WE PITCH A FULL-BLOWN BSB SUPERBIKE AGAINST ITS ROAD GO­ING SIB­LING.

From a dis­tance, and with poor eye­sight, you could be for­given for mis­tak­ing a BSB superbike for its street-de­rived sib­ling. But that’s where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end.

Fast Bikes - - CONTENTS - WORDS: F AG AN IM­AGES: GARY‘ LULU’ CHAP­MAN

LAVERTY’S BIKE JUST GETS BET­TER THE MORE YOUR EYES FEAST UPON ITS STEALTHY SURREPTITIOUS BEAUTY.

N oth­ing makes you feel as in­ad­e­quate as com­par­ing data with a for­mer Mo­toGP rider and ex-Bri­tish cham­pion. I’ve just jumped off Michael Laverty’s McAms Yamaha R1, puff­ing, pant­ing and mak­ing an­i­mal noises af­ter a ses­sion at Cad­well Park. And, ac­cord­ing to the data, I was full throt­tle for 8.8 sec­onds around a lap of Cad­well – not bad considering its tight and twisty na­ture. Mlav was pinned for 32 sec­onds. Ev­ery lit­tle helps.

I hadn’t rid­den a superbike since racing an agri­cul­tural Fireblade in BSB in 2009, back when open en­gine regs and full elec­tron­ics pack­ages were per­mit­ted. We had some of the best en­gines – tuned by Chris May­hew and iden­ti­cal to the HM Plant Hon­das of Josh Brookes and Glen Richards – mak­ing 220bhp at the rear wheel, but power is noth­ing with­out con­trol. While the big teams bragged full Mag­neti Marelli elec­tron­ics and had whizz-kids with lap­tops, we used a very crude HRC sys­tem and a GCSE stu­dent; a com­bi­na­tion that sim­ply didn’t work. It was like a flea rid­ing a dog’s ball­bag.

The same shitty sen­ti­ment couldn’t be said of Laverty’s R1. As you’d ex­pect from an of­fi­cial out­fit, it’s an en­thralling and well-sorted ride, yet sorts the men from the boys with a how­itzer power de­liv­ery and a very re­morse­less, yet ev­i­dently gifted chas­sis. Just hours af­ter the Bri­tish Superbike Cham­pi­onship cir­cus had rolled out of Cad­well Park, the McAms squad stayed on site af­ter cel­e­brat­ing their first vic­tory of the sea­son in the hands of James El­li­son, and fur­nished us with Michael Laverty’s race-fresh steed along with a crew chief and tech­ni­cian. We also brought a road-go­ing Yamaha R1M for par­al­lel­ing pur­poses.

As moans and groans ooze from ev­ery WorldSBK ori­fice, Bri­tish Su­per­bikes is surf­ing a wave of pos­i­tiv­ity and pal­pa­ble suc­cess in all departments. Michael Laverty is a Bri­tish cham­pion, proven BSB

cham­pi­onship con­tender and ex-Mo­toGP rider. Sit­ting just out­side the top ten in the stand­ings shows the strength in depth of the se­ries, and there are more than 10 rid­ers on competitive pack­ages ca­pa­ble of win­ning.

Part of me grates at the fact that BSB rules don’t al­low rider aids, and com­plex elec­tron­ics pack­ages de­vel­oped by man­u­fac­tur­ers are ripped off in favour of Motec. But the big teams still pay good money to get the right lap­top boffins and when a swingarm costs £22,000+VAT – like the Suter piece of art that adorns Mlav’s bike – there’s clearly some­thing very wrong when it comes to eco­nomics. For me, the Ger­mans and the IDM Superbike se­ries have the cor­rect for­mula (com­pletely stock chas­sis with stan­dard swingarm/forks, stock en­gines and open elec­tron­ics with a fi­nance cap), although you can’t deny Stu­art Higgs’ rul­ing and BSB’s ram­pant suc­cess.

