Sometime around the age of twelve, I convinced my parents to get me a minibike. Upon getting it home, I climbed aboard and immediately gunned it, slewing out of control toward the house, which I narrowly avoided before ditching in the leeching field. A year or two later, a friend let me ride his dad’s three-wheeler, which I promptly sent crashing into some trees. (I was unscathed, having had the good sense to bail out while I was still on the lawn.) Thinking that perhaps four wheels would bring me some salvation, I got myself a Kawasaki Mojave ATV. We don’t really need to elaborate on what happened with that, because I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on getting grounded by your parents. Let’s just say that when you’ve got fractured ribs, it’s hard to act as if you don’t.
It’s obvious that I’m not cut out for motorcycles and their ilk. So, naturally, I have a motorcycle license. Because, despite my multiple near-death experiences, I think motorcycles are cool. They have motors, they’re loud, and they go insanely fast. Therefore, they fit the criteria of Things That I Think Are Awesome. There’s only one problem: motorcycles are unspeakably terrifying. They’re just like cars, except much faster and with no air bags or seat belts or doors, and they can tip over and crush you and send you pinwheeling down the highway until your knees are hinged like saloon doors and your face is on the wrong side of your head. But I refuse to let petty concerns like fear or rationality dictate my behavior, so I decide to ride two very different bikes in an attempt to expand my comfort zone. First up is Bombardier’s Can-Am Spyder “roadster,” a motorcycle that addresses the whole tip-over-and-die problem by adding 50 percent more wheels to the standard motorcycle format. With one fat tire in the back and two smaller ones up front, the Spyder looks like a chopper that crashed into an ATV in the year 3015. I mean that in a good way.
The Spyder does 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, which, in the demented world of motorcycles, is tepid. It has stability control, so you’d have to be a real goon to tip it over. The Spyder even includes a reverse gear and a trunk. Basically, it’s like a car with handlebars, which is why I love it.
My father-in-law, a longtime Harley guy, hates the Spyder, because it feels weird to him not to lean in the corners. Well, I don’t want to lean in the corners. I want to stay as far away from the pavement as possible, preferably inside a metal shell filled with pillows. So the Spyder is a step in the right direction, a taste of the motorcycle experience with somewhat less mortal peril. Plus, it will do burnouts.
With my confidence bolstered, I feel the urge to really push my limits and exorcise my old minibike demons. I need to show motorcycles who’s boss by climbing astride the most fearsome machine in the land and taming it like Siegfried and Roy tamed their tigers, except for that one time. So, you ask, did I ride a Suzuki Hayabusa, or how about one of the more high-strung Ducatis? Please. When I have kids, I’ll give them Hayabusas with training wheels to ride around the neighborhood and chase the ice-cream truck. I need a real challenge. I need a Sabertooth WildCat.
If motorcycles were drugs, the WildCat would be the distillation of everything Keith Richards ever put in his body. It runs on nitromethane, steroids, and gunpowder, and just sitting on the seat will cause you to grow a beard and a tattoo. If you actually ride it, you may turn into a werewolf. The WildCat concept is pretty easy to summarize: it’s a 350-hp Ford V-8 with handlebars. If I can ride this and live to tell about it, I can ride anything.
Sabertooth founder Ben Daniels is an interesting guy, as he’s not the American Chopper type who you’d expect to dream up a V-8 motorcycle. He’s a PhD and an MD who describes the excess of his creation with statements like, “the available power exceeds the tractive capability of the rear tire.” Even so, the 350-hp, 302-cubic-inch V-8 is merely the base engine. Tractive capability can be further exceeded by an optional 347-cubic-inch motor.
Daniels is obviously a smart guy, but even so, he agrees to let me ride a Sabertooth. We meet in a parking lot, and I gingerly climb aboard the machine and assume the stance of a cowboy riding an obese Holstein. I fire up the thundering V-8 and let out the clutch before I can think too much about what I’m doing. My life expectancy is now directly correlated to the sensitivity of my throttle wrist.
The WildCat has two gears, which can generally be described as high and higher. As I putter around the parking lot, I begin to realize the implications of a power-to-weight ratio akin to a Kenyan marathoner wearing a jet pack. With the slightest eyedropper of throttle, the Ford V-8 nonchalantly gains a few hundred rpm and I’m beamed instantly to the other side of the parking lot. The mellow sound track is all out of proportion to the actual speed. Daniels doesn’t quote quarter-mile times, probably because test riders disappear into alternate dimensions.
After a couple minutes, I venture out onto the road and crack the throttle as far as I dare, which is nowhere near wide open. The next corner leaps toward me, accompanied by Top Fuel cacophony and the sound of my guardian angel signing his resignation papers. I immediately close the throttle and hit the brakes, and by the time I glance down at the speedometer, I see that I’ve slowed to 60 mph. In first gear.
Over the next few miles, I gradually start widening my pulls on the throttle as I become less intimidated. Which means that it’s time to turn around, because the moment you stop being intimidated by a 350-hp motorcycle is the moment before you accidentally ride it into someone’s living room at 150 mph.
Although I enjoyed the Can-Am Spyder and the Sabertooth, I can’t help thinking that they could both be improved. If I had my druthers, I’d take the Can-Am’s platform with the Sabertooth’s engine. Then just add one more wheel, and I really think you’d be onto something.