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.


Get ’em out Cold, ride ’em Rough and put ’em up Wet!

Race Report (Part 2 of 3)

Miss Busa’s Inaugural WERA Race:
Saturday Practice

Up at the crack of dawn. I drag myself into the shower and after getting ready, Mr. Slow hands me a steaming cup of hotel coffee. I love you, man! He knows what Miss Busa needs. The Zombie can finally rise. As we head out the door, I am assaulted by a blast of cold wind and the drizzle immediately adds to my already sunny (insert heavy sarcasm) disposition. Good gawd! I’m awake now! I shiver in my Under Armour HeatGear. Damn! I should have went with my original instinct and packed the ColdGear also. I’m in for an interesting day, I’m sure of it. Cold and wet! Still. It looks as if the storm had blown through, as they had predicted, but I wasn’t expecting it to remain this breezy and cold. What was I thinking when I checked the weather report?!? Guess I’m not in Georgia anymore. Brrrrrrr! It’s freaking cold out here. Not even 50 out. The sky still looks foreboding in places, the tattered remains of a storm that made for a restless night. Mr. Slow informed me that I pretty much kept him up all night by waking up shivering several times.

I keep my spirits up because I am in good company and am looking at a weekend at the track. I’m not even nervous. I’m just excited. The nausea, however, returns as we pull into our pit and I notice the hustle and bustle of people busying themselves with various tasks in order to get ready for their races. The unmistakable sound of race engines spinning near red line barreling down a front straight tells me that a practice round is already under way, and I stand by my bike feeling somewhat lost and sick to my stomach. Yes, I’m really here. This is it. The moment I have been working towards, waiting for, spending ungodly amounts of money on, is finally upon me. I feel cold and distracted. At least it quit drizzling for the time being. Margie tells me to go register and find out where they set up Tech. I groan, bitch about being cold and drudge down the middle aisle of the garage, making my way to the south end of the building. I walk slowly, hoping I would spot the object of my given quest before I have to ask some stranger for directions. Joe is behind me, reading me like a book, so he hits up the next person for the info. Tech in the front, registration in the next building over. I breathe a sigh of relief. I can’t help but wonder if Margie didn’t do this on purpose…

We find the registration desk in the Press/Media building and get in line to get our remaining paperwork done. Since I pre-registered online, all I have to do is fill out a transponder rental agreement. I trade the signed form for a transponder and a bracket to mount the thing to the Pirate’s left fork leg with a couple of cable ties. I have to get in the other line to add the Heavyweight Senior Superbike Novice race to my lineup so I can use my Kevin Schwantz graduate coupon that entitles me to a free first race entry. Just like the dealer on the corner. The first fix is on the house. After that you’re hooked and paying through the nose, bankrupting your children’s children for just one more…

Once I return to the pit, we get busy checking the bike over one more time and adding the number plates to the lowers… or at least the two of them try. It’s cold, it’s damp and the vinyl just won’t stick. They manage to peel the paint off on one side while repositioning the background of the numberplate, so now there is a huge primer-colored rectangle where there once was metallic black paint. Margie finally ends up glueing the infernal things to the sides of the bike using a glue stick. The things are wrinkled horribly, but legible. Hubby bets that they’ll be gone after the first race. We shall see.

They are announcing my practice group again. Shit! First call. Margie tells me to calm down and breathe. We haven’t even put the sponsor stickers on. I’m looking for the anti-fog/water repellent stuff for my face shield, but I can’t find it. I crawl all over the truck, digging around, but come up empty handed. I’m cold. My hands are cold. I’m shivering even with Margie’s windbreaker over my leathers and I’m on the verge of freaking out because the bike isn’t the way I want it.

Off to Tech to get my bike inspected. Of course, I had forgotten to take the lowers off. I ride back to my pit and Margie and Joe remove them for me. I ride back to Tech and get in the line that had formed in my absence. Bike checks out fine, but I need my receipt, to verify payment of my entry fees. Crap! I offer to run across the garage to my pit to quickly fetch it, as my left foot executes a familiar movement but fails to find its target. I realize with embarrassment that I don’t have a kickstand anymore. Doh! The tech dude chuckles as I tell him that I’ll be right back. Out the other side, around the corner, and back to the pit.

