The Ugly: Death Of A Pirate

About 75 miles into what was supposed to be a 250-mile daylong romp through the mountains my play date with five other like minded individuals with a need for speed came to an unexpected end when I decided to ruin my day by tossing the S1000RR into the woods.

The pace was again relaxed and speeds were nowhere near what they were previously as there was a little traffic and we had just taken a twenty-minute pit stop a few miles back. I was the fourth bike in our group of six, approaching a mildly downhill left-hand turn with a slightly negative camber. I’ve ridden this road a handful of times before and enjoyed it. It’s a scenic little stretch of deliciously curvy asphalt winding its way through a dreamy forested area before opening up and climbing over a mountain range. Pure sport bike heaven.

Group pic at the pit stop

That’s my Wing Woman standing by her VFR and the last photo taken of the Pirate.

It is hot, the midday sun is high in the sky and a gentle breeze ripples the luscious foliage of the forest as the sunlight filters through the trees and dapple the road ahead in a mesmerizing kaleidoscope pattern of shadows and light. It is a soul-touchingly tranquil sight to behold. Even though Mother Nature’s light-show makes it difficult to focus. The constant shift between shade and sunlight doesn’t help matters in depth perception either and the glorious end result: you can’t see shit, your eyes get tired from the strain, your brain hurts and you now know why cruisers like to cruise. They are bathing in the serene and basking in their machines’ overly restrictive limitations. But none of that speed demon hating serenity was even an issue. This particular scene is just vivid in my mind’s eye for some reason. How peaceful it was, how relaxed I felt. How I was in the moment, content and — dare I say, happy. Couldn’t have come into that corner all that hot, if I actually remember my surroundings. I never remember the scenery. Scenery? What scenery? We ain’t here because it’s pretty. We’re here with an entirely different agenda. I could tell you all you’ve ever wanted to know about surface conditions, curve geometry, and road hazards, though. But that waterfall back there? Didn’t see it. Don’t care. That’s probably also the reason why I hardly ever know where exactly I am, what road I’m on, or why I get lost a lot (don’t really listen to my GPS either). I also have a tendency to blow past my turn-offs, oblivious until it dawns on me (hopefully not too) many miles later that something is amiss. Where was I? Oh yes, I remember…

I am coming up on that fateful left-hander. I brake, tip the bike in and am giddy with the realization that I’m about to drag a knee through a left turn on a public highway. That never happens. Ever. I’m too short and my rearsets are too far up. Oh, and my lefts also suck. Twice my knee has kissed public-use pavement in a right turn. Twice. On the fabled “Tail of the Dragon”, in the same bumpy, gouged-by-hard-parts crap curve that I don’t even like all that much. The only thing that particular shit corner has going for it? It’s banked past the apex and exits into a fun uphill kink, if you’re going south that is; going north it is an animal of a different ilk.

My childlike excitement quickly gives way to perplexity when it occurs to me that the angle is all wrong. I can’t really pinpoint the cause for my concern, but something doesn’t quite “look right” or feel right, for that matter. As I am lost in wonderment, it suddenly dawns on me that I am not hanging off. I had no business getting excited over left-side knee dragging action in the first place. I was sitting sedately center, lazy as a lump on a log. What else didn’t I do? No customary downshift to keep the bike from gaining speed by use of engine compression; yes, I was lazy and made the conscious decision at the last second not to, after all we’re not pushing the pace here or anything. At this same instant my left knee touches down, followed in quick succession by various other body parts that aren’t supposed to (not on a good day anyway). Thigh, hip, elbow, upper arm. Complacency turns into an unstoppable slide into the wild. I am separated from my bike, slide off the edge of the road onto the narrow shoulder and then am unceremoniously flung into the great beyond after my Beemer. The only cognizant thought I manage is an acute awareness that this isn’t going to be any fun at all, accompanied by a lingering sense of obtuseness still presiding over the fuckery currently in progress. I may have yelled “oh shit!”, or maybe I just thought it as I flew over the side of the embankment and dropped from sight.

Things get a bit fuzzy here. I think I may have changed direction once or twice mid-hurl. It’s dark and I can’t see anything. I don’t feel anything either. When I come to my senses again, I am disoriented. It takes me a moment before I come to the conclusion that the world isn’t upside down, rather I am; standing on my head, buried in leaves and sticks by self-insertion and with boots sticking out of the underbrush. I have dirt in my mouth. I wonder what my predicament must look like from above. I have dusty grime in my nostrils and it tickles to breathe. My disjointed musings are interrupted by a screaming one-word thought that pierces my reverie and gets me moving in a hurry in an effort to right myself and extract various body parts from their entanglement: “SPIDERS!” I struggle to invert myself, whilst working to keep a lid on the rising panic in my chest. I finally manage to get on my feet and slowly turn around.

The S1000RR came to rest maybe ten feet from where I am now standing, emotionless and quite detached. The thought of spiders forgotten as quickly as it had come. The Pirate is taking a dirt nap on its left side, nose facing forward. I make my way there, stumbling and falling once, hit the kill switch and turn the ignition key to the “off” position. I notice I’ve landed in a scattered pile of old bike parts. Not the first one to play this game, am I? I see your Harley and raise you a BMW. Great. I make out what looks to be an old headlight cover and a broken off rusty floorboard, both of which the guys later haul out of this graveyard to tease me with. Yeah, I have wicked friends. Fucking sickos.

I turn away, there is nothing here I can do, and begin climbing the steep slope, pulling myself up by roots and tree branches. I keep sliding back down the hill, my boots unable to gain purchase in the loose dirt and thick covering of leaves. Someone’s arm  appears over the edge above and I reach out to clasp the offered helping hand as I am clawing my way up the hill. As I reach the top, I see my Wing Woman, standing there next to one of my other buddies who had pulled me out of my predicament, lit cigarette in hand, which she shoves into my face, inserting it between my lips, stating confidently: “You’ll be needing that.” I had quit smoking a few weeks ago. Don’t mind if I do. Please and thank you.

