posted 12/14/2010 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
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It struck me as I raced headlong down the long front straight at Monza and prepared myself for the heavy braking that would be required for the Variante del Rettifilo that I might just be getting the hang of this. Here we were, well into the third lap of the race and I was still in contact with the rest of the pack. It had taken hours of effort to get this far, hours that had been liberally sprinkled with shouted curses and moments of sheer frustration. As I successfully navigated the tight chicane and accelerated into the Curve Grande, I reflected upon the dozens of times I had flown off the track in this very turn, ending my race in an ignominious cloud of dust.

This time I knew that I’d have to be gentle when shifting my weight as I worked through the long right-hand turn. If I felt myself turning too tightly, anything more that a gentle weight shift to the outside would start a drift to the outer edge of the track that I more than likely would not recover from. Just past the apex of the turn, I started feeding in some power, ready to release a little of the tension on the throttle when (not if!) the back tire started to jump away from the direction of the turn.

It was in the second of the two Lesmo turns that I fell victim to a moment of complacency. Eager to gain ground on the racer in front of me, I was a little too aggressive with the throttle and the back tire responded, as it always does when I get too enthusiastic, with a slide towards the outside of the turn, but this time much more violently. Surprised, I rolled the throttle all the way out. Inevitably, the sliding tire regained its grip on the asphalt surface at the worst possible moment, causing the motorcycle to violently shift in the other direction. My rider was vaulted over the top of the bike and flung violently down the race track in a classic High-Side wreck. Maybe I wasn’t getting the hang of it after all. Perhaps I should have just stayed in Arcade mode.

Published by Deep Silver, Milestone’s SBK X Superbike World Championship had humbled me like no other racing game had ever done. It was to be expected, really, since my experience with riding motorcycles didn’t survive that night more than 30 years ago when I was collared by a county sheriff for illicitly riding a co-worker’s Honda “like a damned fool.” Hey, it’s not like I was jumping it all that high. I suppose he might have been more forgiving had it not been a street bike that I was throwing around in that dark parking lot after work...

As I mentioned above, my initial inclination was to use the Arcade mode as a sort of virtual training wheels and move up to Simulator mode once I had gotten the hang of it. The problem turned out to be that Arcade mode simply dumbs down the physics model to a degree that really doesn’t provide much of an idea of what to expect upon graduation to the more difficult model. And, of course, there was that stupid and completely ineffective “boost” button. There was no real point to it; pressing the boost button did increase the perception of speed, but it didn’t increase the actual speed of my bike as referenced to the guy in front of me. It was a hokey feature in want of an actual goal, it seems to me. Thankfully it was easy enough to simply ignore it.

After a few hours in Arcade mode, I thought I was ready to move up to the more sophisticated Simulation mode, but as it turns out I was simply unprepared for the steering lag introduced by having to shift the rider’s weight to get the bike to turn. Even worse, I was not ready for the seemingly ponderous way the weight shifts as compared to the more nimble Arcade mode. It was particularly noticeable in the middle of chicanes; I could get through the first turn, but always ended up going wide on the second turn. This is, of course, known as ‘realism’ and is generally considered to be a good thing when talking about simulators, so don’t read this as a complaint. Once I started to get a better feel for it, I actually began to enjoy it. It’s ever so much more challenging than just turning a steering wheel and having the vehicle respond almost instantly. It takes much more planning and subtle control than something like a Formula 1 car with its massive down force-producing wings and wide, grippy tires. The coolest thing, though, was the ability to pull wheelies and hold them for extended periods. Not so cool was braking hard into a turn using the front brake (which, being activated by the left trigger finger, is the easiest to use) while having the rider’s weight shifted forward. That resulted in an embarrassing over-the-handlebars tumble. Lesson learned!
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