The best way to gain an appreciation for something is to do it yourself. Whether you’re looking to get into a sport or a hobby, riding along with a pro is guaranteed to heighten your understanding. When it came to superbikes, Jay Bennett of Popular Mechanics did that literally.
Bennett is a casual motorcyclist already, but when he headed over to New Jersey to get the scoop on the MotoAmerica Series, he realized that it’s a completely different beast. And that difference isn’t just between your average weekend biker; MotoAmerica is just as unlike it’s better-known cousin, MotoGP.
What sets MotoAmerica apart is what’s used on the track: superbikes. These superbikes are heavily modified versions of their stock counterparts. Your first thought may be a kind of NASCAR equivalent, but the NASCAR of today isn’t what it was long ago. While we may still refer to those vehicles as “stock cars”, they are modified in ways that progenitors of the sport would have hardly imaged. Superbikes, on the other hand, stay true to the stock roots. There are strict rules on what modification can be made to stock bikes,so a high degree of creativity and technical engineering come into play when making stock car bikes perform on the track. (In contrast, MotoGP bikes are built for racing. There’s no way you can grab the base of one of those off of the lot.)
What makes superbikes special, according to Bennett’s article, is something called “mapping”. Because certain aspects of the bikes can’t be changed, like “major components of the engines”, engineers need to alter how the bike behaves on its own. Those onboard electronics that have become increasingly standard in your average automobile can be changed and matched to certain conditions. Different maps can control things related to the drivetrain or braking systems, for instance. This, in part, is why superbike races still take place in unfavorable weather. While you expect those races to be rained out, the team just swaps the tires and selects an appropriate map. And if it starts raining during the race? No problem— some modifications allow you to select the active map while you’re already racing.
Check out the article for a video of the author riding on a superbike, and then realize that you want the same experience.