After a while the dissociative state I’ve been enjoying thus far leaves me and I start freaking out, pacing, repeatedly exclaiming that I need to call Joe, my husband, but I’ve lost my phone. Frantically searching, but not really seeing. “I need my phone. I need my phone. Have to call Joe. My phone. I have to call Joe. I need my phone…” Two strangers had also stopped to see if they could help and they joined in the search for the phone, which was eventually found. I was told that I was in a state of shock. I kept reassuring everybody that I was OK. My phone was recovered by the stranger on the Gixxer and was elevated to Hero of the Moment status. Holding onto my phone, I quickly calmed down again, but I didn’t make the call. Not then.

While most of the guys were trying to figure out how to recover my bike, I surveyed the scene of this latest example of a “failure to complete the turn” in hopes of determining what exactly had happened. Knowing the cause of a crash is hugely important to me. It means the difference between learning from a mistake and being at the mercy of repeating it. One long skinny skid mark running parallel to an even skinnier white line are the only visible signs of my premature get-off. Well, the shoulder looked like a wild pig was hunting for truffles, but otherwise there was nothing really to see. A fresh scar six foot up a nearby tree and a broken off rotting corpse of another tree were also blamed on my  recent display of motorcycling prowess. Someone said that the skid mark is from a locked up front wheel and the white line was caused by my left rearset, more than likely. The missing chunk of wood six foot up a tree gave cause to wild speculation of flying BMWs and how this feat could possibly be accomplished. No other clues on the pavement were in evidence as to the possible cause of the crash.

It took six hot and sweaty dudes pushing, pulling and dragging the Beemer quite some distance through the woods to reach a spot where the forest floor was closer to road level and the incline of the embankment was shallow enough to get the bike back up on the road. The Pirate was trashed. The nose was smashed, the fairings on one side were almost ripped off the bike and cracked and broken on the other. One mirror was missing (so were several other miscellaneous bits), the front brake reservoir was shattered, the radiator was hideously cracked, the front forks were tweaked, it was generously leaking fluid of every flavor. She was a damned mess. The sight of her was so pitiful I wanted to cry.

But enough of that, we needed to get the heck out of there, before the cops showed up and the real fun began. The kind of fun that involves getting a de facto speeding ticket and whatever other citations they like to retroactively hand out to bikers who wad up their wheels for whatever reason. What a load of crap! Anyway, after a little jiggling and yanking to get the bike into neutral from whatever gear she was in, she cranked right up. Yeah! That’s my baby. German engineering at its finest. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking and all that. When it came time for me to ride her to a safer location, I lost my composure yet again and proceeded to freak the fuck out. Nope. Can’t do it. Can’t ride her. I have no brakes, a broken shifter, mangled levers and I left my courage down below along with one mirror and the left-side fairing panel. One of the dudes rode it to an undisclosed location for me. I also refused to ride his bike to follow, mumbling something about not being emotionally ready to wreck another one in the same afternoon. He rode it for me and he had to ride bitch back with another guy in our group to get his own bike. Yeah. I’ll never live that one down and neither will he. Not with the crowd I hang out with. :)

The Harley Graveyard

29 minutes later… let’s play find the Beemer. May she rest in pieces.

And that is the story of how the Pirate Named Trouble was left for dead 300 miles from home and I walked away with a bunch of ugly bruises, a neck injury which is mostly healed, and a load of psychological problems for which I’m still undergoing self-directed treatment. ;)

Oh, and one last thing: Wear your fucking gear. ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time)! The one lesson you should take away from this: even if you’re not riding hard, or getting sporty, or pushing your limits, you can still go down at any time, when you least expect it. Had I’ve not worn my full race gear and a full-face helmet, I’d be either dead or a vegetable someone has to spoon feed and then later wipe my ass. Uncool.


(Re)emergence or Happy Anniversary: The Girl Gets Around Finally Got Back Around

Today, two years ago, after over 35,000 awesome miles on the 2010 BMW S1000RR, I threw it off a mountain and that was the end of it. The end of an era. Chapter closed. Turn the page. Oh, wait; you can’t, can you? I haven’t written a single word since May 21st, 2012. Over three years of the story left untold. Admittedly, I stopped writing because I started to feel like I had nothing to say, and when you have nothing to contribute it is best to shut the hell up and let someone else do the talking or sit around in meditative silence and enjoy some quiet time. A truly alien concept in a world that doesn’t stop talking, I know. Cacophony reigns supreme, over-stimulation is king, and silence is awkward. But I digress. I am again ready to add my voice to the proverbial choir; I haven’t, after all, bought a car and called it quits with stupid fast motorcycles. The passion never ebbed, but the motivation to share had definitely dried up. I return to you then, my dear neglected readers, armed with three years worth of knowledge gained, a healthy dose of hindsight, the same sick sense of humor and “I do what I want” attitude, a tome full of stories about as well organized as my suspension setup notes, a collection of milestones which may or may not include a stolen mile marker on an Interstate highway somewhere in South Carolina, a renewed excitement to share my journey and roadside adventures, excessive wordiness and the blatant use of the longest runon sentences in recorded (blogoshpere) history. Stay tuned for the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

What does this sudden reemergence of writing enthusiasm mean for this blog in the future? A change of direction, a change of focus, and of course, a visual revamp and probably a change of name. Out with the old (not literally, of course) and in with the new, as they say. Gradually and over time, as it goes with all half-baked ideas. ;)

