Clarkson on: motorbikes
If you're one of our more level-headed readers, you might think that when it comes to no-go areas of office conversation, cars top the list here at Top Gear magazine.
I mean, for 16 hours a day, these guys drive cars, and in the remaining eight, write about them. The last thing they want to do over a beer or in sub-zero fag breaks is to discuss the merits of a Proton over an Escort.
Well I'm going to tell you a little secret. They don't talk about cars very much but it has nothing to do with overkill. They don't talk about cars because they are too busy talking about bloody motorbikes.
The Editor rides bikes. The Assistant Editor rides bikes. The Art Director rides bikes. So does the Art Editor - and she's a girl. I've just been to Barbados with the Road Test Editor and he sat on the beach every day reading Bike magazine.
I've given up calling in because if I do, I always forget the rules and mention the ‘c' word. I mean, it is a car magazine; maybe the people who work on it would be interested to hear that I've just driven a turbo-charged Ferrari F50.
So I'll say "Hey everyone, I drove a turbocharged F50 yesterday," and, guess what... nothing happens. So I'll tell them again, and if I'm very lucky, one will stick his head up and mumble something about it not being as fast as the Triumph T595.
Then they're off. "Yeah, but the chassis on a 'Blade is better." "Oh sure, but I prefer the 43mm Showa usd teles on a 916." And me, I'm the pork chop in a synagogue.
I've given up arguing. Yes, yes, yes, bikes are cheaper than cars, more fun and, providing you never encounter a corner, they're faster too.
I've tried pointing out that round a track, where there are bends, a car will set faster lap times; but a deathly hush descends over the office as everyone sets to work with slide rules and calculators. Three minutes later, the Managing Editor will announce that, at Thruxton, his calculations have shown a T595 would, in fact, be faster than an F50.
Well, I can now shut them up for good because I've just flown an F-15E, and no bike on Earth even gets close. Oh, and you'll note I said ‘flown' and not ‘flown in'. Even though I've never even held the stick in a Cessna, the US Air Force let me take the controls of a plane which cost $50 million and, in 90 minutes, used $7,000 worth of fuel.
"I can now shut them up for good because I've just flown an F-15E, and no bike on Earth even gets close"
You might guess that once you're airborne there is no real sensation of speed - but this is simply not the case, a point the pilot was keen to prove. So, at 1,000 feet he hit everything to slow the plane down to something like 150mph.
And then, after asking me if I was ready, he lit the afterburners. And let me tell you this, Mr Sheene and Mr Fogarty: You know nothing. I wasn't timing it but would guess that in ten seconds, we were nudging 700mph.
And then, just to show what an F-15 is all about, he stuck the plane on its tail and did a vertical climb from 1,000 to 18,000 feet in exactly 11 seconds.
You've all been in lifts which make you feel funny if they're fast, but just think what it feels like to do a 17,000 foot vertical climb in the time it takes a Mondeo to get from 0 to 60.
There was no let up, either, because having shown me how fast an F-15 accelerates, I was then introduced to its manoeuvrability. Put it like this - in a gentle Sunday afternoon turn it'll dole out 10g, and I don't know of any bike which can do that.
And nor can a bike post a 1,000lb bomb through your letterbox. What's more, in a battle between a MiG-29 and a Ducati 916, the Italian motorcycle would lose. Whereas no-one has ever shot an F-15 down. Ever.
But the best bit was when the pilot said "you have the plane". I did a roll and a loop, flew in tight formation with another F-15, went for a peek at BMW's new factory, flew over Kitty Hawk and got within a fraction of going supersonic. It can do Mach Two, but only over water, and my ejection training had not covered survival in such conditions.
I really didn't mind, though. I honestly believe I've now experienced the ultimate; from this point on, everything will be a little bit tame.
As I see it, a bike only has one advantage over a fighter-bomber. On a bike you don't get sick. In the plane, you do. Twice.