I was heading west on University Parkway, the stretch of US-29, a four-lane divided highway, between Athens and Atlanta, GA. It was late afternoon on a Friday and a thunderstorm was threatening overhead. People don’t mess around that time of the week. They are ready to get home to start their weekends or, like me, are already on their way to the party and are in a hurry to get there. Time is of the essence when the workweek is done. The average speed on the west-bound side was between 70-75 miles per hour. The east-bound side had been shut down due to a traffic accident and was backed up for miles. I gave quick thanks to the God of Speed for not being stuck in that mess.
Traffic was medium-heavy and I was averaging about 80 mph, making sure that I wasn’t the fastest vehicle on the road but keeping up with the faster cars of the crowd. I noticed a white sedan that had passed me, but then settled down to about my pace a little distance ahead. I eventually caught up and passed the car again. No big deal, it happens, I paid the car no mind as I continued to fling myself westward toward the horizon, bouncing around in my seat, tapping out the rhythm to some Lady Gaga tune with my right foot; I think it was “Bad Romance”. My thoughts were already occupied with playing in the twisties that were scheduled for the following day. The car eventually picked its way back through traffic and got ahead yet again.
Now it’s getting a little weird! After a while boredom and curiosity get the better of me and I am in hot pursuit of my highway stalker. It doesn’t take me long to catch up with my target. The car is still hanging out in the left lane, so I scoot over and slowly pass them on the right. I see what looks to be four college-aged kids bouncing around in their seats, hair flying, talking animatedly and obviously checking me out. Oh, shit! A carload of cheerleaders! They point and wave at me and I smile, — even though they can’t see through my darkly tinted face shield — I nod and give them a peace sign with my outstretched clutch hand. Then I grab a fistful of throttle, twist it quickly to the stop and treat them to a completely “unnecessary display of horsepower”. Gratuitous. I can’t help myself. I have no excuse. I pull triple digits for a few seconds, pass another vehicle by executing two acute lane changes to get a little high-speed lean for effect and then let the engine slow me back down to the speed of traffic.
It doesn’t take very long for them to catch up. Two songs, maybe. I’m astonished to see them again. When they pass me on the left, I see one of them is holding a sheet of notebook paper up to the passenger side window. It reads in bold-red Sharpie print:
I prop open my visor so I can make eye contact as I pace them. I smile and give them a thumbs up and a fist pump with my free hand. I yell: “Hell yeah!” even though they can’t hear me. I speed up and they stay directly behind me as my wing women until we part ways at a red light a few miles up the road. I turned right and they kept going straight. Each of us heading towards weekend adventure. I wish I could have taken a picture of this or had the video camera going. It’s the little things like these that make even a bored and hurried flight down a two-lane seemingly never-ending straight worth it. For one little instant my path merged with that of four strangers and life was just good.
That’s one of the reasons I ride.
Riding a motorcycle connects you intimately, even if only for a short moment, with others and the world around you. You become part of that world, rather than being isolated and distanced from it like you are when sitting in a car. This is one of those reasons why bikers refer to cars as “cages”. I’m sure of it.
After a 90some mile ride with Mr. Slow I went to the mall, sweaty and no doubt smelling like a real biker chick, to get my hair done. On the way home I decided to stop in and get my nails done, too. Promptly was talked into a pedicure. Truth be known, my dawgs could use a little TLC; they’ve spent the better part of the past two years in motorcycle boots. Now they are all nice and soft, and sort of womanly looking. My little monkeys haven’t looked this good in a long time. Two hours after entering the salon, I was standing in the parking lot hoping I could get my race gloves over my newly acquired claws. Tight fit. I should have had her trim them shorter. Texting is a pain in the arse and so is typing. Not to mention I have to take my track tires off tomorrow and put the street rubber back on the Pirate’s feet. We shall see how strong this gelled-in acrylic-bonded stuff really is. My cats do seem to enjoy the new finger weapons. Better belly scratches. 🙂
Of course, I get caught after dark on the first day I’m using my new tinted face shield. This ought to be interesting to say the least. There’s a dude across the parking lot watching me as I get my gear on and my bike warmed up. What the hell? Well, I suppose those nails and the new do, all coordinated in team colors, are already working their magic. Another dude pulls up, waiting for me to back out of my space so he can shove his car in. Uh, dude? There’s an empty one two spots down. It’s the American way, can’t risk walking an extra 12 feet and burn all those extra calories.
