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EXTREME EXPERIENCE, Part 2: The VERY worthy, 'Runner's Up' - Back to the Track, where the real riding should be done.
A VERY worthy mention in tales of extreme experiences, would have to be taking my beloved Ducati Sport Classic 1000S to the very famous (and historically important!) Lakeside International Raceway and taking a prolonged period of time to REALLY learn what the limits of that particular bike are.
This bike has no electronics, no ABS, no traction control, no launch control … none of that stuff; not even a fuel gauge. Even in race trim there is no slipper clutch and no quick-shifter … this is raw stuff. The only modern concession is a steering dampener (and thank heavens for that!). See the photo of the cockpit ... cramped and spartan ... speedo and tacho ... that's pretty much it. It’s an air cooled, 1000cc, classically ‘desmodromic’ L-Twin Ducati dual spark engine … a beautiful, but absolutely unforgiving bike (see the photos at the track, and the shot I took in my work-space of the L-Twin engine more recently). I know a lot of you have had track days, and this is hardly “unique” in and of itself. This is why I am rating it as a mention rather than my chosen extreme experience/act. However, for me it was, physically and psychologically, the most thrilling and exhilarating auto experience of my life.
Initially it was an adrenaline rush … but as the hours and days progressed it became an intense, exhausting, frustrating, wonderful and incredibly enriching experience of riding … riding hard. As noted previously, I race Michelin Power Pure dual-compound tires on this bike (love them … they stick like glue ... see the photo of the outer edge predictably beading up as I heat it up and work through it). But, what’s special here is that this bike has the special ability to test you to the limit like no other bike (it is superbly designed and constructed), and is not so extreme in its performance (it’s only about 105-110bhp with the Termi pipes, racing cams and tuning tweak … not a 200bhp ‘Super-Bike’) that you can’t approach IT’S limits on the track. You CAN! For us mere mortals, most race-focussed sports bikes (the Superbikes) have limits far beyond the those of the rider. Those of you who think you are Casey Stoner … please let me know so I can steer clear of you on the road and track! My experience at Lakeside, which is a difficult, technical, and in places poorly surfaced (sorry, but it’s true) track, was extreme. After a LOT of focussed work I felt I was working this bike close to its 100%. And that’s a big call! I say close, because at 100.01% you’re in the gravel (or worse), but actually being able to FEEL where that 100% mark is, and ride close it, was one of the most rewarding (and EXTREME) experiences of my life. To notice and react correctly to the front end complaining and twitching under heavy breaking at the end of a straight, even being game enough to push the front in to the corner, or to feel that rear end start to step out and actually feel confident to use it for better exit out the corner … these sorts of things should never be done on a public road but WOW they feel good to experience in the safety of the track environment.
I would have felt far less rewarded on a bike with all the latest electronics and twice the power (bikes such as, say, the sublime BMW 1000RR, Ducati’s own 1098 or even my own Aprilia V4). I would never get close to those bike’s potential (their “99.9%”). Those bikes would have contained everything I threw at them without even a shudder, and in the end I would have killed my self by just pushing and pushing. To get close to the potential of these “Super”-bikes is not for the likes of mere me … my limits fall short of such things (and I reckon most experienced riders will admit the same, much to their credit), and I'm fine with that. The Sport Classic, when well set up, is a supreme ‘Rider’s Bike’. Simple, bare, gadgetless, no electronics package, utterly unforgiving … and infinitely rewarding. I truly love this bike and it is the focus of other blogs because I just have so much emotion for this machine. I guess you might say I have properly ‘bonded with it’. See the photo of it stripped back and being prepared for the track.