  • Miss Busa Tested: While I was otherwise preoccupied, I’ve had plenty of stuff and shit to try out, stress test (and crash in or with) and form an opinion about. Gear reviews will keep on coming.
  • The Garage Party: Motorcycle maintenance tips for the under-informed and the clueless. Yep, still hip to that.
  • The Wrenching Wench: –Caution! Low flying tools– The hilarity, borderline alcoholism, costly catastrophes, embarrassing trips to the machine shop, and smug satisfaction that is derived from learning to work on your own motorcycle, so you can fix shit when it breaks and show the crapchanics at the local stealership the figurative middle finger while your wallet stays tightly closed and your unwillingness to get ripped off by them yet again shines cleanly through in that self-satisfied smile of yours. Yes, still doing that. You haven’t missed much since last you’ve seen me around. I’ve gotten as far in as the transition pieces past the throttle bodies, but the camshaft cover is coming off soon enough.
  • Tales from the Road: Ride reports. Oh yeah, baby! Those are my favorite stories to tell and pretty much how this blog got its start and meager but loyal following.
  • The Library of Two: Mini book reviews. Here to stay. I’ve read a little since. I need to update that section most definitely. Maybe expand on it. Who knows. I have some ideas.
  • Dashed Hope or Pleasant Surprise: Nope. Still not going to do a podcast or a vlog. I don’t have the voice for it and the camera adds ten pounds and three inches to my ass and nose respectively. And that’s that. Besides, my Internet-sponsored anonymity and its inherent license to be a total know-it-all douche would be severely compromised.

Speaking of the good, the bad and the ugly, let’s start there. In reverse, somewhat chronological, order. It provides an excellent backdrop to the scene, the significance of this anniversary and an insight into understanding the direction in which this leg of the journey takes us. Accingite vos, my lovelies, accingite vos.

What the hell? “What I’m hearing is you telling me I have to wait until TOMORROW to read about it? One simply does not start the first season after un-cancellation with a damned cliffhanger. That’s not how it’s done! You suck!” Yeah, I do what I want. But really, it’s not like I planned this. The idea came to me suddenly, out of the blue, from nowhere, like a left-turner with a broken blinker whipping it out in front of you as you speed down the highway of life at almost double the posted limit. In other words, I’m still writing it and I’m out of practice. I’ll see you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morrow. By the way, I take my coffee with cream and a packet of [insert my favorite no-calorie chemical compound intended to sweeten things] served in a mug with the letters “WTF” emblazoned across the front. :-) Until then…

It is a sign of things to come...

Is this a sign of things to come?


2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 37,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 9 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


Miss Busa:

This is what it’s all about. This is why I do the things I do in life. The Isle of Man TT is the road race of all road races. It is the embodiment of all the facets of motorcycling that makes my soul sing, that set me free. No other place on earth, but on my bike in control of my machine, dancing through the curves, can make me feel this alive. Only then am I truly in charge of my own destiny. I am boss. I own it. The victory and the defeat are wholly mine. To be able to grid up for this race (and survive) is what this girl’s dreams are made of. Carry on. Miss Busa still needs about twenty years of skill development. :)

Originally posted on This Biker's Life:

It’s time. Practice Week starts tomorrow (26th), the paddock is full and the weather is more than perfect.

Here’s another one of those “fan films” that perfectly encapsulates what the TT is about. It’s the sounds of the countryside punctuated by race cans, filmed during 2010 Practice Week, by the roadside at the 13th Milestone aka “Bottom of Barregarrow”; featuring stone walls, a century-old cottage, a terrifying dip in the road, all taken at not less than 150 mph. It has been known for riders to scuff their shoulders on that wall. One or two have scuffed their lids on it.

What is not apparent here is that this corner is part of the way down the long descent into Kirk Michael village, so the riders do not, and have not dropped below at least 120 mph for miles. You can hear the spikes in the engines’ revs as their…

View original 55 more words


The Law of (Responsible) Hooliganism

Motorcyclists have a bad reputation. You can argue this point until redline, but it always comes down to the same sentiment: The general non-riding public pretty much despises sharing the road with motorcycles. We are all hooligans to them, wether we are rolling a chromed out Harley, clad in black leather, showing off ink and cultivating the badass look or we prefer to showcase the half-naked girlfriend’s asscrack hugging a crotch rocket and looking all Little G. Stereotypes? Of course. Extreme examples? Definitely. But this doesn’t really change the fact that the worst of us pretty much leave the imprint on the minds of many who then judge the rest of us by that first impression. Even the ultra-responsible hard-pannier toting BMW adventure rider isn’t safe from being judged harshly by the unwitting individual. It really doesn’t matter what we ride or how we ride it, when sharing the road with other motorists we eventually run into a taste of said general opinion in one form or another.

We even bicker amongst ourselves. The Harley-riding Badass dislikes the  Wheelie-ing Hooligan on the latest sport bike and would rather run him off the road then yield to a high-speed pass. Adventure Riders laugh at the Rocketeers and everyone is annoyed by the Metric Cruisers, because they represent the worst of both worlds: they are slow and un-American. But that is an entirely different matter altogether and beyond the scope of what I want to get off my chest today. However, let me first state this about the bigger picture: Most of us do get along no matter what we ride and most of us enjoy responsibly and appropriately.

I’m not one of those people who believe that everything should be legislated or regulated or otherwise “dealt with” just because I happen to find it to be completely idiotic or otherwise disagreeable with my own opinionated stance. I don’t believe that we should save others from themselves. We have the rules and laws in place to do that already. We don’t need more rules and we definitely don’t need to add to the contention. However, I do believe in personal accountability and responsibility and with that I am a staunch supporter of education. Inform the people of the consequences and let them do what they will with this information by employing concepts such as personal responsibility and accountability.

