This past weekend I finally had the opportunity to take out the RSV4R for some more track testing. You may recall that at the last outing (in early November at Thunderhill), I found the front suspension to be very “nervous,” which seemed to be the result of the stock Showa front forks not being able to keep up with the Ohlins TTX shock with stiffer spring we had mounted on the bike. At the recommendation of some suspension pros I trust, I decided to upgrade the forks with a 30mm Ohlins cartridge kit.
I had hoped to be able to get back to Thunderhill or maybe over to Infineon (which I haven’t yet ridden), but found that the 2011 calendars posted up by the various providers, didn’t really include any good weekend dates until all the way out in April. So, that left me with the option of traveling much further to the south – racing with WERA on the last weekend of January in Las Vegas, or going to the new Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in the desert of southern California. I’d been wanting to try Chuckwalla, as I’d heard good things about it, and the weather for this past weekend was projected to be spectacular. I also felt like I should do more trackdays to get the bike set up before I jumped right into racing it, so I decided to head to Chuckwalla.
The downside of the Chuckwalla option was the 15 hour drive each way (!), which was not a lot of fun, but for those of us that live in places that actually have winter weather, it’s what we must do. Thunderhill is “only” 10 hours by comparison, so this was a pretty big commitment.
I finally got there on Friday night, and set up my paddock area. It was good to see that a few of my friends from the Masters of the Mountains series were there, along with a few other guys I knew through correspondence or internet forums.
The weather was quite spectacular all weekend, with temps in the 70s, and not a cloud in the sky. The trackdays were sold out in all groups both days, and there were a lot of riders, especially on Saturday. We also ran the track in clockwise direction on Saturday, and counterclockwise on Sunday. This was pretty challenging, as I had never ridden the track in any configuration, so I had to completely learn two new tracks. It had been a while since I’d been to an unfamiliar track, and I forgot how disconcerting it can feel to not really know the lines very well around the track. Still, after a couple of sessions I started to get things figured out, despite feeling lost at first.
The track was quite fun in both directions! Some very interesting corners, including a blind off-camber series of corners that was very tricky. You just had to go slow through that section. More than one bike went off track at that location, or had riders falling off.
There is also a fun “bowl” turn, which is a big, sweeping, high-speed corner with a significant amount of banking. I’d watched some video of the track to try to get a little bit familiar with it before I went, but on the video everything looked pretty flat. Not so! There were definitely some elevation changes, and the bowl section, which really didn’t show up on the video.
The track had very good grip, but was pretty bumpy in a number of spots. Oddly, I didn’t find the bumps particularly bothersome when we went clockwise on Saturday, but on Sunday I noticed them a lot, all over the place! I meant to ask others if they noticed the same thing, but forgot to do so.
Overall, I found the track to be a lot of fun, but I did think it was better suited for a middleweight bike. I wish it had a couple of things it lacks – a longer straight where you can really stretch things out on a literbike, and a harder-braking hairpin or two. It has a lot of double-apex turns which are interesting and fun, but very similar to one another.
In the middle of the night on Saturday, for several hours we had incredibly high winds at the track, despite having virtually no breeze during the day on Saturday. Being in the middle of the desert, this caused a huge amount of sand and dust to blow onto the track. During the first couple of sessions on Sunday, the amount of dust and sand that would come off the tires of the bike in front of you was crazy, like a big roostertail that you might see while riding in the rain. It definitely caused me to wonder about the level of grip I could trust in the corners, but it seemed to be okay. Lots of dust in my eyes and on my bike for sure. By the third session the track was pretty clean.
Okay, enough about the track, what about the bike?
Oh man, I love this bike. It is just so, so good. So much fun. The new forks were really transformative, from what I could tell. It would have been nice to take the bike back to Thunderhill instead, so I could have done more of an apples-to-apples comparison of the forks, going over the same tarmac, braking hard into the same turns, but still, the bike was much better.
When we first installed the cartridges, we found that the length of the forks grew by 4-5 mm. This created a problem, because the brake lines did not have enough slack in them to reach the caliper mounts. At full extension (over certain bumps or when hard on the gas doing a power wheelie), the lines would have been stretched to a dangerous limit. No good. Plus, the geometry of the bike would have been changed, causing the steering to be different. We checked the forks and cartridges again, and found that this was just the way it was. I simply raised the forks in the triple clamps by another 4mm (another line showing on the forks above the top triple), which effectively kept the geometry the same, and kept the brake lines safe.
