I noted we’ve had some incidents of motorcycles speeding on public thoroughfares lately. We had a customer clocked at 145 mph on the Northway near the Twin Bridges; we had one clocked at 166 mph on the Thruway near Ravena; and we had another clocked at 193 mph in Ulster County, all of which made me think, What the hey! How can anyone go that fast on a motorcycle? Why don’t they get airborne and vaporize at such speeds? How can it be legal to even sell motorcycles that go so fast?
I needed to get to the bottom of this, so the first thing I did was drop in on Phibbs Powersports, a motorcycle dealership on Albany-Shaker Road, and ask to see their fastest machine. That turned out to be a sleek black thing identified as a Kawasaki ZX-14, priced at $12,999, which a salesman assured me would go 190 mph.
I had a number of questions I wanted to ask, but alas, as soon as I identified myself the salesman wanted no further part of me. The reason they don’t advertise in newspapers, he told me, is that we’re always writing bad stuff about motorcycles and never good stuff, which is vile falsehood, and if I wasn’t there to buy a motorcycle he was all done with me.
This convinced me that if I was going to buy a Kawasaki ZX-14 I would buy it elsewhere. I wasn’t going to have any truck with a business that refuses to advertise in newspapers.
So I hied myself over to Spitzie’s on Central Avenue, which specializes in Harley-Davidsons, and there it was an entirely different picture. There I got a cordial reception, as befits a representative of what we now call the print media.
And there too I learned that the speeds reported in these recent news stories are really no big deal. Motorcycles have been capable of such speeds for a long time now, and riders have tested them for a long time too. It’s just that it didn’t often come to light.
Actually, manufacturers reached a gentlemen’s agreement in the year 2000 not to compete any further in maximum speeds but to set a limit of 300 kilometers per hour, or 186 mph. Now there are a number of machines with approximately the same top speed, including the Kawasaki ZX-14 that I had pretended I wanted to buy.
But interestingly, there is no Harley-Davidson in that league. Harley-Davidson, the big blatting hog preferred by biker gangs, is for older guys, a salesman told me. The screaming Japanese speed machines are for the younger set, 30 and under.
Jim Zabrowski was my host at Spitzie’s, which is maybe why I got a cordial reception. He used to work in the pre-press operation at the Gazette, back when I was regularly ragging on the cops, as he recalled, so it was a little like old home week. He and other people at Spitzie’s didn’t know what the big deal was about super-fast bikes anyway, seeing as how there are plenty of legally sold cars that go just as fast and faster, as I was able to confirm.
A quick Google search turned up the Corvette ZR1, which goes 205 mph, and the Nissan GT-R, which does the same, and from there you work your way up through a whole collection till you get to the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, capable of 267 mph and able to accelerate from 0 to 60 in 2.4 seconds, if you can believe that.
These machines are all “street legal,” as they say. You can go out and buy one and drive it up and down Central Avenue. Incredible, no?
I will note, however, that fast cars are not so easily within reach of kids who have not yet gotten over their acne. The Corvette costs $103,000, and the Bugatti costs $1.7 million, whereas the screaming fast motorcycles go for a mere $12,000, or about half the price of a commuter car.
Does it make sense to allow such powerful machines on public roads? I will not venture to answer, but I note that motorcycle manufacturers agreed to limit top speeds only because European countries were threatening to stop importing motorcycles if they kept getting faster, supposedly because they feared competition on their roads.
And how does it feel to go so fast? A fellow at Spitzie’s whose name I agreed not to disclose informed me he himself had topped out at 184 mph once, and it felt safer to him than going that fast in a car, though that didn’t seem to me like a great comparison. I’d like to know how it feels in comparison to going 65.
Actually, I used to ride a small motorcycle myself, in my carefree youth, and I worried on the few occasions when I got up as fast as 65.
I did tell these guys when I forget to set the cruise control in my car and sometimes unwittingly edge up close to 80, I will say whoa and drop back.
“Might be time to hang up the keys,” one of them said.