Ruben Xaus: The X-Man
When Ruben Xaus rips past, you first feel, then see, it happen. The feeling comes not only from the turbulence of his relaxed lanky limbs stuck out in the airstream (European TV announcers called him Spider-Man before Tobey Maguire ever donned Spidey's suit) but also from the millimeters-close margins in which ruben operates. Xaus' dramatic riding style is the caliber of the legendary Kevin Schwantz or noriyuki Haga. Trust me, it's an experience you'll not forget.
Xaus gets invited to press intros not only for his dramatic riding style but because he seems to genuinely enjoy riding no matter what the circumstances, no matter what he gets paid. A former factory Ducati Corse world Superbike rider and Motogp racer, Xaus now races world Superbike for the privateer Sterilgarda Berik Ducati team he formed with a longtime italian racer. "Ours is a family-type race team," Xaus explains, "with maybe a 500-square-meter 5400-square-foot] base headquarters. I'm really happy with my family."
Discussing the new 848 and what he thinks of the latest 1098-style chassis, Xaus is both enthusiastic and realistic. "The new bike is a good compromise of weight and very good balance that keeps both wheels on the floor," Xaus says, outlining the Ducati design philosophy. "The Ducati is typically, compared to the Japanese bike, heavier [higher effort] in front but very stable. if you have the rear [tire] spinning or in the air, you don't care. As a racer I care only about the front," he says, matter of factly. "We touch nothing down on the pavement, and from standard factory settings i changed only one click on [rebound] damping." Xaus points out that even with no steering damper, the 848 is stable on the track at racing speeds, yet still steers light at slow speeds and in traffic.
"The new chassis," Xaus describes of the latest chromoly steel tube trellis frame, "always Ducati have the same characteristics. Always heavy on front and runs wide easily [at the exit of corners] but also has good balance and good traction. the new chassis is more like the Japanese. it's easier to get into a tight section but with good rear] traction. it's also more comfortable than the 916."
Xaus explains the Almeria circuit and speed secrets: "it's a difficult track to learn because there's no brake signs, no [pavement] patches, no grass, nothing," he says, making a first-timer like myself feel bit better. "this track is a test track, bikes only, no cars." As i noted, Xaus uses third gear in most of the corners, but he shocks me when he says he uses third through the very tight chicane as well. "twin cylinders' most powerful moment is at lower rpm," he explains. "i leave it in third gear through all the corners, even through chicane because it's better balanced and off the throttle; it [the chassis] stays flat. when i see the italian journalists in morning they come in and are sweating. Then i tell them to leave it in third and come back much more relaxed and smiling and [they] are faster."
I tell Xaus of my difficulty with third gear not giving me enough engine braking to tighten my line if i miss my marks and get wide. He shakes his head as if explaining the solution to a child. "the problem you have with not enough engine braking in third is that you're not running high enough rpm. you get to the top rpm in third," he says, not realizing such additional speed would terrify most mere mortals, "and you get enough engine braking!"
Ah yes, of course, why didn't i think of that? thanks, ruben. -L.H.