Superbike is a generic term for motorcycles with large capacity engines that are very powerful and so can accelerate extremely quickly and attain very high speeds. These can include super-sports, cruisers, hyper-tourers and even some super-motards. Sbk’s are motorcycles nonetheless and eminently rideable provided the rider calibrates his/her actions in strict accordance with the dynamics of the motorcycle.
A large cubic capacity engine means a heavier engine in a heavier frame compared to the small capacity engines we get in our bikes here. And since this large engine produces ‘large’ horse-power, its running gear has to be strong and robust enough to make that power useable and controllable. All this adds weight and its accompanying bulk to the bike and is the first apparent difference that strikes us when we see and sit on a superbike.
The next major difference is the quickness of the throttle or the throttle response. This is especially so amongst the track derived production models like the Honda Fireblade, Suzuki GXSR, Yamaha YZF R series, Kawasaki Ninja, Ducati’s etc etc. For almost similar throttle rotation, a Sbk can be producing some 10 times the power compared to our Indian bikes. So one can well imagine the consequences if the throttle hand is not ‘taught’ or re-calibrated while riding such a bike. In fact, one needs to be as careful about throttle operation on a superbike as he is about using the brakes because careless use of either can have identically disastrous consequences.
Braking is another area that is such a surprise when one moves from a smaller capacity bike to a superbike. These bikes have very powerful brakes, usually large diameter twin discs up front and a single disc at the rear. A gentle two-finger pull on the front brake lever can get the bike to slow down with astounding rapidity from high speeds. And the brakes are also very responsive, which in other words can be said as ‘sensitive’. Go ham-handed on either of them and you’ll surely hit the road in a wheel-locked skid. The need to be progressive and smooth with the braking is of utmost importance when riding a superbike. And yes, the front brakes are the ones that dominate the ‘braking share’ here i.e. you get most of your braking from the front brakes. The rear brake is used just for stability and at low speeds.
Handling is one more aspect that needs getting used to. Usually, superbikes have a large turning radius, especially the super-sports bikes. The handlebars turn through a relatively small angle lock-to-lock compared to our usual bikes and this translates to drastically reduced maneuverability at low speeds. You cannot weave through traffic at low speeds all that easily on a superbike. And U-turns need special care as they are way wider than smaller bikes and braking or stalling the engine while the handle is in a full lock turn will almost surely result in the bike falling. Dragging a foot while taking U-turns on a superbike is not a reflection of the rider’s lack of skill. It is a necessary safety precaution. High speeds are a different story though. Get above say 40 kph and these bikes handle like a dream. They follow a precise line and road undulations rarely upset that. But the rider has to counter-steer positively to initiate a turn. Smaller bikes can be thrown around using body weight but not these superbikes. You need to use their geometry to initiate and keep control.
Tips and points-to-ponder for riding superbikes:
1. Be clear and honest about your mindset. An aggressive attitude that gets triggered into competitiveness at the smallest pretext is a very dangerous and usually fatal combination with a superbike. These bikes demand that you ride your own ride.
2. Learn to become focused and stay focused on the ride. Superbikes can really stretch human ability and reflexes to their utmost and even beyond, in a jiffy. Only concentration on the ride at hand can save a riding situation from transiting from close to risky to fatal in the span of a few seconds.
3. Proper riding gear is of paramount importance when riding superbikes, not just for protection from a fall but as protection from the wind and debris thrown up by other traffic. At speeds around 150kph, a small stone chip can hit hard enough to puncture and penetrate human skin. Think of what it can do to an unprotected eye.
4. A high level of riding skills already developed through serious learning-oriented riding on lower capacity bikes goes a long way towards safe super-biking. Learn as much as you can both off-road (through reading, videos, televised racing events, the internet, interacting with experienced superbike users) and on-road while riding. Remember, learning never ends in motorcycling and more so when riding superbikes.
5. Smoothness in operation of all controls is of utmost importance with superbikes. Rough handling of the throttle can induce a sharp wheel-spin that can have your ‘rear’ on the road before you realize what happened. And so it is with the brakes. Respect both these controls and learn to shift gears as smoothly as you can, taking special care while down-shifting (even on bikes with the ‘slipper-clutch). The engine-induced braking can lock the rear and send the bike in a skid.
