Last night I dropped by Race City to visit my old friends from BGPRSchools and see what the VFR1200 felt like on the race track.
Being a guest, I was careful not to overstay my welcome and stuck around for just 2 sessions. Also, I knew that the more laps I rode, the faster I would want to go, and the more likely I was to crash my expensive prized possession. The race track is a dangerous addictive substance, but I just needed a taste.
Having not ridden on the track for nearly a year, I had some serious jitters. I went out in the (nearly vacant) intermediate group and pinned it down the front straight. Just as it did on my very first ride, the big VFR put me immediately at ease. Though I wasn't riding at anywhere near a competition pace, the VFR accellerated, braked and flowed through the turns effortlessly. The jitters were gone by turn 3 and I settled into a relaxed but fun pace, easily dragging my knee through a few different turns and braking confidently at the ends of the straights. The Dunlop Roadsmart tires had no trouble with my sedate pace and gave plenty of confidence in the tight turns.
Unlike the racier motorcycles I've had in the past, the VFR1200 has gear ratios suited for road riding. First gear is good for pulling away from a stop fully loaded with luggage and a passenger... but it's used up by 80Km/h. 2nd through 5th are spread widely and take you from 80-220Km/h. 6th gear is a tall overdrive that's good for relaxed highway cruising. The road bias of the gearbox was frustrating in a few spots, where it was tough to know what gear to use. Muscle-memory is a powerful and surprising subconscious influence. My brain and left foot were programmed to change into specific gears at specific points in the track from the hundreds of laps I've run here before. The influence was so strong that I even upshifted a couple of times going into slow turns, having been accustomed to a GP shift pattern on my old racebike... which hasn't happened once on the road. It seems my brain runs on a completely different motorcycle riding software at the track. I suppose that's a good thing.
Brad signalled for a first-gear roll-on dragrace on the front straight. He was riding his slightly modified Suzuki B-King. We lined up doing close to 100Km/h and I didn't stand a chance. As soon as I "hit it" I hit the rev limiter and had to upshift. I made a hasty upshift and caught neutral, and Brad and the BK were gone. At 100 in first, his Suzuki was just getting into the good part of the power curve, and the VFR was almost redlined. We had a re-match the second time around in second gear. The big VFR still lost ground to the big streetfighter, but kept pace surprisingly well.
As always with the BGPR team, bikes are shared, and Brad Gavey is one of about 3 people on the planet that I would allow to ride my VFR1200. He's ridden literally hundreds if not thousands of motorcycles and was eager to throw a leg over the big Honda. His impression was that it was faster and better handling than he expected, but the length was very noticeable. He loved the gearbox for its smoothness but hated the ratios. The Dunlop Roadsmart tires reached their limitations quickly with an expert racer on board, even at what was for Brad a very casual pace. He figured it could probably lap pretty quickly with better tires. He made no mention of the shaft drive which probably means he didn't really notice it. He said he would have gone a bit faster but was concerned he'd drag the bodywork on the curbing.
While Brad tested my VFR, I tried his 2010 Kawasaki ZX-10R. I took it easy for fear of crashing his brand-new gift from a sponsor. The "gentleman's insurance policy" is "you crash mine I keep yours". I didn't want Brad to keep my VFR any more than I wanted to keep his ZX so I was very cautious. The big Kawi has a reputation for being a man-eater but I was pleasantly surprised. Though it accelerated and braked with cataclysmic force, it was remarkably forgiving and easy to ride. For a Honda guy, the riding position felt weird; a tight riders' triangle with high pegs and low clip-ons. My hands were positioned right ahead of my bent knees and if I didn't sit bolt upright when braking for turn 1 it felt like I would be ejected over the front wheel. Brad said afterwards that at the limit, it does get pretty twitchy but I wasn't going anywhere close to it. Still, I liked it more than I expected.
I didn't plan on running a full track day on the VFR; I just wanted to try it out. It won't be something I'll do regularly, but it was a good exersize to build a bit of confidence on the bike and see what it would do when pushed a little. Definitely glad I went.