larry Pegram
3 Daytona 200 wins
7 Last race number other than #1

Superbikes: Mat Mladin's Suzuki GSX-R1000 - Dumbed Down?

Unlike the unobtanium AMA Superbike of years past, the new DMG American Superbike is essentially "a Superstock bike with a ported head and big brake calipers," as one racer put it.
Besides softer fork springs, the Yosh Superbike was exactly as it came off track after Mladin's final race in New Jersey. Countless hours of professional setup make it run and handle like a dream.
The most outspoken among DMG's detractors is Suzuki's Mat Mladin. Now retired, he still lobs insults at the organization from his home in Australia via Twitter.
Despite a 1.6mm longer stroke, the '08 Superbike revved about 1000 rpm higher than the '09. "If there's one modification we should get back, it's the lightened pistons," says crew member Denis Ackland.
Factory teams that had previously seen themselves as partners in AMA Superbike racing now consider themselves at odds with the group, fighting to maintain the 1000cc status quo.