Ringside Seat: bikes vs cars

“What’s better around the Nurburgring; a motorcycle or a car?

It’s one of those questions that has way too many answers. But let’s face it: a car will always win. That’s because the word ‘car’ can be used to describe any piece of vehicular technology with a rubber bit close to each corner. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Stefan Bellof’s ground-effect Group C Porsche 956, a Formula 1 car or even a Smart Fortwo. They’re all cars. Though you could probably make a decent case against the last one.

But almost nobody I know can go out and buy a Formula 1 car, whereas nearly anybody could buy themselves a GSX-R or Fireblade of varying vintage. With a brand-new, top-end superbike costing about the same as a basic supermini you’d think we’d all be pulling on our leather jump suits and heading for the track, right?

Flying lap takes on a new meaning
Flying lap takes on a new meaning
I’ve been there. I used to ride bikes for a living.

In fact, that’s how I ended up here at the Nurburgring, testing motorcycle after motorcycle around the Nordschleife. And you want to know the truth? Any sportsbike of 600cc or over can nail an eight-minute bridge to gantry lap. All summer long, with only a few sets of tyres and brake pads. Unfortunately, the limiting factor is always the rider.

Any old muppet can get in a car and think they’re fast. One screech of the tyres and a squidgy brake pedal would have many drivers comparing themselves to Senna on a fast one. But bikes are not so simple. The learning curve for a bike is often described as being steep. Well, it’s not just steep. It’s precipitous and bloody easy to fall off too.

If you carry 5mph too much speed into an apex and lose the front on a bike you won’t understeer. You’ll crash spectacularly into a steel fence, or maybe an oncoming bus. Learning the limits isn’t something you can do on an airfield with an instructor; it’s something that only comes with a healthy dose of talent or a lot of luck.

This results in two large groups of bikers and a few breakaway factions. The first group has no interest in going fast - it’s way too dangerous and risky. Instead they enjoy bikes for a tremendous sense of freedom, oneness with the scenery and the general oh-my-god-I’m-alive feeling.

Bikes at the 'ring: always a hot topic
Bikes at the 'ring: always a hot topic
The second group embraces all of the joy above whilst still enjoying the risk-ridden road to popping a good wheelie and destroying knee sliders with gay abandon. These are your weekend warriors gleefully buying the latest superbike, whilst knowing deep in their hearts that powersliding out of turn 11 is something that will only ever happen on their TV screen and in the best lucid dreams.

But one of the many smaller breakaway factions enjoys all of the above, plus being faster than anything else around them. Your own trackday car definitely included. They perfect their motorcycle skills, don’t really care about cars and acknowledge that while really bad accidents do happen, it probably won’t happen to them.

I left that particular group via an air ambulance to Koblenz with a couple of broken vertebrae and a curious haematoma that to this day has altered the way I remember stuff (that’s what I tell the wife when I forget the milk).

So for some, myself included that pretty much ends the argument on whether bikes or cars are better. Bikes are just too bloody dangerous. But just days before my hospital trip I managed to do my fastest ever video lap of the Nurburgring (you can see it here but there’s a much faster guy at the bottom, so don’t go clicking away yet).

And it’s this hardcore cadre of performance bike-obsessed riders who will happily destroy our assumption that cars are always faster.

In a couple of months PH will give you a definitive, documented and datalogged answer to this question: how does an off-the-shelf superbike compare to an off-the-showroom-floor supercar? The incredibly kind folks at Gran Turismo Nurburgring will be giving us 15 minutes of their precious Nordschleife time to stick a brand-new Ducati Panigale around the track with a very experienced and eager member of the true performance bike cadre. He’s harder than diamonds, and if you want to see what he gets up to on a typical lap of the ’ring, just take a look here ... but not on a full stomach.


P.H. O'meter

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Comments (116) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Pugsey 24 Feb 2012

    Hells teeth and buckets of blood!! Brave or mad or both. MUCH rspect. I think he dented a few egos too - some of the other bikes had their knees down and probably thought they were going 'fast'............

    Oh, and I'm not even entering the bike v car debate!

  • Steff 24 Feb 2012

    I'm no bike rider but f*** me, I'm on the edge of my seat sitting behind my desk...

  • fredd1e 24 Feb 2012

    Hmm thats probably why they dont have WSB or Moto GP races at the ring .... All that lovely Armco just waiting to slice limbs of any biker unfortunate enough to leap into its cold steel embrace.

  • Skii 24 Feb 2012

    proof positive that bikers are not right in the head. Bonkers.

  • Garlick 24 Feb 2012

    Amazing video, bike sounds so on the limit throughout. Enjoyable.

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