Monday, July 31, 2006

Indian Autorickshaw Challenge: Three-wheeler Madness!

What vehicle would you choose if you had to race through 1,000km in southern India. Not an autorickshaw certainly…? :-))

They are calling it the Indian Auto Rickshaw Challenge, and it’s going to kick off on the 21st of August, from Chennai. The organizers claim that teams from over 15 countries worldwide are going to take part in this week-long endurance rally, and yes, the autorickshaw riding (driving?) participants will traverse nearly 1,000km through Tamil Nadu, with the event ending in Kanyakumari on the 28th of August.

Being held for the first time in India, the route for this rather unique rally is via Mamallapuram, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Tuticorin, Courtallam and finally Kanyakumari. The longest distance covered on any one single day will be during the third leg – Pondicherry to Thanjavur – which is 177km. The fourth and fifth legs will be 163km and 148km long, which will also test the endurance of both man and machine. Covering such distances in cars or motorcycles may be a cinch, but doing the same in seriously underpowered autorickshaws, with their rubbish ride quality, will be tough! Unpredictable road and weather conditions, unfamiliar food, and heavy traffic in places will add to the challenge, especially for foreign participants.

For those taking part, teams can comprise of a maximum of three people per autorickshaw. And if three-wheelers are not for you, you can also take part on the Enfield 350 or 500 Bullet motorcycle, with our without a sidecar! For more information, go to

If you're not from India, you've probably never seen one of our autorickshaws. So here, go for a ride in one, through the streets of Mumbai...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Freddie Spencer: The Sultan of Slide

The great Freddie Spencer, in action on his Honda NS500
During the 1980s, Americans were at the top in 500cc motorcycle grand prix racing. Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz and yes, Freddie Spencer. Freddie first won the 500cc world championship in 1983 and then, in 1985, won the 500cc and the 250cc world championships! Yes, two world championships in the same year! Though the softly-spoken Freddie is universally acknowledged as one of the most naturally talented motorcycle racers of all time, he could not, after winning two world championships in 1985, regain the same form again, and faded away from the scene by the late-1980s. Today, Spencer is still respected by those who raced against him and most people have a good word to say about this great racer.
Read a very interesting article about Freddie Spencer here

Freddie Spencer races his Honda NS500 against a Nissan 300ZX and a streetbike. Great video!

Spencer, one of the greatest motorcycle racing icons of all time...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Flexi-flyer: Suzuki GSX-R750 (1985-87)

The very first GSX-R. The repli-racer-for-the-road saga begins...

This, the first GSX-R, was definitely was a head-banging, hell-raising, outlaw. The bike was very light for its time, what with Suzuki using an aluminium alloy chassis and magnesium bits in the engine. The bike featured oil cooling (called SACS – Suzuki Advanced Cooling System) for more efficient heat dissipation, stout, 41mm front forks, twin 300mm dia brake discs at front and those twin round headlamps which later became such a Gixxer styling trademark.

The bike’s 749cc, DOHC, 16-valve inline-four was peaky and made most of its power only in the higher reaches of its rev range, which made it a bit of pain to use around town. But then the GSX-R was never made for drop-the-kids-to-school or fetch-the-groceries duties. It was meant for the dedicated, hard-core sportsbike rider who was more interested in getting his knee down than cruising down some Euro-boulevard desperately trying to look cool. Back then, the metrosexual male hadn’t been invented yet and women only rode Vespa scooters. Twist the throttle hard and the GSX-R delivered, waking up at 7000rpm and then screaming all the way up to its 10,500rpm redline, by which time you’d be doing more than 200km/h.