PUTTING IT OUT THERE

Usu­ally, when you get up close and per­sonal with a race bike, they’re slightly tatty and wear bat­tle scars, par­tic­u­larly straight af­ter a race week­end. How­ever, Laverty’s bike just gets bet­ter the more your eyes feast upon its stealthy, surreptitious beauty, the smat­ter­ing of car­bon fi­bre lend­ing fac­tory-fresh aes­thet­ics. Mlav runs a very bizarre seat, com­plete with an ex­tended hump to pre­vent him from slid­ing too far back and up­set­ting weight dis­tri­bu­tion. I was hon­estly ques­tion­ing whether or not I’d be able to even sit on the thing, let alone ride it.

Thank­fully, I did fit. It was a snug fit but a fit nonethe­less. Af­ter a les­son on its fun­da­men­tals, I cruised out to the hold­ing area to in­quis­i­tive eyes and a sump­tu­ous cross­plane sound­track. Arse firmly wedged in place, nuts nes­tled in the cav­ity be­tween seat and tank, and gut rest­ing on the tank: I wasn’t go­ing to be es­cap­ing any­where in a hurry.

Scru­ti­n­is­ing the #7 and pon­der­ing that Suter swingarm’s func­tion­al­ity weren’t ex­actly pri­or­i­ties dur­ing my first ses­sion. En­sur­ing I didn’t crash and fig­ur­ing its foibles cer­tainly were. De­spite sus­pen­sion set up for a rider that weighed far less, the first as­pect that struck me was just how stiff the chas­sis felt, which was an in­tim­i­dat­ing prospect ini­tially. Stock R1s are the clos­est thing you’ll get to an Aprilia RSV4’s race-spec chas­sis in terms of stiff­ness and rigid­ity. Chuck in some fac­tory yokes, that beefy swinger’ and some sticky-icky SC1 Pirelli slicks, and it’s an­other level of chas­sis stiff­ness – some­thing that Brucey’s brain strug­gled to process when he had a dab­ble. An off­shoot is los­ing the road bike’s sprightly re­ac­tions, in­stead be­com­ing more one-lined and fussier. But although the rid­ing pa­ram­e­ters have shrunk, it’s ob­vi­ously far more ef­fec­tive in that nar­row win­dow of per­for­mance.

Hard on the gas out of Barn, it munches gears and chews revs with star­tling ra­pid­ity and I’ve never en­tered Cop­pice with such speed and blurry mark­ers. The shift ac­tion is crisp and pre­cise, com­ple­mented by the new-for-2017 auto-blip­per which is the sex­i­est setup I’ve sam­pled, and has some­how made the stan­dard gear­box feel like a mil­lion dol­lar op­er­a­tion. The bot­tom-end and midrange is ac­tu­ally quite docile, de­cep­tively fast in many ways, and the throt­tle con­nec­tion isn’t as sweet or as crisp as the road bike. But noth­ing could pre­pare me for my first foray past 10,000rpm – a hard-hit­ting power­band (prob­a­bly the black one) that re­lent­lessly charges to the red­line. Even with me on board, the #7 makes su­per­stock BMWs look like Tonka toys in a straight line. It was still wheely­ing un­con­trol­lably like a feral mon­goose as I clicked into fourth and it was then I truly be­lieved the team’s claims of 225bhp.

MO­TOR­ING ON

As stan­dard, the R1’s cross­plane en­gine spins quickly in­ter­nally, with a light throt­tle ac­tion to in­spire con­fi­dence and give a tele­pathic understanding of trac­tion. The McAms R1 couldn’t feel any dif­fer­ent, with a much

heav­ier crank sensa tion that un­doubt­edly aids trac­tion and rea ar wheel con­nec­tiv­ity for Mlav, just not me. Tun­ingT and hunt­ing peak power usu­ally re­sult ts in lively top-ends, and this R1’s nar­ra­tive iss iden­ti­cal. It’s bi­nary thrash­ing at its fines st, with a man­age­able lower half of revs th hat makes light work of nadgery sec­tions be­fore un­leash­ing a top-end that re­ally y should be re­served for pro­fes­sion­als.

It’s not par­tic­u­larl ly quick at steer­ing and change of di­rec­tion, some­thing that Mlav men­tioned to me pr re-ride, and it’s a com­pro­mise to safeg guard cor­ner exit grip and tyre longevity. Hav­ingH to steer with the throt­tle slightly openo is a strange trait to road­ies, although h that’s the only way to es­cape this R1’s leth hargy through the ’bars.