You won’t find me judging the rider who makes free use of the lack of mandatory helmet laws in their state. I choose to wear my lid, they choose not to. It’s their noggin, who am I to tell them they have to wear it? Same with protective gear. I myself am a firm believer of wearing my gear, but I am not going to judge the person who decides they don’t need it. I will, however, make every attempt to educate them on the importance of being dressed “for the crash”. I place enough value on my own life to do everything in my power to increase the odds of my continued survival. But this doesn’t give me the authority (or the moral obligation) to regulate the behavior of those who disagree and by the same token, I detest being judged by the idiocy of others. I am a thinking person. I make my own decisions. I don’t need to have someone tell me what is good for me and what isn’t. I know right from wrong and I know how to behave within the social contract. I don’t need a bunch of jackasses force-feeding me. Educate, don’t regulate. You can’t legislate morality (or stupidity) anyway. But I am off on a tangent and am getting way too political for a person with a non-interference clause in her contract and a very dense dislike of politics. I hate politics, I love leadership. But that’s not for this blog or any other piece I’ll ever write.

Every time I get on my bike, I break the law. Every single time. Mostly it’s speeding, but I could have been cited for a host of other offenses had they been witnessed by the proper authority: Illegal drag racing, failure to negotiate a turn, passing in a no-passing zone, reckless driving, failure to maintain lane, excessive display of horsepower, road rage, racing, evasion, lane splitting. Those are only the ones that come readily to mind. And I’m a goody-two-shoes. May those of you without sin, cast the first stone! I’m ok with that, because there won’t be a single rock lobbed in my direction. I guarantee it.

Does this make me an unsafe rider? Does this make me a squid? I don’t believe so. I am human, I make mistakes. I have had my share of bad judgment calls. I have messed up in traffic and put myself or others in danger. It happens. I ride well within my limits, I make a concentrated effort to be safe and come home without a scratch on my bike or myself. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m 100% compliant with traffic laws. Nobody is. Safe riding does not equate to legal riding and legal riding does not equate to safe riding. Sometimes you have to make the crapchute decision between breaking the law and saving your ass. And as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six. That’s how I roll and it works for me. I have my machine under full control and I know its limits and my own. I am a safe and conscientious rider. My riding style may look aggressive to some, but I have long given up on keeping up appearances. My first priority is staying alive. But this isn’t the ultimate topic of this article. I’m just setting the stage for touching on something that everybody who has ever ridden a motorcycle on the street for any length of time eventually experiences to one degree or another.

As far as our bad reputation goes? We have ourselves to blame, or those of us who can’t keep things in the proper perspective, at the proper level and in the proper place. When you act the jackass in front of a bunch of motorists who don’t ride, you are calling negative attention to yourself and I guarantee you that within minutes of your offense the phone at the police station’s front desk is ringing off the hook with calls placed by aggravated individuals trying to save you from yourself and ruin it for every other motorcyclist in that area for the next few hours. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and pull a “race start” off a stop line after the traffic light turns green and then find yourself wondering why not five minutes later you see several squad cars policing the area. That shit is called in by the annoyed cager who is already yapping on his cellphone. You don’t even have to speed, but only appear to be speeding.

I was pulled over once by a motorcycle cop on a Harley. This was one of my more embarrassing moments on two wheels. Yours truly sitting sedately on her white Hayabusa wearing a cat-ear adorned helmet with a motor officer in tow. Sitting in four lanes of traffic at the longest red light in the history of carriageway-paving mankind getting the stink eye from several seemingly offended people in their cars and being told by the copper who pulls up next to me on his Hog to please pull over as soon as safely possible. What the hell did I do now? I didn’t get a ticket. He was a sportbike rider himself, was pretty disappointed that he had to ride a Hog at work, and was more annoyed by the situation than anything else. He said he wouldn’t have even bothered to pull me over, but he had to make it look appropriate, since a lot of the cagers where pointing at me, shaking their fists and signaling for the cop to let me have it, to remove the menace that I am from their motoring society. After running my license and plate, making sure I (and my bike) came back clean, he went off-duty and we talked shop for over half an hour. He said that people called me in for leaving a red light too fast when it turned green. And there were also complaints of speeding. He clocked me doing 70 coming out of a curve, but since I had been going more or less the speed limit before and had slowed back down to the flow of traffic after and didn’t endanger anybody else, he didn’t even worry about it. As for executing the alleged drag race start? I didn’t. I left from that stop line like I always do. I asked him if this was a regular occurrence for people to call in motorcycles. He said, and I quote: “All the damn time! And we have to go chase it down and investigate. You guys don’t even have to be doing something wrong and we still get calls about it.” Proof positive that, at least where I live, there is a direct correlation of some douche pulling some asshat stunt out of his bag of tricks and an increased presence of law enforcement in the area. I’ve always suspected as much, but never had any reason to believe it to be much more than mere coincidence until that conversation with the motorcycle cop. I came to naming the phenomenon “calling in a sighting”.

