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.


If I Had A Cage… I’d Be Done By Now.

Miss Busa has lost her groove...

I'm not the only one 'not feeling it'. But what can you do?

Hubby and I decide to go on a little photo shoot to take some pics of me on the new bike. I suit up in my Yu Lady onesie for the first time in who knows how many weeks. I’m sweating as I pull that thing up, since I haven’t been exactly living the healthy lifestyle by eating right and working out. Phew. A little tighter than I remembered, but I’m still sort of in Dainese shape. I have to get gas and we agree to meet at ‘the corner’ to get busy. On the way over there I feel sort of off… I don’t know how to explain it. Just off somehow, not in tune… as I make the first pass by hubby (he had set up while I was fueling) I know I’m not feeling it. I do several more passes, at one of which I have an encounter of the blue kind and am glad I’m sort of going the speed limit, my feeling of ‘offness’ intensifies. I finally pull up next to hubby and ask him to meet me in the church parking lot. There I tell him that the corner sucks balls and I want to go somewhere else, that I’m not feeling it and I can’t get enough lean on this curve on the S1000RR. He isn’t happy, but he humors me. He wants to know where I want to go… I think for a while, then tell him about the spot I have in mind… I place it wrong from memory, but he figures out which corner I’m talking about and tells me to follow him. We get on the Interstate and a few miles down the road, I have an experience that I’d rather forget.

Traffic is medium-heavy. I’m following behind hubby’s truck, changing into the fast lane when I see a semi-truck pulled over on the shoulder, which is the reason hubby’s changing lanes. He passes another semi-truck in the ‘Granny Lane’ (the right lane) and as I come up on him, I see that he has his left turn signal on, apparently he wants to get over, too. Decision time. My first impulse tells me to speed up, get out of this guy’s way, followed by the thought of ‘you always speed up; slowing down is never an option for you’ spoken in my hubby’s voice from a conversation we had after he bought me the Beemer and chewed my ass for a good four hours while I was at work. Mind you, this wasn’t a lecture, this was a serious conversation about riding style, skill, and being a squid and I had it coming. He just held his tongue for almost a month until he had purchased me another bike, so I wouldn’t think it was about the money or the wrecked Hayabusa. I deserved it. I was an idiot by riding what is essentially a drag bike the way I did. I dragged tail pipe, in a left turn from a stop at an intersection. I’d say this lecture was long overdue. However, I didn’t like to hear it. Meanwhile, I’m rolling towards uncertainty, torn. My riding in traffic has always been proactive, decisive and aggressive when need be. I read patterns, I see, I act to stay out of trouble. My riding style and how I deal with traffic around me is certainly different from my husband’s. When we ride together and traffic gets bad, it’s each (wo)man for himself. I pick my way, he picks his. I usually end up ahead of him, because I use my power and maneuverability I have over cars to my advantage. There’s a reason why I refer to this as ‘Combat Commuting’. He doesn’t like it, but neither do I like the way he rides in traffic. I think his way is dangerous, he thinks my way is. We agreed to disagree, since we’re both keeping it rubber side down and out of harm’s way. Our respective methods work for us. Torn, I make the decision to slow down, but the semi is not getting over. His turn signal is still on and he’s progressively slowing down. I don’t know what he’s going to do. I CAN’T READ HIM!!! I am now past the point of gunning it past him and I do NOT want to end up in his blind spot when he finally does make a move. Suddenly, I hear horns blaring, I jerk my head left and see a silver SUV blowing past me on the left-side rumble strip, which is too narrow to be called a shoulder. He’s throwing up rocks as he whips past me. At this moment all sanity leaves me. My overactive imagination treats me to a mental video detailing what would have happened if he had hit me squarely in the ass. I see myself exploding and body parts raining all over I-20 West. I would have died not knowing I was dead. I would have just ceased to exist. I don’t want to die like that. I want to stare death straight in the face and see it coming! I want a transition between life and death, for crying out loud! Body parts. I shake myself and rip it like I’ve never ripped it before. I pass the SUV, who no doubt had not paid attention to the massive slow down that was caused by the bottlenecking of vehicles around the stopped truck on shoulder. I wonder if he had dropped his phone while he saw my tail lit up by brake lights closing in on him at a surreal rate of speed. I can’t shake it. My breath is rapid, but yet I remain calm and in control of my machine. I’m not scared. I don’t know how to describe what I’m going through. Not fear. Not shock. Maybe awe. I don’t know. I’m dumbfounded, really. I feel disconnected from my decision and I recite in my head over and over that I should have went with my first instinct. Gun it and get the fuck out. Yeah, that was one hell of a bad judgment call. ONE HELLA BRAINFART!

