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What Is It Like to Ride a Factory Bike?

Q: What’s it like to ride a factory Superbike?
A: The following is my experience of what it was like for me the first time I rode a “factory bike”, what the differences were, and how the differences were not exactly what I had expected.
In 1994 and 1995 I rode for Rumi Honda, a good privately owned team based near Bergamo/Milan in Italy. Their privately prepared RC45 was good enough that in 1994, my first year of WSBK, I finished 5th in the championship. The highest finishing non factory rider/team that year. Part the way into the 1995 season I found myself on a “factory” RC45. When I was told that I was going to test this bike at Monza the next week I was super excited! I daydreamed non stop about how fast it would be and how the pit lane would blur as I passed by at dizzying speeds etc. It turned out not at all what I had expected.

Of course it was faster, but not a crazy amount faster top speed. The big difference with the engine was the bottom and mid range power, and the good throttle connection. These things were far better than the bike I had been riding. Like many tuned bikes, the private RC45 I has been riding was a bit lacking bottom and mid range, then hit hard up top. This was the only way the engine tuner could get it to produce more power. The factory bike pulled like a train from low rpm, no holes or hesitations all the way through the power curve like an electric motor, all the way to the limiter. This extra bottom and mid range power made the bike easier to ride and a little more forgiving on gear changes. This mid range power is good for winning a little time when accelerating off each and EVERY corner, before the peaky engine had started to really go (peak power gets used a smaller percentage of the lap). That little bit off each turn all adds up.

Then I noticed that everything on the bike worked so well. The quick shifter worked better, there was less vibration, and the brakes had great power, feel and did not fade. The clutch was nicer to use and the position of the bars, seat and footrests were better. Handling wise I noticed immediately that the bike did not transfer its weight as violently (pitch back and forward) so was easier to stop and turn in a shorter distance, and even though the rear ride height was lower, it still turned. The rear suspension and linkage worked very well so it was easier and safer to ‘crack’ the throttle initially and start opening it without as much hesitation while looking for rear side-grip. Hard on the gas it did not have the instability that the standard bike had (better linkage and stiffer chassis I suspect). Their was the experienced data guy on the computer telling me where the suspension was at any point on the circuit I complained about, and whatever else he saw that was out of the ordinary, whether engine suspension, gearbox ratios etc etc. The data guy is a wonderful tool to help a rider find a way to make the bike and himself/herself better.
So no, the factory RC45 was not the rocket ship I had fantasised about, but it did EVERYTHING better, which added up to better lap times. That is how a “Factory bike” is. I got my first WSBK podiums on this bike.

Another ‘first’ experience I remember very fondly was my first test on the factory built 500cc two stroke V4 RedBull Yamaha, at a sunny Philip Island, a circuit that really lets a fast bike ‘stretch it legs’. But I have to get back to work now so I will tell you about that one next time.
….to be continued