Another epic battle with our biking colleague yields unpredictable results. By Brenwin Naidu and Mat Durrans
The rumble of an eight-cylinder Mercedes-AMG pervaded Gauteng’s dry, wintry atmosphere.
Pulling up to the dirt track that would set the stage for a duel, its sizable wheels unsettled the dirt with the gentleness of a father tousling his son’s hair. But soon things would get far more chaotic.
Be assured, this build-up was as dramatic as it sounds – I swear I could hear that famous Ennio Morricone ditty in the background. And if tumbleweed drifted past, it wouldn’t have surprised me.
This would be our fifth motorcycle-versus-car challenge against our friends from The Bike Show. It’s been a string of defeats, with Mat Durrans asserting the supremacy of two wheels on virtually every occasion.
Our rivalry started in 2016, when we put an Alfa Romeo 4C Spider against a Triumph Street Triple at Red Star Raceway. I lost, despite a head start. At the same venue, we put the BMW M4 Competition Package against an S1000RR. You could say the one with the roof was doomed to fail from the start.
But last year, we sniffed a near-win when we raced in a straight line at Tarlton International Raceway, me fielding a Nissan GT-R and the leather-clad contender atop a Suzuki GSX-R1000. There was also the time we enjoyed a noncompetitive outing with the Lexus LC 500 and Indian Chief Vintage — and this time the cyclists conceded to the sheer wow factor of that Japanese coupé. Which offered a moral score for me, at the very least.
Anyway, back to the present. This time the parameters were carefully chosen by me. Motorcycles may be enviable in the way they manoeuvre through traffic, but let’s see what happens on a tricky gymkhana with a low-grip surface. Oh yes, the stability of my horseless carriage would excel here, while ensconcing me in an air-conditioned, dust-free cabin. We would each do one run with driver aids on and off — but of course, we would enjoy a few practice runs before starting the timer.
Then Durrans cheated, bringing out his special weapon in the form of a chap named Dave, a seasoned tamer of bikes on tricky terrain, who’d be wielding a pretty impressive-looking Triumph Tiger 1200.
Anyway, I went first, with the GLC 63 in its most docile comfort setting. I completed my stint and was pleased that I was just a fraction slower than the Tiger in the warm-up sessions. So there was potential here. Additional smugness came when I pointed out the existence of its reverse gear. Then I opted for the more raucous race mode — and deactivated the electronic stability control for good measure. That made for fantastic theatrics on camera and a whole heap of partially sideways mirth. They would not see me for dust. And they’d be eating it.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sandstorm created sans driver aids made for a considerably slower time. Dave headed out to set his laps and decide the outcome of our challenge.
I’m ashamed to admit that I chuckled to myself as he clumsily manhandled the heavy adventure motorcycle through the technical course, using his feet to stay upright in the slower corners. And I’m further ashamed to admit I stifled a laugh watching him “reverse” out of the makeshift box halfway through the circuit, legs moving in a Fred Flintstone-esque manner.
Then something unfortunate happened on his second run. The poor guy fell, which had me genuinely worried for a second. He got up, tidied himself off and signalled a thumbs-up that nothing was broken. I smirked — because the clock was still ticking. The average times of our two runs saw the mighty Mercedes-AMG win, though by default. Mat Durrans begrudgingly shook my hand, but me, being as gracious as I am, said that we’d call it a tie and split the bill for coffee.
Bikes, it’s fair to say, have quite a significant power-to-weight ratio when compared to cars, and so it has been no surprise to me that in our occasional car vs bike challenges the motorcycle has always emerged victorious.
He may be a car journalist, but even with that unfortunate handicap Brenwin has worked out that to get an edge he needs to change the environment. Reducing grip levels increases the skill and bravery requirements for the bike rider as the danger levels rise exponentially. The car driver on the other hand remains cocooned in his steel cage, aircon blasting away and the stereo pumping out appropriately soothing mood music.
It is for this reason that I called on the services of a colleague, Dave Griffin, who has much more experience of the dirty stuff than me, and considerably more skill on two wheels. And, should anything go wrong, I could live with the guilt of his bones breaking rather than my own.
When the Merc pitched up it announced itself with a V8 growl that sounded like it meant business. The Triumph Tiger 1200 I’d brought along plays the same luxurious on- and off-road game and has a brilliant triple-cylinder engine with its own unique soundtrack. But, if this challenge was to be decided by sound alone, we’d already lost.
The course that had been laid out by the experts at the ADA facility west of Pretoria was tight and narrow, and given the hulking size of the car, I was confident.
Dave sneaked out for a quick test ride but came back looking slightly worried. I could see why; the dusty surface might as well have been an icy skid pan for all the grip it was offering.
A loose rear end, in the motorcycling sense, is relatively easy to deal with via the throttle. The same can’t be said of the front wheel, learning to control and recover slides at this end of the bike takes a long time, and plenty of crashing.
After the GLC had put in its runs, tearing up the surface and creating long berms of sand in the process (excuse alert), the Triumph headed out with its electronic nannies in off-road mode. This keeps ABS working on the front wheel and allows the rear wheel to spin up quite significantly before the traction control begins to employ its safety net.
The time was good, a couple of seconds faster than the car. For the next run everything was turned off and Dave’s skill alone looked like he was on for a better time. Until he hit one of those berms so thoughtfully created by the monster Mercedes and down he went. The speed was slow, rider and bike emerged unscathed but the clock was still ticking. So, one win, one loss, and on a combined time the bike was toast.
Brenwin sportingly allowed me to claim a draw, once he’d stopped laughing. The result perfectly summed up this comparison though; the adventure rider needs to be much more skilled than the average biker and part and parcel of this type of motorcycling is learning to deal with the inevitable spills.
No such worries for the car driver, but then Brenwin was in a vehicle that costs almost 10 times as much as the R248 000 Triumph, and is ultimately still slower. – Brenwin Naidu Mat Durrans (Pic: Waldo Swiegers)