Superbikes are the stuff of dreams for all bike enthusiasts. They represent the pinnacle of motorcycle, and offer a highly-enhanced thrill of riding. The flipside is that, due to our heavy import duties, most of these beauties have a sky-high asking price. Nevertheless, this gives them an aura of exclusivity, and makes us lust for them even more.
If you thought money was the only prerequisite to own a 150+ bhp superbike, you’d be wrong. What you also need is skill, and a load of maturity, to operate a machine that has so much power that it could be considered a weapon of mass destruction if in the wrong hands. Yes, they do look damn cool, but if you make even a slight error, they will bite back, hard. There has been a spate of horrific accidents, some resulting in fatalities, in the past few years involving superbikes handled by inexperienced riders, some as young as 17 years of age. Superbikes require many years of proper riding experience on lower-powered motorcycles to handle safely, and unless you are a track-racing prodigy, getting a superbike as soon as you turn old enough to get your rider’s license is sheer stupidity. I’ve heard of many instances where rich parents buy their kids a litre-class supersports bike for their 18th birthday! To put the stupidity of that into perspective, it is like asking a 1st std kid to write the 12th std board exams! If you don’t know have enough riding experience, you won’t know how to safely control a superbike in a situation when something goes wrong.
Unlike most European countries, we don’t have a tiered licensing system to restrict us based on age and ability, so the onus is on us to restrict ourselves to buying bikes we can handle safely, not the most expensive and the most powerful one we can afford to buy. This way, you can spend precious saddle time improving your riding skills, and more importantly, you can enjoy the ride, instead of scaring yourself silly.
So, what is the right pathway to a superbike? Well, there aren’t any written in stone, but the basic idea is this – start with a small-displacement motorcycle, ride it extensively for as long as you can, and then upgrade to a more powerful bike. Each type of motorcycle offers a unique riding experience, around which we’ll have to mould our skills. Here’s a path to a rip-snorting, fire-breathing superbike that we’ve devised. It might seem long, but trust us; it will be well-worth the patience.
Stage 1 – Sub 125cc (under 15 bhp)
If you are new to riding two-wheelers, start off with something small, such as a scooter, or a sub-125cc bike. This will get you used to the basics of riding. Plus, you can have a whole lot more fun them than you can think. This is the best place to start for riders who’ve just turned 18, and have acquired their rider’s license.
Stage 2 – Sub 250cc (under 25 bhp)
Now, after at least a year of riding your small two-wheeler, get yourself a slightly more-powerful bike, something that produces less than 25 bhp. You’ll need to spend at least two – three years on this bike, and learn all that you can. Take it really easy for the first couple of months, and practise opening the throttle gradually on open, traffic-free roads. Then, once you’ve gotten confident with riding the bike and familiar with the way it reacts to your inputs, you can start riding faster.
At this point, the most sensible thing to do would be to join a track riding school. Today, there are around 3 – 4 reputed track riding schools in India. They’ll teach you new riding techniques, and will allow you practice them in the safe confines of a track, and under expert supervision. It might seem expensive, but such education would prove invaluable in the later stages of your riding life.
Stage 3 – Sub-600cc bikes, (under 50 bhp)
These bikes hit the sweet spot between performance, riding dynamics, and everyday usability. Most of them are very fast, capable of despatching the 0-100 kmph run in under 7 seconds, and can reach speeds in excess of 170 kmph. They are also relatively light and agile, which allows for confidence-inspiring dynamics and easy rideability in the urban setting. Bikes at this stage will help you get used to quick acceleration and high-speed cruising, and will allow you to hone your riding skills further, while being quite practical at the same time. We suggest riding these bikes extensively for at least two years, just to get a good feel of them. Also, ensure that you attend another track-riding course with this bike, preferably the first level again. This’ll ensure that the basic techniques are hard-wired into your brain.
Stage 4 – Sub-900cc bikes (under 85 bhp)
Now we’re entering into the big league. At this stage, you should choose a motorcycle that’s best suited for your preferred riding domain. For example, if you want a sporty bike for your daily commutes, get a naked bike. If you prefer touring long-distance rides, go for a sport-tourer, or if traversing the unexplored path is your cup of tea, an adventure sport motorcycle should serve you well. If you are a cornering addict, a sports bike would be the best bet. If you want a stylish yet powerful motorcycle for those occasional weekend rides, get yourself a cruiser. There are a whole lot of bikes available in this category, so choose carefully, as buying a bike for a purpose other than what it’s designed for will lead to unpleasant riding experiences. For instance, riding a sportsbike to work may seem cool, but it is going to be slightly more than inconvenient. Similarly, traversing the beaten path on a cruiser will only end up badly.
At this stage, you’ll find that bikes that produce around 70 – 85 bhp are plenty for our roads. In fact, you won’t really feel the need to upgrade anytime soon. Anyways you’ll need to spend around 2 – 3 years on these bikes to learn how to exploit their power to the fullest. If you have a street naked, a sport tourer, or a sportsbike, it’d make sense to attend an advanced riding course, which will teach to you how to handle the power effectively and safely when cornering.
Stage 5 – Your dream superbike
The time has finally come for you break your piggy bank and acquire your dream superbike. Now you can put all the skills you’ve gathered over the years to good use. Like the earlier stage, do make sure you get the right type of bike for your preferred riding domain. The power will seem intimidating at first, but considering the experience would have ideally gathered over the years leading to this, you’ll be able to handle it just fine. When riding on public roads, make sure you ride sensibly and well within your limits; attempting to test the limits of a superbike on a public highway is just asking for trouble.
There are a couple of things we’ll need to add though. One, you’ll never be able to exploit the full potential of a 1000+ cc superbike on public roads. Be it the new Yamaha R1, or something exotic like the 1299 Panigale, you’ll only be able to use at most around 40% of the power, both legally as well as sensibly. If you’d want to use a superbike to its fullest, you’ll have no option but to take it to the track.
Whatever superbike you get, just make sure you ride with all safety gear, ALL THE TIME. We cannot stress enough on the importance of this. On a superbike, your risk factor goes up multi-fold, so along with your riding skills, you’ll need to equip yourself with the best riding gear you can get your hands on, and wear them every time you go out for a ride, even if it is to the local grocery store.
Once you get your superbike, don’t forget to read this wonderful article about owning and riding a superbike in India. Happy riding!