Race metal special: Class of 2015 (Part 1)
These are the 10 bikes that took our breath away in a memorable year of hot race action
‘As easy as falling off a log’
Jonathan Rea’s Kawasaki ZX-10R
By Adam Child Senior Road Tester and TT racer Aragon, Spain
Power 220bhp quoted
Top speed 200mph +
Famous for 14 wins and a World Superbike championship
The Kawasaki Racing Team World Superbike garage is split into two. 2013 world champion Tom Sykes is occupying the right side with his top-secret 2015 ZX-10R. On the left is a similar ZX-10R, except this bike bears a freshly applied number one plate. A few days earlier in Qatar it finished a history-making season in which it won no fewer than 14 races. Yes, this is Jonathan Rea’s ZX-10R, one of the most dominant bikes in the history of World Superbike racing.
It’s priceless, obviously, but my nerves and excitement have been further ramped up by very non-Spanish weather. It’s cold and damp, and the team can’t decide on the appropriate tyres for the Aragon GP race track. Pere Riba, Rea’s team boss, elects to send me out on Pirelli slicks.
As the wheels go in Pere gives me a quick briefing. “No clutch, don’t touch any buttons and whatever you do don’t crash,” he says.
I’ve rarely been more worried leaving a pitlane. Wet in places is the worst of all conditions. My eyes scan the Aragon track surface for the darker wet patches like a hawk searching for its pray. Thankfully Rea’s bike is easy to ride at a relatively slow pace and I spend the first lap consciously scrubbing in the new Pirelli slicks, while trying to keep them from cooling down.
My next job is to try not to look a complete numpty in front of the entire Kawasaki Racing Team, so as I pass the pits I wind open the throttle to the stop for the first time. The Kwak leaps ahead of me. I gasp. I brush the brakes just before the gantry and prepare for turn one, a tight left-hander.
The clutchless, autoblipper downshifts are smooth and effortless, allowing me simply to brake and peel into the turn. The exit is damp so I put in an early upshift and still the bike pulls hard from the depths of its midrange. This is, without question, the fastest superbike ever - yet it’s far from the peaky animal I was expecting. Instead, its drive is so linear and smooth from anywhere in the revs that it feels like it has a seamless electric motor. It’s
On the next lap I let it go on the back straight and the pussycat shows its teeth. I tuck in and hold the throttle to the stop and feel the rear Pirelli bury itself in the track as we surge forward. Yet while it’s blisteringly quick, revving the 220bhp beast to the redline in the first five gears fails to provoke a single weave, wheelie or head shake. Despite getting close to the redline in fifth gear at the end of the straight, it’s so friendly and stable I could take a selfie.
The Brembo radial brakes are equally impressive, but again neither sharp nor aggressive. I’m positive they’re some of the strongest brakes I’ve ever tested, but it doesn’t feel like someone has thrown a plank of wood in the front wheel when I pull the lever. Everything is composed and feels natural, the engine braking is dialled in perfectly, and the downchanges so natural. The back end doesn’t want to overtake the front, and the steering remains precise no matter how hard I brake. All I have to do is look at the apex and the bike takes me there, elbow grazing the track.
Instinctively I stay in the snug seat and let the bike do the work. It requires very little effort to get the Kawasaki on its side. I can change line – pull it in tight or let it run wide on the exit – and the bike’s happy to oblige. By lap three it feels like it’s a part of me, a bike I’ve known for years not minutes. Beneath me is some clever Showa suspension and electronics making it all so easy, but for now I’ve forgotten about those. Riding this all-conquering ZX-10R is as simple as falling off a log.
‘It must feel like a missile'
Guy Martin’s Tyco BMW S1000RR
By Adam Child, Valencia, Spain
Power 220bhp quoted
Top Speed 200mph+
Famous for Second fastest bike around the TT
This is the second fastest bike around the TT track (at 132.398mph, turn the page for the fastest TT bike ever). However, it’s not completely original as it's also the bike Guy Martin was riding at the Ulster GP in August when he crashed, breaking his neck.
