Blood Mountain Scenic Ride

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.


Ditching Plans Leads To A Preoccupation With Ditches

[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


An Acute Case Of The Rocket Crotch

Look at all this roadfaring seafood out here. It must be the Day of the Squid and I was a major participant. Didn’t plan on riding it like a jackass. I was on my way to work, on my day off no less, tooling down the road at speed limit +5, trying to get over being grumpy. This proved a wee bit difficult, however, since I decided to skip real sleep in favor of setting up for the switch back from nights to days. The one time I don’t do my usual thing, the one time I decide to just take a short nap and then get up to work on The Fat Lady so I’ll be nice and sleepy come 9PM… the ONE time… Murphy happens. Murphy. And his asinine law!

5 hours earlier:
My cell rings. It’s a coworker, asking if I could work for her since she was feeling ill and would rather find someone to cover her so she could convalesce. I am her last hope. Here I am, standing in the middle of what probably goes for about $2500 worth of plastics strewn all over my driveway, haven’t had any sleep to speak of, and now have approximately 4.5 hours before I have to badge in and work a 12-hour night. I tell her I don’t know if I can make it due to my present circumstance and that I have no clue how long this is going to take, since it’s my first attempt. She understands, but remains hopeful. I commute to work on my Hayabusa, so I have to get the thing back together before 4:30PM. No sleep for the weary.

I make it. I call her, to let her know and I’m out the door. I close in on the intersection that will dump me onto the ‘Hayabusa Speedway’ (officially known as US-278) with an expedient left turn, and to my delight the light is green, which is a rare occasion. Woohoo! I notice two sport bikes ahead of me in the right lane; they must have been already waiting at the red light. They are ahead of me, leaned into the two-lane turn. The boys are taking it like old coots. I smile. I’m in one of those moods. I get to the turn and I get my lean on and am ready to show them how you ride it like a girl. I’m accelerating out of the turn and pass them in the left lane and get in front of them. I’m back to going speed limit +5, the usual. They decide to pass and haul ass. Whatever, I don’t really care. I have to work on my damn day off. I’m still trying to get my spirits up, since being ticked off isn’t going to change anything, might as well be in a good mood.

A little while later I notice I’m catching up with them yet again. What in the world? I look down at my speedo; yup, still going 60. You have got to be kidding me. They’ve actually slowed down. Oh, well. Whatever floats your boat. I’m going around. Unlike some peeps, I have to be at work, on MY DAY OFF! Just for kicks, I speed up to [an undisclosed number on the dial] to get some distance between them and me and settle back into the less ticket worthy velocity of speed limit +5. Well, hell. They’re right behind me, although the following distance between the two has now increased significantly. Hmmm… Mr. FZ1 passes me and is gone. Hell with this. I’m in need of a little throttle therapy; maybe this’ll turn the frown upside down. I dial it in, don’t even bother to drop a gear, and quickly catch up with Mr. FZ1, but keep a safe distance, and the three of us (I am now in the middle) haul our combined asses up the road to the next red light.

Traffic is getting heavier once we pass Fort Gordon’s main gate, and it’s time for slicing and dicing. Each man (and woman) for him (or her)self. I don’t know how many cagers were pissed off during the making of this entry in the SquidlyPants Chronicles, but I’m sure there were three-digit numbers being dialed frantically on a few cell phones. Calling in a sighting. I pride myself on being able to read traffic patterns and the intentions of cagers around me fairly accurately and therefore stay out of trouble. Knowledge is power. And power is power. I make it to the aforementioned red light first. Ha! The Fat Lady digs this sort of thing and I’m starting to be pretty happy myself. Mr. FZ1 pulls up to the right of me at the line and I have to put it in neutral, flip up my visor and push the pause button on my iPod, because clearly he wants to chat. I turn to him and exclaim with a big grin: “That was fun!” He smiles and nods. “Nice bike.” I point at his silver Yamaha and reply: “Ditto to you.” The light changes and it’s off to the Redneck Races once again.

I stay behind Mr. FZ1 this time, because I just remembered a court date at an as of yet unknown future date and time. I pled not guilty to a High Performance Award and requested a bench trial. Probably wouldn’t look good if I got busted doing the ton while waiting on a court date for a previous infraction. Wouldn’t look good at all. This kind of curbs my enthusiasm, until I find myself on the I-520E ramp. Here we go again. Traffic is hopping this evening and moving along at a cozy 80 in a 55. I like it when the cagers have somewhere pressing to be and get their collective move on. Good, we’re not sticking out too much. Our friendly little race has turned into a high-powered PUG group ride and we’re now moving in unison through traffic. What a hoot! We catch up to another sport biker and now there are four of us.