Our post-ses­sion d de­brief en­sured I was made to feel like a p proper racer, al­beit a chubby twat ver­sion n. The boys asked if I wanted to move the e con­trols to im­prove er­gonomics, even ch hang­ing springs was dis­cussed, and Mlav v of­fered me ad­vice on how to go faster. “GetG on the gas ear­lier and keep it pinned, and you’ll avoid the sud­den surge of torque,” exp plained Michael, which made sense. Putting g it into prac­tice was an­other mat­ter.

We also dis­cussed d the brakes, and how we’d both revel in s ome more ini­tial bite to in­spire con­fi­denc e. Über soft sus­pen­sion and, frankly, be­ing scareds of this an­i­mal meant that brak­ing w was my big­gest chal­lenge with the #7, but the e data doesn’t lie. On down­load­ing the ses ssion, the boys no­ticed I was grab­bing half as much lever pres­sure as Laverty into Park k, which prob­a­bly ex­plains the lack of ini­tial bite.

What was also in­ter­est­ing was my feed­back re­gard­ing how soft the forks were, yet the data high­lighted it was the shock that was fever­ishly soft and rid­ing too far down the stroke, caus­ing the weird front-end feel­ing – like the forks were rid­ing too high in the stroke. Like I said, the data doesn’t lie. But Mlav said that even he thought the forks might be soft and was con­tem­plat­ing go­ing harder for the races, so those poor Öh­lins springs must have been in­con­solable with me rid­ing it. Any­way, the boys jacked the rear to al­low more feel­ing and to go some way to pre­vent the thing wheely­ing.

Not hav­ing raced (full-time) since 2003, you’d think tam­ing a 225bhp superbike around Cad­well Park’s idio­syn­cratic in­tri­ca­cies would be a tor­tur­ous af­fair, but there wasn’t even a whiff of arm­pump or breath­less­ness be­fore our sec­ond ses­sion. Much of this is owed to the in­nate front-end abil­ity and the way in which it ex­udes con­fi­dence to chuck it in and rail a bend. Chat­ting to Mlav, the Yamaha likes to get off the brakes and turned into a cor­ner to al­low its USP to shine: apex speed. I’ve yet to ride a superbike that feels so sexy and in­stinc­tive mid-cor­ner.

PLAYTIME TO PER­FEC­TION

A packed fast group at the track­day isn’t the ideal test­ing venue for some­thing so ram­pant, which is why the kind folk at Cad­well gave us 30 min­utes of ex­clu­sive track time at lunch. 30 min­utes of undi­luted, un­in­ter­rupted playtime on one of the most

for­mi­da­ble weapons in this coun­try. It all starts with the charge down to Cop­pice, los­ing one gear to 4th and set­ting up for the cam­bered apex which the McAms R1 gob­bles with con­sum­mate ease. It’s rock-steady, that un­crash­able front-end goad­ing me to let off the brakes and carry more cor­ner speed, lap af­ter lap. The change of di­rec­tion into Char­lies is the first time dur­ing a lap of Cad­well where its slug­gish steer­ing be­comes pro­found, and I strug­gle to carry the apex speed she de­serves as we head over the crest. Down an­other gear to third, the bumps on the exit of Char­lies have never felt so in­signif­i­cant – prob­a­bly ow­ing to eleven thou­sand pounds’ worth of sus­pen­sion and the con­se­quent glo­ri­ous damp­ing.

The Park straight isn’t a straight at the best of times, and it’s a phys­i­cal chal­lenge aboard the McAms R1. The dip pro­vokes forces I’ve yet to ex­pe­ri­ence and my gut gets a beat­ing as it nuz­zles the tank, just be­fore hoik­ing the front wheel as I click 5th gear (Mlav only used five cogs dur­ing the race week­end). It’s per­turbingly un­sta­ble be­fore hit­ting the brakes for Park – the only tan­gi­ble in­sta­bil­ity through­out the lap – which goes a long way to ex­plain­ing my fee­ble brak­ing tekkers, and it’s back three gears into 2nd for the one-lined ap­proach at­tack on Park’s apex. Bump aside, the brak­ing sta­bil­ity is al­most su­per­nat­u­ral, as the blip­per per­fectly matches re­quired en­try speed, and both wheels re­main firmly in line.

