The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012

June 15, 2006

The Year of MotoGP

Rossi leads NickyI’ve posted previously about why I love motorcycle racing. 200 mph bikes, making upwards of 200 or 250 hp out of a 1000 cc engine, racing within inches of each other… There’s nothing like it. The narrow bikes make for a lot of passing; the ability to see the rider moving around on the bike and watching bikes lean over so far you wonder how those tiny tires can stay glued to the road, and it gives you a ton of respect for the men who can control the power those bikes wield.

But in the world of racing, parity can be a problem. Often, one team and one rider tends to dominate. The motorcycles ridden are typically on a two-year cycle of minor revisions to design, and a four-year cycle for complete redesigns. While there is a lot of parity, with the various manufacturers each shooting for an edge within the rules, one bike tends to come out on top. This year in AMA Superbike, of the first 9 races of the year, the wins have all come on Suzuki factory machines, split between Mat Mladin and Ben Spies. In World Superbike, 7 of 10 victories went to Troy Bayliss on a factory Ducati machine. With a few early-season troubles, he’s on a 7-win streak, so everything is looking rosy for the rest of the season.

HaydenBut not so in MotoGP. The year has been up and down for everyone. Of the first six races, four different riders have won, on three different machines (3 Honda, 2 Yamaha, 1 Ducati). A perennial also-ran in MotoGP, the Suzuki bike, hasn’t won a single race, but has sat in pole position several times. The level of parity is amazing.

But some strange factors have made it even more fun to watch. The man who is considered by some to be the best motorcycle racer ever, Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), has won two of those races but sits 5th in Championship standings. He has taken home the MotoGP championship every single one of the last five years, but the first corner of the first race of this season, he was taken out in a crash. He’s had mechanical troubles and other problems in several other races. Luck hasn’t been on his side. The co-leader of the championship standings, Nicky Hayden (Honda), hasn’t won a race all year, but has consistently been among the top riders every week. However, as championship co-leader, and the official top-man on his team, he’s battling every week with Dani Pedrosa (Honda), two time champion of the 250 cc class (the next step down), a rookie in MotoGP, yet already with one race win under his belt. Tied in points with Hayden is Loris Capirossi (Ducati), who is technically winning the championship due to his one race win, and third in points is Marco Melandri (Honda), with two race wins under his belt.

CapirossiThis is a year that holds excitement every week. Can Rossi, one of the best (if not THE best) racers of all time, battle back from a 34-point deficit to retain his title? Can Nicky Hayden win a race or two, and be the first American to win the championship since Kenny Roberts in 2000, and Kevin Schwantz, the most recent before him in 1993? Will we see Dani Pedrosa, a rookie who has been compared in talent to Valentino Rossi, take over his throne? Any one of the top 5 still has a great chance at winning the whole thing, and without a clear-cut favorite, who knows what might happen?

Either way, if you’re halfway interested in starting to follow MotoGP, now is the time to do it. Broadcast schedules can be found at, and there are races scheduled 5 of the next 6 weekends. They’re usually on Sundays, but they typically get replayed on Tuesday. Besides, this is what TiVo is for, right?

And if you’re in California, on July 23rd, MotoGP will be coming to race at Laguna Seca near Monterrey. The place will become a madhouse, I’m sure, but if you want to see what these machines are capable of– up close and personal– book your tickets now. Don’t forget to bring your earplugs!

PedrosaFor racing fans, it doesn’t get much better than this. There’s not a type of racing I’d rather watch than the two-wheeled variety. With it being a completely competitive year for all of the top riders, every week is important. One crash, one slip, or finishing 3rd place instead of 2nd in a single race could be the difference in being the 2006 MotoGP Champion, remembered forever in the history books, and being the runner-up, your results forgotten by 2008.

Check it out. If you’re not wowed, you know where to send the complaints!

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 8:35 pm || Permalink || Comments Off || Trackback URL || Categories: Motorcycles/Racing

June 12, 2006

It’s a Good Thing Big Ben is Rich…

…because he won’t be getting women based on looks anymore!

Roethlisberger Injured in Motorcycle Accident

One source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Steelers had not released any detailed information about Roethlisberger’s condition yet, said the quarterback had suffered a broken jaw and a broken bone in his sinus cavity. Roethlisberger also lost some teeth and had a significant gash on his head, the source said.

