I remember my first bike, a 2008 Yamaha R15, feeling like all the motorcycle I’d ever need when I first laid hands on it. I absolutely adored it, but a couple of years later, I needed something faster. A few test bikes came along that were quicker than the sweet Yamaha, but nothing prepared me for the shock of my 2014 390 Duke. The KTM felt violently fast in traffic and it took me a while to accurately equate throttle openings with distances swallowed. That little headbanger of a motorcycle still keeps me on my toes in city traffic, but I’m now in complete comfort with its actual rate of acceleration.
These days, I rarely encounter that familiar sense of extreme tunnel vision and tightly clenched muscles. It’s only the fastest of superbikes that do this to me, and I’m sure that with enough experience on them, my brain will stop being overwhelmed with the speed. In that sense, the human brain really is incredible in its ability to learn and evolve – be it in picking up a hobby, getting better at your job, or riding a motorcycle. Time, practise and dedication are truly the only ways forward.
But there is a downside to this phenomenon and it’s something that big-bike owners will be familiar with. I remember riding the Suzuki Hayabusa and the Kawasaki ZX-14R a few years back and being convinced that they were the most dangerous motorcycles I’d ever experienced. The bikes themselves were absolutely lovely to ride, but I’ve never encountered anything that masks speed as effortlessly as these two and it was alarming how calm they made 220kph feel.
On fast bikes, you get sucked into a false sense of being in control over the situation and that can quickly turn lethal. You may be at complete comfort with the speeds your powerful machine is capable of, but the environment around you is always waiting to strike. Mindless infrastructure design, clueless road users, non-existent maintenance and the sheer volume of the now quite fast-moving traffic make for a lethal combo. Our roads have never been this dangerous.
The sheer choice of thrilling machines available makes this the best time to be a motorcyclist in India, but the state of our roads make it the worst. It’s a messed up situation and the recent blast we had on KTM’s sensational new 790 Duke reminded me that the only way to safely enjoy powerful sport bikes is at the racetrack. Nothing gets the need for speed out of your system like a session at the track, and it teaches you that going flat out on the road is just silly and pointless. On the sensibly slow drive back to Mumbai after the 790 test, I couldn’t help thinking – getting to the track may take a lot of time, effort and money, but it’s absolutely worth it when you consider the risks associated with the alternative.