WERA Tech Sticker

Would you look at that, we passed Tech 🙂

The receipt is tracked down in my now disheveled folder and then the whole folder is crammed down my neon-green Ed Bargy newbie shirt by Margie. Take it all. Arrrgh! How am I gonna get that out later? Off to Tech, yet again. The third time’s apparently the charm and I get slapped with two Tech Stickers, one for the bike and one on the chinbar of my helmet for the gear.

I end up missing the damn practice, and now there’s plenty of time to get everything sorted, so my inner peace is restored. But I’m cold. I can’t think straight and I’m whiney because I feel miserable and out of sorts.

I end up finding myself stuffed into the Sponsor’s truck, because I’m pretty much worthless in my current state, somebody shoves a hot cup of black coffee into my paws; courtesy of the racer from across the way. “Say thank you, Miss Busa. Good girl! ;)” My pit crew tells me to quit my incessant whining, drink my joe and stay in the truck to warm up. As my core temperature slowly rises into operating temperature I’m starting to feel better. Margie eventually joins me and we pass the time by talking shop. Practice for Group 2, Round 2 is announced and we hop out of the truck to get me ready to rock and roll. I’m feeling nauseous again. They dress me, put me on my bike and send me out to do or die. As soon as I roll out of my garage it starts raining. Motherhumper!!! You have got to be kidding me! As I make my way to pit road, I start getting cold again. My hands feel slightly cool and the wind is blowing in a way that would make a Nor’easter jealous. I realize, as I sit at the track entrance getting drizzled on and shivering, that I’m not enjoying this at all. I can handle the cold. I can handle the wet. Combine the two and you have found Miss Busa’s personal version of Kryptonite.

When we finally get the go ahead from Race Control, I crank up the bike, put it in gear and slap my visor down as I ease into hot pit lane. My former preoccupation with my bodily discomforts is replaced by a mental focus that isn’t quite as narrow as usual, but nevertheless it is there. The nausea that usually accompanies my anxiety has also disappeared. I settle in and concentrate on the task at hand: getting around this thing without wiping out.

As I come around a long lefthand sweeper, the first turn is upon me, I miss it, and almost run through the orange cones that block further access to the NASCAR oval. I grab a monster hand of front brake, come to a nose-diving halt and have to walk the bike back a few steps to enable me to make my turn (a freakin’ u-turn?) without knocking over any of the cones. Great! I hope nobody saw that. Of course they did. I smile at the corner worker who is standing behind the containment wall at the apex of the ‘V’ that passes for Turn 1. Evil. My visor is fogging up, and the rain water is not evacuating fast enough. Translation: I can’t see shit. As I enter Turn 2 I get passed by a Gixxer. Hot pink. Pony tail peeking out from under the helmet. I just got passed by a girl? Wooohooo!!! My usual enthusiasm returns with a bang. I get on the gas; then it is gone as soon as it had come. The realization of having cold tires on wet pavement at an unfamiliar track and a visibility of close to none has a tendency to reign in my enthusiasm. Damn. For a moment, I wasn’t cold anymore.

I settle back down and try to navigate the track as best I can. The racing surface is rough, has cracks, the pavement seams that run in parallel are slippery and there is stray gravel in some of the corners. This track is shit. Well, the infield road course portion is, at any rate. By lap two I’m ready to pack it in. I don’t even collect any reference points. I’m shivering, I can barely feel my hands, and it’s getting a little moist in some places under my leathers. I have to continuously fidget with my face shield to keep the fog from building up. Another couple of victims to the “packing light THIS time” strategy: my helmet’s fog-free shield and the breath guard.

I’m distracted and preoccupied. Not the way to ride by any means, and a potentially disastrous way to race. Every time I pass Pit In, I am tempted to stick my leg out and call it quits. This shit isn’t fun. I can’t believe I’m putting myself through this AND I paid handsomely for the privilege! Good gawd, woman! You are nucking futs.

Nevertheless, I keep fighting with myself and keep pushing on. I am relieved when the checkered flag finally comes out. Not soon enough, buddy, not soon enough! The last lap must have been the fastest yet, since I was suddenly in a real damn hurry to get my frozen ass the hell off this shitty track. For crying out loud, there is a huge pothole in one of the turns, right IN THE RACE LINE!

Back in the pits, I get reprimanded again for whining. This time (I think) I voluntarily retreat to the sheltered comforts the passenger seat of the pickup truck has to offer. This is crap! I hate the weather, I hate the track. If I wanted to get blown by the winds, I’d join the damn Navy! (This sounds way more appropriate coming from a scruffy looking, muscular, bald dude with swallow tattoos on his forearms.) 1.8 miles of redneck rough ridin’. Hell, they have better (free) roads in South Carolina, and that’s saying something.

NSS Track Map

Finally, I get to look at some visual aids...

But I still don’t regret coming, despite of the weather reports. I just wish my first race weekend would have started a little more glorious on a picture perfect day… at BARBER!


Rain? Get Stuffed!

I am so done with rain! I show rain the finger! Rain, kiss my pipe, you don’t scare me (much)!

I have said that riding in rain has become “nothing but a thing” anymore. People who ask me if I rode into work today, when they’ve obviously seen my bike sitting in the parking lot getting the redneck bike wash treatment, think I’m completely nuts when I nod a “Yes, I did. I have to, I don’t own a car,” in response to their question. I don’t even know why they bother asking anymore. I certainly didn’t push the mother here. How else would it get here? This makes me think that all they are trying to tell me is, via small talk of the stating-the-obvious variety, that they believe me to be completely mental and I should really get a grip and trade the thing in for a car. Please! When hell freezes over; then, maybe, we’ll begin negotiations.

I have gotten the “don’t rely on that” hand-waving dismissive “you-are-soon-dead” reactions from veteran bikers in response to my standard reply of “Rain is just God’s way of giving us clean roads and 80% traction.” Yeah, I’m such a squid! Please bury me just like that dude who reaped Internet fame of epic proportions posthumously by his family posing his dead corpse on his sport bike. Yeah. Bury my ass sitting on my Beemer in a race tuck, dragging knee around a… wait. I want to be cremated and turned into a diamond for Mr. Slow to wear as a necklace… on second thought, scratch that.

It came to me the other morning, when I had an incident on the way home from work, that I have pretty much experienced all the major “Holy Hell” categories of Crap Weather Riding 101 and 201. I have lost traction both front and rear; fishtailed; slid it sideways; almost lost it by putting my foot down in an oil-water mixture at an intersection; have slipped on lane markings; slid across a patch of ice on a curved onramp; been cut off while turning right at an intersection and had to get on the brakes so hard while leaned over, I was sure that I couldn’t possibly remain on my contact patches; I have had to fly by instruments alone, it was raining so hard at night, the water couldn’t evacuate fast enough off my face shield, and the lights refracted off the road surface so badly, I was basically blind. One thing I hadn’t experienced yet.

I was on my way home from work, I was tired and it was raining pretty steadily. It had been raining all night and most of the previous day, which meant I had at least clean roads, since most of the junk had already been washed off the road surface. I was passing most everybody, as is my custom when it’s raining. Two reasons I have for this, one of which is that most seem to want to creep along below or right at the speed limit, which is something I really don’t get. Maybe those people need new wiper blades and some new tires? This is a far cry from the 15+ over they usually employ to get to work on time. No bother, this does me just fine. It’s not like I want to hang out around cars and trucks, they spray more dirty water into my path, limit my sight distance even more and make it a generally unpleasant experience. Traffic in crap weather is unpredictable to me, I rather not attempt to read them for fear I might be wrong. I take the “the more distance between us the better” approach when it’s unfavorable in the weather department. But I digress.

I was in the left lane roughly doing my usual standard speed of speed limit +9, traffic was extremely light. I see a bus up ahead and once I get close I decide to speed up, which is also a standard practice of mine. Big vehicle getting passed by small vehicle makes small vehicle go through the danger zone in a hurry. I don’t like to hang out. As I am roughly two-thirds of the way past the bus, I hit standing water in the left wheel track. Using the left wheel track is also standard practice when passing huge vehicles. I recognize the danger at about the same time I feel both of my tires “driving up onto glass.” I really have no other way to describe the feedback I got through my tires. It felt different. Not as “rough”, not as “connected”. Like being picked up? As if my contact patches felt smaller. I don’t really know how to put this in words. At that fraction of a second my heart was in my throat, beating fiercely. I had the bus spraying a fine mist of dirty water all over me, to my immediate left was the concrete barrier separating the westbound lanes from the ones going east. I lose it either way, I’m toast. I was staring down the gauntlet into the possibility of coming out the other side in the World of Pain.

I felt the rear give first. I practically had to scream at my tendons not to move and snap the throttle shut. Boy, did I want to. I’m glad the thought of hitting the brakes never raised its ugly head; kind of proud of that one, if I may take this opportunity and pat my own self on the back. This is the first time I was scared while riding in the rain in a long time. I didn’t like it. I told myself out loud, so I could hear it and believe it: “Keep calm! Easy does it!” and with that I pinned the throttle and rode it out, while looking way ahead into the distance, trying to ignore the kill zones to my left and right. The whole incident couldn’t have lasted much longer than a few seconds, if that long. Time always seems to slow down when stuff happens.

Hydroplaning is only fun on a wakeboard at the beach.

I'm over it!

I laugh at the face of danger! ...after I throw up in my mouth a little. OK, it's really more like a nervous giggle... screw you, rain! Get stuffed!


I’m Sliding In The Rain

What in the devil is wrong this morning? Traffic is pretty heavy, but moving along at almost the pace of a Georgia Super Speeder, which is highly unusual for a Wednesday on both counts. It’s raining, has been pretty much all night from the looks of things. I’m running late, so I’m pretty much in a hurry. Business as usual on I-20. I’m passing most everybody, a few get to pass me. Yeah, you’ve read right. It’s a privilege, one which can be revoked at any second. 😉

Once I merge onto I-520E it’s a different story, as is evident at the merge point of the two opposing I-20 ramps feeding into I-520E. It takes some seriously creative riding to get in between all the slowasses, the hesitant mergers, the leadfoots, the space holders, the distractedly engaged, and the mobile jabber junkies. Yes, I have categorized the crowd by their default behaviors when driving becomes more complicated and the brain starts running the risk of overloading. Inconveniences such as intersections, on/off ramps, cloverleaf ramps, and merge points are all prime spots to observe the Common Cager (incola communis rotae cavea) in their natural habitat.

I make my way towards another day filled with opportunity of earning Pirate Coin (read: I’m going to work to make the bike payment) through the succession of merge points that is Augusta’s own scaled-down version of Atlanta’s infamous Spaghetti Junction or Columbia’s suicidal Malfunction Junction. After slicing and dicing and duking it out with a cager crowd that is denser, faster, and more aggressive than usual, which makes the situation also more unpredictable than is the norm; I finally find myself some empty-enough asphalt I can settle into and go with the flow of traffic.

My bliss, however, doesn’t last long, and as the wild bunch behind me catches up, I find myself surrounded again. Damn! I hate this. I can’t stand being around this much metal. That goes against my rule of riding as if invisible. I don’t like being caged in (pun intended), it gives me few to no outs and not enough time to react to set an escape in motion if it became necessary. I like to control the situation. And I do that with the throttle.

I have planned my escape and am working my way towards the freedom that is a much airier stretch of asphalt not too far ahead. As I see an opening to escape the imminent clutches of a semi-truck spraying me with grimy rainwater its tires sling off the road surface and a tailgater in an SUV, and risking getting stuck there, I take it and quickly change lanes, squeeze in between two cars, ride the left side of the white line, then gas it a little too enthusiastically to take advantage of the next opening. I slide the rear wheel, it starts stepping out to the right. I don’t even have to think about it; nor is it an event that registers even the slightest twinges of panic in me, nor does it upset the Pirate, as is evident by the DTC light remaining dark. A simple acknowledgement, followed by trained action.

I pin the throttle, then dive left with a quick nudge on the left grip, aiming for the left wheel track of the left lane; as I do, the rear wheel hooks back up. I straighten myself out, pass the semi truck, and after one more set of rolling road blocks (two cars pacing each other slightly offset, taking up both lanes and backing up impatient caffeine-deprived, half-asleep morning commuters for miles) I am finally free. I feel like putting on blue face paint and showing my arse while yelling “Freedom!”.

I was kind of proud of myself. I smiled. It wasn’t too long ago where I would have had to pull over and dig out the emergency pair of replacement panties. And here I was complaining not too long ago that I can’t improve my skills on public roads anymore. That street riding has become mostly mundane, boring and uninspiring. I guess I underestimated the power of constant and conscious repetition of isolated skill practice. I definitely have increased my crap weather riding skills and my confidence must be solidified.

I noticed another thing, I have reached a milestone of sorts in my riding: I haven’t been singing in the rain. That means I am not nervous or anxious anymore and the need for intense concentration has passed. I still sing on occasion when I drag knee though, I’m pretty sure of it. 😉

As a side note: I’m rolling Dunlop Sportmax Q2s, the rear in Hayabusa size (a leftover from some long-ago tire sale): 190/50 as opposed to 190/55. I can reach the ground better in my race boots, but I think I lost 6 mph off the top end… *giggles* and my speedo reads about 5-7 miles slow now. Oh well… it won’t be on there forever. I really do love those tires. I think I might even like them better than the Metzeler Racetec Interact K3 (K3s are medium-hard) that came on the bike; and they are cheaper, too.


It’s Too Soon For #TooDamnCold

I’ve been living in north-eastern Georgia for nine years. To my recollection, it hardly ever gets below freezing and when it does it’s usually in January. We’re kicking this year’s winter off right. First we have temps in the 60s -70s at the end of November. Next thing, it’s 24°F on my ride home from work. The heated vest and gloves are on full blast and I can’t even feel the heat. Luckily, I can’t feel the cold either. I suppose that was an even thermodynamic exchange there. This week the lows are going to be around 17°F with highs in the upper 30s to low 40s. WTF? It’s way too cold way too soon.

I hate winter. Luckily, when it’s below freezing it hardly ever rains around here. No snow to worry about, which is good, because when it snows and it sticks, I’m SOL. I got stuck at work one night last year and had to camp out in the office and then work another 12-hour shift the next day. Yummy! I’m sure I looked and smelled heavenly. Hahahaha. I did, however, have the foresight to anticipate the possibility and had hubby drop off an inflatable mattress, blanket, pillow, PJs, and various toiletries that very afternoon on his way to work.

I don’t even know how I made it through my first winter with all my fingers intact. I was riding on my Harley Sportster wearing a fleece hoodie under a dress leather jacket and knitted fashion gloves under my fingerless Harley pair. I ordered the riding gear when I bought the bike in late September, but it was backordered. Didn’t get the gloves until mid-December and the matching riding jacket to my overpants didn’t get to my door until March or so. Sucked.

Snow-Covered Hayabusa

Snowed in at work: A snow-covered Hayabusa is about as funny as a dude wearing a banana hammock!

My second winter was spent riding my Suzuki Hayabusa. That was a cold-ass ride compared to the Harley, even after the install of a Double Bubble windscreen, but I coped (more or less). After coming home one morning with hubby finding me curled up on the floor in the fetal position, still wearing all my gear sans helmet, and my thawing, screaming bloody murder, achy hands shoved into my crotch, crying in pain; the “rolling it old school” era came to an end. Hubby insisted on buying heated gear for me. I had hooked him up for Christmas with a Gerbing’s heated jacket liner, glove liners and a dual temp controller. He hooked me up for my birthday in return.

My third winter will be spent on the S1000RR. The coldest of all my rides thus far. Must have something to do with the way the fairings guide the air currents around me. I swear, the Hayabusa felt “warmer” overall, except for the ass. For some reason, I always came home with frozen butt cheeks, a problem I don’t seem to have on the Double-R. But it’s all subjective, isn’t it? I am not ready for winter, I hate the gloomy light, the short days, the cold temps, and all that comes with it.

I’ve tucked my front tire more often than I care to admit publicly, my front end feels like a tank in turns until I give the fork oil a workout and my tires never really get up to proper operating temp. The ride is simply not as much fun this time of year. Probably because my traction envelope has shrunk to the size of “responsible adult”. And speaking of the front end tucking, now I get to go out in this crap weather of cold with even colder wind gusts and change my front tire, since it’s well…. past its useful life and has been for quite a few hundred miles now. I just have been too lazy, but now I’ve procrastinated that one way past the point of acceptable risk, considering the addition of “cold” and “hard” to “flat” and “slick”. I am so looking forward to busting my knuckles when I’m partially hypothermic. Yeah, what a hoot! I would like a garage, please.

I really hate winter. Riding becomes perfunctory and purpose driven. All function, no (real) fun.

Still better than taking the car!


A Lesson In Traction Control

I finally made it happen. And it wasn’t as glorious or dramatic as I expected it to be. As a matter of fact, the whole affair left me feeling a little miffed. Left with the thought: “I so could have handled that myself!” I was on my way home from work, the roads were wet, but clean, since it had rained pretty much all day. It was still a little drizzly, but it ain’t nothing but a thing anymore. The light is green and I take the left onto the onramp that leads uphill to dump us working stiffs onto I-520W to make our merry way home at an average rate of about 70 in a 55. The S1000RR’s stock tires, which are Metzeler Racetec K3 Interact (K3 are medium-hard) are confidence inspiring in the rain. I have developed trust in their crap weather performance rather quickly. Not even the Dunlop Sportmax Q2 rear that I rolled on the Hayabusa earned my trust this easily, and I loved them puppies so much, I still have two full sets stacked in my hallway closet. (Anybody want to buy some rubber?) Anyhoo, I was making the left turn a little faster than I normally would in this kind of weather, and decided to throw an upshift in the mix, while still coming out of the lean and accelerating briskly up the ramp. Of course, I miss the shift. Doh! Blip. Click. Rip. Clunk. The rear hops and steps out and the DTC light flashes on, and the hopping and sliding stops immediately and the bike is back online and continues its accelerated journey up the ramp. This happened in a split second. As soon as I realized what was going on it was over. My muscles didn’t even have time to take their accustomed corrective action that would have been necessary on The Fat Lady. Wow. How unceremonious that whole ordeal was. And here I was kind of scared of it and dreading the moment it would come on. Yeah, I screwed up and “Arr! Arr! Matey.” said The Pirate and put things right. I was in ‘Rain’ mode. I think I’m done with ‘Rain’ mode in wet weather. I think I’m going to leave it in ‘Race’ mode from now on. I like it the best of all the modes that don’t require the coded plug, besides, the Hayabusa never saw anything but ‘A’ mode after the break-in. Given, the ‘Busa’s modes only flattened the power curve; the S1000RR’s modes change DTC and RaceABS behavior and only restrict power delivery in ‘Rain’ mode. But for some reason I find it easier to finesse the throttle in ‘Race’ mode, even though the manual says it’s more aggressive (I think they used the word “direct”) than ‘Sport’ in throttle response. *shrugs*