"Some people will tell you
that slow is good-and it may be, on some days...but I'm here to tell you that fast is
I've always believed this, in spite of the trouble it's caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better
than being squeezed out of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles ..." -Hunter S. Thompson
I used to ride a 1995 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R. White, with green and purple stripes and green wheels. It was really beautiful, after the initial retina fusing color shock faded and you got used to it owning a bike that basically glowed in the dark without any aftermarket neon or reflective tape. After owning the Ninja, other bikes seemed plain, drab, ordinary. The Ninja was a crotch rocket, a "rice burner" as the inbred redneck hill scoggins call these types of bikes, and it wasn't made in America. It's all Japanese, Pacific Rim hardware, and the fit, quality, and performance are second to none. No American-made bike could touch it in any category of the spectrum, none.
My Ninja was powered by a 599cc (36 cubic inch) in-line four cylinder engine that was liquid cooled and had a high capacity oil cooler. It was the most compact, most powerful, most advanced 600cc engine currently in production on the planet at that time and received many accolades for its design from the major motorcycle publications. The compact engine produced ninety seven horsepower, a twin intake ram air setup with pressurized air box bumped that to probably another five percent additional power when under speed. Ninety-seven horsepower was a far cry from the outdated, air cooled irrigation pumps that powered the bikes that Milwaukee was producing. Eighty-eight cubic inches thumping out a laughable fifty something horsepower was about the most power you could get if you went with the best that America could build.
Now, to put into perspective, on a power output to engine size ratio, the Kawasaki's motor made ninety-seven horses out of a miniscule thirty-six cubic inches. That would be the equivalent of having a 350 cubic inch small block Chevy under your hood that made 944 horsepower from the factory, stock. In order to get anywhere near ninety-seven horsepower out of any Harley engine, you pretty much had to (expensively) rebuild it from the ground up, in stages, and by the time you were finished, you had almost as much money in the motor as you did in the original purchase price of the bike.
The 1995 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R could see zero to sixty miles per hour in just over two seconds and blast down the quarter mile in just over ten seconds at a speed of almost a hundred and thirty miles an hour. The ultra-compact, advanced design power plant produced a very miserly economy of over 40 miles per gallon consistently. When was the last time that you had a 944 horsepower small block Chevy that got over 40 miles to the gallon? Probably never.
The compact liquid cooled engine screamed through a smooth shifting six speed manual transmission all the way to a stratospheric fourteen thousand revolutions per minute. How fast was that? Well, figure that, at top speed, each piston is doing two hundred and thirty three and a third complete movements each second. I can't even begin to imagine that kind of movement, pistons rising and falling so fast, that their individual movement would be almost invisible to the naked eye. The ZX-6R could see the north side of one hundred and fifty-five miles an hour flat out with full throttle, leaning down, and the four hungry Khein carburetors breathing deep through the ram air pressurized air box.
Handling for the Ninja was like the bike was on rails, going into corners wasn't like maneuvering, it was more like riding a rollercoaster. You just sat back, pointed at the curve, and hung it. Going into the curve, you started to lean, but you were already riding three to five seconds ahead, caching yourself ahead in time. You had already picked your exit point from the curve, so all you had to do was hang on, let the curve come down through the queue, and enjoy the ride in the process.
The suspension was fully adjustable, Kayba, which allowed me to set up the bike to the point that I felt comfortable with it. The brakes were phenomenal; twin, Nissin, dual piston powered caliper discs on the front and a huge Nissin twin piston powered disc on the back. The rear brake was a little too powerful, but I would rather have it that way than having to say that the rear brake was inadequate. On the ZX-6R, you learned quickly that the rear brake required real skill to use correctly and that the rear brake did not bear fools easily, especially when entering corners at high speed.
There was even a seat for a passenger, so I could share the immense enjoyment that I get out of motorcycle riding with the one person to whom I was equally devoted; my wife, Cynthia.
I was very happy, yet other people just didn't understand why I owned a bike like the Ninja. I love sport bikes. Always have. Always will. I'm opinionated, and that's fine. It's my site, my space on the web, my life. If you send me email telling my how your custom built '94 Harley Fat Boy will whip my Ninja any day of the week, I'll just pity you and add you to a very long list of losers who have a severe lack of both common and financial sense.