BCSO Squad Car

We all want to have fun when we’re out on a ride, so please do yourself and everyone else a favor and keep it in check and enjoy responsibly. I know I am going to catch a lot of flak for this, but let’s face it: At one time or another we all like to let it hang out a little and enjoy high performance outside of the parameters set forth by traffic laws and safe driving regulations. So, here they are, my ten rules every smart Hooligan on two wheels should know:

The 10 Commandments for Smart Motorcycle Hooligans

  1. Behave yourself in traffic! For crying out loud, what exactly does it prove when you’re doing a sustained 150 mph on the Interstate, passing everybody like they’re sitting still? Or pulling wheelies in traffic or otherwise annoy cagers with excessive display of your elevated risk acceptance. It only proves one thing: You’re an assclown who is going to have a really short riding career and you risk involving others in your shit-for-brains antics by putting them into possible harm’s way. And they might get to run you over, killing you because you fucked up. Now they have to live with THAT for the rest of their lives. No seriously. That’s just stupid. You want to speed and stunt? Find a deserted backroad with little traffic and no intersecting roads and have all the Hooligan fun you want. The less witnesses the better, and please don’t use the same spot all the time.
  2. Don’t involve others in your shenanigans. (See #1 above)
  3. Don’t pass like a jackass! Don’t tailgate! Don’t make other motorists feel pressured to speed up or get out of your way. Make sure it’s safe and give them some space. No buzzing the mirrors or cutting them off by coming back into your lane too soon. Respect their space and make a clean pass. You want to enjoy your ride, let them enjoy theirs.
  4. Be courteous. When someone does pull over to let you pass (this is a frequent occurrence on mountain roads) know that this is a courtesy extended to you. Give them a nod or a friendly wave. Let them know you appreciate their gesture of good will. Again, chances are if you ride their ass they won’t do jack for you. Respect others and they may just respect you.
  5. Speed safely. Yes. There is such a thing. Don’t hold higher speeds at sustained levels. Slow down for oncoming traffic and for areas that pose severe risk at higher speeds, such as intersecting roads, overlooks, pull-offs, parking lots, driveways, and areas with limited sight distance. You should be able to come to a complete stop within your line of sight, no matter what speed you’re going.
  6. Don’t speed stupid! No speeding (or other high-performance tricks, for that matter) in school zones, residential areas, parking lots, construction zones and other populated high-risk zones. The hefty price of a ticket written in any of those places should be your guide, if safety isn’t a main concern for you.
  7. Adhere to your riding group’s rules or don’t ride with them. Period.
  8. Respect the ride of others. We all have differing riding philosophies and have to ride within our chosen machine’s limitations. Make your passes clean, don’t harass other bikers even if you do not agree with their style, and keep the safety of other riders in mind before you act out.
  9. Don’t be a freaking asshole when you get pulled over. Own your shit!!! The cop is just doing his job and more often than not (within reason), if you were not being a jackass or riding like one, you might just get away with a warning. Don’t play the victim. Don’t whine. Don’t give the officer a hard time. You knew what you were doing could have dire consequences if you happen to get caught. We all know the risks involved when we decide to partake in a little throttle therapy that goes above and beyond.
  10. Don’t be a habitual offender. Ride hard, but ride smart. Don’t ride beyond your skill or machine limit. Engage in your criminal pastime in small doses; and, please, wear all your freaking gear, especially when you’re planning on getting “sporty”. No excuses! Dress for the slide, not the ride! Full race gear is wholeheartedly recommended.

You may now cast the first stone…


Girls 4 Ever! @ 80MPH

I was heading west on University Parkway, the stretch of US-29, a four-lane divided highway, between Athens and Atlanta, GA. It was late afternoon on a Friday and a thunderstorm was threatening overhead. People don’t mess around that time of the week. They are ready to get home to start their weekends or, like me, are already on their way to the party and are in a hurry to get there. Time is of the essence when the workweek is done. The average speed on the west-bound side was between 70-75 miles per hour. The east-bound side had been shut down due to a traffic accident and was backed up for miles. I gave quick thanks to the God of Speed for not being stuck in that mess.

Traffic was medium-heavy and I was averaging about 80 mph, making sure that I wasn’t the fastest vehicle on the road but keeping up with the faster cars of the crowd. I noticed a white sedan that had passed me, but then settled down to about my pace a little distance ahead. I eventually caught up and passed the car again. No big deal, it happens, I paid the car no mind as I continued to fling myself westward toward the horizon, bouncing around in my seat, tapping out the rhythm to some Lady Gaga tune with my right foot; I think it was “Bad Romance”. My thoughts were already occupied with playing in the twisties that were scheduled for the following day. The car eventually picked its way back through traffic and got ahead yet again.

Now it’s getting a little weird! After a while boredom and curiosity get the better of me and I am in hot pursuit of my highway stalker. It doesn’t take me long to catch up with my target. The car is still hanging out in the left lane, so I scoot over and slowly pass them on the right. I see what looks to be four college-aged kids bouncing around in their seats, hair flying, talking animatedly and obviously checking me out. Oh, shit! A carload of cheerleaders! They point and wave at me and I smile, — even though they can’t see through my darkly tinted face shield — I nod and give them a peace sign with my outstretched clutch hand. Then I grab a fistful of throttle, twist it quickly to the stop and treat them to a completely “unnecessary display of horsepower”. Gratuitous. I can’t help myself. I have no excuse. I pull triple digits for a few seconds, pass another vehicle by executing two acute lane changes to get a little high-speed lean for effect and then let the engine slow me back down to the speed of traffic.

It doesn’t take very long for them to catch up. Two songs, maybe. I’m astonished to see them again. When they pass me on the left, I see one of them is holding a sheet of notebook paper up to the passenger side window. It reads in bold-red Sharpie print:

YOU ROCK!
GIRLS RULE
4 EVER!!!!

I prop open my visor so I can make eye contact as I pace them. I smile and give them a thumbs up and a fist pump with my free hand. I yell: “Hell yeah!” even though they can’t hear me. I speed up and they stay directly behind me as my wing women until we part ways at a red light a few miles up the road. I turned right and they kept going straight. Each of us heading towards weekend adventure. I wish I could have taken a picture of this or had the video camera going. It’s the little things like these that make even a bored and hurried flight down a two-lane seemingly never-ending straight worth it. For one little instant my path merged with that of four strangers and life was just good.

Peace Out!

That’s one of the reasons I ride.

Riding a motorcycle connects you intimately, even if only for a short moment, with others and the world around you. You become part of that world, rather than being isolated and distanced from it like you are when sitting in a car. This is one of those reasons why bikers refer to cars as “cages”. I’m sure of it.


