What's it like to ride a MotoGP bike?

Andy Ibbott rides Hopkins' MotoGP Suzuki

What's it like to ride a MotoGP bike?

First of all I kind hearted thanks to Paul Denning and the whole team at Rizla Suzuki Moto GP for the opportunity to ride John Hopkins bike.

A full report will be in the second edition of the Performance Riding Techniques book due early 2008. (see here)

In the past I have ridden three 500cc 2-stroke GP bikes so when I managed to secure a ride on the Rizla Suzuki I was surprised with the kick of adrenaline that went with it. In fact, every time I thought of the ride the heart beat got faster.

In the end I had to have a word with myself; "Ibbott, it will be as wild or tame as your right hand makes it so sort yourself out!" Indeed.

On the day of the test I was informed that I would get five laps of Valencia, a track I have not ridden on before, although done plenty of scooter laps on it with Thomas Luthi and Sandro Cortese as a part of their coaching for the GPs. But riding a 240bhp monster is another entirely different matter.

Looking out of the pit box was a 'Thumbs up' from the mechanics that it was time. With ear plugs well and truly in place (yes, it is THAT loud) the walk from the back of the garage to the bike has to be one of the longest, yet shortest in history.

My first impression of the bike was just how tall the seat height was, not at all what I was expecting, and neither was the bike. In spite of all that horsepower the Rizla Suzuki was (past tense as it is the last of the 990cc bikes) very easy to ride (for my level of ability).

Riding out of pit lane it was immediately obvious that John Hopkins likes to run a hell of a lot of steering damper on the bike. Too much, in my humble opinion, and a good indication of his style of riding.

Ok, over 240 horses is not exactly a small amount of combustion but the delivery is smooth and progressive " thankfully! Try and get too aggressive with it and the engine management will overcome any wild or overly hopeful throttle applications keeping the bike on the gray stuff and out of the gravel.

Accelerating hard from the corners I was determined to get the bike on the stop on the way out and according to the data logging I achieved my goal several times. This meant that you needed to get your vision in the right place to give you the space needed to be able to do that. Space is something these bikes burn up in a staggeringly short amount of time. The straight is done in a few seconds so getting a breather is difficult and short lived. I can only imagine what this would be like on a tighter track like Estoril.

Nevertheless, I did manage to get the bike to the throttle stop twice in my five laps on the way out of a corner (according to the data logger) and the sheer acceleration is awesome. Unlike some of the other marquees of MotoGP bikes the Suzuki has no wheelie control so the rider still has to take care not to lift the front at the wrong time, some Stoner did once or twice in the season. For me, I just lifted it along the long straight finish at Valencia. Exiting the final turn it would paw the air in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and it even felt like it lifted a little in 6tha gear, at 280KPH (174mph). Excellent!

Thankfully the front carbon brakes are equally as impressive and took the bike from 174 to about 80 in under 300 meters for the first corner. These carbon brakes have come on a lot since the old 500s and were a lot more progressive and did not take long to heat up at all. As for the rear brake, no idea, didn't use it once!

Getting the bike into the turn was easy enough but again, not the quick turning bike I thought it would be, if anything the setting of the steering damper did slow it down a tad and I had to use more effort on the bars than I thought necessary.

And once in the turn, if you are locked in well and keeping a very loose grip on the bars, then the bike handles with a precise feeling. You can put the bike anywhere in the corner and it will track exactly to the input you have just given it on the handlebars. Over do it and try and muscle the bike and it will let you know that it is a tool of precision that needs to be treated in the same way as a surgeon will use a scalpel. Get rough and it will bite back.

Again the Suzuki shows that to get the best for a MotoGP bike like this it is important for the rider of the machine to understand how little input a bike needs to get the best from it. Meanwhile the Bridgestone slicks gave excellent feel and grip for my level of capability.

For my first ride on a full blown MotoGP bike after several 500 stink wheels I have to say that overall, the experience was not a huge challenge as I had imagined and my adrenaline had lead me to believe. This needs to be quantified by the fact I was some 25 seconds off the slowest pace set at the weekend.

That said, it did give me a valuable insight to what the riders have to deal with and what is good and bad technique when it comes to their day job!

Now, I wonder how much different the 800 would be...?

Andy Ibbott


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