A friend of mine doesn’t really ‘do’ ‘bikes. Four wheels are more his thing, two just don’t have the same appeal. Each to their own, I suppose but I have to agree, motorcycle racing doesn’t have the same appeal as its four-wheeled alternative, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, for me and many more, motorbike racing’s appeal is a complex and somewhat morbid one, yet it can be summed up in one word: Danger.
Stirling Moss believes modern motor racing is lacking danger and as a result the sport has lost an element of its appeal since his time behind the wheel; “One of the reasons I went racing was because it was dangerous” Moss says. The 16 time Grand Prix winner often fondly recalls a time “when sex was safe and motor racing was dangerous”. Now, he believes the opposite is true. Moss’ point is a valid one, if not entirely acceptable by modern culture; the risk of injury or death holds a certain appeal – there’s a reason the term is ‘car-crash TV’.
Stirling speaks largely of the changes to safety precautions in Formula One and other four-wheel derivatives, but it’s my suggestion that the perilous nature which Stirling fondly recalls, and a certain romance that goes with it, is now reflected in the world of two-wheeled machines and their heroic dare-devil masters.
Where before, a crash at the wheel of a racing car could quite possibly end a career or life, there’s now a superb chance of walking away from the wreckage. There’s still concern, naturally: when Mark Webber demonstrated a fine back flip in Valencia 2010, many hearts skipped a beat and there was instant worry over Mark’s safety; the Australian walked away. Likewise, when Romain Grosjean did his best to cause harm to Fernando Alonso at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix in 2012, the watching world paused, only for the Spaniard to get up, shake his fists at Romain and walk away.
This level of extraordinary safety is of course fantastic, a testament to the human achievement in that field but the risk involved with hopping on a prototype motorbike racer or Superbike is still very much evident and makes for compelling viewing because of the obvious dangers involved.
Realistically, nobody wants to see people get hurt but it’s that chance, that very real possibility that can have you perched excitedly on the edge of your seat, holding your breath with every twist of the throttle or tilt of the ‘bike. When Valentino Rossi leant his Yamaha M1 into a fast, demanding left hand turn at Mugello in 2010 – his tyre not quite up to optimum temperature – the ‘bike threw him at the scenery whereupon his right leg suffered a severe compound fracture. The general consensus was that if it could happen to someone as supremely talented as Rossi, it could happen to anyone, and it’s made every corner of every MotoGP race since a heart-stopping thrill.
Every time Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow and co. pitch their machinery into each corner there’s always doubt, despite their ability, that the ‘bike wont twitch or slip or seize and fire its rider into the air. In doing so, those riders and their fellow competitors put life and limb on the line several times a second, how could you take your eyes off of that?