Jumping onboard at Valencia circuit, I find it’s not what I was expecting. Usually TT bikes feel much larger than normal race bikes, as the fuel tanks are huge and the ergonomics more user friendly to help get the bike and rider through the long races. Guy’s bike feels very much like a normal race bike, steering fast with most of the power up at the top of the rev range, above 8000rpm. It must feel like a missile in the fast sections of the TT.
‘It has all the bulk of a BMX’
Steve Wheatman’s Suzuki XR69 replica
By Michael Neeves, Mondello, Ireland
Top speed over 180mph
Famous for Sister bike to the machine raced at the Classic TT by Michael Dunlop and Lee Johnston
This XR69 replica belongs to collector Steve Wheatman. It’s inspired by Suzuki’s factory machines, raced in TTF1 championships around the world, by the likes of Graeme Crosby, Mick Grant, Rob McElnea, Roger Marshall and Wes Cooley.
Powered by a bored-out 1260cc GSX-R1100 motor and wrapped in a gorgeous tubular steel chassis hand built by John Simms of Trident Engineering, the Suzuki makes a muscular 155bhp at the rear wheel and weighs just 175kg. When you’re more used to riding modern bikes, you have to learn a whole series of new noises: the flutter of the flatslides at part throttle and the mechanical cacophony of that old oil-cooled motor. You feel every lump, bump and swing of the pistons through the chassis, running through your hands, feet and bum.
With no slipper clutch, you have to re-learn to blip on downshifts and it’s more designed for the tucked-in 80s riding style because when you hang-off, you hit your head on the edge of the big bubble screen. I managed a podium on this beauty and have never raced a bike so light – on a low fuel load the XR69 has all the bulk of a BMX.
‘Bike and rider are one’
Jorge Martin’s Mahindra MGPO3
By Emma Franklin Production Editor and 125GP racer Silverstone UK
Power 55bhp (est)
Top speed 146mph
Famous for First Indian manufacturer to podium in world championship racing
Twenty-four hours after Rossi aquaplaned to victory at the British Grand Prix, the rain still hasn’t stopped falling. But the factory-backed Aspar Moto3 team have stuck around and I’ve managed to blag a ride on their Mahindra MGP03.
There’s nothing toy-like or watered down; this is a real GP bike, just one quarter of the size. Everything from the carbon-fibre bodywork, machined gearbox cases, traction control, and 2D digital dash is exactly what you’d see on a full-size MotoGP machine.
The 249cc, single-cylinder Mahindra looks tiny – the 10-litre fuel tank is about as wide as my palm and as long as my forearm – yet once aboard I find it really roomy. Obviously it’s not a bike for giants, but you can allow yourself to get swallowed up by the fairing’s aerodynamic bubble.
The first thing that strikes me is how freely it revs. There’s zero thumps, vibes or unwillingness as you'd expect from a typical single. Open the throttle and the revs rise totally unimpeded; it feels like the internal components have been forged from fresh air. There’s also a decent spread of power, which gives you a real connection between your right wrist and rear tyre, exactly what you need in these conditions.
I feel completely confident. The MGP03’s seeking out grip from its Dunlop wets, while that stunning Suter-developed Mahindra alloy twin-spar frame is in open dialogue with my backside, hands and brain. At no point does the bike impede your progress on track; there are no wobbles, shakes, or resistance to remind you that you’re bullying an inanimate, 85kg object around at high speed. Riding it feels like flying.
The Mahindra has a degree of engine braking control – via an air bleed system and slipper clutch. The team have dialled in just enough to help keep the bike stable; there’s nowhere near the amount you’d get from a road-going single, so there’s none of that front tyre-loading brick wall effect when shutting off the throttle.
The Italians describe their racing motorcyclists as centaurs – half man, half horse – it’s a wonderful expression for describing the symbiosis between a rider and a bike as sublime as this. Riding the Mahindra, there’s no discernible point at which flesh ends and metal begins: you are as one.
Stuart Tonge’s 1961 Manx Norton
Raced by Michael Neeves, Goodwood
In the 60s this bike was the best of the best. A tuned 50bhp
single, it grunts down straights and drifts through bends.
Words: Michael Neeves & Adam Child