Miss Busa's still looking for it...

Nope, it isn't here either... the lost groove. Time to pack it up and go elsewhere.

We get to our destination and I make a u-turn, pull up next to hubby and tell him that I’m not feeling it and I just want to go the fuck home. He looks at me with concern: “Something happen?” – “You could say that.” – “You ok.” – “Yes, I’m fine.” – “What happened?” – “On I-20… that truck…” – “What?” – “Can’t talk about it right now, let’s just go.” He follows me. I’m going the wrong direction. I’m frustrated. Ah, hell with this. I get back on I-20, then get off on the next exit and pull over at a lane for a mobile weigh station setup, which is currently unused and vacant. I park my bike and get into the truck. I explain. We get into an argument, he apologizes. I apologize. Other stuff comes up, we’re a mess. We both apologize again.

Fuck me, if this doesn’t fall into the ‘ride your own ride’ category. He feels like I’m blaming him. I’m not trying to, I’m just trying to make him understand what led up to the brainfart that could have made me go bye-bye in the most glorious of meat explosions ever. No Special FX needed. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I knew how it would sound, but I also needed to talk to my best friend, the one person in my life I trust implicitly. But some things have no place there. This is one of them. I’m at wit’s end. Two in a row! TWO IN A FUCKING ROW! Yesterday, I came within fractions of an inch of a collision with some jackass who decides to cut me off at the last possible second. Now this? If I had a car I’d be done with street riding. I really am not having any fun at the moment… and I’m still not scared. WTF?

I feel like the life got sucked right out of me. Now what am I going to do to keep my sanity? Do drugs? Become an alcoholic or pay a shrink $150/hour? Meh.

I’m better than this.

Hubby told me later on that these trucks belonged to the same carnie outfit, the one with the left turn signal on? Wasn’t his turn signal at all. He had his four-way flashers on, but had a few bulbs out. Same goes for his buddy on the shoulder (who was still moving, DRIVING very slowly), four-ways on, but a few bulbs short of a proper signal. SOMEBODY GIVE THESE FUCKWADS A GODDAMN TICKET!


The First Year: 13828 Miles & A World Apart

A Taste Of The Inevitable: First Blood
The only experience I’ve had on two wheels was in 1989, when I practiced figure-eights in first gear on my boyfriend’s Kawasaki 900R, the very first generation Ninja. In retrospect, I cannot believe he actually let me ride it at all, let alone practice going around in tight little circles. His bike had this awesome midnight-blue metallic custom paint job with an airbrushed tank graphic. It was a warrior’s muscular forearm holding some sort of weapon. Also, I am surprised I didn’t lay it down. He apparently taught me clutch and throttle control and counterbalancing first. Don’t know. I rode bitch with him a lot; and boy, let me tell you, he was a giant squid with a capital S (not that I knew what a ‘squid’ was back in the day.) He rode pretty much like he drove his Mazda 929: Like a freakin’ maniac. I had nightmares about his driving. He was bad, but on the bike, I kind of enjoyed the rush (most of the time) of his obvious aggression. My dad didn’t like me riding on his bike at all, but when he found out about me trying to get my motorcycle license while I was still in driving school for the car, he told me in no uncertain terms he’d rather kill me himself than see me getting hurt on a motorcycle. That was the end of it. I wanted to learn how to ride, but I didn’t have the money to continue pursuing this particular venue. Licensing in Germany is rigorous and hugely expensive. The motorcycle license is also graduated, so I wouldn’t have been able to ride my boyfriend’s 900 anyway. I don’t know why I thought I could keep this a secret from the parental unit. Doh! I was mad at him for a while. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t let me do this, since he owned and ridden motorcycles when he was younger.

GPZ900R

The first generation Ninja: The Kawasaki GPZ900R

Fast-forward 20 years…

A Lifelong Dream Fulfilled: Owning An American Legend
Today is my first riding anniversary. One year as a biker chica. Today a year ago I bought my first bike: a 2008 Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Low. Hubby and I were running around town and I told him that I wanted to go back to the Harley dealership to sit on the bikes again. I didn’t dream I would be the proud owner of a motorcycle a short four hours later. Hubby rode it home for me after we sealed the deal, because I had no clue whatsoever about how to ride one of these things. There was only one thing I was certain of: having the feet stretched out before my body made me cringe. It was explained that I prefer ‘mid-controls’ and a ‘standard riding position’. Our sales person was awesome. He listened to me talk and carry on about this and that while I parked my bum on pretty much most everything they had sitting on the floor and helped me figure out what bike would be right for me. They had just gotten the 1200L Sporty in, and when I sat on it, I knew this was the one. It felt right to this clueless newbie’s body.