A Tale of the Dragon

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Get through the curves so fast? You make it look so easy. I’m scared half to death most of the time.”

“Me, too.”

“What? No way. But you ride with such confidence…”

Conversations such as the one above happen to me quite often now. The interchanges differ slightly, some are broad and generic, some more specific and focused, and yet others are just to say hello and to tell me that the way I ride is inspiring. I’m not really sure why. I am mostly just flabbergasted, because I don’t consider myself fast, or inspiring, am nowhere as smooth and proficient as I want to be, and I’m definitely a little scared a lot more than I’d like to admit. Heck, I’m still a newbie myself. I’m in my fourth year of riding, with roughly 44,500 miles logged, and have yet a long way to go before I could even consider myself an experienced rider. So why have I become the go-to girl?

Maybe I am asking the wrong question. Maybe it’s not what I do or to what level of proficiency I do it. After all, the degree of a skill is relative to the comparisons made. Maybe it is how I do it.

So how do I do it?

Upon reflection, I find that the answer is of quite a simple nature:

  • I refuse to accept “good enough” as a standard and continue to learn and practice those lessons whenever and wherever I can
  • I keep reaching outside of my comfort zone little by little, gently pushing my skill envelope and working through my fear(s)

And no matter where I am in my skill progression, or how advanced of a rider I may become, these two concepts hold true. Mastery does not equate perfection. There is always room for improvement and always an opportunity, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, to learn more. “The day I quit learning is the day that I die.” I don’t know who said it, or where I picked up these words of wisdom, but I wholeheartedly embrace the sentiment. Words to live by, indeed.

It does make a girl feel good (and a little bit proud), even if she feels a tad awkward and shy, when others show their appreciation for the way she rides. Especially when the kudos come from riders whom she considers to be so far above and beyond her own skills, that she is amazed they even gave her the time of day. It keeps her going, it makes her work even harder and cements the refusal to give up and not let temporary setbacks beat her into the trap that is “oh well, good enough.” It really isn’t good enough. “Good enough” is dangerous as it leads to routine and routine eventually results in rashed paint, dinged frames and broken off bits. Or worse.

Well…?

I’m in the mood for a little story telling rather than my usual not-quite-scientific analytical nerdiness. I’ll be as long-winded as the Dragon is curvy. That’s my specialty, and if you are one of my a regular readers, you’re used to this already. I am an editor’s worst nightmare. Well, I would be, if I had one. I’m gonna be, one day.

Here you go. Sit down, put your feet on the pegs, and hold on tight:

A Tale of the Dragon

A week ago, my husband and I returned from a five-day motorcycle vacation. Two of those days were spent at Deal’s Gap, riding a stretch of US-129 between North Carolina and Tennessee that is known to motorcyclists all over the country as the “Tail of the Dragon”. The road is notorious for its advertised “318 curves in 11 miles” and it is quite the gem from both a biker’s point of view and that of an engineer’s. It has a curve for every taste. Banked or off-camber, blind or the kind you can see all the way around, constant and decreasing radii, compound and multi-apex curves, fast sweepers, esses, elevation changes, dips, cracks, rough and smooth asphalt… you name it, you can find it, in various more or less gratifying combinations. Want to see if your street game is up to snuff, this road is a good place to evaluate. The Dragon comes complete with photographers ready to snap your picture as you negotiate a few choice corners (please smile, wave, and get your lean on to get that knee or floorboard down) and the obligatory contingent of county and state officials with clipboards at the ready and fat ticket pads to grade your excellence in high performance. It even has a Tree of Shame to hang your various broken bike parts on, should you flunk the skills test. Just don’t go there in the middle of the day on the weekends, or you’ll just get stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and then you will be lucky if you even get to average the speed limit, which is a posted 30 miles per hour.

The sky looked ominous. It desperately wanted to rain, but the weather had held so far and I was determined to get a few good runs in before it let loose, if it was even going to in the first place. If it did rain, so what? In my husband’s words:

“I’m going to do the Dragon. I don’t care if it rains. I don’t care if I’m the only man to ever do it wearing a trash bag, that Dragon is going down!”

Mr. Slow is a self-admitted fair-weather biker, so this was important enough for him to risk getting caught in a rainstorm. It was important enough for me, too; albeit for a completely different set of reasons. His reasons included shutter speed, mine corner speed. I really didn’t see my husband a whole lot after I followed him on his virgin run with the video camera attached to my bike. We never broke the (averaged) speed limit and I was one-handing it most of the trip, waving fanatically at the photographers hoping to get my silly self into hubby’s frame to ruin the shot. Didn’t quite work out as planned. I risked his life for nothing. Bummer.

20120516-142103.jpg

I almost didn’t go, because the sort of shenanigans that I had in mind were for dry roads and warm tires, but I made myself gear up anyway. I quietly admonished myself that I was supposed to keep it at 60% and keep the racer mentality off the public roads. So far I had done pretty well in that regard. Yes, things got a little spirited on occasion, but I would like to think that I never exceeded 75% of my skill at any given time. Did I not just spend a weekend riding with a friend resetting my brain to “street mode” and adjusting my “Speed Racer” mentality in an effort to ditch the frustration with the limitations of street riding that has plagued me for the better part of the past two years? To recapture the enjoyment of the ride at slower, more sane speeds without letting too much hang out on that slippery slope that is risk acceptance. “No speeding in the straights!” is the toughest rule to adhere to, especially if the road isn’t entirely straight, but sweeps invitingly from side to side.

