Riding the MotoGP Motorcycles – Feature Review – Motorcyclist Online

3 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Riding the MotoGP Motorcycles – Feature Review – Motorcyclist Online
Honda Goldwing prototype M1

MotoGP heaven: Riding the ultimate racers from Kawasaki, Ducati, Yamaha and Honda. By Alan Cathcart

In a dramatic turnaround, Grand Prix racing has transformed itself in the past two years — and the powersliding, fairing-bashing, exhaust-howling racing that’s resulted has been a damn good spectacle, too. The invention of the four-stroke MotoGP class as a response to the increasing spectator allure of streetbike-based World Superbike has proved to be a master stroke — even if, as in the old 500cc two-stroke days, Honda has dominated, with 29 wins in 32 GP events run under the new MotoGP formula.

Even in the early days of this anything-goes category — four strokes up to 990cc, with a differential weight rule for triples (135 kg), fours and fives (145 kg), and six cylinders or more (155 kg) — the formula has inspired a wide range of technical approaches to reaching the checkered flag first. Yes, all the bikes are fuel injected, drive their twin overhead camshafts with gears, and all except the 20-valve Yamaha M1 have four valves per cylinder.

But otherwise, the Universal Racing Technology syndrome of the old V-four two-strokes — or the current V-10 Formula 1 circus — hasn’t yet asserted itself. We’ve got everything from a pneumatic-valve triple (Aprilia), a 65-degree spring-valved V-four (Suzuki), a 90-degree V-four desmo (Ducati), one inline-four with rearward-rotating crankshaft (Yamaha), another with a forward-rotating crank (Kawasaki) and that other V-five, Kenny Roberts’s new Proton four-stroke, this time with a 60-degree cylinder angle and two cylinders at the front, three at the rear — the opposite of Honda’s 75.5-degree V-five.

Technical differences are emphasized by each bike’s distinctive and extremely loud exhaust signature. With noise limits having been raised to 130 db — as in open megaphones, just like the Manx Norton and RC166 six-cylinder Honda 250 of days gone by — the sound of mechanical music has at long last returned to GP racing.

I’d ridden two MotoGP racers in 2002: Valentino Rossi’s title-winning Honda RC211V V-five and Suzuki’s GSV-R V-four. The Honda was near-magical, the best racing motorcycle I’d ever ridden. The Suzuki was a bit of a disappointment, offering slow, heavy handling and only a touch more power than Suzuki’s own GSX-R750 Superbike.

Honda Goldwing prototype M1

So the chance to compare and contrast three of the ’03 MotoGP bikes on the same day after the season-ending Valencia GP, followed two days later by getting reacquainted with Rossi’s Honda RC211V on the Catalunya GP circuit in Barcelona (where, ironically, Honda had suffered its only defeat of the ’03 season at the hands of Ducati’s Loris Capirossi), was a dream assignment — even if things started badly when I crashed the Kawasaki!


The Green Machine was the last of the Japanese manufacturers to show up on the MotoGP grid, first with an ultra-Superbike, then a second-generation bike seemingly stuck halfway between a Superbike and a true MotoGP machine. The bike struggled to score points in 2003, with riders Garry McCoy, Andrew Pitt and occasional wild-card entry Alex Hoffmann totaling just 23 between them all season. Riding the bike on a tight, twisty circuit such as Valencia underscored why this was so, and hinted at some hope for the future.

Kawasaki has begun track-testing a smaller, lighter GP machine, and the results were encouraging, with Andrew Pitt lapping two seconds faster than he had this 2003 bike at the same track.

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