I have to slow down. I can’t blend in and disappear when LEO decides to take written notice. I’m a chica on a white Hayabusa with a personalized tag. I have cat ears and a tail stuck to my helmet. They know where I live, which is why I could never run; they’ll just meet me at my house and add evasion to the laundry list of traffic violations and I’ll find myself bent over a squad car with my face smashed into the hood by a giant meaty palm and zip-ties around my wrists. No thanks. I slow down to the flow of traffic while getting into the right third of my lane and wave the dude behind me the OK to pass. He takes the opportunity and blows by me, I’m guessing at triplets. They take the next exit, we wave at each other, and I find myself behind the guy we caught up to earlier. He’s now also taking it easy, but we’re still moving about five mile per hour faster than traffic. He also disappears up the next off-ramp. I’m so lonely… oh so lonely. Traffic is light now; it usually is, once you get past this point and I slow down to 60 and cruise my grinning self the rest of the way to my unscheduled work.

I’m a squid! Still a little peeved at having to come in to work on my day off and pretty much ruining the weekend I could have had with hubby, since now we will be on opposing schedules. This falls under emotional riding, which consequently lead to an unwillingness to resist getting caught up in groupthink and turning into a giant squid. Where two or more are gathered in my name a race breaks out. In other words, get a few sport bikes together under favorable conditions and you’ll have mayhem in the streets.

Don’t be a squid.


PUG Riding Revisited and Ton Up, My Squiddies!

PUG: an acronym that I’ve borrowed from the MMORPG online gaming scene, meaning ‘pick-up group’. A PUG refers to a random and informal collection of people, who usually don’t know each other, getting together for the purpose of achieving a common goal, such as the completion of a mission objective or quest. In motorcycling I obviously use it to refer to an impromptu, informally organized ride by a bunch of bikers who are more or less strangers to each other. PUGs mostly happen at bike nights or well-known biker hangouts.

Happenstance:
Ah, Tuesdays. It’s that time of the week again: it is bike night at Hooters. Why do we keep winding up at this particular venue? Because we are such classy individuals, that’s right. Classy and addicted to fried pickles. Actually, it’s the only bike night around here that is on a day Manx isn’t required to grind gears for the sole purpose of hauling simple carbohydrates to Point B. Our schedules pretty much suck that way. We’ve joined a riding club early this summer and we have yet to make it to a meeting. They never seem to be held on a day when we both have the day off. They may have given up on us it’s been so long. But I digress.

The Hooters Parking Lot

It's Bike Night at Hooters!

We show up and are promptly greeted by Goose. We park and make our way to their table on the deck. There are a few new faces, too. Sammy, the resident speed demon and drag racer starts referring to me by what is printed on my cookie sheet: ‘Miss Busa’. I wonder if he forgot my name? There is no time to eat, the boys want to play in traffic and off we go. Same as last time, somebody needs go-go juice.

This time it’s a bit more organized. We do their usual loop, which heads out of town towards the dam, where they stop on the SC side to shoot the breeze and then to downtown Augusta to finish out the night at a joint called ‘The Loft’. I really like this joint, I get to ride on the sidewalk. LOL Anyway, I’m at the back of the pack with Manx and Paul behind me. I’m trying to watch the level on my Squid-O-Meter, since Paul is an MSF RiderCoach, and I really don’t want to make a bad impression. Gawd, I’m a weirdo! Nah, it’s probably more along the lines of not wanting to give the ‘Hayabusa-For-Experienced-Riders-Only’ proponents ammo for their argument. Then there’s that whole fear-of-embarrassment-in-public thing. And if somebody can see the kinks and screw-ups in your riding, it’ll be a motorcycle instructor. This makes me a little nervous. However, I’m proud of what I have accomplished since I’ve started on two wheels. People are surprised when they find out how long I’ve been riding. Not that I advertise the fact, but I’m not going to lie if somebody asks me straight up. And the reaction is always the same: They’re amazed at a ‘little girl like’ me handling ‘such a beast’ and when they find out that I’ve only started a little over a year ago, it’s instant kudos. Sometimes it’s good to be a girl.

