If you had told me back when I was first discovering my parents’ record collection that one day I would have immediate access to a seemingly infinite universe of music within a light, handheld device that also happened to be a phone, a television, and a camera, I surely would have been skeptical. But sure enough, here we are. Not only do we have the ability to access and play music anytime, anywhere, but we can pause, replay and skip songs with accuracy and simplicity that was but a dream back when we were listening to vinyl records and plastic cassette tapes.
For all of the advancements in storage capability, selection, and convenience, something has been lost. Not just in the tonal quality of an MP3 compared to a record, but in the process itself. There is something comforting and nostalgic about sorting through a stack of albums – the quality of the artwork, even the smell of the jackets. A touchscreen has nothing on the tactile feeling of dropping a needle on the vinyl pressing.
Modern sport bikes are truly a wonder of precision engineering, but there is also something to be said for staying analog. When the opportunity to acquire a 2001 Yamaha R6 at an attractive price point presented itself, I made the decision to buy it quickly. Given its more than adequate performance and shape for its age (not to mention its approachable price tag), I figured it would make for an ideal track bike. There was another aspect that I found attractive about it: no techno nannies. It doesn’t have a quick shifter, traction control, stability control, wheelie control, adaptive suspension, variable riding modes or cornering ABS. In fact, unlike the Honda CBR600 F4i of the same lineage, this R6 isn’t even fuel injected. It doesn’t feel anything like a new motorcycle. If it were a person, it would be old enough to legally buy beer. But, I like it. If you’d told me as a kid that I’d choose a 20-year-old motorcycle over a new one I would have said you were flat out nuts. And yet, here I am.
I’ve turned my fair share of laps on four wheels, but my track experience on a motorcycle is limited to attending the FAST Riding School and Super Sonic Road Racing School. The problem with modern sport bikes for a track newbie is that they are just too damn good. They are capable of saving your bacon when you don’t even know it and they can suck you into thinking that you’re a far better rider than you actually are since they are doing the work for you.
My thought process was that the R6 would make me acutely aware of my abilities, but more importantly, my limitations. I want to know the mistakes I’m making so that I can improve and become a better rider. Sure enough, I was correct. Once again participating in Level 2 of the FAST program at Shannonville, this time with my 2001, my initial lap times were slower than when I was riding the new model provided by the school. Having the ability to feel a greater connection with the asphalt below me resulted in progressively quicker lap times, along with greater comfort and confidence. After a day of lapping and professional instruction, I feel like I made significant gains.
I certainly wasn’t the faster one out there, but there’s also a sense of accomplishment in doing something yourself, unaided by the cleverness of a computer. I don’t have any aspirations of racing, nor do I possess the talent or finances, but skills and habits learned on the track can unquestionably be transferred to better, safer riding on the street.