People close to Roethlisberger had heard reports that he suffered injuries to both knees but weren’t immediately certain if those reports were accurate. Any knee injuries potentially could be the most serious to Roethlisberger’s prospects for playing football this coming season.

One witness told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that Roethlisberger was not wearing a helmet. Pennsylvania’s mandatory helmet law was repealed three years ago, and Roethlisberger has said publicly that he does not like to wear a helmet when riding.

Ugh. I was in Florida last weekend, and saw a bunch of riders without helmets. I still hate the idea of helmet laws, but every time I see someone riding helmetless I want to just shake the stupidity out of them. I realize that some folks are not worth the skin they leave on the highway when they crash, but to see this happen to someone like Roethlisberger, with so much going for him, is just a sad, sad thing.

I’ve been in three crashes on motorcycles. The first was pure novice riding. I was up in the mountains (Hwy 9 in Northern California, between Saratoga & Four Corners), riding with someone I barely knew. He was more skilled than I was, and I was trying to keep up with him. I entered a corner a bit too hot, although nowhere near the bike’s limits, and got scared. I got on the brakes, stood the bike up, running off the road. The instant my front wheel hit dirt, the bike came out from under me, and I was face-to-dirt. There’s something odd about sliding through dirt a mere two inches from your eye, and being able to see it move past through your visor. But it’s a hell of a lot better than leaving your face on the side of the road, which I would have done without a helmet.

The third crash was a real doozy (I’m omitting the second crash, because it’s not interesting). I was at my third trackday, at the Streets of Willow. It was my first day to join the “Race” group, which is the faster of the two classifications. I use quotes because there is no actual competitive racing during the track day, it’s just the step above the “Sport” group. I was able to get my knee down for the first time, and was really starting to feel my oats. Sure, I was getting passed often by the fast guys, but I was riding faster than I ever had before. One of my sessions, I was going through the bowl, and I had noticed a small bump on track right where I was starting to open the throttle in the corner. On one lap, I even felt the rear end of the bike break traction and “step out” a bit. But, being an idiot, I didn’t change my behavior in that corner. Well, the very next session, I was hauling through there, and the rear end stepped out again. The next thing to happen was a classic highside:

Honestly, except for the fact that I’m not a factory-sponsored, world-class motorcycle racer, I expect my crash looked just about identical to that. When something like that happens, things move so quickly that certain portions are a blur. But I remember the initial snap as I lost traction and the bike tossed me. I remember (like Miguel in the video) being above the bike, hands still on the bars, trying to save the crash when it was way too far gone. And I’ve got a nice scar on my right shoulder from the impact when I finally did hit the ground. But with good protective gear, I was able to get up after the crash (albeit without running over and picking the bike back up, of course!).

Good protective gear that Ben Roethlisberger didn’t wear. Ben has said in other interviews that he considers himself a “safe rider”. But being a safe rider doesn’t protect you from all the other idiots on the road. The early reports of Ben’s crash are that it was caused by a driver pulling out in front of him. It’s pretty unlikely that he had any chance to avoid it, no matter how safe or skilled of a rider he is. At that point, the only thing you have to rely on is the “just in case” precautions. They say to “Dress for the crash, not for the ride”, because you never know when you’ll crash.

I can only hope that this will have a silver lining, and more people who choose not to wear a helmet will rethink their choice. After my first crash, I told a close friend about how I’d be missing half a face without a helmet, and he vowed to always wear a helmet after that conversation. That may have saved his life when he crashed at high speed on the freeway a few months later. If a few people see how easily Ben Roethlisberger— a self-declared “safe rider”— crashed, perhaps they’ll start wearing helmets. But knowing our current political climate, I fear that more and more people will just start clamoring for a return to mandatory helmet laws.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 8:22 pm || Permalink || Comments (2) || Trackback URL || Categories: Motorcycles/Racing, News, Personal Life, Sports, YouTube

March 2, 2006

The “other” Sport

Makoto Tamada
Yes, I think college football occasionally gets jealous of this one :-)

This past weekend, my other favorite sport kicked off the season. I spent about a year unable to really follow it, as I didn’t have a DVR (and it’s showed at inopportune times when I’m usually busy), but now I’m back.

Of course, I’m talking about motorcycle racing. In my mind, it is the most fun of all motorsports. I give it the slight edge over rally because of wheel-to-wheel racing, while rally is all time trials. For the time, I don’t think there are any races more exciting than motorcycle racing.

