Nika Survives A Superbike Adventure

My adventures on a Superbike

I’ve always been fascinated with motorcycles and the brave souls who race them. I’d enjoy watching such famous riders as Randy Mammola and Eddie Lawson take those two-wheel projectiles to the limits and back. But when given the opportunity to ride, both on and off a track, I was apprehensive.

At home, just mentioning motorcycling would cause Mom to give me the “look,” followed by a week-long sermon on all the dangers. Her tactics didn’t quite work – my motorcycle training was done without her knowledge. But buried somewhere in my noggin was Mom’s insistence that a powerful motorcycle was a pre-purchased, front-of-the-line ticket to organ donation.

So I lived my life somewhat responsibly on four wheels. I pushed cars to their limits (and occasionally beyond). Race cars gave me a great sense of speed and cornering. Or so I thought.

Superbikes would change that. Like a hive of high-strung, espresso-laced bees hovering around Mosport International Raceway, the riders were practising hard for the Parts Canada Superbike Championship doubleheader last weekend. During a lunch break, I’d experience it for myself.

Jordan Szoke was to be my chauffeur. At 27, the Brantford native and points leader in the championship already has more than a decade of experience as a motorcycle racer under his belt.

Kawasaki team manager Jeff Comello helps make me feel at home in the team’s paddock. As one of only a few factory-backed race teams, their professionalism stands out.

The platform for their superbike is the Ninja ZX-10R, which has roughly 162 rear wheel horsepower stock and weighs 175 kilograms (dry, with no fluids in the radiator or engine). They then boost its performance up to 190 rear-wheel horsepower and lower its weight to 163 kg (wet).

A laptop computer is used to adjust performance, ensuring that the motor does not make more horsepower than the series limit, while taking into account temperature, barometric pressure and humidity.

“Safety first” is the motto of my colleague Carl Tupper, who has helped secure gear for me to wear. Unlike Szoke, a custom-fitted race suit is not waiting for me. I get regular “leathers” to wear – torture on a 35C day.

As Tupper does up the Velcro on my gloves and tightens my boots to the point where I can no longer feel my toes, he explains the dynamics of racing on two wheels.

I’m not listening – my focus is on the bright green production Kawasaki ZX-10R and its skinny back seat. I do, however, pay attention to what to do and not to do when riding on the back. I am not to lean for the rider. Shifting my body weight can upset the bike and I’d be picking gravel out of my wounds for years to come. I vow to turn to stone, although I can’t promise to not scream.

With help from bystanders and some Pilates practice, I get on the back of the production bike. There are no seat belts on a motorcycle. Szoke peels out of the pits, leaving my breath, guts and glory behind.

My cheeks (both sets) have never been so close to the curb as Szoke leans into Corner 3 at Mosport. As he brakes for Corner 5a, I find myself sliding intimately closer to him. As he accelerates out of 5b, I’ve got my Vulcan death grip on him.

Through the back straight, he politely points to the speedometer. It shows 225 km/h. I gulp. He takes it all in stride. Like a boa constrictor and its prey, I’m not letting go – the fear of road rash on my body keeps me behaving.

At speed, the wind makes it hard to keep my head from snapping back and my neck begins to hurt.

I watch my own reflection through a metallic dragon decal on the back of Szoke’s helmet. The face of fear looks back at me. The dragon has been his symbol since he started racing. Unlike its medieval counterpart, this wingless Japanese dragon is a “good dragon,” he points out.

Wingless or not, we’re flying around this track.

The road-legal ZX-10R gives instant acceleration and pull. Its acceleration is faster than almost any production vehicle out there. Apart from the angle of the bike and our bodies, the racing line Szoke takes is the same the cars take. But while I’ve been around Mosport in many four-wheeled vehicles, it has never been as scary as this.

After three laps, Szoke thinks I’ve had enough and heads for the pits. I’ve survived, I tell myself, as the crew extract me from the back of the bike and, more importantly, from clutching their champion.

Thrilling is the first word that comes to mind. On a motorcycle speed can’t be hidden – it’s in your face. Every corner questions the laws of physics.

I’m proud of myself. I’ve been to the edge and back. Despite my soreness, I’m prepared to go and gloat.

My bubble bursts when Szoke tells me this ride represented only a fraction of his and the motorcycle’s capabilities. Only after watching Szoke ride solo do I know he’s serious. The scuff marks on his elbows and knees provide evidence of how he takes the corners. His straightaway speeds will top 275 km/h.

Not much separates him from the road. He knows the risks but loves his job.

It shows, as he will win both races over the weekend.

Not bad at all for a young man sporting bruises from my claw-like grip and possibly now deaf from my screams.

Nika

Nika

Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.