As it turns out, the road is cold and wet in places, and it seems to be getting worse. I realize that it is starting to rain and that we are catching up with the worst of it. As we continue northward the road gets wetter and there are leaves in a lot of the corners. I slow my already temperate speed even more. I have only one word to describe my feelings about wet leaves in wet corners: treacherous. My tires are sticking and my lines are true. However, this situation makes me feel timid and uncertain. To the close observer, this anxiety makes itself evident in my body position. As the battle between fear and intellect rages in my mind, my sternum becomes rigidly glued to the tank. I have to make a conscious effort to correct this tendency, hang off properly by dropping the upper body into alignment and in doing so also right the bike from its excessive lean. When your chest is stuck to the gas cap, your ass might as well be sitting in the seat, with your knee gripping the tank. You can’t just hang your cheeks out and expect to conserve lean angle by lowering your combined center of gravity. It doesn’t work that way. Either hang off or don’t… that half-assed crap isn’t really doing anything but make you look like an assclown. I’m getting a little flustered with myself, not that I would have to hang off at all. But hanging off is one of those things I still need to practice and perfect for myself, so I always at least go through the motions, even at speeds where it is not needed. At minimum I like to “pop” the inside hip into place and weigh the outside peg. Besides, sitting sedately center, hauling through a curve is much scarier than doing the same while getting low and to the inside of the bike, for the centrifugal forces involved are less apparent. It just feels slower and more manageable. This is also the secret to getting your kicks without having to push the speeds too far into “jail-able offense” territory. And if you also take the “car line” through to avoid flattening out the curve you can get even more thrills for your speeding ticket buck. But that’s an entirely different story altogether.

I’m not liking this kind of riding. This is more like commuting or roadtripping than joy riding. But as the ride continues, my fear is gradually replaced by annoyance. I want to be irresponsible (in a responsible kind of way), but am somewhat inhibited by the probable presence of more cops (one had parked himself in the first longish straight to set the mood) and the less-than-fun traction conditions. But it is good practice. Since I’ve lost my job, I haven’t had much occasion to use my crap weather skills, so this is really a blessing in disguise. With the newfound attitude I begin to settle into a rhythm and am starting to enjoy myself again, even if such joy is served with a dash of apprehension.

We turn around at Tabcat Bridge, at the northern end of the Tail, and make our way the eleven miles back south. It isn’t too long before the skies open up and let us have it in full force. Visibility becomes more and more limited as the rainshower cranks its intensity up to torrential downpour. My visor keeps fogging up and my gloves are getting soaked. Our average speed doesn’t drop all that much and we are still dancing smoothly and effortlessly through the curves. Now this is something I can cope with. The leaves have washed off the road and the asphalt is finally clean. This is the kind of riding I refer to when I say: “Rain is nature’s way of giving us clean roads and 80% traction.” I don’t like “sort of wet”, but “really, really, really wet” I can definitely deal with. The hanging off bit stops as soon as I realize — to my chagrin — that my crotch is absolutely soaked and my feet are sopping wet. I make myself as small as possible, trying to keep the water out. To no avail. I can feel a cool trickle making its way down my spine between my back protector and the moisture-wicking compression shirt. Oh, goodie! We all know where that’s going next: Asscrack Falls. And then I’ll be sitting in it until I stand up. I smirk at the thought. I’m not entirely sure why this is even funny, but I’m getting a kick out of it. Hell, yeah! I made that damn Dragon cry. I suffer another mental burst of girly giggles.

David and I are the fastest crew to come down the mountain that morning. The Pirelli Angel ST tires are again proving their crap weather worthiness. I don’t trust them quite yet on their sides, because they have massive grooves for water evacuation running almost all the way to their outer edges. That’s just too much air and not enough rubber in the chicken strip regions for my comfort level. When it was dry I wished I had a stickier, softer tire; but now I am definitely glad I’m rolling these sport-touring hoops. My confidence in the tires is evident in our pace. I have no problem keeping up with David who is leading the return trip.

We’re safely passing several vehicles and catch up with some sportbike riders who do not seem to appreciate getting caught in this shit storm at all. One is making a concentrated effort not to lean around a corner; and another is hugging the center lines, crossing over repeatedly, almost as if he was using them as a visual guide to help him stay on the road. We pass him in a hurry, before he could make it to the next curve. It appears that David and I had the same idea, neither one of us wanting to see “what happens next”. [Both of these guys made it back down the mountain alright.]

Several riders gave up and parked it at a pull-off. The Harley boys just kept on cruising, a little slower than usual, but those dudes don’t wimp out for some rain. Especially if there isn’t an overpass to park under for miles and they’re already wet. The cigarette smoking while riding, however, has ceased, for obvious reasons.

We finally make it to the chain-link fence that marks the southern side “Beginner’s End” at the North-Carolina/Tennessee state line. Almost there. Almost. As we round the right-hander a flash of hi-viz yellow catches my attention. I smile as I realize it’s Mr. Slow creeping down the mountain on his Samsonite Missile. He also has no real pressing urge to lean. That’s my man! I smile again, since I’m happy to have caught up with him; because I assure you, I would have freaked out approximately 22 minutes after not seeing his Connie parked in front of our room.

This is a good time to have lunch at the Dragon’s Den Grill and the place is packed as people settle in to wait out the storm. The satellite TV has quit, we have no cell reception, and it’s anybody’s guess as to how long this’ll go on. A typical spring afternoon shower? Couldn’t be more than an hour or two.

As soon as the rain subsides, I’m geared back up and on my way to my bike to head out. Everybody else also wants to go, but they want to wait about 20 minutes for the road (and their gear) to start drying out. With my renewed confidence I’m not even interested in wet roads or wet gear. I sit down on the bench in front of our room and impatiently wait on time to tick off the minutes as I watch the steam as it rises from the pavement; the road slowly begins to dry.