As you would expect, the first GSX-R wasn’t anywhere near perfect. In trying to reduce weight, Suzuki had, perhaps, gone too far – the ‘perimeter’ alloy frame couldn’t cope with the power and was prone to flex, as were the rather skinny wheels of that era. There wasn’t a great deal of feedback from the chassis, the rear shock was too soft and had inadequate damping, and at times, the brakes could be a bit temperamental! But while all this made it tough to pretend you were a Barry Sheene for the road, there’s no getting away from the fact that this first GSX-R was a landmark machine. Future generations of motorcyclists would thank the Gixxer, and Suzuki, for the current, 180bhp, open-class two-wheeled rocketships we see today.

GSX-R 750 (models F, G and H)
Years: 1985 - 87
Power: 80bhp@10,500rpm
Weight: 176kg
Top Speed: 205km/h
0 – 400m: 12.65 seconds

Other GSX-R stories:
Twenty years of the Suzuki GSX-R
Late 1980s/early 1990s GSX-Rs
GSX-R1000 vs Westfield XTR4 video!
Late 1990s GSX-R
Limited edition GSX-R Phantom

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gunslinger: Suzuki GSX-R750 (1988-91 models)

The 1988 Suzuki GSX-R750 'Slingshot'

In addition to SACS and Hyper Sports, this Suzuki GSX-R also had ‘Slingshot’ emblazoned on its flanks. This came from the bike’s redesigned Mikuni carburetors, which had straighter intakes for better combustion efficiency. This GSX-R, with its then radical, all-new styling, looked menacing. Mess with it and it would kill you.

Power was up to a real world 92 horsepower and the bike was capable of doing more than 230km/h in a straight line. The new, shorter stroke 749cc inline-four got a new bottom end (adapted from Suzuki’s own GSX-R1100), revved quicker and higher than the old model’s engine and was less peaky. While the older GSX-R didn’t wake up at all before 7,000 revs, the new one started making its grunt from 5,000rpm onwards – a big improvement for low speed, city riding. In a surprise move though, the M model went back to a longer stroke engine (perhaps to improve rideability and further reduce peakiness…?), which also made a genuine 100bhp for the first time.

The bike’s chassis was a strengthened, beefed-up version of the first GSX-R’s perimeter alloy frame, and steering geometry was made more radical in order to quicken the steering. The M version was the first production motorcycle to get upside-down (USD) front forks, which are now almost ubiquitous on all sports machinery. The ‘Slingshot’ GSX-R also got wider wheels, stickier rubber and higher-spec, multi-adjustable suspension – all of which helped in making it a better tool for the racetrack, where a lot of these bikes ended up being used. With its near unburstable engine and its proclivity for wheelies, stoppies and other acts of assorted two-wheeled hooliganism, this was a ‘proper’ Gixxer and a worthy successor to the first bike.

GSX-R 750 (models J, K, L and M)
1988 - 91
Power: 92bhp
Weight: 208kg
Top Speed: 235km/h
0 – 400m: 12.22 seconds

Right click and download a roadtest video of the 2006 Suzuki GSX-R1000 here

An old sketch of the Slingshot GSX-R, which I made in 1992
This video shows 20 years of evolution of the GSX-R...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

MV Agusta: You've come a long way baby!

On top of our list of lust-worthy MVs is, of course, the very beautiful MV Agusta F4 1000, a more powerful version of the earlier F4 750, which was, by far, the most mind-blowingly beautiful motorcycle to ever come out of Italy. And the 1000 continues to flaunt the same lines. It’s amazing, really – the 750 made its debut way back in 1997. Giacomo Agostini, who won multiple motorcycle roadracing world championships on MV Agusta bikes in the 1960s, unveiled the F4 Series d’Oro at Milan Show back then. And yet, the shape looks so terrific even now. I guess Tamburini has something special. He knows how to pen lines that stir our souls. Or maybe it’s something about Varese, in Italy, where the MV Agusta factory is situated.

To come to the bike itself, the 1000 has better ergonomics and is more comfortable than the old 750. Its 998cc inline-four revs to 11,750rpm, produces 166 horsepower, and the bike will do close to 290km/h. Plus, it’s littered with those desirable little bits which make it so lust-worthy – the exquisite chrome-moly chassis, 50mm Marzocchi USD front forks, beautifully machined alloys, and single-sided swingarm. Anything that can make a Japanese 1000cc superbike seem commonplace has got to be something really special. The MV Agusta F4 1000 S is that something. Italian motorcycles rock!

