Michelle, whom I met on Facebook, invited me for a ride through the Chattahoochee National Forest to show me around her “neck of the woods.” We had a blast on two wheels. It was a great weekend filled with good company, good food, good beer and beautiful roads. Michelle is a most gracious hostess and is an excellent motorcycle rider. She helped me “reset” my brain to enable me to enjoy street riding again for its own merits and with its own set of challenges. In other words, I had to retrain my attitude. Street riding has been a fairly frustrating experience for me for the past year and a half. I couldn’t enjoy the street because my brain was stuck at the track. This is a dangerous problem to develop. If you find you cannot separate and compartmentalize the differences between racing and street riding, you’ll soon find yourself in a world of pain. It’s really a little like playing Russian Roulette, but with bullets in most chambers.
The first racing school had cured me of such silliness as trying to put my knee down on public highways and practicing racing technique on curvy roads. There comes a point in a rider’s skill development where the street isn’t the proper place to learn anymore. The focus shifts from trying to “be faster” to honing your risk management skills and collision avoidance. There is a reason why a lot of racers eventually quit riding on the street. I fell into the trap without even realizing it until it was way too late.
After spending an entire day at the Kevin Schwantz School learning and practicing my racing skill set, I jumped on my S1000RR and headed the seven miles back to my hotel. I felt claustrophobic and slow, even though my average speed hadn’t changed. But after being at a racetrack where you do not have to worry about such things as Jersey Barriers or pavement conditions or opposing traffic, everything I saw around me became a possible death trap. I calmed down. At first.
Eventually, the lines between track riding and street riding blurred once more; and even though I hadn’t fully reverted back to my former level of hooliganism, I was still racing, although with less confidence. Which was a good thing. It kept me diving into blind corners tempting the fates.
If you are riding at the edge of your skill and your traction, eventually you will lose and most of the time that means a very high probability that you may not live to tell your story the next time you round a blind turn and find yourself nose-to-nose with that car violating the double-yellow line to take the “race line” through the turn. This means possible death for you, especially in the mountains where there’s a wall on one side and a ravine on the other with no real place to go. It means a whole load of paperwork for them; not to mention you’ve just ruined their day.
Something had to give. I was intellectually acutely aware of this. But I still couldn’t refrain from “redneck road racing” for the most part. The frustrations with the limitation of street riding soon became manifested in such a way that I couldn’t even enjoy riding anymore. At one point, after losing my job, I had told my husband just to sell my bike and be done with it. He became irritated. Maybe he didn’t understand what I was going through; maybe he thought I was getting down on myself because of the financial distress my unemployment caused. That was part of it. A small part of it. My problem, however, ran much deeper than just simply trying to make ends meet with less money in the bank. I was subconciously looking for a way out. I knew what I was doing would spell disaster in the long run. I knew that street riding requires a completely different skill set than track riding. I knew that practicing racing technique had no place off the racetrack. I knew. My brain knew. My soul kept flying.
I behave when I’m in a group, even if it is just with one other rider. I am courteous and attuned to other riders’ comfort levels. I make it a point not to create an environment that breeds competitiveness and the pressures of trying to keep up. It never has led to anything good for anybody involved. It’s one of those things. Nothing ever happens. Until that one time… But I have lost my “street eyes”. Where before I knew what a proper following distance looked like and managed to keep such a distance no matter what speed or how curvy the road, since I scanned ahead and made early adjustments, now I find it of no concern when someone dives into a curve behind me glued to my tail section. And I have no problem shoving my nose up someone else’s pipe either. This creates that peer-pressured environment that I seek so hard to avoid. Never mind, that I know I can stay well within my lane and not run into the person in front of me. What exactly are they thinking about me being back there? What position am I putting them in? At best, they don’t care just like I don’t; at worst they get scared, lose their concentration and do something that causes them to wipe out. Who’s fault is it? Technically the person who lost control is at fault, they call it “failure to negotiate a turn”. In my eyes, though, I am the one who put them in the situation to begin with. Hence, I am at fault. But that’s the way I think.
But when is too close too close? That is the question. If you follow someone and they crashed for one reason or another and you couldn’t help but get involved in their crash, you’re following too close. Optimally you shouldn’t be diving into a corner before the person in front of you has exited the curve in question and is well on their way into the straight part of the road. In a lot of cases you don’t even know when that is, since you can’t even see the apex (for those of you who don’t ride: the middle of the turn, where corner entry becomes corner exit, the point where slowing down turns into speeding up). Even if you could stop in time to avoid becoming involved in a crash, is the person behind you capable of doing the same? It’s a tricky proposition to brake when leaned over and it takes finesse and knowledge of motorcycle physics and how all these forces interacting with each other affect available traction and your continued success of staying on your tires rather than sliding on hard parts.
I used to get to “Point B” and people could be overheard talking about what they’ve seen; how pretty that waterfall was or how cute the fawn looked grazing in that ditch. I get there, usually ahead of the pack, saying: “What scenery?!? And where the heck are we anyway?”
