MotoUSA headed out to New Jersey to get a taste of the Michael Jordan Motorsports/National Guard Suzuki American Superbikes.
Ponder this scenario for a second: Never-before-seen track and a 200-horsepower, big-money, Michael Jordan Motorsports Superbike
. Did I mention this will be at a private two-day AMA team test, riding alongside the best riders in the United States?
If that doesn’t get your blood racing, well, something’s just plain wrong with you. Say hello to yours truly as I zipped up my leathers and prepared to test the National Guard/Jordan Suzuki
American Superbikes piloted by Geoff May
and Aaron Yates
at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Thank goodness I was fresh off a weekend of club racing and sharp, as neither bike nor track were “easy” to get up to speed on.
Now, I know what you are thinking: “This prima donna is complaining about getting to ride a Superbike prepped by a crack privateer crew that runs with the best the OEM’s have to offer.” But trust me here; it took a bit of courage and some wu-sah deep breathing to dice it up with the big kids at a new track on an all-new bike. Though once going and up to speed the butterflies quickly turned into an adrenaline-induced, “I know it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it” ripping-good time. Not to mention, the Jordan Suzuki boys bent over backwards to give me as much seat time as possible, despite a few bumps in the road, so I really had no excuses.
Under The Skin
First things first, let’s start by taking a look at what it takes to build a front-running AMA American Superbike as a factory-supported, but still very privateer team. Remember, it’s more than the sum of the parts that separates a good bike from a great bike; it’s the ability to make them all work in unison. So, let’s first have a look at the basic parts and work the Gemini crew use to make such a machine.
(Top) Suspension externals must remain stock, though the Brembo brakes and titanium LeoVince exhaust definitely are not. (Bottom) Internally, engine mods are also much closer to stock as par the new rules.
Starting in the engine, Gemini, led by owner Pete Mauhar, does all the work themselves in their East Troy, Wisconsin, shop. Some parts like cams, engine management systems, etc are sourced to suppliers, but a lot of the big-power making goodies come straight from the Milwaukee men. In case you don’t remember, Gemini is no new kid on the AMA block. They’ve had several factory and factory-supported teams over the years including running the factory Harley-Davidson squad for quite some time. Heck, they were able to put a Harley on pole, so it’s no surprise they’ve had great success running the MJM Suzuki team.
Going from the top and working our way down, one can’t help but notice the trick gas tank. Sourced from Beater in Japan and starting as an endurance unit (hence the dual gas caps), the lighter aluminum tank is hand-bent and shaped by the team to be skinnier on the sides, allowing the rider to tuck in easier. Fresh air is then sucked into the 999cc lump via a stock airbox and K&N air filter. This mixes with fuel via a Bazzaz Performance Z-AFM fuel mapping system, which is tuned in-house to deliver just the right amount of petrol at just the right time. The TC (Traction Control) and quick-shifter systems are also sourced from Bazzaz, which the team maintains a close relationship with, and mated to a MoTec ECU.
Once atomized, the fuel mixture flows though a head that is ported and shaped by the team. This is one of Gemini’s secrets to power. Outsourced are the camshafts, which come from rival company Yoshimura. Compression ratio is bumped into the neighborhood of 14.5:1, while the rev ceiling is continuously being pushed higher and higher for more power, always skating that fine line of power versus reliability. Right now they are pushing 14,300 to 14,500 rpm and they think 15,000 rpm is possible, but mid-season isn’t the time to risk trying.
Diving further internally reveals mostly stock items as per the AMA rules: Pistons, rods, clutch, crankshaft, and oil cooler – all OEM. Cooling-wise teams are allowed to run a bigger radiator, though the MJM crew stick with a stock unit as it is capable of keeping even the high-horsepower engine icy enough. Spent gasses exit via a LeoVince single-sided titanium and carbon exhaust system, which LeoVince and the team worked together to develop.
And when it comes to the engine as a whole, there’s no doubt Gemini is doing something right. A quick glance at the Road America speed trap sheets shows Geoff May ticking by faster than all of those on the factory Yoshimura Suzuki team and second only to the uber-quick ex-WSBK Ducati of Larry Pegram. Impressive from a team that does its entire R&D themselves.