Below are some pics of an MV Agusta F4 in Rothmans livery. Yeah, Rothmans-liveried Fireblades we've seen, but an MV F4 in Rothmans colours? That's a first!  :-)

image host image host image host

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Striking Trike

My friend (and ex-colleague at CAR India) Jayesh, having a go on Timothy's trike!

Ex-motocross racer, ex-stuntman, motorcycle workshop owner and talented moto-craftsman he may be, but the most notable thing about Timothy Lewis is his ever-ready laugh and his infectious enthusiasm for motorcycles. And since he’s never satisfied with stock, he’s always looking at building something new, doing something nobody’s tried before. Money is not a driving factor for him – if he thinks he’ll enjoy building something, he’ll go ahead and build it anyway. Which is why this three-wheeled contraption exists. I asked him why he built this machine. He laughed and shot back, ‘why not?!’ Can I ride it? 'Yeah, sure!'

So we find ourselves on the Bandra-Worli sealink at six in the morning. As photographer Pratul sets up his photo equipment, there is already a crowd gathering around Tim’s trike. People want to touch it. Sit on it. Someone asks me when the machine is being launched in India. Another one wants to know how much it’ll cost. Timothy is standing on one side, smiling quietly. In the meanwhile, Jayesh (who’s now studying at IIM and is an MBA in the making…) has donned his jacket and helmet and is ready to ride the trike for pictures. And he actually manages to pull away without stalling the engine. Bravo! After a few runs up and down the sealink, security guards arrive on the scene to chase us away. We take the action to Bandstand, in Bandra. The crowds continue to gape and point. For those 30 minutes, Jayesh is Shah Rukh Khan.

But to come back to the machine itself, it’s no ordinary bodge-chop job. It’s been done with care and is finished quite well. The engine has been taken from a Maruti 800 and is fitted with a high-lift camshaft, resulting in a slight increase in power. Start the thing and it throbs quietly, while Timothy tells us it’s very reliable. I’m sure it is. The front forks are really long and the bottom legs are taken from a Honda CBR1000F. The front wheel is a 15-incher, clad in meaty Dunlop 170/80R15 rubber. Steering this thing takes some doing, believe me.

The gearbox is from a Maruti Omni, and transfers power – through an Omni differential – to the rear wheels. Which, by the way, have been taken off a Mazda Miata. You operate the clutch with your left hand and shift gears with your right, using a Premier Padmini’s column-shifter. Of course, shifting gears requires the rider to let go of the handlebar, which is a bit disconcerting. As this… vehicle gathers speed, it becomes increasingly disconcerting to let go of the handlebar and shift up another cog. Thank god for the M800 engine, because with anything more powerful, things would have been terrifying. Especially given that the only brakes here are from a Bajaj autorickshaw. ‘These would have been sufficient for a Bullet 500 engine, which I was planning to use earlier,’ explains Timothy. Oh, well.

We’re hungry by now, so we troop into an Irani joint for a spot of breakfast. Over Keema Pao, masala omelettes, bun maska and tea, we ask Tim what’s next on his list. What’ll he come up with next? ‘That,’ he says with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘is a secret! But I can assure you that nobody in India has tried anything like it before.’ And he laughs.

Timothy, the builder of this three-wheeled special, can be reached on +91-9820241057

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Campagna T-Rex: Three-wheeled madness

It costs US$50,000, has three wheels, and looks as dramatic as a Lamborghini Diablo. And, oh, it almost goes as hard as one too!