6. Increase your margins of safety under given conditions when riding a superbike compared to what you did while riding smaller capacity bikes. For example, go easy in heavy traffic, avoid weaving through lanes and keep an alert eye on those rear-view mirrors. Remember your bike can brake quicker than almost every other vehicle behind you. Getting rear-ended on a superbike is a very real possibility.
7. Keep the motorcycle’s equipment level in the best of shape. Stick to the recommended maintenance schedule but still keep a sharp eye for obvious and impending mechanical failures. Slack chains, worn brake pads, low oil or coolant levels, weak battery, low tyre pressure, fused lights or worn out tires, all or individually can contribute more or less to an unsafe ride. Some safety issues like worn brake pads, low oil level or slack chain are obvious for their effects but others like a fused brake light bulb that can make the following car rear-end you at night even when you braked ‘normally’ are not so obvious. So ‘all-ship-shape- is all-safe’.
8. These bikes have complex and expensive hardware and so take care to ‘feed’ them the proper fuel, oil and coolant. Bad fuel causes a drop in power and overheating in the short term and can severely damage the engine internals in the long term. So take care where you refuel from. And keep a mileage log for the bike. Not primarily for economic reasons but because ‘fuel consumption’ is a good indicator of engine health.
9. Most superbikes are so made these days that at least one of their headlights is always on while the engine is running. This is a very good safety feature making the bike visible from far off and even through heavy traffic. If this is not a standard feature on your bike, remember to ride on the low beam all the time, night or day.
10. Other road users in a country like ours, that have a sparse superbike population, don’t expect a motorcycle to move so fast as a superbike can. Don’t expect them to anticipate your high approach speeds and get out of your way. They usually won’t. Slow down to ‘common motorcycle’ speeds when riding through a populated area or where people are expected to cross the roads.
11. Riding on our mountain highways on a superbike seems very enticing and is admittedly very enjoyable. But always remember that a superbike is NOT flickable as our smaller bikes and so keep a very safe inside line during turns. High speeds invariably result in wider turns and you will have no chance to change your position towards the inside of the turn if another vehicle has encroached upon your outside lane. Braking while leaned is also no remedy as it too will result in a skid and a fall. In fact while on mountain roads, it would be safer to ride a trifle slower on a superbike than you would on your smaller bike.
12. Wet roads, whether due to rain or spilled water or whatever, can be a real pain on superbikes. Their soft-compound tyres have minimal grooves (to keep the maximum amount of tractable rubber on the road) and so are not very efficient at dispersing water from under the contact patch. Also the powerful engine can easily induce a wheel-spin under such low-traction conditions. So be very gentle with the throttle, especially while exiting turns and when starting from a stop. And the same care is critical while braking too. Locking up either or both the wheels is a distinct possibility on wet roads.
13. Iced up roads are NO place to be on a superbike and so no amount of wisdom or tips shall get you and your bike across this ‘zero-friction’ environment where even mere walking can be an issue.
14. Take a pillion with you on a superbike only after you are thoroughly familiar with its behavior with just ‘you’ on it. As a thumb rule, do a few hundred miles on the bike alone, under differing conditions and at differing speeds to get the hang of things. Then take as pillion only someone who explicitly trusts your riding abilities. A pillion who ‘resists’ leaning and tenses up during acceleration and while braking can seriously upset the bike’s balance and things can go from bad to dangerous in a moment. Compared to a small bike, the acceleration on a superbike will necessarily feel a LOT stronger and this can scare most pillions. Same with braking. Talk to them before the ride and tell them what to expect.
15. Heat can be a big issue with these bikes, especially in weather conditions that prevail through most of our country. The powerful engines produce a LOT of heat and though liquid cooled, the heat has to be rejected into the surrounding air by the engine’s cooling system. So, the cooling fans throw out hot air close to the rider’s feet and legs and this heat can turn downright uncomfortable and debilitating during our hot summers. Also the bike’s engine too can get overheated when used under high-ambient temperature conditions. So during summer months at least, avoid using the bike except during the relatively cooler mornings and nights.
Photo: It is extremely important to wear safety gear from top to bottom when astride a Superbike, in fact any kind of bike!
Superbiking is fun and addictive. The thrill of accelerating hard, harder than in any other form of transport, allied with the high speeds possible makes it an out-of-ordinary experience. And to keep this experience as pleasant as possible, the rider must take the SOLE RESPONSIBILITY both for his own safety and that of other road users he shares the roads with. A level head when allied with educated skills can go all the way in making superbike riding an extremely pleasurable sport.
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