Over $20,000 worth of electronics grace both machines. Here is a view of what Geoff May looks at when tucked in the cockpit. Good luck trying to figure it all out.
Suspension is handled via WP fork internals inside stock externals up front (rules dictate stock outers), which they recently switched to from Ohlins; they still run an Ohlins TTX36 shock out back. Attack triple clamps are used, but the steering stem and internal adjustment cups are designed and machined by Gemini, so the team is able to select from a host of different rake/trail combinations. This is one major area May and Yates’ bikes differ. While they didn’t tell us by how much, each rider runs different geometry up front – a result of personal preference. Rear shock linkage is machined in-house, giving the team a variety of links to choose from depending on the track.
Brembo handles all the braking duties with its latest and greatest monobloc calipers gripping Brembos’ rotors and controlled by the Italian's master cylinder. While not cheap (said to be around $5,000-$8,000 per bike), it’s a proven fact that they work and braking is one of the key areas to making a good racebike, so no skimping to be had here.
Light wheels are a must and Jordan Suzuki opts for JB-Power MAGTANs front and back (3.5” x 17” front and 6.0” x 17” rear). They must remain 17 inches diameter, as per the rules, and are shod with Dunlop's spec-series slicks. Steering damper is a fully-adjustable Ohlins unit – May runs his fairly loose and Yates rock-solid stiff. Sitting in front of it is a mega-money MoTec digital dash (more on that later). Other basic racebike mods such as clip-ons and rearsets are handled by team sponsor Vortex and custom made to each rider’s personal preferences. For the rest of the small stuff, see the parts list for a full breakdown…
Hard on the gas on May's National Guard Suzuki, no doubt purple TC lights flashings. May runs quite a bit more electronic aid compared to teammate Yates.
One interesting thing to note is the original styling and paint work on the team’s bikes, which the Jordan team has been known for since the very beginning. Nike and the Jordan brand work closely with Mauhar to come up with the designs, which Gemini then paints in-house in their own paint department. And not only do they do the bikes, but both riders’ helmets are also designed and painted by Mauhar and the Gemini boys (Chris, Kenny, and Jeff). Not many race teams have the ability to do such a thing.
So what would it cost to build such a bike? That’s kind of a loaded question. To be honest, the average guy probably wouldn’t even want all the trick electronics, as he’d only get lost trying to figure them out. Heck, most teams get lost trying to figure them out! Thus, just the basic Superbike would be right around $50,000, including the $13,000 cost of the bike, according to Mauhar; though it could be done for less if the customer brought some of his own parts to the table. As for the full-fledged deal, just to give you an idea, they have some $20,000 in electronic hardware alone on each machine, not to mention what it costs to employ someone capable of designing the software and running them, which is where the costs get pretty staggering. Though, in basic from, someone could have Gemini build them a bike for under $50,000. Definitely reasonable for a full-fledged, turn-key Superbike.
Internal Organ Scrambling
May's chassis set up was very close to what I would have preferred, making getting acclimated with the bike easier than that of Yates' ride.
Throw a leg over the Number 54 National Guard machine, careful not to hit the tail with your foot and dislodge the GPS unit encased within. First thing one notices, before even thumbing the starter (if you can find it), is the uber-trick MoTec digital dash and slew of buttons associated with it. Just try and find the starter, I dare you. While capable of giving you everything from lap times to what phase the moon is in and up-to-the-minute astrology readings, we opted to stick with basics. By basics, I mean more than I have ever seen this side of a GP bike and without a doubt more what I was capable of taking in at speed on short notice. I still gave it a shot, though.
Some of the cool features include an easy-to-read bar graph tach and big lap timer, multiple engine fuel maps, wheelie-control readout and a host of multifunctional shift lights extraordinaire across the top. These lights not only work for shifting purposes, going from yellow to red as revs increase, they are set up to flash purple as the TC engages, progressively getting brighter as one spins the tire more, allowing the rider to monitor and control tire wear. Also, they can set it up to work in conjunction with split times to show May his progress on a qualifying lap - reading green as he passes each split if he’s on a faster lap and red if he’s on a slower lap than his previous best. Now that’s some trick s***!
Racing motorcycles for the National Guard. Two great causes if you ask us...