2008 Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Low

My first bike: A 2008 Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Low

Lessons Learned: To Teach A Wife
When we got home I parked the car, put on my helmet and insisted on a ride. Joe rode to a mostly empty grocery store parking lot, found a quiet, well-lit section and parked the bike. He had me sit behind the bars and explained the controls to me. Then he made me promise that I would follow his instructions to the letter, pay attention to every detail and not get mad at him, no matter what. I have a bit of a reputation of getting impatient, getting sidetracked, and taking admonitions personally. A few years ago he tried to teach me how to back in a semi-truck with a 53-foot trailer. Let’s just say, that ended in me refusing to drive backwards, stating that ‘this girl and reverse don’t get along’. I blocked four lanes of traffic for 45 minutes in downtown Chicago once all in the name of backing up.

But I digress, after I promised various behaviors to his satisfaction, he walked me through starting the bike. I did as I was told. My first lesson was focused on ‘finding neutral’. He had me pull in the clutch, push the shifter with my left foot and then lift it to put it back in neutral. No go. Couldn’t do it. I finally told hubby that I thought I was wearing the wrong kind of boots, that the chunky three-inch heels aren’t making this any easier. Defeated, I went back home. It was getting late anyway.

The next morning I couldn’t wait to go out and play. He pulled the bike alongside the curb in front of our house and parked it for me. Equipped with better footwear the lesson continued where we had left off the previous evening. By the time I could find neutral about 50% of the time my clutch hand was cramping from holding the lever so tight. I told Joe as much and we took a quick break.

The next lesson had to do with the ‘friction zone’. He instructed me to squeeze the front brake lever, put it in gear and then had me slowly release the clutch lever up to the point where I felt the engine engaging, emphasizing that I was not to let go of the brake lever under any circumstances. After playing around with the clutch for a few minutes, he said it was now time to actually start moving forward. Another round of instructions from hubby followed. Now I was getting a little nervous. I slowly released the clutch and gave it a little gas and started inching forward. OMG! I pulled the clutch back in and applied the front brake to stop, then started again. I did that a few times. Hubby told me to put my feet on the pegs. I didn’t want to. I refused, the feet refused. I tried. I couldn’t. I was scared. It took me a few minutes, but I finally took off and willed my feet up onto the pegs.

Woohoo! I’m riding! Awesome. Look Mom, no feet! My husband was walking next to me until I shifted into second gear and twisted the throttle a little more. By the time I reached the end of our street, I did 25mph. w00t! I slowly stopped the bike, turned it off and waited for a breathless hubby to catch up. Now what? He turned it around for me. I did that a few more times and then we had to take a break, because I had killed the battery with turning the bike on and off after each run down the street and he needed to jump it and let it charge. Doh!

Lesson Three: U-turns. More practice using the friction zone and trying not to give it too much throttle. Overall, my turns really stank, but at least I kept the bike rubberized side down. After a few turns that were assisted by power-walking the bike around, I finally managed to do them without putting my feet down, but there was a whole lot of wobbling going on.

Hubby decided we needed a longer road to practice on, so we went to John Deere Parkway on the edge of town, which is pretty deserted. He made me ride up and down it, practicing shifting and u-turns. By round number two I was going 55 in a 45, surely a sign of things to come; not that I knew it yet. My turns still sucked, but I was getting a little better. The only time I got nervous is when there was a car sharing the road with me, but I handled my business well enough.

The next lesson consisted on attempting a u-turn through the traffic light at the end of the street. Hubby explained that it’s nothing different from what we’ve been doing, but he wants me to get used to traffic. I flat-out refused, initially. But then my competitive side won over the argument and I told hubby that I was ready to do it. I didn’t want fear holding me back, but scared I was. I pulled up to the stop line and waited anxiously for the light to change to green. When it finally did, I already had an audience lined up on both sides of the red light. I eased out onto the road and executed my u-turn using the entire width of the intersecting road. After returning from my stint down the parkway, hubby had me do it again. This time I didn’t turn at all, for whatever reason. It’s an offset intersection, I just ended up going straight and ran off the road, cut across the dirt and grass and finally came to a nervous stop on the other side, back on the asphalt. Then I just sat there, not really understanding what just happened. Hubby came running up behind me, wondering what the hell just happened and that I was to never ever drag my feet along the ground like I did halfway through the intersection and that I am to stay on the pavement. I had had enough. We went home. Hubby later decided that I must have been fatigued and that tired hands and lack of concentration contributed to my first adventure on two wheels.

