Sunday, August 31, 2008

Motorcycle Diaries 2008.08.31

Sunday, 8/31, GSX ODO 7137
Notable: The indignity of it all.... OK, any ride is a good ride, but carrying goods from Target stuffed into your leather jacket is a less than glorious finish to the day's ride. Still, I did spend a few moments with a Sport Bike crowd on Waxpool when their tail rider was stranded at a light. What a great month of perfect weather. No complaints!

Saturday, 8/30, GSX ODO 7116
Football and back.
Notable: It has been raining for the past two days, so it's good to be riding again -- even if it was super-humid at 8AM! We lost the first game, but the team played well and the coaching is good -- just a matter of practice. Not much notable on the bike these days (that's generally a good thing).

Wednesday, 8/27, GSX ODO 7096
Work and back.

Tuesday, 8/26, GSX ODO 7078
Work early and back.
Notable: Early traffic -- commuting next week is going to suck.

Monday, 8/25, GSX ODO 7056
Work and back.
Notable: No riding yesterday... beautiful day!? What's up with that?? (Too tired after working out on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, for the first time in several weeks.)

Saturday, 8/23, GSX ODO 7040
Gym and back.
Notable: Gotta love it -- exercise and riding!

Friday, 8/22, GSX ODO 7021
Work, and gym in the afternoon.
Notable: Enjoy the summer hours, while they last... this is just about it. Good workout.

Thursday, 8/21, GSX ODO 6990
Work and back.
Notable: Amazing, it just seems like the perfect Spring-like days are endless. Three weeks (or more!?) and counting... in August!

Wednesday, 8/20, GSX ODO 6973
Work and back -- taking the long way home north on 28, and west on 7.

Tuesday, 8/19, GSX ODO 6955
Work and back.

Monday, 8/18, GSX ODO 6939
Work and back.
Notable: Cool in the morning, but warm in the afternoon... a hint of summer. But, only for a day.

Sunday, 8/17, GSX ODO 6924
Sky Line Drive.... and back!
Notable: What a ride! 160+ miles, with great twisties for the last two miles approaching the middle entrance. Posted speed limit was dropped from 50(!) to 35 MPH, with warnings signs stating "High Motorcycle Crash Area" and rumble strips at the turn-in for the tightest of the turns. Fantastic! The reduced limit is perfect, as it hold some of the crazier drivers at bay, and set a good pace for me. 40 to 45 MPH the whole way up was just about perfect. Leaning hard into the turns, it pays to stay calm -- hit sand, and you'll low-side under adjacent traffic, but hit the breaks or ease up on the turn, and you'll ride out of your lane and go straight into the canyon wall. Fortunately the sand was all in the oncoming traffic lane -- watch out on the way down the hill!

Saturday, 8/16, GSX ODO 6758
Morning and evening rides, with crystal clear skies and crisp-low humidity temps in the morning.
Notable: Perfect day!

Friday, 8/15, GSX ODO 6715
Work / shuttle.
Notable: What shuttle?

Thursday, 8/14, GSX ODO 6686
Work and a quick round-trip for Spicy Pickle carry-out lunch.

Wednesday, 8/13, GSX ODO 6667
Work and home for lunch.
Notable: No burning Ferraris.

Tuesday, 8/12, GSX ODO 6628
Long way to work, and home for lunch.
Notable: Holy shit!! Long way to work yielded a crazy sight -- Ferrari stopped on a back road at the stop sign. Driver and passanger hop out. Pop the back hatch. Poof! Flames shoot out two feet high from the front-left side of the engine!! Riding by, not much I could do to help. But, damn! "No, I don't think I'll buy this one after all. How 'bout a test-drive in the lambo?" Seems that this isn't unheard of:

Monday, 8/11, GSX ODO 6585
Work and lunch after work.
Notable: 75 and breezy... is this August!?

Sunday, 8/10, GSX ODO 6571
Summit Point (aborted).
Notable: Trying to get back to Summit Point for the WERA motorcycle races, and a few bonus laps in the Audi A5. Thwarted by rain! But, for the ride back, I had the company of two other sportsbikers.

Saturday, 8/9, GSX ODO 6482
Haircut in the morning, and bank in the afternoon.
Notable: Any excuse to ride, right!?

Friday, 8/8, GSX ODO 6454
Work and Sweetwater for lunch.
Notable: Rushed following lunch, to get home to swap for the 550i for the trip to Summit Point for the Audi Driving Experience.

Thursday, 8/7, GSX ODO 6427
Work and back.

Wednesday, 8/6, GSX ODO 6413
Work and back.

Tuesday, 8/5, GSX ODO 6399
Post office / bank on the way to work.

Monday, 8/4, GSX ODO 6377
Work and home for lunch.

Sunday, 8/3, GSX ODO 6349
Morning run out to the Dulles Town Center and around Algonkian Parkway.
Notable: Beautiful morning.

Saturday, 8/2, GSX ODO 6314
Best Buy and back.
Notable: Quick trip -- bikes and games; game with bikes: Civalization Revolutions and MotoGP '07.

Friday, 8/1, GSX ODO 6292
Work and back.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Audi Driving Experience


The relatively innocuous Audi marketing flyer showed up about a month ago. Opening up the tri-fold brochure, I noted the "Two-Hour Introductory Program (Complimentary)"... interesting.

Registration revealed that Summit Point Motorsports Park in nearby Summit Point, WV was hosting Audi's program from August 7-13. Nice. Times were available in the afternoon on Friday (last Friday, to be exact). Even better!