I will probably never own a cruiser or a standard, and I promise you that I will never own a touring bike (a rolling sofa decked out with Christmas tree lights). I say 'probably' never, because I don't like to say never. Never is a long time, and I've been burned before using that word. I like some standards, and some cruisers, it's just that the overall level of performance, of weight to power ratio, and of handling and braking doesn't really satisfy me, it doesn't reassure me in today's world of blithering idiots behind the wheel. BMW's new cruiser is a sheer work of art. Some of the Japanese cruisers are sweet looking, back in 1990, I fell in love with a 1985 black Honda Nighthawk, but I wisely decided to keep my '84 VF500F Interceptor. The Nighthawk just didn't feel 'right'. Sure, it was tough looking, it sounded nice, it had the 'look' that I feel that a cruiser should have, but I would have given up too much performance, too much safety, in my opinion, to go with the Nighthawk over the Interceptor.
So, people always asked me the same old question.
Why must you go against all social norms and ride the kind of bike that you do? Why can't you ride a nice little safe bike like a Harley, or a Goldwing? A good American made bike. Why do you like that buzzy, screaming wasp sound when you could have the melodious tones of a flag waving elephant suffering with flatulence to proceed you wherever you go? Why must you support some other country's economy when you should really be spending your hard earned American money here in America? Why can't you ride a good bike? An American bike instead of one of those nasty old cheap rice burners! Why don't you ride a real bike?
Excuse me, but in case you hadn't noticed, I do ride a real bike.
My choice in motorcycles is based more on function and form over image and sound. I base my decision on a great number of reasons, the least of which is what people will think of me when I'm on the bike, or what I think I should look like when I ride. What I choose to ride is a choice that is always based on performance, total performance. I ride what I feel that I need to ride in order to compliment my skills, to enjoy my time spent riding, and most importantly of all, to help me survive to ride another day. I don't subscribe to an image and I don't have to buy my riding enjoyment out of a catalog or dress the part just to be considered to be a real biker. I'm a long time rider with many years of experience, I understand the siren call of the open road and what it takes to survive in an environment full of thousands of tons of swift moving four wheeled metal under the control of total blithering idiots, therefore I want a bike that matches my riding ability, that allows me to use all of my survival and riding skills, and actually enhances those abilities and skills. I personally demand a lot of feedback from the horse that I ride, I want and need to feel the road, to notice every bump and every irregularity. I need precise and detailed information and I need that data instantly, constantly, in a never ending stream of information imparted from the various sensory extensions of the bike under me to my brain. I need this information in order to be able to correctly judge, at any given instant in time, exactly where I need to adjust my performance, to apply my skills. I need this information in order to determine how I need to fine tune my riding and to judge where I am in the total performance envelope that I am currently generating.
The world is not a kind place, and with the increasing laws passed by this country which not only protect stupid people from the laws of natural selection, but actually reward them handsomely for breeding in large numbers, you have to really ask yourself one question: are you truly safe riding your choice of motorcycle?
I've made my choice; sport bike.
Speed is life, or so any jet fighter pilot will tell you. However, speed also kills. A wise man once said that with great power comes great responsibility and this was never more true than when you own a sport bike. The dim witted members of the bewildered herd often think that just because you own a sport bike that you must therefore zip around everywhere at triple digits. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I'd rather have the potential for speed and not need it, than I would to need the potential for speed and not have it. I'm sure there will be some noggin scratching done in the trailer parks on that thought, but there's merit in the philosophy. Let me put it another way. Owning a sport bike is like being a jet fighter pilot. Just because you fly an ultra-modern jet fighter that is capable of doing twice the speed of sound doesn't mean that every time you take off you throw the throttle all the way forward to its full military stop, engage the afterburners, and rattle windows behind your Mach 2 shockwave. Speed is life, but it is the potential for speed that is what sets the sport bike apart from all others.
Riding a sport bike sharpens your being. It awakens your senses and tests your physical, mental, and spiritual capacities to the limit.
Every time that I climbed aboard my Ninja and fired up the engine, I was shooting up with a pure dose of undiluted adrenaline. Riding the Ninja was addictive, beyond any type of man-made drug imaginable. It was all consuming, all powerful, and it was absolutely free. Unfortunately, like any drug, it was habit forming. Any time I had to spare, given weather conditions, I could take part in one of the greatest types of enjoyment that I had ever experienced. With each RPM, each mile per hour of speed, each pulse of spent energy through the exhaust canister, I become more awakened, more alive, more aware, more sharpened. It's almost impossible to describe how I felt when the engine began to rev toward fourteen grand in sixth gear, the roar of the ram air intake, the exhaust note, the rush of power, the physical pull of the Ninja as it effortlessly sliced a tunnel surgically through the atmosphere. The sensation of the wind rushing past my full face helmet, the scents carried on the air, the sounds, the sights, the motion, the rush, it was incredible! When I finally had to end my ride, I felt like I was coming down off of a comet. The rest of the world looked flat, slow, awkward, and it took some time to readjust.
