The European: Chopper read - The European
Volkswagen Golf GTI - XDL

I went to buy a bike this week. Having realised I was starting to look like the bloke off those government adverts who gets progressively fatter as he ages, I figured it would only be a matter of time before I started looking like that big bopper with the cravat off Masterchef.

And I don’t do cravats.

So with the excuses of the last few months a fading memory I ventured into the unknown world of bike buying. It would appear that since the days of the Raleigh Chopper, things have changed. The Chopper pushed the envelope with a selection of three gears—slow, faster and fastest. Modern bikes come with a minimum of twenty one. Slow, bit faster, bit faster again, bit faster, touch faster—you get the gist. Where the Chopper had used the same steel as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, new bikes were taking the same stuff NASA are using to take machines to Mars and forming it into aerodynamic beasts designed to win you both a Tour stage and the girl on the podium.

What does all this mean? Well, the new bikes are faster, lighter, stronger and more reliable.

Does this help me? Well not exactly. See, if the bike is lighter and therefore supposedly better, then although I may reach my destination faster, I won’t actually be dropping more weight. What I really need, is the fat bastard spec Chopper, which hasn’t been made since about 1984, to make me really work for my kilometres.

The same can be said of new car developments, one of which I tested this week. Volkswagen were demonstrating their new toy, XDL, on the latest Golf GTI, a car you will have already read much about. Aside from a spangly new interior and the usual exterior tart up, the MK6 continues where the MK5 left off, which is a good idea because the MK5 GTI is a great car. But clearly the chassis engineers were feeling left out whilst the polo necked designers were getting their bonuses up at Wolfsburg, so they came up with something new of their own, and XDL is the result.

A mix of electric tomfoolery and suspension trickery means that when you bang on the naughty pedal mid corner, instead of the front end simply washing out and spinning the power away in a mix of rubbery understeer and panicked wheel turning, it, well, does the same thing, just a bit less.

This is a good thing we are told by Volkswagen because it means that when we were comparing the newly pensioned MK5 on the skid pan with its successor, the MK6 would invariably deliver a cleaner and therefore faster, line.

This is better, but I happen to think this is worse. Like the bikes which are lighter and therefore faster, why is something faster around a bend necessarily an improvement? What if Volkswagen had delivered a car that could take the same corner at double the speed with zero understeer? Whilst you may set a world record lap time, I doubt you’ll feel any better about driving it, in fact, I’ll wager it feels less satisfying knowing the electronic brain just got you there.

So if you want as good a time as I’m having riding my bike right now, forget lap times and think about what really makes driving actually better. Next time you buy a car, worry less about the trickery and more about what the great lawyer from The Castle, Dennis Denuto simply described as ‘The Vibe’.