The dark smoke face shield isn’t all that bad at night and if it wasn’t for that huge pile of bug guts front and center I could see just fine. It’s cold again, so I cruise along tucked behind the windshield with my chin resting on my tank bag. Yeah, going 35 mph doesn’t really do anything for me. But it’s cold, the line is a double-yellow and I’m feeling a little funky about the levers. Those nails act like little tension springs every time I curl my fingers. Eh. This will take some getting used to.
A few miles down the road I make a huge error in judgment. I’m cruising along at 5 miles under the limit behind a car and finally run out of patience. These people really should know that this road has a posted speed limit of 55, but no… the majority of motorists traveling this stretch of asphalt insist on doing 45 all the way through. That’s just unreasonable. There’s gotta be some sort of electromagnetic interference in the area that short-circuits everybody’s need to go 5 over. Oh well. As I reach the start of the dashed line, I see headlights up ahead, but judge them to be of no concern, since they are still quite a distance away. Wrong! As I lay into the throttle my error in distance/speed calculation becomes quite self-evident. I give it all she’s got and get back over on my side of the road just in time, but not before I make the poor bastard I’m passing activate his brake lights. Now I’m slightly embarrassed, so I keep up my speed a while longer just to make sure the dude behind me doesn’t get another chance to read my tag. Gawd! It’s been awhile since I had a brain fart of this magnitude. I’m only human, too. I consider making an unobserved right turn and lose the guy but then decide against it. Hell with it. I screwed up. If he should catch up with me at the next red light and give me a scolding I’ll just have to apologize and tell him that’s a lonely one point for his team since I’m already two points ahead in the stealing of right-of-ways and attempted vehicular homicide by inattentive driving, in the past four days alone.
At the next intersection the light changes to green as I downshift into first gear, so I get back up to speed when a pickup truck turning right onto the street from my right decides to prematurely exit the turn lane and occupy my lane space instead. I swerve into the yellow striped no-zone that divides the two lanes of traffic and immediately get on the gas to clear the danger before I run out of space and find myself in oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, the sand that the county tossed all over the main intersections during our Annual Snow & Ice Day was still there, collecting in all the places where traffic doesn’t disturb it any further. I probably would have seen it, if it hadn’t been for that blasted tinted visor. The rear immediately stepped out, loosing traction due to me being hard on the throttle and I ended up in a violent fishtail.
All I could think of was how weird it felt; as if the bike was anchored by its front end and shaking its rear back and forth; all I could manage to do was not think about it and stare up the street where I wanted to be, all the while musing at how snappy the entire motion really was. I thought that if I hadn’t trained myself to hang onto the bike with my knees and thighs pressed up against the tank and keeping my upper body loose, I probably would have been bucked off. Yikes! I don’t remember really, but muscle memory must have modulated the throttle enough to keep it under some semblance of control until I cleared the sand and made it all the way past the offending vehicle and back into my lane. I found myself turning around in my seat, looking at the dude in the truck, as soon as the rear was back in line and behaving itself. That’s the second time today that someone really envied me my lane space and decided to take it over.
Earlier, on the way to the mall, I had to use the shoulder to get away from another moron, this one of the female persuasion in a huge SUV. Lady, if you can’t see over the damn steering wheel, you should consider downsizing. Seriously.
Thank god for 193 horses and 83 foot-pounds of torque. I freaking love this bike!
Tomorrow I’m going to get my foils done and I’ll have my newly renewed Girl Card ready for Tuesday’s photo shoot with Papa Razzi. Go Team PLD!
I am so done with rain! I show rain the finger! Rain, kiss my pipe, you don’t scare me (much)!
I have said that riding in rain has become “nothing but a thing” anymore. People who ask me if I rode into work today, when they’ve obviously seen my bike sitting in the parking lot getting the redneck bike wash treatment, think I’m completely nuts when I nod a “Yes, I did. I have to, I don’t own a car,” in response to their question. I don’t even know why they bother asking anymore. I certainly didn’t push the mother here. How else would it get here? This makes me think that all they are trying to tell me is, via small talk of the stating-the-obvious variety, that they believe me to be completely mental and I should really get a grip and trade the thing in for a car. Please! When hell freezes over; then, maybe, we’ll begin negotiations.