I guess it must be what test pilots feel like after wringing out a new airplane design but like any test pilot, this kind of performance was held to safe areas, well away from heavy congestion and traffic. Doing triple digits in traffic is a sure fire way to nominate yourself for this year's Darwin award, and you might just do it posthumously as well.
Total performance throughout the performance envelope, in all aspects. That's what a sport bike offers its rider. A sport bike isn't a motorcycle, it's more like an extension of your body, your mind, your heart, and your soul. It works your muscles, your mind, your senses. It sharpens your thinking, speeds your reflexes, and it deepens your soul at the same time that it expands your mind.
A sport bike is also one of the harshest teachers in the world. It allows you very few, if any, mistakes. You must pass all of your tests, with each test comes new knowledge, new experience, new wisdom. Each test passed is an awakening to new abilities and deeper perceptions and the realization that greater goals lie ahead with promise of greater rewards.
An ancient oriental proverb states that "Experience is the hardest teacher. It gives the test first, and the lesson afterwards." I can't think of a better way to describe owning or riding a sport bike. Each day, many times, you will be tested. Fail one test, and you might be replacing a damaged cowl. Fail another test, and your next of kin may be getting a very unwanted phone call in the middle of the night.
Sport bikes absolutely demand respect. Anything less and you don't need to swing your leg over one. Period. If you ever lose respect for a sport bike, that is the beginning of the end, for either you or the bike. Get off of your bike until you respect it again. If you can outride your current bike, don't! Get a more capable bike. Don't ever push the machine where you can go and it can't. Consequently, never over ride your own skills. Don't be afraid to admit your limits, and live well within them. If you don't, the only person you're going to hurt is yourself.
Even when I get old, I'll probably still ride fast bikes; fast cruisers, fast standards, and fast sport bikes. Why? Because I refuse to diminish my motorcycling experience. I want the sharpest tool available for carving my life's images, and I don't want those images diluted through the filters which we have provided for ourselves these days.
People ask me why I own a sport bike.
It's because I'd rather be out, leaned over, carving up a corner than piddling along on some loud piped, chromed out, leather clad wannabe bike. I rather be making an image for myself, rather than borrowing one from someone else.
I want to live and ride, and I'll do it on my own.
I want a bike that is tassel (hehe, sorry), uh, hassle free. I don't want to spend three hours polishing chrome and one hour riding. I don't want my bike always in the shop. I don't want a bike made up of parts from several other bikes or models. I don't want a loud, slow bike.
I don't want a rolling facade.
I ride sport bikes because I want everything that life and the ride itself can give me. I want to experience it all and I don't get that when I'm slowed down by three square foot windscreens and hard luggage packs. Leather is fine for protecting against road rash, but I, not my bike, am going to wear leather. I will never own a bike with a leather seat, or saddlebags, or tassels or highway bars. The last thing that I rode that had tassels was my Schwinn when I was four years old.
I've grown up. So have my tastes and my needs.
I don't subscribe to studded leather, wallets on a chain, or a host of other accessories that so many people find absolutely required for riding a motorcycle. Required? Why? Does a wallet on a chain drop your ET by half a second? Do tassels decrease the drag co-efficiency? Do studded leather saddlebags add to the stability of your bike in the corner?
No. Like the rest of Harley Davidson, these items are merely for show. It's a lifestyle, and as it is a lifestyle, it isn't a real motorcycle. It's all pretend, and I want no part of that. This isn't the wild west anymore and I'm not riding the Pony Express. I don't need saddlebags to carry stuff in. If I'm going to go and get that much stuff, I'll take my car instead. Since when did motorcycles become moving vans or a substitute for a camper? What's with all the saddle bags, trailer hitches, and trailers? Motorcycles are for riding, and riding means going fast, being sleek, streamlined, getting away from that box on wheels that we call the automobile. Motorcycles are the anti-automobile. They are the ultimate escape in our stress filled civilization.