I found the steering on the bike to be very neutral the whole weekend. It always turned the way I wanted it to, no matter the corner. I never felt like I needed a geometry change to make the bike easier to maneuver. The action of the forks was much better, and the front tire always felt planted, despite the bumps. Initially, with the baseline settings we started with (as recommended by Ohlins), I found them to feel just a bit “dead,” not giving me the feedback or response I was looking for under braking and changing of direction. I also found that I wasn’t using the full stroke of the fork, even as I picked up the pace. I decided to take out a couple of clicks of compression, and speed up the rebound by taking out a couple of clicks of damping. This change really seemed to help the front end be more responsive, and the front tire to track over the bumps better. I also found that I was using the full extent of the available stroke in the fork from that point on.
One of the issues I’d had with the front end at Thunderhill was when I’d get on the gas and the front end would get light, I’d get a huge amount of headshake, to the point of being scary. I even had a huge tankslapper like I’d never had before. At Chuckwalla with the new fork cartridges, I definitely had a bunch of times where the front end got light and bounced around a bit, but it was much more controlled and never felt nervous or scary like before. That was a big plus, because it meant I could just get on the gas and go, without having to hold back to try and keep the front end under control. Lots more fun that way!
I still found that at certain points around the track, I had to consciously work to keep my weight forward and down, otherwise the front end would get really light. Also, I learned that if I got lazy when getting on the gas coming out of turns and would sit up just a little bit, and not stay tucked in, that the wind blast would blow my 6’ 2” frame back and cause the bike to wheelie. If I stayed tucked in, it was much better.
The level of grip the bike gives under acceleration is really impressive. I kept trying to test the grip of the track, and the traction control system of the bike, to see if I could get the rear end to break loose, or really notice the traction control system cutting the ignition to retard the spin. Instead of either of those things happening, the bike would just GO, sometimes giving me a nice power wheelie while still leaned off the bike! This happened early on Saturday morning when I was trying to get around a couple of guys coming out of turn five, and bike just jumped forward, doing a nice little leaning power wheelie. Craziness!
The bike certainly gave me everything I wanted in all of the important categories:
- Acceleration – I don’t remember any other bike pulling away from me on a straight
- Braking – I kept braking later and later, but it always gave me plenty, and was very smooth and linear through the process, never grabby, and no discernable fade
- Cornering – Again, the bike did what I wanted it to do. I never felt like I had to “muscle” it around to get it to turn. It was always easy. We’ll see if there are any issues when I get to a track with a tighter, slower hairpin, but so far, very nimble
Just as last time, the gearbox and quickshifter were absolute, buttery perfection. Never a missed shift, never a false neutral. Effortless, drama-free. Really nice!
I put a new fuel cap on since last time, replacing the stocker with a Yoyodyne Rapid Lock unit from AF1 (http://www.af1racing.com/store/Scripts/prodView.asp?idproduct=7113). BIG improvement, as the stock one has this tiny little hole so you have to use a funnel every time to fill it up.
While I’m on the subject of fuel – Good Lord does this bike suck up the fuel! I’ve had some thirsty monsters in the past, most notably my Ducati 1098S and my Honda RC51, both big twins, but this bike really drinks up the gas. I went through over 15 gallons in two days, and didn’t even run all of the available sessions. I definitely have to refill it every session.
Bottom line is that it was a great weekend. The sunshine felt SO GOOD! And riding a motorcycle on the track, in late January – well, it was heaven. I had an absolute blast. What else can I say about the bike? So far it is exceeding my lofty expectations, and the easiest bike to go fast on that I’ve ever ridden. With the new fork cartridges, it’s truly awesome. Obviously a beautiful, sexy bike as well. Lots of guys coming over to my pit area to check it out, and compliment me on how pretty the bike is.
It was definitely worth the 15 hour drive each way. Now, if April would just hurry up and get here…
Oh yeah, I shot a bunch of video as well. I’ll try to get some time in the coming weeks to splice it together into something presentable and post it up here. Stay tuned.