Wednesday, September 26, 2012

never meet your heroes

They say to never meet your heroes lest you leave disappointed. It's true that reality can often shatter years of dreaming about impossible greatness. I remember being terrified after finally securing a ride in my then-favorite car, the Lamborghini  Countach. It was loud; you couldn't see out the back, sides, or much of the front; and it was a seventies-shakiness about it. It was a scary car. But man it was a looker. 

Luckily Ferrari has never disappointed me so. I think there's something to all the racetrack success (which Lambo has conspicuously never had). Ducati has also had a dominance over Superbike racing rather akin to Ferrari in Formula One in the last nineties and early twenty-first century. I certainly hoped there was a connection there beyond sharing a hometown.

I was still very, very scared to try a Ducati. I imagined trying to drive a Ferrari when 16, except a Ducati superbike is mathematically more frightening. There was a good chance it would be intimidating, cranky, and dangerous. If it wasn't, there was the equally terrible possibility that the rest of the world would be suddenly vanilla. Be careful what you wish for, because if you get it you may never be able to live without it. 

This brings me to wandering around in the not-yet-opened Ducati of Raleigh. They had a mint 2000 996 sitting between a streetfighter and a Panigale demo bike (!!). Some chatting and the owner of the shop offered me a ride. A scary choice. Do I risk shattering my image of my favorite motorcycle of all time? (I supposed in honesty I'd prefer the near-identical 998) What if I drop it? Or what if it's every bit as good as they say? 

Needless to say when someone offers you something fast and Italian for an afternoon you don't say no, despite any reservations. Deal with your fear later. 

So there I was with a piece of racing history literally shaking the ground under my feet. It felt special. It had a delicacy to it; a real sense of purpose. This was no compromised machine. It was built for one thing. It was apparently intolerant of anyone trying to do anything else. So I stalled it, immediately. Not a good start to this first date. It took about ten minutes of slow and medium speed riding to "get it." No half-assery here. Lots of revs, weighty controls, and a determination are needed to unlock the greatness. Anything under about 4500 rpm has the bike shaking and rattling something fierce. Roll on more throttle and the world is right. There's power, so much power, all over the rev range. Following you is one of the great motor soundtracks of all time. Barking, booming, thunder, whatever you want to call it. The Ferraci pipes helped, certainly, and I thought I was going to scare every bird out of Umstead. 

In short, it was as good as they say when used right. It could turn (far beyond my abilities) but you had to throw it over into a lean. Yes, it's light and the tank is perfectly shaped for proper leverage, but there's no tip-toeing into a corner. Look through the bend, point and lean. Keep leaning. No, don't think about backing off that throttle. Give it more! The shifter also requires a quick, firm jab to not find false neutrals. And the clutch, well, needs a lot of slipping in traffic. Then again, traffic is no place for a Ducati superbike. Which is why they didn't bother making the mirrors functional. At all.

Good thing there wasn't anything behind me. Along the winding Ebenezer Church Road alongside the state forest, I could roll on the power, up the gears, down the gears, creating all manner of racket. It was bliss. All the figgety-ness was gone in waves of sound and torque. I still had the sense that she was laughing at me, saying "Is that it?" But it was good for me, sorry darling.

After returning the bike and waiting for my perma-grin to fade, I got back onto the ZR7 to ride home. I was instantly greeted by a familiar feeling: after spending a weekend at Road America flogging incredible machinery, getting into frankly anything else and trying to drive at highway speeds feels wrong, alien, soft, spongy, and numb. This ZR7, the fastest thing I've ever owned, felt squishy and sleepy. Where's the power? What's up with the brakes? Why can't I hear the motor?

Be careful meeting your heroes. Everyone else might suddenly become boring.

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