Riding Practice

Practicing u-turns and shifting on a quiet stretch of road on the edge of town.

The next day we started on my private driving range again with the same exercises. Then he told me I should go and play in traffic, that I’ll have to get used to it eventually. I flat-out refused again. And it took a lot of coaxing for me to finally get the nerve up. I made him promise that he’d follow behind me in the Prius, so I didn’t have to worry about the cars to my rear. So it was agreed and I went and played in traffic. It wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, but it was stressful enough. The added security of someone protecting my six definitely helped a lot. I was free to concentrate on the traffic to the front and on my take-offs, which sucked about as bad as my u-turns did, but I never stalled it. I got the hang of left turns pretty quickly. Right turns gave me more of a problem and I had a tendency to run wide at tighter residential intersections.

My heart was in my throat every time I had to come to a stop. Going slow wasn’t my bag. At every light I prayed for it to stay green until I got there or to turn green before I got there, whichever, so I wouldn’t have to stop. Intersections were potential places of public embarrassment. Stalling, falling over, looking like an ass, rolling back, all those were things that were on my brain. Surprisingly, the fear of getting run over or rear-ended never really entered the equation.

(Recommended) Lessons Learned: The MSF Basic Rider Course
There were two conditions that I had to meet for hubby to give me the OK for purchasing a motorcycle in lieu of a second car:

  1. I had to buy the best protective gear we could afford and wear it at all times, and
  2. I had to enroll in a safety course.

As luck would have it, three cancellations happened and I got bumped up progressively from a December spot to a class in mid-October. The course was awesome. Our rider coaches were knowledgeable peeps who showed their love for the ride. They were friendly, engaging and made you feel at ease. They made us think for ourselves and take charge rather than drone on about this and that and risk putting the class to sleep. It was a great experience and I would recommend it to anybody who wants to learn how to ride. It’s invaluable and a great confidence builder.

I passed the course! I was their best student overall. I missed one question on the written exam and got docked one point on the practical test. I mention this, because I was so nervous during the hands-on, that I was shaking, was nauseous and light-headed. That stupid fear of public humiliation and embarrassment again. The bane of my existence: Stage fright with a healthy dose of performance anxiety. One of the rider coaches apparently noticed my ‘issue’ and kept me preoccupied by talking to me and joking around while I was waiting for my turn in the box. I aced the figure-eight (the first test and the most dreaded) on the verge of what felt like a panic attack. I have no problems with academics, no test anxiety whatsoever; but give me a man holding a clipboard looking over my shoulder while I’m expected to perform some manual skill, I’ll promptly turn into a quivering mass of Jell-O. My freakin’ hands go numb! Public speaking: same thing. Martial arts tournament: ditto. Dance competition: forget it. Final round in a table tennis tourney: sure to bomb.

Pushing Forward: Zen And The Art Of Working Through Fear
The first time I had to ride to work on my bike, must have been a terrifying experience. I apparently blocked it out, since I can’t even recall it. I do remember that I was scared every time I put my gear on. I was nauseated and felt like throwing up in my mouth. My nerves didn’t calm until I turned onto the main road from my street. Once I got through that, I was pretty much OK.

I remember planning my routes to avoid left turns across traffic without lights at all costs. I remember running the planned route mentally once while putting on my gear. I remember avoiding the scariest street in all of Augusta: Washington Road. I eventually braved that street due to necessity.

I remember being terrified of rain. I checked the weather report every night before I had to go to work and I got lucky for quite some time and stayed dry. When it looked like I would finally get caught out in the rain, I went online to research rain riding skills. That eased my mind but also ramped up the anxiety, if that makes sense. The first time I had the misfortune of having to ride in rain happened to be at night. I couldn’t see anything. I was scared shitless and prayed to whatever higher power chose to listen in. At one point, I think I started singing some stupid sing-along kiddie song to keep myself from freaking the hell out. Those were the scariest seven miles I ever had the displeasure of riding. Period.

There were other things that really got my heart rate up, some of which I didn’t even attempt until I was absolutely forced to. Making tight right turns from a stop, starting on a hill, riding on gravel or in sand, or backing into a parking space, just to name a few. I had a tendency to avoid situations that forced me into maneuvers I wasn’t confident of.

