Motorcyclist Magazine Sportbike Test - Ducati 1098, Honda CBR600RR, Yamaha R1, Kawasaki ZX6R


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Motorcyclist Magazine Class of 07 Sportbike test
Thunderhill Racetrack
April, 2007
- pages -
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To say the pits in Ducati-land were now a little somber is an understatement. I felt real bad for everyone - especially Aaron. Michael was pissed inside. It was easy to see. But you've got to figure things like this are bound to happen, right? "What gives" I thought. It wasn't until after I learned that this 1098 was the only one they had for testing, that I understood. I also thought I might have had a solution. Might, have...

You're about to learn a little more background on the demise of our 2007 season, so pay attention to the calendar and warm up your slide rule. You see, this Motorcyclist test took place on a Tuesday - and not just any Tuesday either. This was the Tuesday right before our first for 2007 (and last ever) Ducati race weekend. I had seen the 1098 that we were supposed to race in round one, the previous weekend. It was a 1098, but it was ugly. I mean, there wasn't a scratch on it. But it was a scary sight to see - if you were the one who was supposed to race it in a week. And I WAS the one...

Ducati 1098 pre round 1 2007

Parts were scarce for the 1098 back in March, so the guys took it upon themselves to get a little creative with "set-up." They had hand made some funky footpeg brackets, so that we could run our 999 rear-sets which run a different bolt pattern. They had taken off the 1098 front end and bolted on our old 749R front end, because there hadn't been enough time to get the 1098 forks modified. They had used probably 3/4 of a roll of red duct tape to completely stick the old fiberglass 999R air runners - to this 1098. They taped the runners over two gaping holes in the airbox, around the triple trees, and out the headlight holes of the stock fairing. Basically, if you pushed on one side of the bodywork, the entire top half of the bike moved together - almost as one huge mass of glue and threaded tape. Then, in order to get the bike to pass tech with a sealable belly pan, the guys basically bridged the two separate fairing lowers together with about four lbs of fiberglass and resin. And I'm not exaggerating either - thre really was about four lbs of hardened ballast stuck to them. They had under sprung the rear (contrary to my direction), and mixed a 16.5 front wheel with a 17" stock rear (also contrary). The bike was definitely rough to look at, if you loved Ducatis. Basically, it was a rolling embarrassment to anyone pushing it, riding it, or even standing near it - and believe me, I was more embarrassed than anyone.

I'm just about sure this bracket would have held. Just about..

Rrearset bracket

Here was a very original idea to give me something like a rear-stand spool to leaverage from on launches. I'm not saying it would have passed tech, but it was a noble effort.

spindle inside rear axle

Twice in 2006 we had our bodywork fly off the race bike at speed. Twice..
Now how would YOU feel throwing a leg over this much duct tape, in 07?

duct tape everywhere on the nose of the 1098

But here was Michael Lock, in a state of dire need. He had no idea that the guys had made me bring "our" 1098 to the test, "So I could test it after the test." I still had it well hidden in the back of my van, with a blanket over it. When I quietly mentioned to Nash that there actually WAS another 1098 at the track that day, they basically ripped the doors off my truck in a rush to get it out. Once they rolled it down the ramp, though, everyone began scratching their heads. "WTF is this?" they asked. All I could do was make excuses about how our guys had no time, and how they were doing their best to make the first round - which was in three days!" Jeff poked at the bike, spun the throttle, crouched down and checked some the "special" parts they had on it, some of the work they'd done to it, and then he very calmly took me to the side and said, "GoGo? You really need to sit those guys down and have a talk with them. This bike is a hazard. You can't race a bike like this!" And then he walked away without ever taking one part off the bike, or even considering to let a tester ride it.

Michael got in his car at that point, and drove off in disgust. The crashed Ducati 1098 would never get it's fair chance to run any hot laps in the dry (with us at the helm), and suddenly it's chance at winning the day's hottest lap was in jeopardy.

Getting back to the task at hand, after I rolled "our" 1098 back into the truck, I set out to ride the only bike that I hadn't yet - the GSXR1000. As I threw a leg over I thought back to all the race battles that we've had against these monsters. Never once could I remember being able to draft one for a pass, and they always seemed more flickable than our Ducatis. I was anxious to experience life on the other side of the fence. It wasn't half a lap in, however, when I realized that THIS bike (the street bike, in street clothes) was not half of the bike that we always saw in battle. It felt very soft underneath me. Very wide. Very quiet. And not stable at all. It was very interesting to run around the same track, hitting the same marks at very similar speeds on such different machines. Where the Kawi mastered the fast sweepers, the Suzuki toyed with your confidence. Where the Yamaha vibrated the front end under the brakes, and the Ducati bottomed it's forks, the Honda rolled in effortlessly.

