First ride! Bike Social rides Melandri's WSB BMW

Posted: 04 Jul 2013

Bike Social rides Melandri's WSB BMW

“When you get on the bike you will understand everything, to ride it just for fun it is extremely easy, just like a street bike. The engine is soft and the bike very stable, unfortunately the track is not very easy for this bike…and you are a little tall…” 

I’m not exactly sure if Marco Melandri’s advice is aimed at reassuring me or scaring me into returning his bike in one piece. While to the 2002 250cc world champion (who also happens to have won several MotoGP and WSB races) the thought of riding a 225bhp motorcycle that weighs just 165kg may not be too much of an issue, I’m a little bit more concerned. For a start there is the circuit.

Last weekend I watched the WSB riders battle it out on this very same track, now I’m preparing to take out the actual bike that Marco rode (and BMW assure me they haven’t wound down the power) onto the Imola circuit. The problem is that after just 12 laps on a standard S1000RR road bike I’m still not 100% where the circuit goes. Add into this a full team of WSB mechanics looking on, a race pattern gearshift, 30-degrees heat and you can understand my apprehension. I keep telling myself it’s just a motorcycle, what’s the worst that can happen?

As my allocated time arrives I walk to the garage where a mechanic is preparing the bike. He looks at me and offers some more advice. “You are tall, sit back in the seat, it will be more comfortable.” Then, when I rest my gloves on the bike’s tank while I do up my helmet he adds with a distinct annoyance “do not put your gloves on the bike!” Apologising I hastily move them away, although I did consider pointing out I’m about to place my arse on the bike, isn’t that worse? Maybe I’ll mention that when I return it instead… 

Bike Social rides Melandri's WSB BMW

Tyre warmers off, the mechanic blips the throttle and gives me my pre-ride briefing. “Don’t touch the clutch once you are moving – up or down gears.” Marco’s bike has an ‘auto blipper’ which is a neat bit of electrical gubbins that automatically cuts the revs and blips the throttle slightly on downshifts, meaning you can just stamp on the gear and forget the clutch lever completely. Well I say stamp, remember this is a race bike and therefore the gear pattern is reversed. It’s not down to go up and up to go down. Confused? I was…

With a shove from the grumpy mechanic I was off, burbling down the pit lane and hoping like hell to return around £200,000 of prototype WSB racer in one piece.

As I exited the pit lane I started to understand why both the mechanic and Marco mentioned my height. I’m about 190cm tall, Marco is 166cm. Well that’s what his stats say, personally I reckon that is his ‘race height’ as he seems a lot shorter! My knees feel like they are somewhere up by my ears and I can only just bend enough to get my feet on the pegs. Once in position my size-ten clod-hopping boots are way too close to the gear lever and I feel hideously cramped and uncomfortable on the bike. It seems I’ve picked the short straw in more ways than one as other journalists have got to rid Chaz Davies bike, which is considerably roomier as Chaz is a more normal height!

Bike Social rides Melandri's WSB BMW

Wobbling around the first corner I manage to wedge myself into position and start to open the throttle. With so much power on tap I was expecting to be scared senseless, but this simply isn’t the case. Driving out of a bend in second gear the BMW feels slightly subdued and relaxed, not at all the animal I was expecting. To be honest the road bike felt more aggressive and quicker, but maybe I’m just not giving it enough revs. I make a note to not change gear until the ultra trick digital dash starts flashing red shift warning lights next time…

 

As a road rider and certainly not racer, a bike as focused as this feels very alien in corners. The chassis and suspension are set–up ultra stiff as Marco rides it to the very limits of its ability. When he isn’t accelerating he is braking as hard as possible and the geometry etc is designed to deal with this. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t quite pushing it this hard…

 Bike Social rides Melandri's WSB BMW

When it comes to bends you have to trust the Pirelli slicks and just throw it at the apex (well, as close as I could get) because there is none of the movement or feeling that you get on a road bike to tell you what is happening. The harder you go the more feeling you get, but as I was hardly scratching the surface of its performance all I got was muted signals and the distinct impression it was sniggering at me from under its beautiful GoldBet livery. I’d show it whose boss, at the next straight the throttle is getting held fully open.

Bike Social rides Melandri's WSB BMW 

Clicking second gear I pin the throttle and hold on. Driving up the hill out of Acque Minerale the power doesn’t seem that brutal, the road bike wheelied on the throttle up here but even with the red lights flashing and when I snick third the WSB racer’s front is still on the ground. Don’t get me wrong, we are traveling at quite a rate of knots, it’s just that we are doing it with none of the road bike’s aggression. I snick fourth, at which point the front lifts! That fourth gear and around 120mph – 140mph and the front has come up under power. Yeah, this bike has some grunt after all…

Unfortunately there is now the small matter of a corner ahead. Desperately trying to remember which way the gear change works I attempt to stamp down a gear, but so cramped and squeezed into position is my foot I miss the lever. Panicking I grab the front brake, perform a very brief stoppie, panic again, accidentally stutter on the gear change which drops me two gears instead of one and then realise I’m now going so slowly I have to accelerate into the bend. I hope this lap isn’t being datalogged…

The rest of the lap is spent trying to get comfortable on the bike and get my head around how it corners, however exiting the last chicane onto the start/finish straight (where everyone is hanging over the pit wall watching) I decide I need to pretend at least I’m giving it some so I open the throttle full again and wait for the red lights on the dash. Once again the motor burbles and accelerates with strong torque rather than wheelies or anything. How very odd.

The rest of my laps pass in a flurry of hideous discomfort, wobbly cornering and extreme early braking – but thankfully no sounds of scraping plastic or bending metal. By the time the grumpy mechanic holds out the pit board with ‘BOX’ written on it I’m actually rather relieved, mainly because I can stretch my legs again.

Bike Social rides Melandri's WSB BMW

As I walk like Forest Gump the first time he had leg braces fitted back down pit lane (both legs are cramped and my muscles aren’t working yet) I ponder what Marco said. He was right, the 225bhp engine was remarkably civilized and anyone really could have ridden with it, although that was mainly due to the clever electronics neutering the power as I exited the bends. If the riding position was a little bit more suited to my height I reckon I could have popped down the shops on the bike, although I didn’t spot a sidestand so I’d have to lean it up against a wall…

Looking at my data I was about 25 seconds a lap slower than Marco, which shows just how hard he rides the bike and how far off even scratching its parameters of handling I was. I admit I didn’t push it, but even wobbling around it is impressive how strong the motor’s torque was and how the electronics allowed you to drive forwards rather than be forced to wrestle a wheelieing machine. Although I felt faster on the road bike, I was actually much quicker on the racer, which shows just how advanced the electronic assists are. Can anyone ride a WSB bike? Yep, it honestly isn’t that scary at all, just ensure you pick the bike of a rider who doesn’t struggle to get a magazine from the top shelf…

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