Italian Biker Speed
Mototek Imports an Entertaining Amount of Horsepower
It's eight o'clock on a Tuesday night, and the lights are low in the small showroom of Mototek Imports in the Skyridge Plaza strip mall, one highway exit north of Austin. About a dozen people are mingling and chatting happily, drinking soda, and munching from the boxes of hot pizza laid out atop the long display counter. The greatest illumination in the room stutters from a large video screen mounted on the back wall: coverage of the Aprilia Cup Challenge, a sportbike competition featuring some of the best riders in the world, on some of the fiercest machines. Aprilias, you see, are cutting-edge Italian motorcycles -- the sort of intense technology that gives the concept of "motion" a few extra sets of teeth. And some of these very bikes, along with similarly fearsome others, stand gleaming among the people packed into the showroom at 2000 S. I-35.
"These bikes are made for racing," says Robert Pandya, Mototek's young and darkly goateed general manager. He runs a hand over the carbon-fiber curves of the Aprilia nearest him, the way a heathen might reverentially stroke the face of a favored idol. "A Harley, say, a regular bike, that's more of a cruising machine, they're made for straight rides and cruising the country. These Aprilias, they're built to race."
Pandya's been racing sportbikes -- and selling them and repairing them -- for five years. He's been working for Mototek for that long, too, ever since he met company owner Jay Bernard through the Internet, back in the days when Mototek's business was more out-of-state and they operated from a warehouse in downtown Austin.
Robert Pandya loves these bikes.
"The racing series we're involved with -- and it makes sense, since we're the only Aprilia dealer in Central Texas -- is the Aprilia Cup Challenge. It's a spec race, which is a bit different from other races: The rules allow for only the slightest deviations of standards for each bike. So, unlike most races, where it's about what's been done to the equipment that might give someone an edge, a spec race comes down to how good the rider is, because they're all riding basically the same bike.
"The Aprilia Cup is a 250cc bike that produces 60 horsepower and weighs just 300 pounds. So it's certainly -- well, it's an entertaining amount of horsepower."
"Entertaining," he says.
"It's not really an intimidating machine to ride," he says, "but it's enough to make a spectacular series. And it's been so successful that, this coming year, they're increasing to 10 or 15 races nationally."
Pandya shrugs. "I couldn't tell you if there's going to be one in Texas -- trust me, I'd love to know the schedule -- but College Station hosted the series' final round last year. In fact, this particular bike," he thumps a gorgeous hunk of speed potential, "with one of our riders from Weatherford, took third place."
So these Aprilias are, we're made to understand, the cream of the crop. And of course there's also a crème de la crème?
"The Mille SP," says Pandya without hesitation. "This is the first year it's available, and they've only brought 15 of them into the country. The Aprilia Mille SP is built by hand, literally piece by piece. One guy sitting in one place, and they bring the parts to him, and he puts them together right there. Real Old-World style."
Which might involve a certain New-World style of cost?
"The average customer coming into our shop," says Pandya, "they're looking at spending between $10-16,000. But if they're looking for a Mille SP, which is the most expensive bike we'll list, it retails for $33,000."
"$33,000," he says.
On the other hand, the pizza and soft drinks are free.
"We do this once a week," says Pandya, biting into a cheese-heavy slice, "On Tuesday nights between 7 and 10pm -- the exact time of the race depends on the SpeedVision channel's schedule, of course, whenever they're going to run the coverage -- bunch of people come over, customers and friends, just getting together to talk bikes and watch the action. It's pretty social."
He gestures around the room, using the pizza slice as a sort of impromptu pointer. "That's the owner, Jay, by the couch. This guy here is one of our riders; that woman over there covers bikes for various online journals; that's one of our customers with his son -- there's a lot of father-and-son business here; that guy there's with the military; there's the man who provided our video system. A lot of regulars, a lot of decent folks. Yeah, it's pretty social.
"And that's the whole reason I like this industry," says Pandya. "The bikes are just a kind of tool, really. Because no matter what kind of bike they're riding, people who're into sportbikes, whether it's Aprilias or Ducatis or the Japanese ones or what-have-you, they're usually the kind of people you want to hang out with. They tend to be really interesting."
So why bother with the bikes at all, then? At least, why risk life and limb racing machines that test the laws of physics each time they go screaming over hot asphalt at speeds some people don't even want to think about? Why not just drink the Coke, munch the 'za, sit back, and watch the show?
Pandya grins, his right hand on the windscreen of a new Aprilia, his handsome face highlighted by the video's random glare. "There's just something about it that grabs you, you know? Something that always calls you back. The speed, the challenge, the excitement, everything." He sort of pets the Aprilia, considering. "Malcolm Forbes said something that covers it pretty well, I think. He said: "To live your life in the fear of losing it, is to lose your life.'"
Who's gonna argue with that?