After giving the Suzuki all that I felt comfortable with, I came back in to meet the man in change of her. Just like after riding the Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Kawasaki, I suggested a few ideas that I thought would help us run quicker - like more preload on both ends, and stiffer settings all around. The Suzuki tech, who I don't believe was a tech at all, simply shrugged his shoulders and suggested that I might do better out there if I backed off on the power delivery switch.. It took a few moments for me to get the picture, but once I did, I realized that this GSXR1000 was not going to get it's equal chance at a fair test. Oddly, this was the experience that I expected we would get from all the manufacturers. I always thought they didn't let you tweek settings at tests. Maybe the Suzuki guy did too. But I'm here to tell you, this was definitely NOT the case for the other bikest. We ended up going the slowest on the GSXR. It's day under me ended far too soon, but the day was not over for the other bikes. In fact, now it was time to really get going.

Sometimes, when we're really jamming out there, I kind of forget that I'm on a bike. It almost feels like it's just me out there. Very naturally we're jumping from one side of the bike to the other, while clicking up shifts with the throttle pinned to the stop and the front wheel rising in the air over a blind crest. It's one of my favorite feelings. Racing the same line of superbikes for so long helped me always feel this way on our Ducatis. But today was different. Although the Kawasaki handled very well on it's own, and was surely fast for a 600, I never really fit on the bike - and I always knew we were two separate individuals who just so happened to be rubbing up on each other at that moment. We ended up just a click faster on the Kawasaki than the Suzuki. On the Honda I felt the most at home. I know, that sounds odd coming from a Ducati racer - but it's true. That bike, hands down, was the most fun to ride. There were no odd characteristics that you had to fight your way through. The brakes were great, it flicked side to side as quick as you were ready to flick it, and it made great power everywhere.

As I reached for my helmet one last time for the day, to run the R1 against it's redline, I picked up on an unfamiliar sound. Or maybe it was a "Rhythm." By this time of the day I almost shifted for the guys out there as I heard them accelerating off in the distance. The pace was almost second nature. But suddenly something sounded off. Something sounded quicker. I let my helmet hang in my grip as I panned the horizon to catch this new sound. It was the Honda CBR600RR out there again, but this time it wasn't plowing it's way around the track. This time it was ripping chunks of pavement up as it danced to a whole new tune out there. No one I had seen ride all day could have found that much speed in an afternoon, so now my eyes panned through the pits, searching for an answer. I saw all the Kawasaki guys, the Suzuki dude, Nash and Porter loading the broken 1098 in their van, but there were no Honda men. Instantly my head snapped toward pit lane, where there were now only two guys wearing black and red - and one of them was smiling while he held his stop watch out in front of his face. Then suddenly it hit me... It was Doug Toland out there, and he was taking no prisoners.

Tracy got that Suomy strapped to my chin quicker than ever as I swung a leg over the R1 and started it - all at the same time. Tracy winked at me, like she always does before a race, and we set out to meet the master. I timed our entrance onto the track to put us about two turns behind him - so I could watch him from a distance. And believe me, I watched him. He went through the other riders out there effortlessly. Under, around, inside, outside - neither he or the Honda seemed to care. He just wasn't backing off.

As we got up to speed on the R1 again, and worked at reeling Toland in, I quietly wondered why he was out there completely ripping those guys a new one. Just to have fun? Or just to make a point? Just then he took three guys in two turns and powered away like it was all choreographed. He had to be making two points, I thought - one for him, and one for the Honda CBR600RR. After all, if the testers couldn't ride it that fast, at least they could see someone else doing it in close quarters.

I shot through that same cluster of three and drew closer to our mark. I'll tell you, Doug Toland can ride a motorcycle. And I got the impression that he didn't know Thunderhill so well either - yet he was still flying. I could have used the R1's massive hp to pull up next to him on the straight, but after all, I'm a competitive bastid. I went under him out of turn six and then put my head down. I knew he'd give a good chase, so when we pulled onto the front straight I kept the throttle from hitting the stop and I looked back. There he was, in full tuck, eyes on nothing but the duck on my back. I turned back around and went back to work, quietly realizing that I might just have woken a sleeping giant. We went at it for a bunch of laps out there, always staying close together. But I know myself pretty well by now. In a way I'm like a wind-up toy, only backwards. The toys slow down after you let them go. I, on the other hand, just keep going faster and faster and faster. While this is great in racing, on bikes that are prepped for it, it is not so great on streetbikes. I could feel doom knocking on our door as the front tire of the R1 pushed it's way through turn three. Then, on what turned out to be our last lap, I glanced down at our on-board laptimer. It flashed 1:59:01 - just one second off our morning's half wet time on the much too early retired 1098. Just then I felt a little bad for the new duck's proudest lap, so we pulled off and ended the day with the Ducati still on top, and with us still just ahead of Toland.

As I met Tracy back in the pits I could tell she had no idea that our job was done. We had accomplished all that we set out to. We made Ducati happy (at least with our riding), we set the fastest time, and we hit our Doug Toland mark. In the weeks that followed the test I submitted a little write-up on each machine. In typical fashion, I told the truth about the bikes. I even told the truth (and it actually made it to print) about how well the Honda was setup. About how much work they had obviously done. It's funny, I even quoted one of the Honda guys who told me "If we give the rear any more spring it will do into coil lock." It was only one day after the Motorcyclist Magazine hit the stands that an email got forwarded to me which originally came from Honda - denying they'd ever said or did anything like that.

Well go figure...

Eric GoGo Gulbransen writing notes fo rMotorcyclst Magazine