I am well on my way to regain my proper (and safer) street game, but I have yet a ways to go. But Michelle showed me that yes, you can have fun on the street without breaking the sound barrier and risking going to jail. Yes, you can have fun on the street without having to haul triplets down the straight and grabbing a massive handful of front brake lever, throwing in two downshifts and stuffing 999cc into that awesomely banked constant radius right turn. However, when I’m by myself, I tend to get bored and sometimes get caught up in the dance that is negotiating those beautiful curves winding through the mountains. It starts out innocently enough, but the speed seems to steadily mount with every passing curve, as the music moves into the second movement and the dance continues.
It helps to make it a point not to brake for turns, but to adjust one’s speed in such a manner that you can just flow through without even touching the brake lever. It also helps for me to make it a point not to hang off, since remaining center on the bike really does give you that feeling of going faster than you actually are. I can still get my kicks at more reasonable speeds. The problem with riding “in the zone”: if the people behind you are relying on seeing brake lights to know what they need to do, you risk getting a nose up your tail. I don’t rely on brake lights or turn signals. It’s not a good idea anyway. It works fairly well until somebody blows a fuse… or signals one way and then changes their mind without telling you. It can also lead to target fixation. Another bad habit to avoid when riding, since the bike goes where you look.
Last weekend I’ve had the most fun I’ve had on the street in almost two years. The speeds were kept sane, I came home WITH CHICKEN STRIPS and I actually enjoyed some scenery for a change. 🙂
Thank you, Michelle, for being my tour guide.
[First off: Everybody is ok, no body(work) got hurt. Nothing happened. Other than left-over pizza.]
I’m an asshole, and what follows I had coming.
Went on a ride with hubby yesterday. Was beautiful. Gorgeous weather, sunny, low 70s, awesome. Spring is in the air. FINALLY. Needless to say, on a day like this, a girl can only keep the right wrist under control for so long before she starts getting antsy. We’re cruising along, I’m in the lead. I’m sure hubby just wants to target-fixate on my ass while we’re out enjoying ourselves, for no other reason. He’s always complaining about ‘having to keep up’, that his bike just can’t, or some such thing. Should trade that Kaw in for a Zook if it’s that much of a problem, but then what am I going to do with my junk when we go on trips? After all, I can’t be bothered with it, luggage corners like crap and introduces drag. ;P Anyway, at one point I’m getting bored with the traffic and decide to pass the three-car caravan that’s hindering my progress. They’re going speed limit +5, but I hate looking at cages, I like the view of the open road better… I’d rather have them look at my ass, too; at least for the five seconds they have to make out any of the details. I bide my time, until I come upon a nice little straight stretch of road, coast is clear, no intersections, and I rip it. After overtaking the cars, I take my time slowing back down, this is way too much fun and the road is still devoid of traffic, which means no cops either. I slow back down to speed limit +10. Hubby is nowhere to be seen. Where did he go? I thought he was right behind me. Oh well, he knows where we’re going and there’s construction on the dam, so he’ll be catching up in no time. He does. We turn into the visitor’s center parking lot and take a few moments to enjoy the nice weather. Perfect, really. We sit on the wall, just hanging out when we both decide we’re starving and need to go find a place to eat. Ah, we should really eat at home, but we’re both too lazy to cook. With that, the suggestion of popping a veggie lasagna in the oven is dismissed. What’s one more time, eh? I’m slowly eating my way out of what hubby calls my ‘Turbo Fund’. After being a girl about it and changing my mind like five times we settle on the ‘Mellow Mushroom’, a groovy little chain pizza joint, with a few great vegetarian options for me, because most of the other places are on the wrong side of town and hubby doesn’t feel like practicing using the friction zone three miles down Washington Road. We pull out, I’m in the lead yet again, we end up behind a gaggle of cars, and I change the plan. I decide to go through the Sumter National Forest for a quick little detour. Of course, two of the cars in front of me have the same damn idea. Shit. Now, I’m not about to let these people ruin my run through the loop going the speed limit. No. No. No. I pass them in a no-passing zone (but the whole damn road is one ‘huge we-had-a-surplus-of-yellow-paint’ stupid no-passing zone) and get my two-wheeled groove on. I usually do 70-80 through here, since that’s a nice little compromise between going to jail and still getting enough lean angle in the curves to actually know you’re leaning. I’m taking it easy today, because I’m not wearing my leathers. I don’t feel right when I don’t wear my chest/back protector and my leathers. Kind of mellows me out, I suppose. I figure Joe knows the route and instead of waiting for him at the one turn-off the loop has, I keep going. Big mistake. But I come to that. When I get to the place where the loop hooks back up to the main highway I left earlier during my change of plans, I pull to the side, stick it in neutral and wait for hubby to put in an appearance. As the minutes tick by I’m starting to get worried. 15 minutes later I’m sending texts and am trying to call him. Nothing. Of course, that would be appropriate, since he’s on his bike. My worry deepens into a nervous fear and my initial ‘he must have missed the turn-off’ changes into visions of him crashing. I keep telling myself that this is paranoia, since he is a good rider, has years of experience (unlike me) and is safety-minded. He must have missed the turn. Now I’m torn between backtracking and staying put. Two people trying to find each other while moving around hardly ever works out. But after five more minutes of that, I can’t contain myself any longer. The paranoia is getting the better of me. I finally realize I can check on his position using my BlackBerry with Google Latitude, I get my phone back out and load it up. It puts his ‘dot’ on I-20. WTF? I keep checking, but it’s not moving. That can’t be right. Maybe it’s an accuracy thing. I check my own ‘dot’, no it’s fairly accurate for me. It puts me pretty much where I am. Now the paranoia is latching onto the fact that his position isn’t changing. Shit. He’s in a ditch somewhere! All reason overridden, I hop on the bike, make a u-turn and head back the way I came. I’m hauling ass. I have to keep reminding myself to slow down. I keep checking for signs of a wreck… I keep fighting the thought with reason, not very successfully, I might add. By the time I get to the 90-degree corner I’m in 2nd gear doing 35. Shit, girl! Get yourself under control. I make my way, at a more reasonable speed, to the aforementioned turn-off and pull over to the edge of the road. I get my phone back out to check if Joe’s responded to my messages to let me know where he’s at. Nothing. Nada. Shit! I send two more desperate messages. They don’t go through. Crap. Of course, it finally dawns on me that there wouldn’t be any coverage in a national forest; but only after paranoid visions of a trashed BlackBerry in the grass, cracked blank screen… Get it together, girl! You are NOT making any sense. My paranoia of a dead hubby is alternated with visions of him being red-hot mad at me for violating the rule of ‘you wait where you turn off’. I had fucked this up royally by assuming he knew the loop and where to turn. He’s done it once and we were going the OTHER way. I sit there contemplating whether to turn left and backtrack to ‘last known good’ or to turn right to see if he’s missed the turn, or to wait. Waiting, I’ve proven isn’t working. Turning left is paranoia. With that I put the bike in gear and turn right. I can’t keep it together any longer, I’m bawling. I’m passing people, I’m doing 90+ in a 45. For once, I’m not worried about cops. I don’t give a shit. I’m mad at myself, for causing me to be in this situation to begin with and I’m scared as hell. Bring it on, coppers! Maybe you can help me find the only person in my life who really matters to me. I’ll gladly pay for your services in the form of a speeding ticket later, but first FIND HIM! I realize my brain’s still addled, so I try to not pay any mind to my head, but then I realize my stomach is in knots and I’m on the verge of throwing up. This is not the good kind of adrenaline, either. Damn it! I’m doubling the speed limit and can’t even enjoy it. I make it to the convenience store where I hope to find my husband, mad as a hatter, but very well alive with not a scratch on his bike. I circle, but don’t see him. Fuck! I pull into a parking space and get my phone out once again. I call him. Finally, I hear his voice: “Hello there!” He doesn’t even sound pissed, I think to myself, as I come to the realization of what this means! I’m happier than I don’t know what, the stress surges from my body, and I barely suppress the urge to get off the bike and do a lunatic happy dance in front of a bunch of innocent bystanders. “Where are you” – “At the Mellow Mushroom.” I sigh in relief, and reply: “I’ll be right there.” With that I hang up, shove my phone back in its holster on my belt and peel out of there like a shot. Now I’m in a hurry to see him. Good gawd, woman. Get your hormone levels checked, the mix may be running a tad bit testosterone rich.
Once I get to the ‘Shroom, we have palaver. Hubby’s rightfully pissed, but he contains his displeasure with my latest foible. He was apparently going through a similar experience than I was. He was checking ditches, too. ☹ And also states, that with the way I ride, he’s got more reason, too. Ouch! He also is not happy, because he ended up going several clutch-hand cramp-inducing fun-miles on Washington Road to get to the joint. Then he pauses. “What the hell were you doing going 130 on a backroad?!?” I’m dumbfounded; he is obviously referring to my passing those three cars on the road to the dam. “Uh.” – He still looks at me sternly, waiting for my answer with that “and it better be good” air of anticipation. I find my spunk: “How the hell would you know how fast I was going?” He still looks at me and I think I might have overstepped it here, considering the discussion we’ve just had, which ended in me apologizing and sitting there kind of glum and guilt-ridden, sipping on my diet pop. Then he does that thing, he does… it’s in his eyes mostly, and I know we’re cool again, as he says, still stern of voice, but his game’s up. “Because I was doing 115 and you were still pulling away from me.”
Gawd, I love this man! (even tho he’s slo)
“There’s no fucking way I can keep up with you on that bike of yours! Good gawd, woman. I dropped two gears and was all the way open and thought to myself: “Ya right, forget it.” I smile at him sweetly. Then decide to add insult to injury: “I was in 5th, buddy, 5th.” =D
A lesson learned in riding etiquette. Definitely.
Within perfect trust
He gave her the gift of speed.
Now he can’t catch her.
#senryu #MissBusaHT #progression #gift @TaildManx #veritas