Time to thumb the starter button and get this show on the road. She comes to life with a quick and harsh, yet snappy and quite enjoyable rasp. Good and loud – no question it expels a harmony of speed from the single-exit LeoVince muffler. Though enticing one to get on and go right away, you can’t simply throw a leg over and take off. Due to the tight tolerances in a Superbike motor it’s critical to get the engine oil up to temp. Too soon and one will surely score the pistons and do serious internal damage. Good thing the crew was around to keep monitor, as left to my own devices I highly doubt I’d have been able to wait long enough.
Once the oil is good and hot and the engineer Neel Vasavada gives me the rundown of what all the buttons do (there are plenty of them, too), I’m off. First order of business: Figure out where I’m going and learn the track. Second order of business: Get used to the bike. Hold on a second… By the time I left pit-lane my priorities had quickly changed. It’s been a couple months since I’ve been on a Superbike, thus getting acquainted with 200 prancing ponies via an extremely short-turn throttle took precedent as I tried not to eject myself into orbit all while figuring out which turn went which way. It would have probably been smart to do a couple laps on a 600 street bike prior, but considering it was an AMA team test, this wasn’t an option. Tallyho, then…
I must say, the combination of the two being totally new was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before – in an utterly insane, eyes-glued-wide-open, kick-you-in-the-spleen kind of way.
Getting hooked up with Yoshimura Suzuki's Blake Young (79) proved both fun and extremely helpful for learning the new track.
Speaking of insane, the slightest twitch of one’s right wrist on the National Guard Suzuki results in nothing short of neck-snapping acceleration. Despite the rule changes for this year, which see the American Superbikes have less engine modifications than year’s prior, there’s nothing in the street-legal world like it. Considering the relatively tight nature of the track and continuously linked turns, there wasn’t much time to rest around NJMP on the National Guard Suzuki GSX-R. It also meant I was quickly acquainted with loads of tire sliding as with such a variety of different corner-exits on more than one occasion I found myself mixing up corners and grabbing a tad too much of the right grip as I learned my way around via trial and error. Thank you TC!
While it has traction control, don’t be fooled into thinking that means it will save your hide if you get too brave when leaned over or make a big mistake. On a racebike it’s more like “traction management.” This is the way data technician Vasavada put it, as it is designed to aid the rider’s speed as opposed to preventing them from crashing. “It is programmed to allow the rider to be able to steer the machine using the throttle and wheelie if so desired. The systems are in place to maximize said objectives rather than limit them,” he added. I must admit, though, hearing the engine pop and sputter while the magenta-colored shift lights flicker to show you that the tire is spinning, as you hold on for dear life and your brain turns into mush, is damn cool. Just don’t take it too far…
This is one area that separates a good team from a great team as all the programs and algorithms in the MoTec system’s software have to be written and developed in-house. They work in conjunction with team sponsor Bazzaz Performance, and while the stock unit may give you a base set-up, to truly get everything out of the system one must write their own software. This is why, from Superbike right up to MotoGP, having a racing engineer that is in tune with the bike and rider has become oh-so utterly important. Where before the black art of racing was in suspension tuning or motor building, the real edge these days comes from a man in glasses sitting behind a computer.
Note the blue data acquisition sensors on the fork. Superbikes are allowed to run full data throughout the season, something all the top teams do.
Keep the throttle pinned down the front straight and tap the lever to shift, no rolling out needed, another result of electronic aid. Changing gear on May’s National Guard Suzuki is like sliding the bolt-action of a rifle forward, that well-oiled mechanical feel of it slotting forward into gear. Only with a semi-automatic upgrade. The slightest dab of your left foot perfectly slots each cog into place, perfectly cutting the engine in and out so as to never need to lift off throttle the slightest bit. Positive and butter-smooth every time – a thing of beauty.
In the handling department I was able to sample a vast array of options. I started with May’s wet set-up toward the end of the first day of the test, which sees softer springs front and rear as well as less preload all around. It had rained in the morning and instead of going back to his standard setting we figured this would give me a softer and less rigid way of acquainting myself with the Superbike once the track dried out. While a tad soft out back, the WP front end felt nearly perfect for my featherweight 140 lbs – compliant over the bumps with loads of feel and feedback, while still staying up the stroke under hard braking.
