Sportbikes used to intimidate me. I always assumed their riders had more testosterone than brains (or training), and so I never had any interest in hopping on one. I’d always been perfectly content loping along on my big heavy cruiser, enjoying the scenery and the sound of my low, rumbling exhaust note.
Until three years ago.
Clicking around YouTube one evening, I happened upon a highlights video from the annual Isle of Man TT. Watching those superbikes gunning flat out through the countryside and quaint towns of this pristine little island nation arrested my imagination. I couldn’t get enough of the wide-open speed and the sheer abandon those guys rode with. I soon began to watch MotoGP, WSBK, and MotoAmerica races whenever I could find them on TV. The more I watched, the more I wanted to try those kinds of bikes. And the more bored I became with just loping along on my cruiser.
Finally, I bought myself a used sportbike—a 1999 Triumph Sprint ST. And as part of my indoctrination to the sportbike world, I took myself to a NESBA trackday at Road Atlanta (see First Sportbike, First Trackday here). I was able to hone my skills and overcome a lot of fears at the track, but the interesting thing is what it’s like to live with a sportbike when cruisers have been your thing.
Throwing a leg over a sportbike is nothing like straddling a cruiser. Initially, I found my wrists hurt, my shoulders ached, and my neck got stiff after just 30 minutes in the saddle. Some of this was due to a couple of knackered discs in the base of my neck, but I also learned to hug the tank with my knees, tighten my core muscles more, and keep a lighter grip on the bars. A friend also advised I bend at the elbows some and keep a little pressure on the footpegs, which takes weight off the upper body as well. These have significantly reduced pain and pressure at the wrists, shoulders, and neck.
The performance was even more surprising. On my cruiser, cranking the throttle delivers steady acceleration, but the same handful on my sportbike means wheelies! That might be fun but a little unnerving the first time. (I nearly wet myself. There, I said it.) I’ve had to learn to manage the throttle and clutch more judiciously, respecting the power and response. “Dropping the clutch” is a phrase young sportbike bucks like to throw around, but in truth, fluid use of both makes for more controlled riding. Braking is also more spot on. Even though my cruiser has dual front discs, the braking on my sportbike is much more instantaneous and precise, which I’ve come to appreciate.
I’ve also come to enjoy entering corners faster, and accelerating out, without scraping hard parts. Downshifting, well-timed braking, and leaning my body into turns has given me added confidence. Riding home from work one evening, taking “the long way” through some beautiful countryside I overcooked a corner and nearly panicked, until I realized I had plenty of lean angle left to adjust. No drifting wide, no panic braking, no scraping metal—just quick body shift and a deeper lean, followed by smooth acceleration out of the corner. My confidence notched up a few points. Cornering on a cruiser can be a laborious endeavor. On a sportbike, pure pleasure.
Don’t get me wrong—I still love my cruiser. For long days in the saddle or scenic riding through farm country, nothing beats a day of loping along on my long, low, chrome steed. But I’ve also come to love the more aggressive stance, styling, and ride of my sportbike. One is my old reliable; the other is my new hotness. It’s the best of both worlds. My wife says it’s just midlife thrill-seeking, trying to recapture some of my youth. Maybe. But I’m enjoying my midlife crisis, thanks.