I’m so glad that I don’t have to defend my decision to buy a Hayabusa (as my second bike) iRL. It is what it is to most folks. I’ve come across only one negative reaction, and that was before I actually owned one, from a sales rep at a local dealer. Needless to say, I bought mine at a joint where they offered me a killer deal, were friendly and supportive of my decision and where they treated me like ‘one of the guys’. They acted like they actually wanted to sell me the bike I had already picked out for myself and made the process as enjoyable and smooth as possible. It was an awesome experience. I would highly recommend these peeps. Would you like to know more? It’s all in ‘The Busa Report’. Recommended reading for all you girls out there wanting to ride your own, but too scared to do it. On that subject, you may also want to read ‘The First Year: 13828 Miles & A World Apart’ where I talk about my fears, worries and insecurities about being on two wheels and how I learned. I’m getting sidetracked again. But it’s all good; I do eventually find my way back to where I’m supposed to be. Eventually.

And this is where I’m supposed to be: After fuelling we head on out of town to the dam. It is an enjoyable ride, less squidly and more relaxed than last time, too. Maybe that’s due to having ridden with most of these peeps before. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have Mr. RiderCoach breathing down my neck with a watchful eye? I soon forget about ‘The Man With The Patch’ and settle into my groove. I do cross an intersection on ‘cherry green’ and leave Paul and hubby waiting at the line. I don’t know why I did that, other than wanting to stay with the group. I wasn’t even the last person and I knew where we were going. Stupid. STOOPID! Calamari, it’s what’s for dinner.

At the dam we stop to hang out. There is a lot of talk about farkles and mods from the Connie crowd, which is now up to three, thanks to Paul. Hubby is getting ideas. Can’t really say anything in that regard. I have done 23 mods to The Fat Lady so far, and I can’t seem to stop. Somebody warned me about this, but I didn’t believe it. At least I’m not ordering swingarms and fat tires and sending various bits off to get chrome-plated… in other words, it could be worse. Definitely.

Somebody comments on my riding style, how I seem to be one with the bike, how well I tuck in and ‘go with it’, how smooth my movements are. And, of course, how teeny I look on that ‘big ass bike’. Naturally. Compliments and attention make me feel awkward, and I’m glad it’s dark, so they don’t see me blushing. I smile and give thanks, as it would be rude not to; but on the inside I’m high-fiving myself and doing the happy dance. “Uh-huh. That’s right. Girl’s takin’ care of her business. Yeah. Uh-huh. You said it, brother.” Gawd, I’m such a dork. LOL

We get back to town, and it seems that half the crowd is in the process of unleashing their inner squid. We’re sitting at a four-lane intersection. The light is red. Four of us are stopped at the line. Sammy is at the far right and I happen to be at the far left. We take up both lanes. The rest of the crowd is behind us, with hubby directly behind me and to his right, Goose. There’s a lot of revving going on in the first string. I turn to give hubby a questioning look. He smiles and nods. He yells something, but I can’t hear him over those loud-ass chopper pipes and the blipping of throttles. Yup. Apparently I assume correctly, I’ve read about this. Red-light-to-red-light (illegal-as-hell) drag racing. I think to myself that there’s no way, they’re gonna do that. They’re just playing. Not on freakin’ Belair Road in the middle of town. It is late, but NOT that late. The light turns green and off they go, screaming into the night. I sit there astonished for a split-second, then collect myself and grip it and rip it, I have some catching up to do and I’m on a machine that’ll do it. The Fat Lady’s made for this! She purrs contentedly and then roars to life. The docile kitten turns into a ferocious lion. I inadvertently lift my front wheel off the ground (in my first ever baby of a wheelie), but gracefully correct that little lapse in clutch control with a bit of throttle modulation. By the time I catch up with them I’m doing somewhere in the neighborhood of 120. Holy frakking mother of pearl (splash white)!!! In a 45. In the middle of town. In a stinking 45! I slow my squidly group-thinking ass back down and decide to stay behind them (still going well over the posted speed limit) until we all come to a stop at the next red light, grinning like jackasses. Weeeeeeee! That was fun I have to admit. Riding like idiots. Loads of fun, good gawd! What a freakin’ rush!!!! I can’t do that any more. No ma’am. Holy crapola! And here I thought drag racing was boooooring… Since it lacks curvature. I need to get my adrenaline junkie self to Jackson, to the strip, where I don’t have to worry about felony arrests, complimentary body cavity searches and turning myself into a pedestrian for a predetermined length of time. But maybe that was part of the rush? I’m such a heinous criminal… We take it slow until the group is back together and I take up my accustomed and preferred position at the rear of the pack, riding sweep. We, more or less, keep it under control for the rest of the ride. Although two more incidences of redneck drag racing do occur, they’re just not quite as… umm… felonious. The speed limit is also not being observed too strictly.