What good is getting away from it all if you take it all with you when you ride?
It's ludicrous. Too many people won't let go of that box on wheels. When they get on their bike, they're really just stepping into a car that doesn't have doors or a roof. It's sad. When your bike has a trunk, running boards, four head lights, wipers, heater, an AM/FM stereo radio, a CB, windscreen, and a reverse gear, what do you have?
You have a car without doors or a roof!
You don't have a motorcycle!
You have got to let go, people. If you don't, you're missing the whole experience of motorcycling.
Motorcycling is all about freedom, about getting away, about being one with the road and the machine. You can't do that if you have two hundred pounds of accessories on your ride. You can't do that if your bike won't lean or maneuver without scraping something and leaving a shower of sparks. You can't do that if your bike won't go over a hundred miles an hour without a solid fuel jet booster attached.
You just can't.
I made my choice and I'm happy with it. Those of you telling me to get a real bike sound like you aren't happy with your choice. You're so miserable with the bike that you ride that you want to somehow share that misery by taking away my joy. You can't handle a 'real' bike and so you are jealous of those of us who can. Those of us who are better riders than you shouldn't be on faster, better handling, lighter motorcycles, no! We should be on big, flashy, chrome plated snails with our arms gripping ape hangers and our legs riding like we were spread wide open in the stirrups at a gynecologist's office.
Sport bike riders are, by and large, much better riders than any other class of motorcycle riders. They have to be, their hardware absolutely demands it of them. People who can't ride a sport bike responsibly generally think that those who can shouldn't ride them either. Your American-made motorcycle is a slow, antique, chromed out, leather covered couch on wheels and you think that I want to buy into that ideal? You call that a 'real' bike?
You won't see me going around to every rider about to get on a Harley and saying "Hey, you! Why don't you get a real bike!"
Because I'm a mature rider who has respect for other riders. They may be wrong, they may ride total pieces of junk, but I respect that. Ignorance is bliss, and there are a lot of blissful riders out there (most with a shiny chain securing their wallet).
Put yourself in my shoes.
If you drove a brand new, bright red Toyota Turbo Supra and some dork pulled up beside you at the parking lot in his old beat up Ford Escort and shouted to you:
"Hey, why don't you get a real car! You need to sell that import and get you an American car, a REAL car! You need to drive a Ford Escort!"
What would you think of him? You'd probably have nothing but pity for the poor soul, and wonder if his parents were brother and sister.
See my point?
The difference between a Harley rider and a sport bike rider is that the Harley rider is a slave to his machine, a slave to the ignorant facade that keeps it alive, a slave to an image that has to be projected at all times in order to achieve the 'Harley Experience'. A sport bike rider, in direct contrast, is the master of his machine. It doesn't take very much, if any, brains to own a Harley, just a deep wallet and a willingness to embrace mediocrity. But if you buy a sport bike, you better have some wits and skill about you or you are in for a world of hurt. Also, since you are often dealing with close tolerance high end high performance hardware, sport bikes are not just for every common joe who can turn a key and twist a throttle. Any lemming can do that.
When it comes to motorcycle riding, I want the lightest, fastest, quickest, best handling motorcycle that honest hard earned money can buy, average money, from someone who works hard for their money. Harley riders, on the other hand, appear to want the heaviest, slowest, loudest, gaudiest, worst handling piece of outdated crap motorcycle that all of their money can buy. It is unreal what the market for Harleys is like, new and used. I'm constantly bewildered why anyone would pay ten or fifteen thousand dollars for a used piece of junk when half that much money would buy them a brand new Japanese bike and a lot of other toys. For what the top of the line Harleys sell for these days, I could buy two Kawasaki Ninjas, brand new! When you compare the price of the clothes necessary to maintain the 'image' of Milwaukee's V-twinkie, and compare it to what it takes to actually protect your ass when you ride, the difference will amaze you.
Why? Why buy a Harley? Are people just that stupid? I guess that it's easier to dump the throttle and make lots of noise so that everyone turns and looks at you than it is to hang a corner or ride the street like a pro. It's easier to get people to look at the flash, than it is to get them to notice the style.
There's a very big difference between being fast and powerful and just being loud and annoying.
Here's what I want everyone out there to know. Don't tell me to get a 'real bike.' I know what a 'real' bike is and Harley isn't a 'real' bike. Maybe you should look closer at what you ride and see if you can make that same statement.
Sport bikes forever!