I spent a few sleepless nights wondering why I had done such a stupid thing as getting a motorcycle. Why in the hell had I spent over $10K, getting myself in debt for the next five years, and not have a damn car to show for it? There were plenty of nights I doubted the sanity of my decision and admonished myself: “You’ve done it now, girlfriend. More than you can handle and past the point of no return.” I never told my husband how deeply these doubts really ran. I kept most of my fears to myself.

One day, it may have been three months after buying the bike, it finally clicked. It clicked so hard it was almost audible. That’s how I refer to it, anyway. Hubby, his best friend Larry and I were out for a ride. I was bringing up the rear, as I preferred hanging out in the back (I still do, as a matter of fact.) We were sitting at a traffic light and it finally occurred to me that I hadn’t really been praying to the ‘Green Light Gods’ lately and following on the heel of that thought was another realization: I hadn’t really been feeling all that scared lately either. When the light changed to green I took off more confident than ever and that was the first time I recall that I actually enjoyed, thoroughly enjoyed, being on two wheels. The first time I felt proud of myself for being out there riding my own. The first time I really didn’t care what other people thought, because I knew I wasn’t going to do anything dramatic.

This freed up massive amounts of concentration and attention and left me able to enjoy the ride rather than being preoccupied with what-ifs and how-tos. My skills improved at an accelerated rate from that point forward. Sixteen weeks later I had my husband talked into letting me buy that Suzuki Hayabusa, which I absolutely fell in love with at the IMS (International Motorcycle Show) in Greenville, SC and been dreaming about ever since. We rode up there so I could test ride a Yamaha FJR1300 sport-tourer, which was a no-show. While I was drooling over the FJR and secretly planning an affair with a certain white Hayabusa, my husband was busy courting a red Kawaski Concours 14. The rest — as they say — is history.

The Meaning Of Life: “I Created A Monster” –Joe, ‘Busa Widower
I cannot believe how far I’ve come in the past year and how my riding has evolved into something that I honestly didn’t see coming. 13828 miles ago I was a clueless, frightened but motivated girl who wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Now I am a confident, safety-minded (yet sometimes squiddy) biker chica who is focused on mastering the ride, evolving her skill set and refuses to ever become an ‘experienced’ rider. I’m a second-year n00b. I will never stop learning. I haven’t seen the inside of a car in quite some time. I get restless when I can’t ride for a day. I ride rain or shine, year around. I commute back and forth to work. My life is centered on motorcycles. I live it. I breathe it. I’m a gear whore. I want to go to racing school and start participating in regular track days and compare my lap times to those of the pros. I want to break the land-speed record and be the fastest woman on two wheels. I want to drag knee, do wheelies and learn how to drift. I probably annoy people, because that is all I ever talk about anymore. I have a reputation.

Joe has watched me in the twisty bits, almost dragging tail pipe. He asked me if I had no fear. He said I made this stuff look easy and that this scared him. I told him that I did, but I choose to work through it and use it to my advantage rather than let it keep me from something I want. He normally doesn’t want to hear about my ‘escapades’ on two wheels, he’s a little scared. But I know he’s proud of me, he brags to his friends behind my back.

Miss Busa on MSBUSA

A Monster Created: Miss Busa on 'The Fat Lady' her 2009 Suzuki Hayabusa

Fear (in its various manifestations) has ruled my life for far too long. Through motorcycling I have conquered it. Motorcycling, much like Karate, has helped me learn about myself, who I am, what I’m capable of and made me a stronger, more confident individual who knows what she wants and goes for it. I haven’t been depressed in 365 days, not really. I am finally at peace with myself and the world around me. I have overcome adversity. I am a survivor. I don’t stress over stuff anymore. When I need to find my inner balance or clear my head, I go for a ride. I don’t keep stuff bottled up anymore. I deal. I cope. I ride. I handle my business. Not a small feat for me (as those of you, who are close to me can attest.) When I’m on my ‘Busa, I feel in control. I am in control. The Fat Lady and I are one. Woman and machine. I am the master of my circumstances: Good or bad, it is I who caused it, nobody but myself to blame. Total control. Total personal responsibility. For a perfectionistic moderately control-freaked geek with a slight tendency towards the obsessive-compulsive, this is heaven on earth. At that moment, nothing else matters.

There is nothing quite like it.

Hayabusa on I-20W

GSXR rollin' down the strip. Hayabusa Momma gonna take a little trip.

Yes. It’s that good.

We Always Cuddle

We always cuddle afterwards.

Life is good.

Miss Busa and her 'Busa

Miss Busa is not a model, but she'll race you for pinks. 😉 {but that comes later in the game}