I asked Sammy later when we were hanging at ‘The Loft’ how fast he was going, since I still couldn’t quite believe what had transpired. He wouldn’t say. I told him what I was doing just to catch up with them, he just grinned and remarked nonchalantly: “My bike doesn’t go that fast. I probably did around 70.” My ass, buddy, my ass!

Realizations & Lessons Learned:
I still don’t like PUG riding. I mean, I do love the social aspect of riding with a group, but I’m not sure the added safety concerns and elevated risk are worth it. I know I will (and would want to) ride in a group on occasion, but there are a few things I have to consider, and I have to be honest with myself here:

  • I’m too competitive to keep it legal.
  • Although I stay well within the limits of my riding skill, it doesn’t take much for me to get caught up in the ‘showing off’ and/or ‘keeping up’ mentality that can so easily happen during informal group rides.
  • I don’t like taking responsibility for other people. I cannot control their behavior, mostly don’t know their skill levels, their riding attitudes or their attitudes towards safety. I can control what is in front of me, by being proactive and reactive (if need be), hence I like for all the unknown variables to be in a place where I can keep an eye on things.
  • I’m too much of a control freak, that’s another reason why I prefer to bring up the rear. I love to ride sweep. That’s where I feel most in control and most comfortable. It also helps me to keep the right wrist under control. However, one’s position in a PUG is at best dynamic, and you’ll eventually find yourself elsewhere in the pack.
  • It would be too hard for me to have to tell someone that I don’t want to ride with them anymore for whatever reason (I find unacceptable to my own level of risk acceptance), so it’s best just to say no. I’ll spare myself being put in that awkward position of ‘having to be blunt’ with someone later.
  • Crap happens when two or more are gathered. The only person I really feel 99% good about riding with is my hubby, Manx. I trust him. I know his skill level. I know his attitude towards safety and his level of risk acceptance. But even then, I mostly let him lead. Unless we’re in the twisties, of course; he’s too damn slow. ;P We have an understanding, however: We don’t keep up with each other. We ride our own rides. The person in the lead will wait patiently (at a safe, visible location) for the slower half to rejoin, so there is no pressure to outride our respective comfort zones.
  • Although I can, and will behave myself and adapt to the common consensus of what is deemed ‘acceptable riding style’ to a particular group and adhere to their rules, when things get spirited, you can bet your sweet ass that I’ll be in the thick of it. When Ms. Squidlypants hears the call, she will gladly listen and come out to play. Another reason for me to keep away from PUGs. It’s a weakness that’s difficult enough to keep under control when riding alone.
  • One has to know one’s limitations and work within and around them. I’m a prime candidate for a therapy of regularly scheduled track days, so I can keep certain things where they belong: at the racetrack. I can get my speed and aggressive cornering fix in a safe and appropriate place, so I have an easier time to keep it civilized on the public roads. Redneck racing only gets a girl so far.
  • A group ride is NOT a place to practice one’s (drag) racing techniques.
  • If you have a tendency to fixate to the rear (worrying about what happens behind you), you don’t belong in a group ride. Ride your own ride. That doesn’t mean you should be completely oblivious of what’s going on behind you and neglect your mirrors or head checks. You still have to maintain your full awareness to all sides. You can’t control the front (or your own safety) if you ignore what’s going on behind you. I have a hard time with this one, but I’m learning to relax about it. Again, another reason why I like to be last.
  • Riding SAFELY in a group takes more skill, more concentration, quicker reflexes, more self-discipline, and demands you be in full control of your machine at all times, or you will put yourself and others around you in jeopardy. Newbie riders have no place in a PUG ride until they have become comfortable with their own skill sets and have freed up enough attention (from the controls and executing basic riding skills) that they are but second nature and require not so much as a thought to execute. This will help ensure that riding with others is more fun and everyone is safer doing it.

All Things Considered:
PUGs are not for me. Period. Organized rides? I’d probably give it a shot, when the right opportunity presents itself. Riding with one or two friends? Check. Going riding with a bunch of people I just happened upon? Hell, no! This ‘Busa doesn’t play well with others. 😉 Would I go to a bike week? I don’t know. To me that just seems like asking for trouble. Too many people who don’t know what they’re doing in too small an area. Add to that the cagers and the people milling about on foot. Don’t think I would want to put myself through that.

Famous Last Words:
Ride it like you know what you’re doing. The rest of the time, when the inner squid comes out to play, at least be respectful and responsible about it. Take the lives and wellbeing of the people around you seriously. Just because you like to dance with the devil on occasion, doesn’t give you the right to force others to join the music (unless they’re cagers [on cell phones], then all bets are off. Ha!)

Would you like to read about my first group riding experience? Check out PUG Hooters Style