The mantra for bikes remains "light is right," and on the finest machines you'll see lightweight, superstrong aerospace-grade titanium bolts, footrest hangers, handlebars, and exhaust pipes bolted on to magnesium and aluminum engines that sit inside aluminum frames. All of this is covered in lightweight carbon fiber. The result is a machine that weighs a scant 330 pounds and can break 200 miles per hour. Compare that to a street Harley Davidson, which has 50 to 70 horsepower (except the new V-Rod, which has 115) and weighs a hefty 480 to 700 pounds. Basically, the GP rider sits atop an engine more powerful than the ones in many performance cars, minus most of the car.
All this power suggests a need for a traction control system, but the opposite is true on the track. As a veteran Yamaha engineer responsible for the M-1 four-stroke said when asked about some form of traction control: "Motorcycle racers actually need wheelspin to help steer the bike around corners."
Whoever wins the races, motorcyclists everywhere will benefit-eventually. Emerging racing technology will find its way into the showrooms. Engines will get more powerful, but, more important for road riders, they will get more clever, as microchip brains for bikes help deliver power in a user-friendly way. Road tires will get better because they'll have to accommodate the increase in power from these wheel-spinning engines. Diagnostic electronics, now creeping into use on racing bikes, will show up on road bikes. In the meantime, if you happen to be in Europe, Australia, or Japan this year, check out the cutting-edge new four-strokes on the GP circuit.
ON OUR SHORES ...
Though there's a fanatical U.S. following for
both highway cruisers and dirt bikes, racing tech
and style are the hottest things on the road.
Harley V-Rod: Old hog performs new tricks
With engine-design input from Porsche, America's venerable motorcycle company introduced the first of a line of new performance-focused bikes last year, with an aluminum, liquid-cooled 1,130cc engine that has a
superbike racing pedigree. Still a cruiser, but clearly influenced by racing technology. Result: hot sales.
Ducati 998: Ride an (almost) racing machine
Unlike the much-modified GP class racing bikes, superbike machines are fairly similar on both track and street. That means the new Ducati 998, with its 120-plus horsepower Testastretta engine, is a kissing cousin of the machine that won the 2001 world championship
under Aussie racer Troy Bayliss.
Ducati Multistrada: Hybrid prototype from Italy
This bike is a prototype of a machine that takes Ducati racing oomph and adds off-road suspension to yield a bike the company says will handle less-than-perfect pavement. Should play well in the U.S.
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