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.
Dead or alive
I needed to go for a ride. Not that I was being racked by withdrawal symptoms of PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome) by any stretch of the imagination. I have to shamefully admit, it took ten days to get off my ass and make the Beemer fit for street duty again. It’s about time, really, since I owe Matt of The Dandooligan a little product comparo.
And then I wonder why my mileage has suffered. I have doubled the number of bikes owned, but cut my mileage by half. And I look at wrenching as the culprit. I haven’t touched a torque wrench or a screwdriver in five days. I rebutted my own statement right there!
It’s more a result of the subconscious mind, rather than a definite decision made by cognitive higher-function processes. In other words, I don’t mope around, irritated by the idea that I cannot, for whatever reason, ride my motorcycle; neither do I proclaim loudly, that I will not ride my bike today. I used to suffer from the former, and the latter is really too much like quitting smoking.
It’s something else. An internal shift in focus, perhaps. When I think of motorcycling in terms of skill, my brain immediately goes to fetch some experience from the racetrack. I don’t even think in terms of roadways, surface conditions, traffic density,traffic rules and regulations, hazard recognition, and risk management anymore. Well, at least not consciously.
My brain still seems to deal with all of these factors just the same, but it doesn’t distract me anymore. Or should I say, my brain now has time to wander off and “do other things” (allowing me to be distracted) besides piloting the motorcycle and negotiating traffic.
And as I have evolved my skill set, honed my roadcraft, my attitude towards street riding has changed; and probably not for the better. How much fun could possibly be had on the public roadways anymore? It’s slow. It’s boring. It’s mundane. Routinely blah. Ugh.
You would think that slapping me on the back of the head, making me put on my gear to follow you north into the twisties, would assuage my boredom. Ha! You would think… I can’t even enjoy the “good” roads anymore, not like I used to. My motorcycle eyes have changed their focus: where once I’d seen opportunity, I now see claustrophobic ways of killing myself by sudden deceleration, if something should go wrong. If I can’t see around a corner, I can’t fully commit to it. My risk awareness is in the red, and the fear factor goes up. I am acutely aware of how vulnerable I am to ‘what ifs’ when I’m riding my bike on the street.
Long gone are the days of the Mountain Squid. The days of almost dragging tailpipe on off-camber, uphill curves in an effort to finally get that knee down. Long gone are the days of blindly diving into corners, taking the “race line” through and hanging the upper body over the double-yellow line. But a distant memory are the days of street riding having that therapeutic effect. It used to blank my brain and reset the senses. Now, I have way too much time left to think and my stressors ride pillion.
But today something was different. Today was a throwback to the “good old days.” Today, I had one of the most fun rides in a long time, on the same old boring roads. Imagine that! Could it possibly be that my brain was too preoccupied with collecting data on the various products and apps I was testing? Too preoccupied to be bothered with signaling impending narcolepsy by coma-inducing speed limits? Too preoccupied with pesky fun-killers such as deer, surface contamination, and radar guns pointed casually out of Sheriff’s cars?
Today PoHo data acquisition tells me one thing for certain: I had a freakin’ blast on two wheels. Sixty-four miles of unadulterated, jailhouse-worthy fun. It was balm for the soul and elixir for the senses. I feel alive. I feel giddy. I feel reset. Today, I renewed my attitude. With the correct outlook, this girl doesn’t need to be at the track to have some serious throttle therapy. Maybe it just takes a little shift of focus, seven degrees off of where it used to be.
Chased by encroaching darkness I hurried home, wishing I could play outside for just a little while longer.
