Are motorcycles faster than cars?

At first glance, this can appear to be a silly question. I mean, obviously, motorcycles are faster than cars, aren’t they? However, turns out, the answer is not relatively as straightforward as it might seem. There are many prejudices that play an essential part in answering this question.

Whenever I need to go somewhere alone, I use my bike to commute. It is just more manageable and consumes less fuel. And almost always, I have reached the destination faster than I would on a four-wheeler. So, of course, I would think that bikes are faster than cars. 

What I overlooked, though, was the fact that bikes are smaller in comparison to cars, and hence, can snake their way through traffic. On the other hand, a car will have to be driven more responsibly, as it has a broader margin of error (while steering) and is bulkier.

But what if I raced a bike with a car on a track without any third-party intervention. Who would win the race then? The answer to this question can be given using high school physics. An average bike has a high-powering engine that is efficient. While it is not as exceptional as a car’s, the environment plays a supporting role in the differentiation between them.

Bikes have a smaller size (I said that before, right?). Hence, they are lighter and have a better power-to-weight ratio. Additionally, the smaller size decreases surface area, which reduces air drag. To further round off the supporting factors, the use of two tires reduces friction (when compared with the four bulky tires of a car.). 

All these factors together contribute to the faster speed of a motorcycle. So, if you race a bike with a car, the motorcycle will undoubtedly reach the finish line faster, provided the track is suitable enough. Too many bends might result in the instability of the bike while rounding corners, making the results look very different.

How much faster is a bike compared to a car?

If you compare the top speeds of various bikes with similarly powered cars, the cars outperform their rivals by a small margin. A Kawasaki Ninja H2R, for example, has a top speed of 240mph. A Bugatti Chiron, on the other hand, has a top speed of 305mph. 

The bikes start outperforming the cars when you come closer to everyday life specifications. A Yamaha MT-07/F-07 has a top speed of 133mph, while a Volkswagen Jetta has a top speed of 127 mph. 

However, if you talk about the time it takes to reach high speeds, the bikes leave their rival in the dust by a long shot (bad pun, I know). A bike accelerates faster than a car, thanks to the lower weight, lesser drag, and friction. This makes a bike faster while zooming off at the start. 

In short, bikes accelerate faster, but average bikes have a higher rated top speed than cars.

Can a motorcycle stop quicker than a car?

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to the deceleration and stoppage of motorcycles and cars. However, on average, a bike stops faster than cars. Again, the answer lies in high school physics (something I should have taken seriously back then).

So, when an object is moving, there is a sort of energy associated with that body, which designates how much impact it will have if it collides. This is called the momentum of a body. The higher the momentum, the more energy will be required to stop the object entirely.

Now, if you remember your classes, you might know that there is a simple formula for momentum. It is the product of the mass of the object and the velocity of travel. In simpler terms:

Momentum = Mass * Velocity

A bike has a higher speed than a car, but we will consider both of them to move at the same pace for study purposes. This means that the momentum of the vehicles is now directly tied to their weights, i.e., Momentum * Mass. A heavier vehicle would have a higher momentum and hence require greater time to come to a stop. Thus, a motorcycle stops faster than a car.

How do motorcycles compare to cars in lap times?

The better power to weight efficiency of bikes allows them to accelerate and decelerate faster. This is true for even the average bikes that you see on roads. A car, on the other hand, is bulky. And unless it’s purpose-built for speed, it will almost always have a hard time defeating the average bike when it comes to lap time. 

This is not the end of the debate, though. A bike can accelerate and decelerate quicker than a car, but cars are more stable at high speeds and are better at cornering. So if you choose a long enough track with lots of twists and turns, a Lotus might be able to beat a Yamaha handily.

How do motorcycles compare to cars at top speeds?

At top speeds, the four-wheelers edge ahead of their competitors, that is if the cars are built for speed. A jeep wrangler will always lose to a Yamaha, but a Lamborghini would make a Kawasaki sweat at high speeds. 

This is mainly due to the fact that passenger vehicles are meant for stability. So, a car will have less efficient aerodynamics. On the other hand, a bike will be similarly hindered but still be able to pull ahead thanks to low weight and faster power generation.

How do motorcycles compare to cars at 0 to 60 mph?

Suppose you have a bowling ball and a tennis ball at hand. You are asked to throw them both with as much power as you can muster. A girl stands at the other end of the park, ready to catch them both. Now, which one do you think would reach her first?

For a similar power input, a tennis ball will have a lesser mass and, hence, a higher velocity (since the relation is inverse proportionality). Therefore, a lighter vehicle will achieve the threshold speed faster than a heavier vehicle. Thus, bikes are an obvious winner in this round, too.

However, the above is true only if you compare average bikes and cars. Purpose-built cars will have much more power output than a bike, so they might be able to accelerate faster. This would be analogous to throwing the tennis ball with your hands but throwing the bowling ball with a canon. The overwhelming power difference would be able to make up for the lower efficiency.

Why are motorcycles faster than cars when accelerating?

I hope you’ve got your books ready because, in this next lecture on physics, I am going to teach you why a bike accelerates faster than a car. And the answer is simple. Any moving body has kinetic energy. The velocity relates to the applied energy as given:

Energy = 0.5 * mass * velocity2. hence, velocity = (2*Energy/mass)1/2

Now velocity has an inverse relation with mass for a similar input of power. Therefore, velocity * (1/mass). Hence, a lighter vehicle will have a higher velocity for a similar input of energy.

This is the main reason why a bike is faster than a car. Lower weight allows the engine to perform efficiently and increase the speed faster. On the other hand, a car has more air drag and friction to overcome, in addition to its own weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are motorcycles supposed to go faster than traffic?

This one is a no-brainer. The potential of a vehicle is different from what it actually should do. A bike can go faster than traffic but generally shouldn’t. Going faster in traffic can cause problems for other drivers and might lead to a dangerous road accident down the line. 

Will electric motorcycles catch on faster than electric cars?

The answer to this question depends on the market. In a highly populated country such as India or South Africa, an electric bike will be more popular than electric cars (provided the power generation of the motorcycle is similar to that of fuel-powered bikes.). This is primarily due to the fact that electric bikes would be much cheaper in comparison to an electric car and provide more value for money, at least initially.

In more developed nations, electric cars seem to catch on faster than bikes. This is due to the level of comfort that a car offers, which is looked for in any vehicle.

In the coming few years, fuel is going to get dearer. So switching electric is the only way to ensure you can commute at your whims. Developing nations look for practicality while choosing vehicles, hence the bike. Developed ones can afford the luxury of selecting comfort, and accordingly, this is reflected in their adoption rates across the globe.

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