I have gotten the “don’t rely on that” hand-waving dismissive “you-are-soon-dead” reactions from veteran bikers in response to my standard reply of “Rain is just God’s way of giving us clean roads and 80% traction.” Yeah, I’m such a squid! Please bury me just like that dude who reaped Internet fame of epic proportions posthumously by his family posing his dead corpse on his sport bike. Yeah. Bury my ass sitting on my Beemer in a race tuck, dragging knee around a… wait. I want to be cremated and turned into a diamond for Mr. Slow to wear as a necklace… on second thought, scratch that.
It came to me the other morning, when I had an incident on the way home from work, that I have pretty much experienced all the major “Holy Hell” categories of Crap Weather Riding 101 and 201. I have lost traction both front and rear; fishtailed; slid it sideways; almost lost it by putting my foot down in an oil-water mixture at an intersection; have slipped on lane markings; slid across a patch of ice on a curved onramp; been cut off while turning right at an intersection and had to get on the brakes so hard while leaned over, I was sure that I couldn’t possibly remain on my contact patches; I have had to fly by instruments alone, it was raining so hard at night, the water couldn’t evacuate fast enough off my face shield, and the lights refracted off the road surface so badly, I was basically blind. One thing I hadn’t experienced yet.
I was on my way home from work, I was tired and it was raining pretty steadily. It had been raining all night and most of the previous day, which meant I had at least clean roads, since most of the junk had already been washed off the road surface. I was passing most everybody, as is my custom when it’s raining. Two reasons I have for this, one of which is that most seem to want to creep along below or right at the speed limit, which is something I really don’t get. Maybe those people need new wiper blades and some new tires? This is a far cry from the 15+ over they usually employ to get to work on time. No bother, this does me just fine. It’s not like I want to hang out around cars and trucks, they spray more dirty water into my path, limit my sight distance even more and make it a generally unpleasant experience. Traffic in crap weather is unpredictable to me, I rather not attempt to read them for fear I might be wrong. I take the “the more distance between us the better” approach when it’s unfavorable in the weather department. But I digress.
I was in the left lane roughly doing my usual standard speed of speed limit +9, traffic was extremely light. I see a bus up ahead and once I get close I decide to speed up, which is also a standard practice of mine. Big vehicle getting passed by small vehicle makes small vehicle go through the danger zone in a hurry. I don’t like to hang out. As I am roughly two-thirds of the way past the bus, I hit standing water in the left wheel track. Using the left wheel track is also standard practice when passing huge vehicles. I recognize the danger at about the same time I feel both of my tires “driving up onto glass.” I really have no other way to describe the feedback I got through my tires. It felt different. Not as “rough”, not as “connected”. Like being picked up? As if my contact patches felt smaller. I don’t really know how to put this in words. At that fraction of a second my heart was in my throat, beating fiercely. I had the bus spraying a fine mist of dirty water all over me, to my immediate left was the concrete barrier separating the westbound lanes from the ones going east. I lose it either way, I’m toast. I was staring down the gauntlet into the possibility of coming out the other side in the World of Pain.
I felt the rear give first. I practically had to scream at my tendons not to move and snap the throttle shut. Boy, did I want to. I’m glad the thought of hitting the brakes never raised its ugly head; kind of proud of that one, if I may take this opportunity and pat my own self on the back. This is the first time I was scared while riding in the rain in a long time. I didn’t like it. I told myself out loud, so I could hear it and believe it: “Keep calm! Easy does it!” and with that I pinned the throttle and rode it out, while looking way ahead into the distance, trying to ignore the kill zones to my left and right. The whole incident couldn’t have lasted much longer than a few seconds, if that long. Time always seems to slow down when stuff happens.
Hydroplaning is only fun on a wakeboard at the beach.
