By on August 3, 2012

When the Fastbike crew did some tire testing at Continental’s “Contidrome” test track, along came a car magazine with an Audi TT RS plus. They wanted: a race. They got: slaughtered. Is the old truth about cornering speeds changing?

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

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41 Comments on “Paradigm Lost: Motorcycle Corners Car...”

  • avatar

    I think this HIGHLY depends on the driver in both cases, and “huevo-size” on the motorcyclist. I’ll always be faster in a car (in curves) just due to the second reason alone.

    With that being said, I do love cars, but find bikes much more entertaining.

    I wonder if bikes would be faster cornering if tracks were marked with lanes with solid lines (eg: no lane changing).

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I have had a key experience when I drove a reasonably fast car (Toyota GT86) round the Nürburgring. It was SO much easier than doing the same thing on a bike! The braking alone over the slight hump towards the narrow first downhill corner!

      But this has always been the case. The bike being physically faster in a corner is new (to me at least).

    • 0 avatar

      If you can ride or know some fast riders then you know the truth. Sport bikes are faster in turns than all but the best handling cars. Most sportbike RIDERS are slower than all cars with more than 5psi in the tires.

  • avatar

    I remember Cycle World did this with a Yamaha YZF750 and a Dodge Viper some 10-12 odd years ago. It was a flat, four corner track and the Viper killed the bike. I would say that the track can definitely come into play here. Diff track, diff outcome I would say. Myself though, if it’s fast and twisty, I’ll take two wheels instead of four.

  • avatar

    I’ll never touch a motorcycle again. Or should I say: “donorcycle”. I know someone who got killed when their bike fell over and they were decapitated on a guard rail. A week earlier, he’d installed a speaker system for me. I myself had a motorbike in China and nearly fractured my ankle when a driver made a sharp turn into the road.

    No – instead I’ll settle for REALLY FAST CARS – especially the big ones. It’s like driving a tank with a rocket engine.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve known more people killed in cars than motorcycles. Should I give up my donormobile?

      Also: I live in the chicago area, land of non-stop lines of 10-40 ton trucks. Doesn’t matter what you are driving when one of those hits you….

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Everybody’s gotta go sometime, may as well be while doing something you enjoy.

    • 0 avatar

      Anecdotal evidence aside, the death rate per 100 million miles traveled is much higher for motorcycles than cars. You can mitigate a good bit of that for yourself with some common sense and proper safety practives, but not all of.

      Personally, I’d love to ride but given all the clowns out on the road it’s just not worth it to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Most bikers are killed by motorists and bikes are more dangerous than cars… but that’s not the discussion going on here is it?

  • avatar

    I’d be interested to know if the Ducati driver was using the full electronics suite available to the panigale? I assume so. I’ve not ridden the Panigale, but I have spent a good bit of time on the BMW S1000RR on the track, and I think the new gear is, if not the equalizer now, it sure is close. It really does allow for more and more controlled lean angle, better out of the corner roll ons, and on and on. It’s even saved me from a high side once or twice out of a turn. I’ll take it.

  • avatar

    TT is such a terrible car to do this with. And the power/weight ratios alone would blow this out of the water even on a tight track (9lb/hp for Audi vs 2lb/hp for the Duc)

    I mean this is like a 200 MPH bike vs a 170 MPH car… that’s huge. A 9lb/hp bike would be pretty dang slow so I think matching top speeds would be more honest. And when you couple that with a car worth a damm on a track the gaps def close.

    There is def way more skill + cajones involved in riding fast though. A lot of these cars damn near drive themselves these days.

    • 0 avatar

      You are correct in pointing out the vast differences in weight/power ratios, but as Mr. Gleich states in the article, the limiting factor on motorcycle acceleration is geometry. Even if you double the Ducati’s power, you may still end up with the same maximum possible acceleration.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    I think we need to look at a few things. One is the level of development in sportbike technology over the last half decade. The introduction of traction control and other electronics from MotoGP has made it a lot easier to be much more aggressive on the bike. Coupled in with the advances in general powerplant and chassis design and the development of motorcycle tires (essentially now treaded slicks) and we’re looking at sportbikes which could probably qualify well up the grid, if not on pole, at an early 1990s 500cc GP.

    In contrast, although the cars have gotten faster, it’s been more on the order of tenths of seconds, rather than full seconds. Dual-clutch transmissions and better traction control make it a bit easier, but not nearly as much as the difference for a bike.

    Still, I do wonder if the difference would be as big if you’d compared the Panigale to something a bit sharper than a TT-RS. Say, a GT3 RS 4.0 on race compound tires, which is about the equivalent of the Panigale.