This is one of the areas where a good racebike really differs from a street bike. One is soft and spongy, always slightly vague, and the other is solid, stable and translates each and every crack in the pavement directly to the rider. With the WPs on the front of May’s “daily driver” one couldn’t get more feel this side of actually running the palms of your hands along the ground. This kind of confidence begs the rider to push harder and lean further. And this I did. That's until a red flag due to someone's broken bike brought me in a bit early. Had it not come out I was so falling in love with the MJM Suzuki that I would have ridden until the rear tire was down to the cords. Damn you, red flag!
This ended Day 1. Day 2’s plan was to try May’s dry settings as well as a possible run on Yates’ Jordan machine if I was lucky.
By the end of the test May only had one bike, thus the pressure was on not to hurt it in any way as they had a race coming up. No pressure, right?
Due to some problems with the National Guard “B” bike I was on during Day 1, it was out of commission early on Day 2, before I ever suited up. Thus, I was under the impression that my test was over – good thing I got some time in on Day 1. But the Jordan guys came through in flying colors. Not only did I get to run several sessions on May’s National Guard “A” bike, they also put me on Aaron Yates’ Jordan Suzuki “A” bike for several laps once both teams were done. My lucky day.
Considering the team’s lack of bikes and engines, they could have easily called it quits for me, and I would have been more than grateful for the time I got. But they stuck around to the bitter end and allowed me ample time on both bikes at the end of the second day. Now don’t get me wrong, there was a bit of the aforementioned pressure knowing they had a race in one week’s time and each rider currently had only one complete bike – and I was on it. Throw in the fact that we were going to be comparing data from my laps to those of May’s and, well, let’s just say I would have been less nervous giving a speech to a few thousand people in my underpants.
I first hopped on May’s National Guard steed to try his dry setup, which was exactly how it came off the track following his race-distance simulation only moments prior to me jumping on. Only difference was I had brand new Dunlop slicks, as he had hashed the set that was on the bike. Thank you, Dunlop.
Though definitely stiffer and more planted throughout, I noticed the bike steered slower. By no means am I talking a Mack truck here, just a bit less agile than the previous day. As it turns out this was because they run a longer wheelbase for races, which May used in the simulation, as it allows for
Once up to speed and acquainted with the track's layout is when the fun really started.
more predictable sliding of the rear tire when grip fades toward the end of races. And after a fair bit of laps, this it did. While the TC helps, the longer wheelbase further aided in rear-end yaw predictability, which, with 200 horsepower on tap, is inevitable.
As far as overall compliance for my size at my pace, I tended to like the wet-setting front-end better, as the dry set-up was a hair stiff. Although the dry- setting rear shock was more stable and worked better coming out of the corner compared to the wet setting. It was easy to see that May’s more aggressive riding and bit larger size (roughly 20 lbs heavier) differed from what would be my optimum settings, though understandably so. Yet, as a whole, the bike was extremely balanced and easy to ride quickly.
Without question this easiness to ride by a wider range of skill levels comes down to the new AMA rules. The Superbikes are now softer and more compliant, with their stock frames and forks, etc amenable to us mortals. While the Superbikes of old may have been a second or two quicker in the hands of Geoff May or Aaron Yates, for this scribe there’s no doubt the American Superbike-spec GSX-R1000 is much closer to the mark. In fact, of any machine I’ve ever thrown a leg over, the National Guard Jordan Suzuki’s GSX-R may just be one of my all-time favorites. And with this ease of riding and relaxed (in relative terms) machine, one would think quick lap times would come quite easily. And, well, they did…
We brought the 'A' bike back to the team in one piece with times easily good enough to qualify for the race. Mission accomplished.
I was able to get into the low 1:28 range without pushing hard at all. Most of the factory boys were in the high-22 to low-23 area, so within 5-6 seconds of them was promising. I had a couple more seconds in me as I was still learning the track each time out and, let’s be honest, I didn’t want to be “that guy” who destroyed May or Yates’ “A” bike before a race weekend. (You’re welcome Geoff and Aaron…) But what this really shows is just how good the overall package is. For someone who hasn’t raced at a professional level in almost two years, to be able to jump on the National Guard Jordan Suzuki and be within five seconds of the best in the country and easily within the race qualifying cutoff, on a privateer Superbike, is pretty damn impressive – and I’m fully talking about the bike, not the rider! It's that