What in the devil is wrong this morning? Traffic is pretty heavy, but moving along at almost the pace of a Georgia Super Speeder, which is highly unusual for a Wednesday on both counts. It’s raining, has been pretty much all night from the looks of things. I’m running late, so I’m pretty much in a hurry. Business as usual on I-20. I’m passing most everybody, a few get to pass me. Yeah, you’ve read right. It’s a privilege, one which can be revoked at any second. 😉
Once I merge onto I-520E it’s a different story, as is evident at the merge point of the two opposing I-20 ramps feeding into I-520E. It takes some seriously creative riding to get in between all the slowasses, the hesitant mergers, the leadfoots, the space holders, the distractedly engaged, and the mobile jabber junkies. Yes, I have categorized the crowd by their default behaviors when driving becomes more complicated and the brain starts running the risk of overloading. Inconveniences such as intersections, on/off ramps, cloverleaf ramps, and merge points are all prime spots to observe the Common Cager (incola communis rotae cavea) in their natural habitat.
I make my way towards another day filled with opportunity of earning Pirate Coin (read: I’m going to work to make the bike payment) through the succession of merge points that is Augusta’s own scaled-down version of Atlanta’s infamous Spaghetti Junction or Columbia’s suicidal Malfunction Junction. After slicing and dicing and duking it out with a cager crowd that is denser, faster, and more aggressive than usual, which makes the situation also more unpredictable than is the norm; I finally find myself some empty-enough asphalt I can settle into and go with the flow of traffic.
My bliss, however, doesn’t last long, and as the wild bunch behind me catches up, I find myself surrounded again. Damn! I hate this. I can’t stand being around this much metal. That goes against my rule of riding as if invisible. I don’t like being caged in (pun intended), it gives me few to no outs and not enough time to react to set an escape in motion if it became necessary. I like to control the situation. And I do that with the throttle.
I have planned my escape and am working my way towards the freedom that is a much airier stretch of asphalt not too far ahead. As I see an opening to escape the imminent clutches of a semi-truck spraying me with grimy rainwater its tires sling off the road surface and a tailgater in an SUV, and risking getting stuck there, I take it and quickly change lanes, squeeze in between two cars, ride the left side of the white line, then gas it a little too enthusiastically to take advantage of the next opening. I slide the rear wheel, it starts stepping out to the right. I don’t even have to think about it; nor is it an event that registers even the slightest twinges of panic in me, nor does it upset the Pirate, as is evident by the DTC light remaining dark. A simple acknowledgement, followed by trained action.
I pin the throttle, then dive left with a quick nudge on the left grip, aiming for the left wheel track of the left lane; as I do, the rear wheel hooks back up. I straighten myself out, pass the semi truck, and after one more set of rolling road blocks (two cars pacing each other slightly offset, taking up both lanes and backing up impatient caffeine-deprived, half-asleep morning commuters for miles) I am finally free. I feel like putting on blue face paint and showing my arse while yelling “Freedom!”.
I was kind of proud of myself. I smiled. It wasn’t too long ago where I would have had to pull over and dig out the emergency pair of replacement panties. And here I was complaining not too long ago that I can’t improve my skills on public roads anymore. That street riding has become mostly mundane, boring and uninspiring. I guess I underestimated the power of constant and conscious repetition of isolated skill practice. I definitely have increased my crap weather riding skills and my confidence must be solidified.
I noticed another thing, I have reached a milestone of sorts in my riding: I haven’t been singing in the rain. That means I am not nervous or anxious anymore and the need for intense concentration has passed. I still sing on occasion when I drag knee though, I’m pretty sure of it. 😉
As a side note: I’m rolling Dunlop Sportmax Q2s, the rear in Hayabusa size (a leftover from some long-ago tire sale): 190/50 as opposed to 190/55. I can reach the ground better in my race boots, but I think I lost 6 mph off the top end… *giggles* and my speedo reads about 5-7 miles slow now. Oh well… it won’t be on there forever. I really do love those tires. I think I might even like them better than the Metzeler Racetec Interact K3 (K3s are medium-hard) that came on the bike; and they are cheaper, too.
Loud Pipes Save Lives. A statement a lot of bikers swear by. I have never really cared one way or the other about this heated and controversial argument. Roll what you feel good with. If you believe that your 110dB eardrum shattering ass end will keep you alive and well, go for it. I myself am of a more stealthy persuasion. I like my bike to purr like a kitten rather than sound like the end of the world is nigh. Although I wear earplugs most of the time when I’m riding, I couldn’t stand having to wear them because my own pipes are so freaking loud that I can’t hear myself think. It would annoy me, break my concentration, rob me of my inner peace. My bike isn’t really all that quiet in the upper RPM ranges either, but it’s not like I hang out there very often, given the kind of riding that I’m engaged in 90% of the time. I wear earplugs on the track, even though I hate it, because I can’t understand what people are saying unless I’m looking directly at them, which causes a lot of “Huh? What? Could you repeat that?” and a fair share of “I have not a clue what the hell is going on!”. Once I’m out there I prefer to have my ear canal blockage in place. It makes the world eerily quiet, but not completely devoid of sound.
