With the Tour de France now in full swing, a scribe has put his question to the test: could a racing bicycle beat a Superbike in a race down a Tour de France descent?

Motorcycle journalist Warren Pole, like many of us, just loves watching the Tour de France on television, and he’s seen many a rider “pull the pin and hurtle down the other side at incredible speeds, routinely leaving the following television camera motorcycles trailing helplessly in their wake”.

That led Pole to pose the question: “Could a racing bicycle get to the bottom faster than a razor-sharp sports bike?”

Without hesitation, Pole made tracks to the Alpe d'Huez, the most famous climb on the tour and armed himself with a Yamaha YZF-R1. His opposition would be former elite cycle racer Howie Sylvester and his scalpel-like, handmade carbon fibre racing bike.

Almost 2km high and 13.8km long from top to bottom, Alpe d'Huez is a serious test for any rider and machine. With 21 hairpins and an average gradient of almost eight percent, it’s a narrow and torturously twisty descent loaded with off-camber corners, uneven tarmac and minimal run-off, which often leads directly to a sheer plunge into the valley below.

And on a motorcycle it’s a massive physical challenge – it’s either hard on the gas or brakes. And as Pole quipped, he may have had a horsepower advantage, but there was precious little room to use it…

Writing in The National, an English language newspaper in Abu Dhabi, Pole began by touching on the discrepancies – 179hp versus zilch, full body protection versus lycra, fat tyres versus skinny, hydraulic radial brakes versus cable.

Case closed? Not quite, and Pole’s discomfort grew after Sylvester made a gearing change on his second practice run and blitzed it, while Pole overcooked a number of corners and was actually slower.

But he rallied when it counted, and in his official timed run made it to the base in 10 minutes 44 seconds.

And Sylvester’s time? Eleven minutes and 12 seconds -- just 28 seconds slower than the Yamaha. Still fairy handy for something giving away 179hp…

Published : Monday, 18 July 2011
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