    • 0 avatar

      You are right about tires and chassis development. We didn’t plan this race, it was more impromptu. Of course we would have picked a sports car had we planned this. But nonetheless it amazed me to see a bike out-corner a car (the RS stood on sports tires, too). But I’m beginning to think that maybe the Audi is too unbalanced to draw conclusions for normal cars or sports cars.

      • 0 avatar

        Often mid-sized (600 to 800cc) sport/open-class motorcycles will out corner larger (1000CC to +) sport/open-class motorcycles due to the weight difference between the two sizes. The 1000cc+ motorcycles will then catch up on the straight line portions of a track due to superior acceleration and higher power…

      • 0 avatar

        These days 600s and liter bikes are within spitting range of each other, weight wise. GSXR 600 and 1000 are within 40 lbs of each other. Folks are slower on open class bikes because things happen too fast to plot lines and brake effectively.

      • 0 avatar

        Lest I’m hopelessly outdated, MC tires are much, much racier than even the sportiest car tire, measured in mileage to be expected from them. And, as a result, car suspension geometries are not designed as they would be if optimized for <1000 miles per tire change.

        At the technology limit, an F1 car still utterly destroys a GP bike in corners. But a streetbike is an awful lot closer to a GP bike, than any street car is to an F1 car.

  • avatar

    Do they to Moose tests on motorcycles?

    • 0 avatar

      You should have seen the Ducati chief engineer when I asked him about how good (okay: bad) his construction would be in a crash (which is only a question of time on a race track). “Vee don’t doo crash testing. Eet is only for cars.”

    • 0 avatar

      I had a friend do an impromptu kitty-cat test and his zx-9 faired well on that. I’m not sure he’s tried anything bigger however.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    One word: Downforce.

    With bikes, it’s pretty much impossible to have it. Street cars that have acceptable ground clearance don’t have an appreciable amount of it. The Audi TT sure doesn’t have it.

    Add wings to the car and arrange for near-zero ground clearance (and stop air from getting underneath) and everything changes – provided the track is high-speed enough for the aerodynamics to matter.

    At Mosport (err … Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) true race cars with downforce are 20 seconds a lap faster than superbikes. Normal road cars – forget it.

    Same car and same bike at the Rider/Driver Development Track on the same property and it’s probably a different story – the track is so tight that the car wouldn’t get going fast enough to use its aerodynamics and the width of the car would severely limit its cornering lines, while the bike would have no trouble with it.

    I should add a second word to discuss: Money. I recall seeing published lap times for a Mustang at Grattan Raceway in MI which were comparable to what I could do with my ratty 20+ year old 60 hp Yamaha FZR400. The Yamaha will do that lap time day in and day out and hardly break a sweat, it’s designed for doing just that. Normal road cars often start wearing out and breaking stuff very quickly when driven in that manner. A couple sets of tires and brakes for that Mustang probably costs what I paid for the entire bike 16 years ago, never mind what the car costs …

  • avatar

    Considering the mention of tire testing, the lack of mention of tires probably needs to be addressed. While cars like the TT-RS+ probably comes with some kind of summer tire, its unlikely in stock fitement for a car like that it’ll come with something as extreme as your average sportsbike tire. At the same token also, general reputation for the TT-RS from most review seems to be that it is a pretty fast cars, but its excellence lies in the excellent traction and stability, its not a corner carver as something like a Cayman R, even if at the end of the day it might be just as fast around a track….

  • avatar

    The width of the road/track is terribly important in those comparisons. A windy tight track can be traveled on very straight lines by a bike where the car has to follow the shape of the road. A wide track with high speed corners is where the car shines (F1-style track). The more time is spent braking or sustaining speed, the better for the car. A city track with lots of slow 90° turns, or a narrow windy one, is perfect for the bike.
    On top of that, a bad driver never helps.

  • avatar

    The Audi is a tasty sausage, to use the German parlance. But if you smear some pate on it and put it en croute and bake it, you still have a pig in a blanket, not Beef Wellington.

    Its a more utilitarian device. Replace the tires of each vehicle with whatever you like and repeat that contest in mid-winter…..

    To those who have the means and skill to enjoy the Ducati, I salute you.

  • avatar

    The English TV show “5th Gear” used to do this all the time… pit a large capacity superbike with a professional rider against a supercar… like the Nissan Skyline GTR… in every case, the car would beat the bike simply because the car had higher corner, entry and exit speeds and better braking… its easy to see why… the GTR has many times the contact patch and many more brake discs despite the weight

  • avatar

    Yeah, I’m surprised they used a TT for such a test. Should’ve went with a proper super car capable of serious lateral gs. TT is just a sad little thing and I’d take a modified Miata over it any day.

  • avatar

    This clearly represents progress from the bike world, which is to be expected since sport bikes are developed like F1 cars while cars are developed to match the devolution of new car buyers and the cretins they elect. Still, I wouldn’t choose the TT or Veyron to represent the automotive kingdom. They’re designed, not engineered.

  • avatar

    It is possible that crash safety in new cars is actually slowing them down. Add weight for sturdy body shell for strength in offset frontal collisions. Add a higher waste line, especially around the front for pedestrian impact. Add more weight for modern traction control and engine tech. Add more weight for driver comfort.
    All these things make the car faster for a less skilled driver but I suspect blunt the true performance. Having said that, cars like the Audi are rarely driven on the track and are very much geared for public roads with other more mundane cars, drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, pets, deer… etc. while sport bikes are more performance oriented because, as mentioned, why bother with safety?

  • avatar

    Given that the Audi costs three times as much as the Ducati in the first place, calls for matching it up with cars costing 5+ times as much is a testament to how fast per dollar superbikes have been for decades. As mentioned earlier the rapid improvement in recent years in tires (specifically the multi-compound type) along with traction control are largely responsible for the better in corner speed of bikes today. To get an idea of how much tires can mean, just compare the cornering speed of a race car in 1961 to 1968. I gather that the new Ducati is not as excrutiating to ride as the 1198 on the street so that is the biggest improvement frankly….not cornering speed. As for you anti-bikers out there, litre bikes are simply astounding.

  • avatar

    I’d say go to any racetrack and compare the lap times. Example here is Laguna Seca

    • 0 avatar

      An interesting choice…the only motorcycle I see on that list is a MotoGP bike. In that case, it leaves every semi-normal car in the shade, and a fair number of race cars. The things that are beating it are all very serious race cars with very serious downforce. Above it, only the Corvette C6.R has something like a road car chassis, and that’s a GT1-spec version of an already quick vehicle.

      Laguna Seca is a track that could favor a motorcycle in a lot of the usual ways: tight corners (so cornering speed doesn’t buy you a ton), a hill, long straights, plus the corkscrew, which is probably straighter for a motorcycle than a car.

      That said, it doesn’t answer the conundrum in the article, which is why the motorcycle was so fast in corners.

      Assuming the TT isn’t notoriously bad, the recent changes to modern motorcycles are traction control, the evolution of tires, and maybe a bit of suspension stuff (the philosophy of chassis tuning changed, as engineers tried to get mid-corner bump absorption when the forces wouldn’t politely travel in the direction of suspension travel).

      I’d guess the tires have slowly gotten better, and the traction control made things a lot better all of a sudden.

      • 0 avatar

        That Corvette C6.R is an ALMS LMGT1 car. It’s a full-blown race car, not really comparable to a road car chassis, as is demonstrated by a lap time that’s eight seconds faster than the 911 GT3 RSR.

      • 0 avatar

        Laguna is pretty much a nightmare for bikes, some of the corners are flat, some are banked, the corkscrew is way more riskier on 2 wheels than 4, and the straight isn’t really that straight. No time to relax for a second, very physical and hard to set up the bikes for.

        I was just there last weekend for the MotoGP race and have been many times, had a lot of fun =D.
        Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Stoner all made it down into the 1’21.2– range during the GP. Pole was 1’20.554

        Josh Hayes ran away with the AMA superbike race, fastest lap was 1’24.706, and superbikes aren’t so very far from street bikes.

      • 0 avatar

        Pole time for the ALMS race in GT class this year was a, which is slower than that MotoGP pole. But considering price, I’d guess a full blown factory Yamaha prototype is probably considerably more than a ALMS GT cars, which are basically, turn-key race cars….

        LMP1 pole I believe was a

  • avatar

    Use a better car like an Ariel Atom.

  • avatar

    A sprinkle of sand – a bit of newly fallen rain – the motorcycle is toast.

  • avatar

    A high end motorcycle is the equivalent of lemans prototype or track day special that would only be street legal in England. Any car available in the US is laden with at least 500 extra pounds of safety and comfort weight. Oh, and they’re designed to go beyond 15,000 miles with out a major service, as ducati so proudly proclaims on their website.

    Turn a ZR1 into a 2500lb go kart with tires that will last 5000 miles and give it a go.

  • avatar

    If the TT RS was on the OEM Toyos, the result doesn’t surprise me.

  • avatar

    I guess I’ll draw the conclusion that it really was the Audi being too crappy on its standard Toyo tires (and the track too narrow for the Veyron to get ahead). My world view shall stay intact for another while. Thank you all very much for your input.

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