Victoria’s Phillip Island recently hosted the opening round of the World Superbike Championship. Despite several Australians competing in this world championship event, it hardly rated a mention in the media, and received no free-to-air TV coverage.
Yes, I know that motorcycle racing is not as popular as sports that involve people chasing a ball around. I also know that some people don’t even consider the riders to be athletes, saying all they do is, “Sit on a motorbike and ride around in circles!” Well, I want to say that these riders are indeed athletes, and highly skilled ones at that! They deserve more recognition.
Imagine the skill required to control a two-wheeled machine with performance that would make the fastest road car look like its engine was missing. Imagine trying to control all that performance as you race it around a circuit that twists and turns, rises and falls. Imagine the bike accelerating hard, braking hard, with nothing to hold you on it except your hands and legs.
Australia has had several world champion motorcycle racers, not the least of whom was our own “Wollongong Whiz”, Wayne Gardner. Our most recent champion was Casey Stoner, who twice won the MotoGP world championship.
Casey has retired from racing now, but I’d like to use him as an example of the talent required to race a motorcycle. One incident stands out to me that demonstrated his amazing talent. He wouldn’t consider it anything special, but I think it says a lot about his ability. I’ll tell you about it. In fact, I’ll put you in his position. For now you are Casey Stoner.
You are doing about 300kp/h and there is a corner up ahead. Suddenly you hit a bump and it throws the bike off balance. The handlebars shake so violently that your hands are shaken off the grips. You grab the bars again and struggle to regain control. The bike stops its shaking and settles down, but the corner is coming up fast. You grab the front brake and the lever goes straight to the handlebar; you’ve got no brakes!
The brakes have suffered what is termed “pad knock-off”: The violent shaking has forced the pistons that operate the brakes back into the calipers, allowing the pads to come away from the discs. The brakes have to be pumped to get them working again.
But by now you are almost on top of the corner. Usually you use just two fingers to pull the brake lever, but now you anxiously grab the lever with all four and pump vigorously. The pads snap back into position and grip the discs hard. Very hard! So hard that the back of the bike lifts off the ground!
The back wheel skips slightly sideways then, as you ease the pressure on the brakes, it comes back down. But there is now no way you can make the corner. You run off the track and into the gravel-trap on the outside of the corner.
You’ve just lost the lead in the 2011 Japanese MotoGP. But losing the lead is not your main concern right now. Right now your main concern is keeping the bike upright and trying to get it through the gravel-trap. Your boots prod and paddle the ground as the bike bucks and weaves through the rim-deep loose gravel. You keep it going and eventually make it onto the grass at the other side and then back onto the track.
You’ve lost about six places, but you make good progress through the remainder of the race and at the end you are on the podium, in third position. It’s a good result, but you’re disappointed; you should’ve won.
For you it’s just “another day at the office”; another day at your job of world championship motorcycle racer. You’ve run off the track before and, no doubt, you’ll run off the track again. In this race there were six other riders who also ran off the track. Five of those riders crashed, including the multi-championship winner, Valentino Rossi. But you managed to keep going and achieve a good result.
For you it’s a disappointment, a mistake that shouldn’t have happened. For those watching you it’s an indication of your ability on a racing motorcycle and, for them at least, confirmation that you deserve to be world champion. It’s also confirmation that you are a very talented sportsman.
Elwyn Jordan is a musician and full-time music teacher. He describes himself as being old enough to be called a senior citizen but young enough to play rock ‘n’ roll. Besides music, his interests include technology and motoring. He runs a motorcycling web-site called The Old Bloke. http://theoldbloke.homestead.com.