There’s an un­wa­ver­ing stance that feels like both wheels are Araldited to Cad­well’s sur­face and I hon­estly can’t remember the last time I was able to at­tack Chris Curve’s apex with­out a dab of com­fort brake as I clicked third. It’s as if the Motec ECU has a GPS map of Cad­well plumped in, which leaves me free to ex­ploit the throt­tle and a pro­longed pe­riod of time on the side of the tyre and gain­ing an­other gear. I must have notched 25 laps, and the rear didn’t mis­be­have once.

The en­trance to the Goose­neck is a sus­tained pe­riod of front tyre pun­ish­ment, car­ry­ing de­cent an­gle mixed with stag­ger­ing lev­els of trail brak­ing, yet it’s some­thing so in­trin­sic for this R1. Clip­ping the first apex isn’t an is­sue. It’s the bru­tal change of di­rec­tion from right to left and meet­ing the sec­ond apex that saps serious en­ergy. Power de­liv­ery aside, this is prob­a­bly the pro­ce­dure that left me with more re­spect for Mlav – just how phys­i­cally de­mand­ing it is to hus­tle the #7 through this sec­tion.

Mans­field is an­other area for that front-end to shine. Down an­other gear and the off-cam­ber na­ture proves a meagre chal­lenge. Hold­ing 2nd gear, the ap­proach to the chi­cane is soon over and it’s the first time over a lap that bot­tom gear is utilised – given the pre­vi­ous changes of di­rec­tion, the chi­cane is positively stress-free, as you have to ride it with a smidgen of throt­tle.

Cad­well Park’s Moun­tain is a men­ac­ing bas­tard at the best of times. On a very stiff, un­for­giv­ing superbike with its usual pilot and team watch­ing on from the café, the Moun­tain in­duces brown pants and a tan­gi­ble urge to­wards self-preser­va­tion kicks in. De­spite the snap­pers cling­ing on for a brief mo­ment of gold, it was im­pos­si­ble not to leave 25% in the tank to save em­bar­rass­ment. I could have got more air on a BMX.

Hall Bends is an­other sec­tion that re­quires ex­cep­tional muscling and heavy ’bar in­put just to make the first left’s apex. It feels slug­gish and un­will­ing, so un­like the rest of the pack­age, and it takes a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act of throt­tle feath­er­ing and ’bar yank­ing.

Barn is an­other off-cam­ber en­counter that drops fur­ther away the more you exit. The #7’s me­chan­i­cal grip from the rear soothes any worries of high­sid­ing and makes you won­der why there are still calls for trac­tion con­trol in BSB – at my pace any­way.

Post-test FAQs in­volv­ing su­per­bikes al­ways tend to take heed from their road-go­ing brethren. On paper, the bikes should feel fairly sim­i­lar: stock-ish en­gines housed in an iden­ti­cal frame sprung by Gucci sus­pen­sion. In truth, they couldn’t feel any more dif­fer­ent. Af­ter 20 min­utes of rid­ing the R1M straight af­ter jump­ing off the McAms bike, it’s never felt so in­com­pe­tent. I chased Bruce, who was rid­ing Mlav’s steed, out of pit­lane and wob­bled through Hall Bends, buck­ing and gen­er­ally protest­ing at my in­puts. The pegs were scrap­ing, sus­pen­sion wal­low­ing and the brakes felt like a third-world ef­fort, whereas pre­vi­ously the R1M has been a con­stant threat at SBOTY. These McAms boys cer­tainly know how to build a fast bike, and these BSB boys cer­tainly know how to pedal them round. Putting it straight, we ain’t man enough. Cha­peau!

Laverty’s bulked out...

Motec magic.

The ex­cite­ment was off the scale. Sexy stop­pers. Af­ter ev­ery out­ing the bike gets stripped. ‘I’ll take it easy, lads.’

That’s cute. Dan­ger­ous found the bike a bit of an an­i­mal. The bike found Dan­ger­ous in­com­pe­tent.

Fa­gan’s cone­shaped sliders will catch on even­tu­ally.

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