There are a lot of races that are wonderful to watch, each with their own special appeal. Drag racing, of course, is a pure testosterone fest. Races last less than 10 seconds each, and the fastest cars go from dead stop to a blistering 300 mph in a mere 4 seconds of sound and fury. But I can’t get into it. I’m sure it might be fun live, but the experience loses something on TV. Then, there’s NASCAR. NASCAR is more of a team sport than nearly any other racing (again, with the exception of rally), and the levels of strategy employed are amazing. Tire strategy, pit stop strategy, fuel strategy, as well as inter-team “alliances”, make it a very complex sport. It’s played out like an episode of Survivor, only at 200 mph. A lot of people love NASCAR, but I want racers to turn both directions, not just left. Last, there is Formula 1. This has it all. High levels of technical acumen that makes an engineer like myself drool. Braking forces and acceleration occur at mind-blowing rates, and the cars have enough downforce that they could drive upside down! But there’s one thing missing: competition. I remember watching a race, where there were absolutely no lead changes whatsoever. The levels of technology have hit the point where all the cars are so highly engineered that the best car with the best driver qualifies in front, leaves the pack, and that’s all she wrote.

Nope. Motorcycle racing is where it’s at. The technology present is pretty crazy, with 1L engines spooling up to 18,000 RPM and making 250 horsepower. All this on a motorcycle that barely weighs 300 lbs. To give an approximation of the power to weight ratio, imagine that your 1-ton family sedan had 1200-1500 horsepower, instead of the 180 it currently has. Yeah. It’s fast. But there’s more than just technology. There’s wheel-to-wheel racing. There are times where two riders will actually touch on track. Passes sometimes occur with only inches to spare, and many races are tightly-fought battles, with the lead changing once a lap. Even when one racer walks away with the race, it’s rare that you don’t then see a pack of 3-4 riders all battling intently for 2nd place. The diminutive size of a motorcycle requires less space to make a pass, so the different lines each rider takes through corners, and the different places passes are attempted and made make for exciting racing.

Motorcycle racing has one other advantage over cars. You see the rider, and you see him moving around on the bike. The rider makes up a significant portion of the weight of the machine, so seeing a rider “hanging off”, as in the above photo, dramatically affects the handling of the bike. You actually get to see how certain riders use their body to affect the bikes. And that doesn’t even account for the harrowing moments you occasionally see. When the time comes that the bike doesn’t do what is expected, you see what happens to a rider. Often, what happens is that a rear tire will break traction and then regain, and a rider will noticeably pop out of his seat. Usually, it’s just a reminder of just how hard they’re pushing the bike, but occasionally, you get to see treats like below! (FYI, I believe this was Valentino Rossi, a couple of years ago)

When you watch motorcycle racers, they do everything they can to make it look easy. It seems like they’re flowing through corners. On TV, it usually doesn’t even look like they’re going that fast. But then you realize they’re braking to the point the rear wheel is off the ground coming into a corner, cranking the bike from upright to a full lean at anywhere between 60 and 150 mph, waiting until the suspension settles and getting onto the gas as early and as fully as possible to accelerate away quickly. If you’ve never tried to lean a bike over at 100 mph, you don’t understand the forces involved. Motorcycles are incredibly stable vehicles at high speed, due to the gyroscopic inertia of spinning wheels, and trying to get an upright motorcycle to lean over at 100+ mph takes serious effort.

When you realize just how incredible it is to watch these riders pilot a bike under normal circumstances, and then when you see them coming into a corner sliding wheels, or smoke pouring off the tire as they spin up the rear on corner exits, and you get a whole new appreciation for just what a razor’s edge they’re balancing on. And all in the name of entertainment. And then when you see the intangibles (like in this weekend’s World Superbike race, where on the last lap the second-place racer and first-place racer both crashed due to an ill-advised passing attempt), there’s not much that will get you into motorsports quicker.

I’m not a basketball fan, I don’t watch hockey, I can’t stand soccer, and baseball makes me more want to sleep than watching golf. So when I need excitement in between football seasons, it’s a steady diet of World Superbike, AMA racing, and MotoGP for me.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 10:57 pm || Permalink || Comments (2) || Trackback URL || Categories: Motorcycles/Racing, Sports, YouTube

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