Why don’t I like loud pipes? Personally, I don’t believe excessive noise saves our heinies. Cagers are too engaged in their own little bubble of cranked stereos, cell phones glued to ears, and engaged conversations with their passengers. They don’t even hear your thunder until you are right on top of them. Too late to be of any good other than to piss them off because now they can’t hear what their buddy on the other end of the 3G connection is saying. I also don’t want to listen to myself roaring down the street all the time. And I don’t want to attract any unnecessary attention. Needless to say I would wake the neighbors leaving home for work on my horrendous schedule about seven mornings per month. Even though one of my neighbors told me to blast my horn when I come home, since she can’t hear me ever since I got rid of my beautiful Harley Davidson. She’s an awesome woman. Always watching out for me and making sure I am safely inside my house in the wee hours of the night. She’s seen “some stuff” go down in her time, let’s leave it at that.
Have I considered getting a race exhaust for some performance enhancing fun? Sure I have. But I can’t find one I can live with and give me the performance increase that I would want to see when dropping that kind of money. I suppose the loud pipes will have to wait until I can afford a dedicated track/race bike.
I don’t really follow politics or am I a “motorcycling activista” but I think that the state of affairs is such that all that noise generated in honor of “loud pipes save lives” or “stupid fast performance for squidly street fun” is awfully close to turning into “loud pipes kill rights”.
When the douches wearing pinstripe suits and ties that are cinched way too tight, who never even rode a motorcycle, finally get around to banning our aftermarket pipes with the sweet exhaust notes and the delicious performance increases that come with those triple-digit decibels, I will cry in my beer next to the fella whose conviction was settled on the loud end of the noise spectrum. At least I can say that I wasn’t part of that particular problem. Maybe when they finally get to ban literbikes for public street use, you could point a finger at me… maybe.
I don’t think “majority rule” isn’t quite what the motorcycling public or the “biker subculture” need. The majority doesn’t even ride anything more than maybe the subway or the commuter train, yet we are ruled by them. Oh no… I’m getting politic! I need to leave and wash my mouth out with antibacterial soap! Stat!
Since we had some crap weather heading our way, I arranged to have the Sponsor’s truck to drive to work and leave the Pirate at home. I was working nights and was not a happy camper when I was rudely ripped out of Dreamland not three hours after arriving by Mr. Slow’s announcement that he has to go to work early.I grumpily roll my tired self out of bed and throw on the first set of wrinkled clothes I find in the dark room. I am pre-coffee and not quite awake. As I shuffle down the hall to grab my phone I mumble something along the lines of an official refusal to drive. I stumble down the driveway and climb into the passenger side of the truck and off we go.
A while later, I am jarred out of my sluggish too-damn-early-for-this state of mind by the telltale noise of tires bouncing over the interstate’s rumble strip. What the hell? I look over at my husband eyes cast down, playing with his phone, which he is holding in his right hand resting on the center console.
“Are you freaking texting?!?”
He response: “No. I’m just checking something.”
That does it. “You should know better!” I’m incredulous. “I have to dodge assholes like that every time I go to work and you are one of THEM?!?”
“I wasn’t texting.”
Now I’m pissed. I try to snatch the phone out of his hand, he’s faster, but I’m more tenacious and finally succeed in grabbing his phone and shove it into the little space on my door handle.
“What the hell does it matter what you were doing?!? You are weaving all over the damn road! Texting fucking kills. What would you do if some asshole made your wife wreck herself? Or worse, kills her.”
He is starting to argue the point; I can see it in his body language. Then he finally hangs his head: “I’m sorry. You’re right. You are absolutely right. I’m a professional driver. I get overconfident when I’m in my own truck.”
“You do that shit when you’re driving in the big truck?”
“Hell, no! I can’t afford to.”
“You are forgiven. Don’t let it happen again. You know I’m gonna shred you on my blog, right?”
“You have every right to. I deserve it. I know better.”