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.
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.
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!
That’s cute. Dangerous found the bike a bit of an animal. The bike found Dangerous incompetent.
The excitement was off the scale. Sexy stoppers. After every outing the bike gets stripped. ‘I’ll take it easy, lads.’
Laverty’s bulked out...
Fagan’s coneshaped sliders will catch on eventually.