Literbikes - Megaphone Useless?

There is a certain contingent wandering around the sporty bike community who would like to convince you the latest in liter-class weaponry-Honda's CBR1000RR, Kawasaki's ZX-10, Suzuki's GSX-R1000, Yamaha's YZF-R1 et al.-have evolved into a curious state of overpowering irrelevance. These nattering nabobs of negativism-clearly not motorcycle-industry team players-may actually go as far as to tell you the modern liter-class sportbike is a 400-something-pound, 160-plus-horsepower exercise in uselessness on the street. Those of us who know better should take a moment to pity the poor misinformed Luddite. Literbikes-perhaps the purest expression of the motorcycle engineer's art-useless?

Relax, sports fans. It's just not true. Allow me to disambiguate.

There are a dizzying number of ways you can wield the sort of power-to-weight ratio once the exclusive jurisdiction of AMA Superbikes and SBK contenders. Despite the limitations imposed by an instinctive aversion to intensive-care wards and correctional institutions, even I can come up with a few.

Unlike most earthbound conveyances, any late-model 1000cc supersport will crack 100 mph in first gear. There are five cogs left. Do the math. Imagine what else you can crack if something goes south on that sort of triple-digit escapade.

Bored with going 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds? All that horsepower will light the rear tire quicker than you can say Valentino Rossi. Valentino, however, has (a) skills, (b) Jerry Burgess and (c) traction control. You? If the right wrist writes a check the rear tire can't cash-say, halfway around some slightly off-camber left-the previously obedient 998cc ego-enhancement pod will express its aggravation by punting your butt out of the seat in the sort of almost highside that would give even Christian Sarron heart palpitations. And that's if you're lucky.

You like tires? These things sure do. An eager right wrist can roast $175 worth of premium 190/55 rubber in maybe 1000 determined miles. Most any racetrack can reduce a $300-$400 set of sticky track skins to the consistency of weathered oak in one weekend. But the price of premium rubber is the least of your worries. It's just the cost of doing business and probably the best investment when it comes to keeping your prized possession upright.

Shelling out $12,000 or so for something so astonishingly capable isn't that much of a hurdle for most people. You can saddle up a new R1 for $39 per month. Your insurance agent will administer the real sticker shock, especially if you're under 30 with a moving violation or three on the books. Racking up enough frequent flyer points with the local constabulary and turning your driver's license into a bus pass is astonishingly easy when you can nick triple digits without shifting to second gear. Or you can trundle happily along at 4500 rpm, using somewhere between a third and half of the performance you paid for, dreaming about the next track day.

Ahh, the track. Free at last from the constraints of speed limits, law enforcement, double-yellow lines down the middle of the pavement and distracted drivers going way too slow. Free to concentrate on throttle control, mastering the fear of wearing a $12,000, 160-horsepower hat and coming up with creative ways to scare the living crap out of yourself while rationalizing all the insolent little 600s and twin-cylinder anachronisms going around you on the outside through the tight bits. What bliss.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of things you can't do. Say you're in Los Angeles on a balmy Friday afternoon when one of your cohorts pops off about some stunningly beautiful ride from the Marin Headlands to the Point Bonita Lighthouse-just 400-some miles to the north. You feign disgust, point out the carefully scuffed plastic pucks on your knees and suggest another grueling 20-mile scrape to the Rock Store. Unless you're under 5-foot-6 with a towering pain threshold and know a good chiropractor in Sausalito, Marin may as well be somewhere in the Crab Nebula. Forget taking much more than a toothbrush and a change of clothes along for the ride. Unless you hang around with 90-pound Kundalini Yoga masters who are willing to share that toothbrush, pillion companions will be hard to find.

Maybe that sort of 1000-mile weekend sounds too much like touring to sacrifice your dream of embarrassing a Ferrari Enzo on the Santa Monica freeway. In that case, I hope you, your insurance agent and your chiropractor are very happy together.

So call me a nattering nabob. Call me a Luddite. Call me Ishmael. There are plenty of ways to use the purest expression of the motorcycle engineer's art, but there's no use looking for one in my garage.