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.
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.
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