The Campagna T-Rex is powered by a Kawasaki ZZR1200 inline-four, which makes 152 horsepower. It's Canadian creator, Daniel Campagna, spent more than eight years designing and developing the T-Rex. Daniel has done time as mechanic to Formula 1 legend, Gilles Villeneuve, so he'd know a thing or two about high-performance machines. And indeed, the T-Rex goes from zero to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds and hits a top speed of 240km/h. It weighs only 408 kilos, so acceleration, while not in the same league as the newest litre-class superbikes, is still tremendous. Plus, it seats two people in comfort. One more addition to my dream garage...!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Rider Alert!

Next time, also wear a jacket and a helmet...

A few months ago, we saw a summary of the latest MAIDS (Motorcycle Accidents In Depth Study) report, which is funded by the Association of European Motorcycle Manufacturers (ACEM), and is perhaps Europe's most thorough study of motorcycle accidents. Based on investigations of 921 motorcycle accidents (including 103 fatalities) in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, the study throws up findings that could be useful for two-wheeler riders everywhere – despite obvious differences in machinery, state of roads, traffic behaviour patterns and various other factors.

According to the study, passenger cars are something two-wheeler riders must be really wary of – most collisions happen due to car drivers failing to see riders at all. But don’t blame everything on the driver – rider inattention was deemed to be the cause of accidents in almost 11 percent of the crashes.

How about speed, the universally-maligned factor when it comes to mishaps? According to MAIDS, more than outright speed, it’s the sudden stop, which gives little or no time for the driver of the following vehicle to react, that causes accidents. However, the study does note that big speed differentials – going significantly faster or slower than surrounding traffic – is a major factor that was responsible for causing 18 percent of all crashes studied. Also, as you would expect, severity of injuries goes up sharply with crash speed, so think before winding open that throttle.

In the study, nine percent of helmeted riders who crashed lost their helmets during the crash – either because they didn't fit properly or because they weren’t fastened properly – so buckle up! And if you’re thinking of drinking, then riding, you’re an idiot – the MAIDS study showed that five percent of those who crashed had been drinking.

There are other factors to consider. Tyre failure caused 3.6 percent of the accidents), brake failure caused 1.2 percent of the crashes, and tricky weather was deemed the culprit in 7.5 percent of the cases. Keep your eyes wide open while crossing intersections – that’s where over 50 percent of all accidents happened. MAIDS also says that untrained riders are more likely to panic and crash, while riders who had undergone some kind of formal training were more likely to take some avoidance action.

Speed restrictions are easy to clamp on, but they don’t always work. Two-wheeler manufacturers and government bodies need to work together, promote rider safety training programs and perhaps even reward riders who go for these training programs, by having policies which dictate lower insurance premiums for properly trained riders.

Sure we love our motorcycles and there is absolutely no need to panic and start thinking of giving up riding. Just be aware of the dangers that exist and on the road, be supremely alert, ride defensively and be safe. We owe it those who love us.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Suzuki GSX-R750: Twenty years of sportsbike supremacy

The 1985 GSX-R750 had 80 horsepower, weighed 175 kilos, did the standing quarter-mile in 12.65 seconds and had a top speed of 205km/h

With Suzuki lavishing cutting-edge sportsbike technologies on the GSX-R750 right from the word go, the Gixxer was destined for greatness right from the beginning. First shown in 1984 at the Cologne Motor Show in Germany, the first Suzuki GSX-R750 arrived like a rude jolt to the motorcycling world’s collective consciousness. It looked like a ‘proper’ racebike and with a claimed 100PS (more like 70-75PS in the real world) on tap, went like one too. Well, almost. When it went on sale in 1985, the GSX-R750 gave other sportsbike manufacturers a new role model to look up to, and priced at the equivalent of around Rs 2.5 lakh at that time, it was a machine which enthusiasts could actually afford to buy, run and god forbid, even crash…