It turns out that Summit Point Raceway now has three tracks! Although their URL shows "Raceway," their website now confirms that they're a "Motorsports Park." The Audi event was held on the Shenandoah Circuit -- a track I didn't even know existed until a day before the event. Not a huge track, but large enough to be split into two separate loops; one for the A4s and one for competitor testing.

As a BMW loyalist, it was unlikely that Audi was going to sell me a new car. But, I figured I should give them the opportunity -- and, who can pass up free track time, really!?

Arriving just before 3PM, registration went smoothly, leaving time to grab a drink (also complementary) and survey the track and the prior session's sets of drivers finishing their final runs.

One set of A4s was following the instructor in his S5. Another pack, made up of Audi TT, A4, A5, A6, A8 and Q7 following another S5. And, on a separate track in the distance, the 2009 Audi A4 went head-to-head against the 2008 BMW 328xi, 2008 Lexus IS 250 and the Mercedes-Benz C300.

Shortly after 3PM, we joined an Audi instructor for the combination driving instruction / engineering briefing / marketing pitch. Among things, we learned about Audi's new "Drive Select" which enables on-the-fly tuning of speed-sensitive steering ratio, suspension stiffness, throttle response, and transmission shift points. Interesting.

Following the "training", half of us split for the head-to-head testing, the other half (including me) headed for their A4s for the high-speed run on the larger portion of the Shenandoah Circuit.

I selected the car immediately behind the instructor, and ended up as the only driver without a passenger. Bonus! (Twice as much driving time for me!)

The first lap, we took at a relatively slow pace, to learn the track and the proper racing line.

Second and third laps progressively increased the pace. Still nowhere near the limits of the car, but lots of fun. In particular, turn three (counting clockwise from the top-middle turn on the map) was tight enough that it was easy to begin to slide the car, and exiting three and accelerating for turn-four really allowed the quattro (all-wheel drive) to shine, as the front wheels yank the car forward into the next turn.

Elevation changes on this circuit are notable. Not quite up to Laguna Seca standards (i.e., Turn 8 and 8A), but still very impressive.

Possibly most notable is turn 7 (by my count) marked by the bright white concrete curve. This turn is modeled after a famous turn from the Nurburgring in Germany; this one, I think. Banked at 20 to 30 degrees, much higher speeds should be possible for the intrepid. Coming off the bank and onto the flat at 40 to 50 mph is quite a transition.

Up the hill, accelerating to 70 mph and over the crest through turn 8, then breaking hard and heading down the hill through turns 9 and 10 past the pit area. Several more turns brings up the final straight, and a top speed of roughly 90 mph (or, 145 kph, as seen by some drivers).

I, for one, was too busy watching the road (and staying off the instructor's bumper) to bother checking the speedometer. Plus, I found that the feel of the car and the view out the windshield told me all I needed to know about speed for the few laps that I ran.

We were nowhere near the limit of the A4, as I found that I could break far after the instructor (in his S5) and could accelerate far harder than space allowed (holding to one to three car-lengths all speeds from 40 to 90 mph). Impressive!

The "Drive Select" was interesting, but I found that the "performance" setting was the only thing I wanted on the track. It would be a lot of fun to play with in real-life: Great to tune between "comfort" ride for long trips, and "performance" for fun. Or, try the "auto" setting to let the car choose for itself based on driving conditions.

And, the automatic was flawless. I had no need for the paddle-shifters, as the car seemed to know the right gear at every moment, in each part of every curve. Amazing. (Years ago, I had my automatic BMW M3 on the larger track, and was continuously harassed by its late downshifts in Turns 1, 2, and especially 10! In my 1986 RX-7 I had managed a top speed of 115 MPH on the straight. In my more powerful 1995 M3, the automatic destabalized the car so much in turn 10 that I never made it past 110 MPH before getting back on the breaks for turn 1. Sad. With a 5-speed stick-shift, 115 MPH would have been easy, and 120 MPH should have been possible. Top speed for the car, as I recall, was 133 MPH.... funny... my gixer will do that in under 10 seconds.)

Wrapping up our tour in the A4s, we headed back to the pits to transition to Part 2 of the driving experience.

Three laps in each car gave each of us a chance to compare the handling, breaking, and acceleration of each car. While many of the other 16 groups had three drivers, I had only one partner, yielding an extra turn at the wheel for each of us on alternate cars.

Mercedes C300 was first up, with OK steering, soft handling with a lot of body roll, effective but soft brakes, and barely OK acceleration.

Lexus IS 250 was next, and was a lot of fun to push hard. Steering and turn-in were good, suspension was good, brakes were good (and encouraged abuse of the ABS in the brake-test portion of the track) and acceleration was good.

BMW 328xi was third, and suffered from the same automatic shift problem I'd experienced in my 1995 M3. Suspension, brakes, and acceleration were all good, but it struggled for the correct gear on a couple of turns.

Audi A4 was the last of the bunch, and was a blast to drive hard. Of the bunch, it had the best "all wheel" drive feel, had perfect throttle control, and provided excellent feedback about the limits. Suspension, brakes, and acceleration were all excellent.

So, there it is: 4th: Mercedes, 3rd: BMW, 2nd: Lexus, and 1st... Audi.

Thanks to the folks at Audi for a great afternoon!!

Favorite Quotes

There are a few quotes I've run into over the years that I think are particularly notable / insightful. The first candidates for my top 10 are accumulated here:

"The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed yet."
- William Gibson

"Men want every woman to fulfill their one desire, and women want one man to fulfill their every desire."
- unknown

"Faith is suspending doubt long enough to experience the truth."

"Lots of people have lots of brilliant ideas all the time -- it's the ones that actually realize those ideas (their own and others') that make the difference."

What are your favorites?