The machine makes a big difference, as Rossi will now tell you
Is it the machine or the rider that makes a difference? It's a question Valentino Rossi decided to answer in his favour. But, then Ducati happened, and the rest is history.
As for me, my riding skills are probably at two if Rossi's are rated at 10. The motorcycles I ride don't make one-third of the power his machine manages, but even then I am going to take a stand here and defy Rossi. To me, machine makes a hell of a lot of difference.
And to illustrate my point, let me bring the Hero Impulse and the KTM 200 Duke into the picture. My daily ride is an Impulse. And more often than not, I ride it as hard as it will go. And though it feels underpowered and slow on the straights, I do have to back off considerably when the traffic intensity rises.
KTM 200 Duke
But, that's not what happened the other day when I chose to ride home on the 200 Duke. Of course, I was going faster on the straights; the difference in engine capacity and horsepower ratings between the two bikes in the Duke's favour had to mean something in the real world. But, when it got crowded and I had to pick my way through slower moving cars and other motorcyclists, I did not back off; I somehow managed to pass them all without even trying hard.
I did not go faster deliberately, but my mind re-calibrated and allowed me to carry more speed everywhere. How did that happen? Simply because of the better dynamic ability of the 200 Duke compared to the Impulse.
Let me explain. The Impulse, for all its virtues such as ride quality and go-anywhere ability, isn't the best bike when it comes to handling. It also trails the best, even in its class, when it comes to braking. There's just too much fork flex, the brake bite isn't great and the front setup doesn't transmit enough info to even let you know when the front tyre might be locking under braking.
Then you have the 200 Duke. Nice beefy forks, a sharper rake and grippy tyres. Every time you call upon the brakes or even make a slight direction change, the 200 conveys exactly what it's up to. And it is way better behaved in its reactions than the Impulse. Ten minutes into the ride and the rider knows this.
Then there's the power. Every time the throttle is opened wide, the 200 accelerates without hesitation and with enough oomph to get you past vehicles moving even at 80kmph. Naturally, with this sort of performance, the 200 gives its rider options to avoid a sticky situation. So, if the gap you picked in traffic is closing because a car decided to change lanes without indicating, on the Duke, you can call on the brakes and stop in a jiffy without drama. Or, you could simply open the throttle and comfortably get through that gap. Once you ride the Duke, you know both these situations are possible. And knowing this gives you the confidence to go deeper and later into situations without having to panic.
On the Impulse, I'd need to plan a lot in advance. I know for a fact that its power isn't going to pull me out of anything. And its braking abilities require that I get on the brakes early enough to leave me enough space to actually stop without losing my front from under me.
So even though my riding skills did not quadruple the moment I sat on the Duke, the bike's inherent dynamic ability just gave me enough confidence to go faster than I was managing so far. And this was without compromising on safety at all. I was still riding way below the 200's capability, just like I do with the Impulse. But, because the 200's capability is so much higher compared to the Impulse, with the same safety net, and within the same comfort zone, I was just able to go a lot faster.
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