There have been other greats in the 750cc superbike class – the Honda VFR 750R (RC30), the Yamaha FZR 750RR (OW01) and the Kawasaki ZXR 750 (later, the ZX-7R and ZX-7RR) were also instrumental in pushing the power/performance envelope ever further. But gradually, over the years, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki have given up on the 750 class, choosing instead to concentrate on 600cc and 1000cc machines. Ever since Honda launched the CBR 900RR in 1992, the Tadao Baba engineered Fireblade has set the tone for modern-day open-class superbikes. Those looking at reasonably high levels of performance combined with light weight and agile flickability buy 600cc ‘supersport’ machines, while those looking at ultimate tyre-shredding performance go for 1000cc superbikes. So it’s no surprise that most manufacturers have, more or less, abandoned the 750 class. And that makes me admire Suzuki even more for sticking to their guns and still continuing to make an absolutely cracking 750.

Actually, many believe that a 750 still offers the best balance between the light weight and the handling advantages of a 600 and the outright power of a 1000. In fact, even Kevin Schwantz (FIM 500cc Motorcycle GP world champion, with Suzuki, in 1993), who rides all GSX-R bikes regularly, admits that the 750 is the one which is the handiest and which allows him to really exploit its power to the fullest.

The latest 2006 model K6 GSX-R 750s have been worthy successors to the first 1985 Gixxer. The legendary blue/white colour scheme continues to this day and looks better than ever before. Styling is now based on Suzuki’s MotoGP bikes, what with the GSX-R getting a short, low-slung muffler, super-slim fairing, nose-down stance and lines dictated by advanced aerodynamics. With each passing year, the GSX-R750 becomes quicker, faster, more flickable, and better handling than ever before – all essential ingredients for that distilled GSX-R750 experience. Like it’s been for the last 20 years, the current GSX-R750 continues to offer the best of both worlds – the light weight, agility and flickability of 600cc machines, and the awesome power of 1000s. I want one... :-)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Wayne’s World

Wayne Gardner, 500cc world champ in 1987...

Before Mick Doohan came along and won five consecutive 500cc motorcycle racing world championship titles, there was another Australian who took the 500cc crown Down Under. Wayne Gardner, who won the 500cc championship in 1987 on a Honda, was a spectacular racer and a tough guy to the core – a man known for his ‘win, or die trying’ attitude which he brought to the racetrack. In fact, along with Kevin Schwantz, Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson, Gardner was one of the top motorcycle GP racers of the 1980s.

The wild one, from Woollongong, Australia, got his first podium finish back in the late 1970s, aboard a privateer Yamaha TZ250, soon after which he started racing 350cc and 750cc machines as well. By the early 1980s, Gardner was racing against men like Kenny Roberts, Randy Mamola and Barry Sheene. He was racing in the British Superbike championship and the British TT Formula One championship in 1983 and took 7th place in the 500cc world championship in 1984, the year when Eddie Lawson took his first 500cc crown.

In 1985 and 1986, Gardner took 4th and 2nd place respectively in the 500cc GP class, and was finally 500cc world champ in 1987, also winning a couple of Suzuka 8-hour races in Japan along the way! Gardner continued to race motorcycles till 1992, when he announced his retirement. He was 2nd in the 1988 500 cc world championship, 10th in 1989, 5th in 1990 and 1991, and 6th in 1992, his final year in 500s. He later moved on to racing cars, but even though I don’t know if he’ll ever admit it, I’d bet the maximum amount of fun he ever had was racing motorcycles.

Recently, in a dream-come-true moment, we had a chance to do a quick interview with Wayne. Here's what the man had to say:

Wayne, do you watch MotoGP these days?

Yes, I follow MotoGP closely. I watch all the races on TV and I go to Phillip Island when they are racing down there.

From the mid-1980s to today, what're the biggest changes that have happened in top-flight motorcycle GP racing?

The sport is a lot more professional now, in the sense that there is more money, bigger teams, and bigger budgets. Coverage has increased, speed and technology has advanced. But there isn’t the same camaraderie as there was when I was racing.

Is the rider/team/race organiser relationship the same as it was 20 years ago?

Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years. Since Dorna came in, and has controlling rights over the sport, it is now a lot more professional. It is a lot more money-orientated now, which is really a good thing as far giving the sport a higher profile. But the problem is, Dorna are trying to emulate Formula One standards. I don’t think this concept will totally succeed as it is an entirely different industry. I guess we’ll just wait and see what happens.

Which current day MotoGP rider do you admire most?

Definitely Valentino! I am a huge fan of Rossi and it would have been fun racing against him as he is safe, and fast, and enjoys his racing.

What's more important in racing – man or machine?

The man. The rider puts in at least 70 percent of the result. The team and machine make up the other 30 percent.

Do you, in some way, continue to be associated with HRC?

No, I have no business association, just continuing friendship with some of the Honda staff...

This is the man in whose footsetps Casey Stoner must follow...

Do you think MotoGP is moving in the right direction?

No, I don’t feel it’s moving in the right direction. I think they should have stayed with the 1000cc capacity and tried to reduce the speed by some sort of restrictors, be it air restrictors, or fuel capacities etc. Because going to 800cc is just going to dramatically increase the cost of the sport. The engineering costs will make it extremely difficult for the manufacturers to be able to afford to continue racing at such a high level. This isn’t Formula One!

Your thoughts on World Superbike racing...?

I follow Superbike racing and I think it’s a great series at a relatively controlled cost level. It did lose some steam when it was just a Ducati race, but now that the Japanese manufacturers are in with their 4-cylinder bikes, and also the introduction of controlled tyres (Pirelli) for all the riders, it’s now producing some great racing and is a great breeding ground for future MotoGP racing champions.

Do you ever go to watch motorcycle stunt shows?

I don’t go to stunt shows but I have a great appreciation for the guys who can do those tricks. I wish I could do them!!! Evel Knievel would have to be my favourite stunt rider.

Which motorcycle manufacturer's work do you admire most? Why?

Honda. From what I know about Honda, and their direction and their quality of people, I believe they have the most advanced engine design and engineering in the world.

What do you think of 1000cc, 180-horsepower sportsbikes being available to the average rider?

It’s not a good thing. They are hugely powerful bikes, and fun to ride, but very dangerous to the irresponsible average rider. I’ve been saying for the past few years that the governments will eventually wake up to how powerful and dangerous these machines are and will start to govern the machine by power outlet, or some form of licensing restriction, a bit like when you are restricted when you have your learner’s licence. The 1000cc motorcycles should only be for the highly experienced and sensible rider.

Did you ever feel scared when you were racing?

Yes! But it is very important to feel fear in motorcycle racing as it gives you respect for the motorcycle.

In racing, what was more difficult for you – the physical part (training, diet etc) or the mental part?

The physical part and dieting was the most difficult for me. I enjoyed the mental competition. I am highly competitive by nature and hate losing.

Who were your toughest competitors ever?

Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.

What is your opinion of some of the recently constructed racing circuits in China and the Middle-East?

I think it’s great. It’s great to see the Middle-East and Asian countries taking an interest in the sport as this just broadens the interest around the world, which is a great thing. I have never ridden on their tracks, but I would love to at some stage in my life….before I get too old!!!

Quick Shift
Current street ride: Honda CBR1000
2-strokes or 4-strokes: 4-strokes
Cruisers – yes or no: No
All-time favourite racing motorcycle: 1992 NSR 500 and Honda RVF
Most memorable race ever: 1989, Phillip Island
The motorcycle racer you admire most: Valentino Rossi
All-time favourite street motorcycle: Honda CBR1000 and MV Augusta F4 1000
Ferrari or Lamborghini: Ferrari
Favourite food: Italian and Thai
Most memorable post-race party: World Championship Party in Brazil – 1987
Isle of Man TT or the Paris-Dakar: Paris-Dakar

Here, go for a ride with Wayne Gardner on his Honda NSR500!



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