Like the car, the motorcycle, whose origins can be traced back to the final decades of the nineteenth century, has enjoyed significant technological evolution over the years. Resulting in ever higher performance and, at the same time, improved safety.
One of the main roles that the motorcycle has taken on, at least on the Old Continent, is as an alternative to the car for getting around. Often on account of its ability to beat the city traffic or avoid the long rush-hour queues on roads and motorways. But the two wheels world is not always just a convenient alternative to the car. On longer trips, comfort is certainly not a factor in favour of the two-wheeled vehicle: however practical a bike may be, it will never be as roomy or comfortable as a car. Yet a not insignificant minority of motorcyclists use their bike for medium-range or long journeys. For them, comfort is clearly less important than the emotion a vehicle like the motorbike can inspire. There is a famous quote among motorcyclists: "Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul," which perfectly expresses the spirit with which many bikers take to the saddle. Their goal is not the destination but the journey itself, and the sense of freedom that travelling by motorcycle can afford.
Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul
Then there are the more extreme uses of bikes, ranging from track racing and the far more dangerous road racing to the kind of challenges that push the laws of physics to their limit. In these cases, the motorcycle is a way for man to put himself to the test, in search of not only the vehicle's limits but also, more importantly, his own. Of course, throwing down the gauntlet to physics and nature is nothing new, but recent technological developments have opened up the possibility of feats that were unthinkable just a few years ago.
Here's an example. Look at a motorcycle race of the 60s and 70s and compare it with one of today's. Apart from the big differences in the actual bikes, the first thing you will notice is how different the driving style of today's drivers is compared to that of their predecessors.
Nowadays bikes are driven by shifting the weight your body to the right or left of the vehicle's centre of gravity depending on which way you want to curve. Anyone who has seen at least one motorcycle race over the last twenty years will have noticed how the drivers touch the asphalt with their knees and also, increasingly, with their elbows. If a normal motorcyclist on the road can reach a maximum angle of about 50 degrees, in major international competitions the inclination of the bike may be as much as 65 degrees. When cornering, the driver effectively finds himself with his helmet just a few centimetres above the road, sometimes at speeds of over 250 km/h.
Not to mention off-road racing on two wheels, which is perhaps even more spectacular than road racing. Motocross and Supercross riders constantly perform gravity-defying jumps and airborne stunts before returning to the ground to continue their race to victory. The things freestyle motocross riders do are even more extreme, like backflips at heights of over 30 metres, all without a safety net.
In its own way, Pirelli too has challenged and overcome the limits of nature. The feat accomplished by Pirelli in 2009, in the company of the world’s best known biking journalists, has now entered motorcycling history: a new 24-hour Endurance World Record at the Nardò ring in Puglia on a 2009 Suzuki Hayabusa, a distance of 5,135.071 kilometres at an average speed of 213.96 km/h with a single set of sport-touring ANGEL™ ST tyres, simulating a road tour of 12,000 km at touring speed (80-100 km/h).
On a second bike, a 2009 Kawasaki GTR 1400, Pirelli and its various guests established additional records in this new category, including a 12-hour World Record covering a distance of 2,502.873 kilometres at an average speed of 208.573 km/h. On the last lap the Kawasaki, driven at the time by Pirelli Experimentation technician Michele Corallini, suffered a mechanical problem in the middle of the ring. Stopping would have invalidated the entire record attempt. Far from giving up, the Pirelli technician, who at 54 was also the oldest member of the team, pushed the bike for more than two hours to cover the last seven kilometres and cross the line.
The Pirelli technical staff who participated in the event, including both the R&D director, Piero Misani, and the Experimentation director, Salvo Pennisi, thereby added further records to those they themselves set in June 2000 in the A11 category on a Suzuki Hayabusa 2000. The 2009 Suzuki Hayabusa and 2009 Kawasaki GTR 1400 used were classified in two different classes (A11 and A12 respectively) by the FIM, which certified their records for distance and duration.
More recently, the six-time World Champion Max Biaggi achieved a feat like no other with Pirelli. The world champion confirmed his status as an outstanding Pirelli test driver in an unprecedented braking test on a wet surface, screeching to a stop on the flight deck of a military aircraft carrier on asphalt sprayed by water pumps at a pressure of 17 atmospheres.
It hall happened on the Italian Navy aircraft carrier ‘Cavour’. Anchored in the naval base of Taranto, it served as an original test track for the presentation of the Pirelli ANGEL™ GT sport touring tyre, worthy successor to the aforementioned ANGEL™ ST.
Biaggi accelerated to 100 km/h before jamming on the brakes at a predetermined point. The Pirelli ANGEL™ GT, high performance tyres, allowed Biaggi to discharge the full horse power of his motorcycle before allowing him to stop dead on the wet asphalt. Enjoy the video of this feat, just one step in our ongoing quest for extreme experiences on two wheels: