Fear This! NOT!

Aren’t you afraid? That’s a question I get asked by a lot of people, especially women when the subject of motorcycles comes up. The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no would do the question justice. But trying to explain this to someone who has never been on a motorcycle or has never raced one around a track is not easy. The answer (in its oversimplified form) is usually along the lines of “I was scared to death when I first learned and almost gave up a few times. You just have to work through it if you want to keep riding. It gets easier with time.”

I have met a lot of people on and off the bike who have told me that the only thing holding them back is their fears, that they would love to learn to ride. I tell them to buy used and go for it. And of course to take a formal beginner’s course to learn the basics and assuage their fears to a more manageable level.

Those of you who know me personally, or have known me online for some time, or have read this blog front to back know: I have an almost crippling fear of public embarrassment. Add to that, an almost intolerable case of “performance anxiety” aka stage fright. I’m alright as long as I am by myself, but add an observer with a clip board or a crowd of people for an audience and I freak the hell out, internally. I have learned to cope with these fears. Motorcycling helped me a lot to overcome the “social phobia” aspects of my fear spectrum. It’s made me more confident overall. I don’t know why. Probably because it takes a certain level of cockiness to keep one’s riding confidence up even when something bad happens or almost happens. Another thing experienced riders know: Loss of confidence leads to more mistakes and ramps up the risk; alternatively overconfidence can also garner disastrous results.

Short and simple: Fear can kill. Especially if your instincts kick in. Many of the higher skilled riders know this. And it isn’t something that is a matter of brawn or testicular fortitude or a lack of life-preservation on the individual’s part. “(S)he’s fucking nuts.” isn’t the explanation. Not really. Not for riders who consistently ride on the edge and manage to keep their machines shiny side up. The nut jobs or crazies, the “fearless”, are separated by the skilled by the wrecks-per-mile-ridden ratio, add to that equation: average speed maintained. Simplified (overly), but true in essence.

Crashing is part of the high-speed game. We are human, we will screw up; our machines may experience mechanical failures at the worst possible moment; somebody else’s crash may entangle and cause loss of control. Every time you ease the clutch out you are putting your life on the line. This risk is compounded on the street. The track, even with sometimes insane corner speeds and massive lean angles, is still the safer place to be with less risk of a wreck causing loss of life; also the severity of injuries sustained is usually less than those incurred on the street. It’s a controlled environment, everyone’s going the same direction, there are “rules of engagement”, there are people watching and informing the riders of hazards, and the entire racing surface and surrounding areas are designed and built to minimize risk to rider and machine. Yes, riders still die. Yes, riders still get severely injured. However, more often than not they walk away with nothing but a few bruises and a hurt ego. Different game on the street altogether. But that stuff really is for another blog post.

Honda CBR600RR

The CBR and I do not get along: I had an incident in a corner that made the rear step out on me and I almost lost the bike, but was able to save it. However, it robbed me of my confidence and I couldn't bring myself to trust the bike, but made myself ride it for two more sessions anyway in an effort to overcome this silly fear that was robbing me of my confidence in my riding skills and hence killing my speed and introducing more rider errors in the process.

Let’s refocus on fear. Aren’t you afraid? Yes, sometimes. When I first started learning I was so nauseous every time I put on my gear to ride, I was on the verge of vomiting. My whole body felt like it was shaking on the inside and I seemed to be slightly short of breath. But I managed. I had to work through it, because I had to get to work and the motorcycle was my ticket. I had no excuse to chicken out and take the car. Not a luxury I had at my disposal. And I’m glad for it, because I probably would have quit on several occasions had the bike been just a choice. Eventually my skills progressed through constant education and skill training that the fear became less and less until one day I noticed that I wasn’t afraid at all anymore. Riding had become like driving was for me. Nothing but a thing, until something happened, of course. And that’s where all that skill practice paid off, in emergency situations. Yes, I had to pull over after some close call and calm my after-incidence nerves and racing heart to be able to safely continue on my way a few minutes later, after my blood pressure normalized. Now, I don’t even stop anymore. I process and deal with the aftermath of close calls as I keep on going down the road. I am now usually more angry than I am afraid. Sometimes, especially when riding fast or practicing cornering, trying something new or screwing something up which I then have to correct, I still feel the bile of fear rising inside, but I suppress it. I know I can’t afford to lock up. I postpone it until later. That is something I have learned from my own crash. Instead of being more afraid to ride, I am actually more in control of my natural responses that come with fear. I can recognize it sooner and halt the process before my brain tells my body to do something stupid, like getting on the brakes hard while leaned over in a corner already close to the edges of my traction envelope; or snapping the throttle shut, or staring at the very thing that I’d like to avoid. All these are normal human reactions to the stress caused by imminent danger (perceived or real). Our survival instincts kick in and our brain wants to do what it thinks will preserve our life, running purely on instinct; but on a motorcycle all those intuitive reactions are mostly wrong.

Overcoming fear and doing the right thing to keep the motorcycle from crashing is an acquired skill. It is learned behavior. It is muscle memory and applicable knowledge overriding our fears to enable us to give the machine what it needs to do its thing to keep us out of trouble. It takes knowledge in the physics involved in the sport and it takes repetitive training to overcome our natural impulses to save our skin.

My husband once told me, after seeing me run through some twisties on my Hayabusa in northern Georgia, that I make it look so easy and that this is the very fact that scares the hell out of him. He said I looked fearless. He said that sometimes I was leaning so hard he thought I’d drag tailpipe (a sign of things to come?) He said I was so fast he couldn’t even comprehend it and he’d been riding for seven years. I laughed and told him that I almost crapped myself on several occasions when I screwed something up or thought I was going in too fast, was too hard on the brakes, going off line, or forgetting to look through the turn, or simply fixating on one of my reference markers for far too long.

Fear is inevitable in motorcycling. To one degree or another we all experience it on more or less frequent occasion. The only thing you can do to combat your fears and minimize the effect they have on the probability to get yourself out of trouble unharmed: Work through them, armed with knowledge and application of skill. There are plenty of good books on the subject and formal skill training is also available for different skill levels.

Suzuki GSX-R600

I'm a Gixxer girl. The GSX-R600 is but a baby Hayabusa. I'm used to it, I put over 17K miles on the clock riding a Hayabusa. I trust this machine, I know what it needs, know what it is telling me. I'm much more confident here, as is evident by my body position. Not as tentative, more focused on the task, rather than the machine.

Fear should not be crippling, fear should be a tool you use to gauge your progress, pinpoint your weaknesses, and let it be the governor to modulate the inherent human tendency to engage in squidly (unsafe, ill-advised but oh-so-fun) behaviors. Does “let’s see what she can do?” sound familiar? Fear can lead to a definite savings in road rash and touch-up paint if you can manage it properly and use it to your advantage.


The Dingleberry Chronicles: Today Is A Good Day To Die! NOT!!!

Good freaking GAWD! What the HELL is WRONG with you people!!!! Learn how to drive you motherhumpers! Now, with that out of the way, maybe I can calm down. ARRRGH! Ok, maybe now. SHIT! Nope, still not there. Gawd-freakin’-dammit I am not ready to be a grease spot on the expressway! FUCK! Ok. I think I got it. *inhales deeply, then exhales slowly*

I narrowly escaped being sideswiped by some fucktard in a full-sized pickup truck! I suppose the necessity of him making his exit was more important than my life. I couldn’t believe it. I was in the right lane on the 45-mph starting section of the Calhoun Expressway. I was rolling at a pretty good clip, so there’s no way I annoyed some speed demon on four wheels who is late for whatever-the-hell. I knew he was there, but didn’t expect him to speed up and cut me off to make the exit ramp that I was inconveniently blocking with my soft tissue and plastic parts. I can still see it, first the wheel caught my attention, then my vision came partially blocked by this huge front fender. I could make out the details of his headlight and turn signals. The chrome bumper with the black accent trim. Red. A nice red. Like a fire truck. My reverie (WTH woman?!?) is interrupted by the realization that if nothing happens here, our vectors will intersect very shortly, resulting in my Beemer’s nose being buried in his front wheel and me probably being high-sided into the left lane or even into the concrete divider, or worse, over it. My brain ceases all higher function. Snap! I realize that my throttle is being ripped wide open by my hand, I notice in amazement the bike quickly diving right then straightening back out as the S1000RR hurls itself forward. It’s like I’m watching myself from the inside, but using somebody else’s eyes. A discernible detachment. Like a first-person perspective, but not my own. As I realize that I have narrowly escaped (I don’t ever want to find out how close I came to certain death today) I experience snapping back into my body, I let go of the throttle, crank my torso around to my right and give the asshole, who is now making his way down the off-ramp, an enthusiastic one-fingered wave. Then I lose myself again. I faintly notice that my heart is hammering hard against my chest. I swear I can actually hear its staccato-like beats. My hand returns to its place on the throttle grip and I run. Run for my life. I can’t stop, I take the first curve of the expressway at almost knee-dragging speed. I’m not sure how fast I am going, but I’m sure it’s a little over the speed limit, which has increased to 55 mph. I think I’m going to throw up. I slowly return to myself and get my throttle hand under control and center myself back on the bike. I am surprised how quickly my systems return to normal, but my spirit is still preoccupied with the what ifs. I’m still feeling a little weak in the stomach. A few miles down the road, a wind gust picks up my front tire and sets it down slightly to the left. Holy crap! I don’t need THIS right now. I really don’t. As I make my way through a curve, another gust hits my broadside and the bike feels like it is being picked up. The suspension partially unloads on BOTH ends! How the hell is THAT possible? I’m running wide but compensate by more lean and a pinned throttle. Now I’m on the verge of having one of those girly freakouts. I’m putting as much weight over the front end as I possibly can without actually sitting on the tank and continue on. I need comfort food! Now! I decide to get back on the Interstate and hit a Mickey D’s at a nearby exit. I hate Mc Donald’s, but for some reason it is where I need to be. I need cookies, hot chocolate and some nasty fries. As I accelerate up the ramp and crest the top while merging left, another gust of wind hits me with full frontal force and causes my front end to get extremely light. I’m still on the gas, and no doubt have no contact on the front wheel. As I go over the crest of the ramp and into the traffic lanes I feel like I’m flying. Literally… I think I just caught some air, consequently I also end up in the left lane a heck of a lot quicker as anticipated. Luckily that is where I was headed anyway and there was no traffic to give me a second chance to kill myself today. I’m sick of this. I want to be off this cursed rocket and want to stuff myself with gross fast food.

It’s amazing what muscle memory can do for you to save your ass when your brain has gone bye-bye on a personal holiday. Thanks be to the God of Speed and his most faithful followers, who by printed word, formal instruction, and video tutorial have taught me well. If it wasn’t for you, I’d surely would have been on my way to transcend, to cross over with John Edward, to push up daisies, to meet my maker, to take a dirt nap, to enter the Underworld,…

Today was not a good day to die.


Philosophize This: Life is Crap.

Seriously. How can everything be looking so bright one moment and not nary a half a day later be so damned dark and foreboding. Ok, it’s not THAT bad. Give me a little artistic license here, will you? After I just went on and on about how you can’t take no for an answer in life. After saying that, no matter what, you need to just keep pushing at it. Have I already forgotten my own lesson? Ah! In the moment of weakness. Bleary and hopeless. It’s not even anything the world has done to me. Really. I am (again) frustrated by my own limitations, and depending on how severe I perceive such limitation to be, the harder my happy-go-lucky attitude falls on its ass. So I moan and groan, I mope around, feel sorry for myself, then I take a nap. The world looks different after a nap. Maybe I was just exhausted (I’m having a problem with fatigue lately) or maybe I just had one of those “moments of the female kind” (I’m having a problem with mood swings lately, too). When my brain is wide awake and ready to roll and the body says “Fuck You!” I get a little irritated. And when this happens to me in rapid succession with three different things, I get positively annoyed and am ready to make anyone in a 50-foot radius suffer the consequences. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! The Wrath of Busa. I’ve been dealing with mood swings, fatigue, and irritability since last winter (just to mention a few of the things that are plaguing my general happiness). First I thought the family drama that was going down at that time, had me singing the Blues. Eventually, I went — begrudgingly, I might add — to see my doc. After explaining what I was going through, he put me on an antidepressant, which I took myself off of not too long ago. I kept telling him, I’m not depressed. I’m fucking happy! Or I should be, but I can’t enjoy my life, because I’ve no energy, that I am so fatigued that all I can do most days is work and sleep (never mind eating). He doubled my dosage, I flushed the crap down the toilet three days later. I think this to be hormonal. Yup. My doctor told me (at an earlier visit) that this is normal for a woman my age (and the treatment is the same, hence the antidepressant) WTF? Dude, you are so not helping. That right there makes me wanna go perimenopausal on your heinie! But I digress…

My Kryptonite: Three personal failures in a row. My fragile ego can’t handle that. I get my proverbial panties in a wad, and it takes me a while to de-wedgie and find my balance and inner peace again and with that the usual can-do attitude returns as well. I’m also my own worst critic, deathly afraid of public embarrassment, and way too shy. (Quit laughing in the back, I heard that!) I make myself do stuff despite my fears and paranoid premonitions, but I also beat myself up over not being perfect. I don’t go into something unprepared. I bone up. I hate surprises and the unknown. I want to know what’s coming. Be mentally and emotionally prepared for it. Be ready. So when the time comes, my educated brain can tell my wimpy heart to go stuff it and I am then free to do what needs to be done. That’s how I roll. I also avoid doing things on my own. Hubby (and some of my friends) call this ‘avoidance strategy’ of mine by its proper name: attack of the common sense. I am frustrated by that, too. That means I have to wait. I’m a “NOW” person. When I have worked something out in my head, I need to put it into action, translate it into physical application. And practice. I’m an academic rather than a hands-on person. Manual stuff takes me forever to learn and frustrates me easily. It makes me feel stupid. I don’t like that feeling. I really don’t. Luck would have it then that motorcycling is 90% mental, huh? So here we are. I took the long way around, but now you know a little about what makes me tick (or ticks me off). Some of the reason behind why I do the things I do and why most of what I do seems backwards to other people. My husband is frustrated by the way I work. He pisses me off the way he does things. We never wrench together. It’s risk management. We’d be throwing tools at each other in no time and probably end up having a knock-down drag-out brawl in the driveway. His riding style makes me have an almost equal reaction. *Ba Dam — Ching* However, it’s a blast to wash bikes with him, especially when I’m holding the hose. =D

I will put them out there now, the three failures that derailed me and made for a shit day:

  1. 9K race starts freak me out, so do burnouts. I can do either, kinda-sorta, in a sissified version of the real thing, but  I can do neither full-on. I know how to execute, my brain knows and tells my muscles what to do. But I choke. Inhibited for some reason unbeknownst to me. This pisses me off. It’s like the wheelie thing. Not that anybody believes me, but I can’t do a wheelie on purpose. I cannot. I tried. Something inside clicks and that’s that. Muscles will not respond to synaptic input. Same with drifting around corners. Another good example. I can do these things when I’m not planning on doing them. When they happen in the matter of course, I deal to correct, enjoy, and carry on, all the while hollering and screaming inside my helmet, grinning from ear to ear, like a madwoman. I see this as a limitation. Mastery, by definition, requires execution upon demand. #FAIL
  2. I can’t change a tire. I’m not strong enough, don’t have enough ass. I know how to do it, but can’t. Again, I have to wait on somebody to help me. I hate that! Not that I mind help when I’m learning, I appreciate it and embrace any advice and instruction given. I prefer it one-on-one though. I don’t want to learn something new with a bunch of people standing around watching my every move. Goes back to the burnout/race start practice. Husband tells me to go to the track and learn it, people there don’t mind helping the fresh meat out, and nobody is going to make fun of you, if you screw up. You’re learning. Not just no, but hell no! No can-do. Won’t. Will not. It’s hard enough to do something I’ve practiced in front of an audience for the first time. I’ll be so nervous I’ll throw up in my mouth and won’t be able to keep my hands from shaking. But others won’t see that, because I’ve learned to cover it up. Probably another reason why people think stuff comes easy to me and that I’m such a daredevil. But, as always, I digress: Here I have this Metzeler RaceTec K3 rear tire, half off its rim, laughing at me. Taunting me. Sitting there as a testament to two of my most recent of personal failures. At least it has no chicken strips! There’s that. I’m hot. I’m sweaty. I’m getting tired and I must have missed a small, but important detail. However, the more YouTube videos I watch of dudes just getting that second bead started with one tire iron and then popping the whole damn thing off the rim with one swift one-armed jerk like there is nothing to it, the more pissed off I get. aRRgh! And I managed to put two nicks in my rim, even after being so careful and taking proper anti-scratch precautions. And here I was still feeling all good about myself because I had just taken one item of my “Unable To Do That Shit” list: Getting the bike on its stands by myself. That had always freaked me out and yeah, it meant a lot when I was finally able to pull it off on my own without any help whatsoever. So, I’ve wrestled with that piece of infernal rubber off and on all afternoon and the bike sits, dismantled with tools and parts laying about, on my back patio waiting on my husband to bail us out. Every once in a while I go look at it and give it the finger. The thought has occurred to me just to cut the blasted thing off with tin snips. meh. I need to go back to the gym AND get a tire iron with more leverage and a bigger curve at the end. Those rim protectors everybody who reviewed them said were shit will also be procured. See… now that I’ve had a nap, stuff is looking up already and I’m back to trying to solve my problem rather than getting jaded by it.
  3. Finances. Apparently, I suck at them. I hate paying bills, that’s why they are all set to pay themselves automatically. I don’t even want to look at my account balances. Every time I do, it depresses me. It makes me feel like I’m spinning my wheels (no pun intended, re: Fail #1), no matter how cheap we get, there’s always someone who needs to get paid who then resets the savings to zero. It hurts to see my racing fund dwindle. Because with that, I equate the possibility that my dream is not even that, but rather a definite improbability. I know it’s stupid to think that way. My intellect gets that. My heart, however, missed the memo. So, I defeat my own self by just ignoring it all, because I don’t want my mood ruined, but that makes it worse, doesn’t it? If it doesn’t make it worse, it definitely  doesn’t help, that’s for sure. In this case, I need to correct a misaligned attitude, a false sense of perception to the possibility of things. But it’s hard to let this one go. Because I know — I have what it takes (not yet obviously, but I have a damned good foundation to build upon) — but look at the lack of progress in fattening up what I dubbed “The Racing Fund” as just another piece of evidence that I really am off my rocker to even entertain the notion in the first place. The old tendency to “be happy with one’s lot in life and not to aspire beyond one’s station” and with that comes the “who cares, I’ll never make it anyway attitude”. Self-defeatist bullshit, to say the least. It’s a hard one to cope with though. Probably the hardest. As with #1 and #2, I eventually will adapt and overcome. I always do. My need for instant gratification is pretty much the reason why I get down on myself when stuff like this happens. I am a perfectionist, which doesn’t help matters either, but I’m getting better.

Way too deep on way too shallow an issue. Such is the life of a woman entering “The Years of The Bitch”. I really would hate to be my husband for the next, say, two to eight years.