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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Motorcycle Racing

I am a huge fan of motorcycle racing.  There is a great history of racing, going clear back to the wooden-tracked velodromes in the early part of the last century.

I am fascinated by the technology that is created to get a little extra speed.  Below is a Honda six-cylinder Double Overhead Cam motorcycle with only 125cc of displacement!

The other fascination I have is just how fast these guys go in the modern era.  Today there are two major types of road racing that I enjoy watching. 
The first type of race, MotoGP (Previously known as Grand Prix), takes place on custom-made race tracks, with prototype motorcycles.  These are the fastest race bikes on the planet.  No part of the motorcycle is allowed to have anything in common with a street bike.  The tracks in MotoGP are as safe as they can be made, having plenty of run-off room, and no obstacles to collide with.  In addition, the tracks are usually pretty short, allowing the riders to learn them pretty quickly and master them.
Because MotoGP bikes are prototypes, they are allowed to use electronic traction control, wheelie control, and specialized tires, all of which contribute to insane lean angles and fast lap times.  To a certain extent, a rider can open the throttle, and the onboard computer will decide whether to allow the engine to make more power based on rear wheelspin and cornering angle.
It's impressive to see what these machines are capable of.  Motorcycle action starts at about the 0:30 mark in the video below.

The other type of road race... is the Road Race!  These guys are just crazy.  I believe this type of racing is only still done in Ireland.  Bear in mind that if these guys crash, it's likely that they will hit a tree, block wall, curb, or other unfriendly object.  Needless to say the injury and death rate for this type of race is quite a bit higher than for MotoGP.  Not just for the riders, but for the fans.  Crowds are allowed right up to the race course.  I am sure it's very intense to be a spectator.

Possibly the most famous true Road Racing course is the Isle of Man TT, which is a six lap run around a 26 mile-long circuit on an island.  The Isle of Man isn't quite as crazy as the above race, because for the Isle of Man, they use a staggered start, and takes each rider's lap time. 

However because the Isle of Man is such a long course, utter concentration is required every moment of every lap, or the rider can easily be killed.

I will do some other posts about the role of technology in the bikes over the decades, and how each invention has helped squeeze a little more speed (or improve braking and handling) to get where we are now.

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