My overly inflated ego is promptly corrected not too far into the next run. Let some of that air out, hot stuff, shall we? Traction feels iffy and after sliding around in two consecutive turns, I am absolutely crestfallen. WTF?!? My riding again becomes timid as my anxiety level rises. I hate sliding the rear wheel. I dislike it on the track, but I’ve learned to cope with it there; however, I still don’t like it when it happens and I find myself avoiding to ride that close to the edge of my traction limit. When it happens on the street my anxiety is multiplied. I already hate the outside edge of the pavement and sliding around like I am isn’t helping that situation any. This is the reason I have a tendency to take the “race line” through a corner, hugging the center-line at the apex with my body hanging all over into the oncoming lane. Never mind that my tires are still in the correct lane space. On the track this tendency is displayed in a distinct cutting of corners to the apex. It’s almost a little like dog-legging it, rather than a more gradual approach. It’s point-and-shoot from entry to apex, but on exit it is a gradual drifting out to the outside edge, as it should be when accelerating out of a turn. This is also why I prefer right-hand turns on the street, even though it would make sense to be more fearful in a right-hander. After all, if the rear breaks loose, I would be sliding into oncoming traffic rather than off the road. All these worries and various discomforts come flooding into my conscious thoughts. Slap! Take you down a notch, missy. A pass and review of your more annoying (and tenacious) riding flaws. Arrrrrrgh!

On the return trip I can barely keep up with the guys, my group or otherwise. Correction: I can’t keep up with the guys. They only reason I keep catching them is that they get held up by other motorists. I feel tired and unfocused. I’ve let myself down. I am really disappointed. I know I can do better, so what is this? It’s almost schizophrenic. I feel slightly nauseated as I fight my way through every curve.

By the time I’m back down at the Gap, I’ve worked myself up into a real pisser of a self-deprecating attitude. I park the bike, and start stripping off my gear. I’m not going back up! This shit sucks, I’m really not in the mood anymore. Apparently, you can’t teach some old dogs anything… I notice none of my friends’ bikes are there. Not even Mr. Slow’s is anywhere to be found. Oh, hell with this! I’m going back up and I am showing this damned Dragon who’s wearing the bitchin’ pants in this freaking crowd. The guys pull in as I am adjusting my tire pressures. Great, those jokers stopped off somewhere and here I was trying to catch up. But the decision has been made. I’m getting back on this damned motorcycle and I am going to own what should have already been mine. I’m letting two more pounds of air out of both tires. I will find me some traction (or loss thereof) and collect my confidence while I’m at it. I am a girl on a mission. A girl who is intent on making the DTC work it for her. The guys also decide they didn’t have enough yet, swap bikes between themselves, and we head back out. This time I end up in the middle.

I spend the next 11 miles trying to push the front, slide the rear, or make either the RaceABS or DTC intervene; whichever one of those three comes first. I don’t care. I find I’m a little angry. I work my way into racing up to a corner, slamming on the brakes, throwing the bike in, and grabbing a judicious twist of throttle on the way out. Rinse, repeat. Nothing. The tires hold solid. The subtle pulsing of the ABS system or the faint “clicking” of the traction control both remain elusive. Maybe the shit doesn’t work anymore, after all? Well, I do know the RaceABS is in working order. I have finally mustered up the courage to put that one to the test by a few hamfisted, idiotic grabs of the front brake. There was never any doubt that the rear brake was working, that thing goes live when I’m just thinking about maybe using it. A little excessive for my taste, but whatever.

I wave the thought of maybe not having a functional traction control system to save my bacon aside and am wondering if Rick, who is behind me on David’s Ducati, is bothered by me riding like a jackass. He seems to cope fine with my change of riding strategy, but I make a mental note to ask him, and apologize if necessary, at the turn-around spot. I am not worried about hurting David’s feelings, who is undoubtedly playing around with the ZX10R’s ABS/DTC systems as well. He’s a racer and we’ve been doing “skill runs” pretty much all weekend. I’m sure he doesn’t mind my nose up his tail and in his business every corner we come to.

We actually looked quite well together, the three of us. Later inspection of over 200 uploaded low-res digital proofs by the various Dragon photographers confirms my suspicion. Mr. Slow also hands in photographic evidence. :) I hope I meet these guys again. It was a blast riding with them. And next time Rick better bring his wife, who didn’t want to go until he had “checked it out”. I told him to tell her I am mad at her for not showing up.

Miss Busa in the Middle

As I was gradually working my way up to braking later and harder, and accelerating sooner and more aggressively, I felt something I haven’t experienced in a long time. A glimmer of my former bravado and aggressiveness. That something in my personality that I thought had finally been tamed. The little streak of crazy is alive and well and its clawing its way back to the surface. I do believe that to be a good thing. And I have the Dragon to thank for it. Why? Because it rained a little bit.

I had lost a lot of my spunk after crashing last year by tucking the front end into Turn One at Barber Motorsports Park at 120+ mph. A crash that prematurely ended the 2011 racing season for me, because I got to spend my money on fixing my bike rather than actually racing it. A crash that also trashed my confidence without me even realizing the significance of its impact until months later, when I finally got to do another track day and realized I was slower, less confident and more nervous. It took me another few months to pinpoint all the kinks that had developed in my riding as a result. And it was extremely hard to admit that to myself. I blamed it on not getting enough seat time. Yeah, that’s part of it, but that hadn’t slowed me down significantly before I had lost my balls in the kitty litter.

And that is how I do it. This is how I roll.

Check out some of the photos Mr. Slow took. He’s stashed them at FramedByJoe.com (link opens in new window).

I submit to you our first round of Monday morning dragon slaying. There wasn’t much slaying going on quite yet, since the Dragon himself was still pre-coffee and in no mood. ;)

Sunday Pics by Killboy & Co.

Monday Pics by Killboy & Co.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers