Paradigm Lost: Motorcycle Corners Car
I have done a lot of motorbike magazine work over the years. Every so often, someone dusts off a very old idea: “What is faster, car or motorbike?” This is a boring question, because even since Newton, the answer always was: The motorbike has a better power-to-weight ratio, so it will out-accelerate the car on the straights. The car will gain in the corners through higher speeds and it can brake later, because the limiting factor in braking a sports bike is geometry: Your maximum deceleration happens with the back wheel barely touching the ground. After that, you lose braking power because you are flipping over. The same is true for acceleration btw (you flip over in the other direction), but since nearly all cars are fat and slow compared to a sports bike, this limit doesn’t matter much. So the outcomes of these tests depended solely on the track. Sometimes, the track favors the bike, sometimes it likes the car. Motorcyclists who know their physics like to infuriate other sports bike riders by passing them in the bends with a Civic when they have to use it for their shopping. And car guys hate it when they have to slow down on the Nordschleife in a twisty bit for a bike which then shoots ahead on the straight just to block the next corner by seeming to park there. Such was the accepted truth. Until a few months ago.
Tame racing driver Dirk chewing me out about my racing lines: “Where were you going?! The pit lane?”
In April, we were all working on various articles for “Fastbike”, the magazine that covers our favorite pastime, going fast on motorcycles. I was interviewing the next generation of racing drivers (and their proud parents) in Spain (Cartagena). Ralf (owner of Fastbike) and Dirk (our tame racing driver) were at the Contidrome testing sports tires for the Ducati 1199 Panigale. They weren’t alone there: A Bugatti Veyron was doing its laps and the major German car magazine “Auto Bild” was driving around in an Audi TT RS plus. They had just received word that Audi had bought Ducati, which motivated them to dust off the very old idea: “What is faster, the RS plus or the Panigale?” It should have been close. Conti’s handling course is not super grippy and consists almost entirely of bends, so it favors the car, but the Ducati is so far ahead of the nose-heavy Audi in terms of track potential that she would make up for a lot of winding roads.
Then, a strange thing happened. The car couldn’t shake the bike in the corners. On some camera angles, it even looked as if the bike was going faster while the Audi shuffled wide. The only time the Audi could make good a few meters was under braking, and these few meters were immediately lost at the exit of the corner. Long story short: The Audi got slaughtered. It lost ten seconds a lap on a track where it should have won. The disheveled car journo in the video tells the same sad story: In the corners, the bike was as fast as, or faster than the Audi. I have never seen something like that.
Of course, TTs are more hairdresser’s cars than they are sports cars; they’re a bit rubbish at cornering because of their crap weight distribution, but they aren’t THAT rubbish. And despite the fact that Mr. Car Journo might have taken some crappy lines and Dirk is a (rather excellent) racing driver, everyone expected the car to at least corner faster than the bike.
Let’s take Audi’s (and Auto Bild’s) cornering qualities out of the equation: The Veyron was doing high speed test runs on the same track for tire testing, a professional test driver at the wheel. Ralf took the Bugatti’s time: still slower than the Duc.
I have driven the Ducati and know it’s a very good and fast bike. But is the old truth really changing? Let’s not discuss the rider/driver, because everybody knows a story about a Ferrari guy so useless he gets passed by a pensioner in a Golf (or a motorbike in the bends). No, in the hands of drivers that can at least use the maximum cornering speed of a vehicle (which was true for Mr. Auto Bild), has the difference in this very cornering speed between cars and bikes turned into a thing of the past? Have we worsened the car that much? Have bikes gotten ahead? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Clemens Gleich is a German member of the Dark Side of motoring who writes for money and all-you-can-drink premium Scotch at the hotel bar. You can find his latest propaganda at www.mojomag.de.
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