It’s all the same, only the names will change
Everyday, it seems, we’re wastin’ away
Another place where the faces are so cold
I drive all night just to get back home
~ "Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi
I have actually been approached by several people who asked if I wanted to ride with them. I turned every single one of them down. They probably thought me a snob. I am not. I just don’t trust anybody else’s riding anymore. Where is this coming from? I mean, I have never liked group riding; at first it was because I didn’t feel my skill was advanced enough to be riding in a group. After a while, I tried it and had to find out that it isn’t really for me, so I started hanging in the back because I had to admit to myself that I was a control freak when I’m on the bike and I can control what is in front of me… well, I can’t control it, but I can keep it under control. Now I just don’t want to anymore. But I really do. I dig the camaraderie of motorcycling, but how can I be a biker if I can’t find it within myself to ride with them?
I am really torn. I think I have opened a stale can of beer when I jumped into this racing thing and sliding feet first… into last place; unless it’s Women’s Superstock. =D But then again, there is something wrong with this analogy… I think it doesn’t officially count if you cross the finish line sliding sideways on your ass… since the transponder is stuck to the bike.
When I’m at the track it’s all worth it! But when I’m doing grunt work it really doesn’t seem all that beneficial. I can see where serious racing (of the privateer variety) is a full-time job and the actual racing is only 1% of it.
I’m a 1%-er. And I’m starting to dislike street riding. However, Mr. Slow put that one to the test: He asked me if I would moan and groan and think that way if I had to drive to work. I replied that it would depend on the car. He says: “A fishing car. A POS. Because that’s all that you can afford.” I gave him a disgusted look: “Hell no! I guess street riding still beats the pants off of caging it.”
There I have it. I’m unhappy on the street. Or so I think. When it really is just a matter of missing the kind of riding I get to do at the racetrack. I grow impatient between track days. Or so I think. When it really is just a matter of having so much work to do to prep for my first road race and then for my first official LSR meet that I just can’t give my brain a break. I need to reboot and relax.
Why is it taking me so darned long to be ready? I must be over-thinking again. But then again, that is all I have. I am now at a point where most of my riding skill training has to be done in my brain. No wonder I am so freaking slow in the straights. I never bother with those… besides I have been conditioned to observe the speed limit with my 3-point license.No way I could have been ready for Roebling Road this weekend, even if Mr. Slow hadn’t messed up the date of his wedding photo gig.
Overwhelmed with race prep, work, chores and life’s little messes; and just can’t seem to be catching up. Underwhelmed in the amount of real throttle time I get, so please excuse my ramblings… I haven’t seen redline in quite some time. That isn’t true either. It’s only been a month and it’s only a month until my first WERA race.
Mr. Slow surprised me a few days ago with an announcement that just made my day. No, that is not entirely true. So far it has made my week. I have been floating around about an inch off the ground ever since. Happily elated and in a shamefully good mood.
I’m not a romantic person. I find romance awkward. It seems so staged. Performed. Fake. The initiation sequence of the scoring program. Just add alcohol. I find these moments of the heart in everyday life, no candlelight dinner and moonlit walk on the beach required. One such happenstance is when hubby snuggled up to me in the middle of the night and informed me, sandwiched in between two unrelated sentences of our late night half-whispered conversation, that he was going to watch his baby race.
“I have Friday off,” he pauses, then adds: “and Sunday,”
He then told me that I should do a track day on Sunday. After spending a few days tossing the idea around, I quieted the responsible adult voice in my head that insisted on not spending any more money, but rather start paying off a loan or two early; and with that I went online and reserved myself a slot in the intermediate group.
We are making a weekend of it. I asked Joe if he isn’t going to get bored hanging around a race track for two days. He simply replied: “I have my photography.”
I have been trying to get to a track for over four months now. I considered throwing myself off an overpass if I didn’t get any real throttle therapy pretty soon. Every time it looked as though I could make it, something happened that prevented me from going. I am finally getting close to getting my much needed fix to feed the addiction and cure the winter blues and ease the withdrawal symptoms.
I need to bring an extra set of tires. Definitely.
I have a surprise for him, too. But I won’t tell him until we’re at the gate paying our fee to get in. If I can manage and keep my excited little blabber mouth shut for another week.