Monday, March 30, 2015

Really F@&king Fast

I eventually learned how to ride that DT250, well, I learned how to get farther between crashes anyways. I'd like to say it was the equipment limiting the rider, but if you put me on a lighter, faster machine I would have just high-sided myself farther into the air.

Let's face it, I sucked, and nobody bothered to tell me. If I had any faith in my friends at the time I would say they did this not wanting to hurt my feelings, but I think they enjoyed the spectacular wreck-fest I provided during our jaunts, hence their lack of desire for me to improve. During the winter I could be found cartwheeling an old snowmobile on the trail, in the summer my dirt-bike was inevitably tumbling down some hill as I tried like hell to get out if it's way.

Despite all of this, I refused to slow down. Things got so bad, after a slightly hairy crash that involved me being ejected from a snowmobile over a guardrail and into a highway, a neighbor actually had a discussion with my parents that ended with the statement, "If he doesn't slow down, he won't live to see 18".

I wanted to go fast, plain and simple. Not just a little fast, but really fucking fast. I did not drink, smoke or use drugs (still don't), but going fast just did it for me. Still does, and I am a lot older than 18 now.

1978 Kawasaki Invader that helped catapult me into NYS Route 3

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Third Time No Charm

Three years passed before I felt the call of two wheels again. One of the local drunks (there are lots of them in northern New York) was selling a mid 1970s Yamaha DT250 enduro for the not so princely sum of $250. The bike was in reasonably good shape considering it was almost twenty years old at the time, still sporting the original hard as a rock trials tires. There was no title, but that didn't matter as I didn't have a license and figured I would ride it off road anyways. We had plenty of trails and fields and in those days no one really cared if you rode across their land, our small town had no police force and state police response time for a dirtbike on public roads was approximately one hour, so no worries there either.

My parents were not thrilled at the idea and refused to help me financially with the purchase. I half expected them to tell me there was no way I was buying a motorcycle and had developed a contingency plan to hide the bike at a friend's. Their acquiescence rendered that machination moot.

I gathered as many soda cans as I could for deposit, sold a few old skateboard decks and gasp....actually worked for the money to buy the orange and white two stroke. Two weeks later when I finally had the money together I managed to catch the owner in a rare moment of sobriety. He lived in an old school bus behind his cousin's house and told me to meet him there to collect the bike. I had the bus driver drop me off after school (these were the days before you needed a parent's note signed in triplicate by all legal guardians).

"You know how to ride this thing boy?"

"Not really."

"Ever ridden anything with a clutch?"


"I can't sell you this thing, you'll fuckin' kill yerself. Go back home and ride yer skateboard."

"I have the $250 cash right here."

"See, what you do is let the clutch lever out real slow and give it some gas...."

Thirty-two stalled attempts and two near loop-outs later I managed to get that pig rolling out of the backyard onto the trail. It was a three mile ride through the woods and I came prepared with no helmet or gloves, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. This was a decade before the cell phone.

I got the idea of upshifting to go faster fairly quickly, however downshifting was another matter entirely. I stalled in third gear going up a hill on the way and promptly fell over. I smelled something burning and wondered what it could be. Just the flesh on my leg as the hot exhaust pipe seared into the flesh. Quickly jumping up I soon learned every way not to pick up a fallen motorcycle on a mossy slope. The gas tank had three new dents in it by the time I got it upright and stable. It then took me five attempts to realize that to re-start in gear you needed to hold the clutch lever in.

Fifteen minutes later I could still not ascend the hill as the bike kept stalling. Sweating, cursing and regretting my purchase of this piece of shit that couldn't make it up a small hill I began to lament spending my money on motorcycling (not for the last time).

An hour later I had given up and started the long hike home when my younger brother rolled up on his ATV (by this time he understood shifting and the operation of all manner of off road type vehicles) and asked what my problem was.

"Goddamn piece of shit dirt bike doesn't have enough power to go up a hill. I think the motor is blown or something."

He got off his Kawasaki four-wheeler and came over and looked at the bike. He started it first kick, let the clutch out and stalled.

"See what I mean, dies when you try to go."

He fiddled around with his left foot for a minute while rocking the bike back and forth slightly.

"It's in 3rd gear you dumbass. You can't start out in third gear..."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Second Verse, No Different From the First

My next foray into the motorized world came a short time later at some distant relative's farm/family gathering and involved three wheels instead of two. Big Red, at least that's what Honda called it, a 200cc balloon tired ATC. This being the crazy 80's, before frivolous lawsuits become the norm and everything was someone else's fault, some uncle twice removed or something decided it was a good idea to turn two young boys loose on one of these inherently unstable contraptions, sans helmets or safety gear of any sort. At least it had a windshield!

As the day progressed my brother and I grew braver and braver. We had been instructed to keep the machine in 1st gear for fear we might actually pick up some speed, but that didn't prevent us from running that son of a bitch wide open all day long, revving the guts out of that poor little four stroke engine. We took turns alternating as driver and passenger, and it was funny, because despite fighting tooth and nail over everything else in life, we managed to share this vehicle in a most fair and adult manner. Mom would have been proud, if not for what happened next...

It was getting later in the afternoon when my sibling and I were informed that this would be our "last ride". Wanting to savor every second we hopped aboard the machine, with me in the driver's seat. We tore around that farm like maniacs, staying out of sight of the adults for fear they would put the kibosh on our shenanigans. I knew from my previous experience with a Honda, that there was more speed to be had if shifted up. I found second gear somehow and a whole new dimension of velocity opened it's horizon before us.

Faster and faster we went, careening on three wheels, then two and slamming back down to three. I made a beeline for the opening between a farm building and a woodpile with the thumb throttle pressed firmly to the bar, utterly forgetting that the three wheeler was twice as wide in the rear as it was in the front. The resulting collision with the building was a tooth jarring shock, but to make matters worse the rear wheel tried to climb up the building, catching traction, I can hear the wheel spinning and grabbing, tearing paint off just before flipping over onto it's side. My face was smooshed against the now collapsed windshield of the still idling death machine, my brother trapped just behind me.

Adrenaline kicked in and this not particularly strong 12 year old and his 9 year old brother flipped that 500 pound behemoth back onto three wheels, concerned not with injury, but only that no adults had seen the incident. We rode this tricycle on steroids timidly back to the gathering and announced we were ready to go home.

Red flags immediately went up as we attempted to continue our ruse. As the three wheeler was inspected, the white paint from the barn all over the scraped windshield was discovered and we were outed. Once it was ascertained that we had sustained no major trauma (other than bumps, bruises and a sprained neck) the question became, "What the hell happened?"

I answered: "The three wheeler is too wide, it hit the barn." (You could have driven a 747 between the barn and woodpile)

My father replied, "No. You drove it into the barn because you were going too fast and not paying attention. That thing is stuck in second gear, why is it in second gear? You know you bent the goddamn axle on it? (what's an axle, I thought.) You and your brother get in the car."

And thus ended my second attempt to pilot a machine powered by internal combustion. As I held my now swelling face, looking out of the window of the car onto the ATC that tried to kill me, all I could think was:

Three wheelers suck.

Friday, March 20, 2015

You Won't Get Hooked the First Time, But It Might Kill You.....

I didn't, on either count. My first motorized two-wheel excursion was forgettable to say the least. It was that awkward age of 12 when discovery is a part of daily life: girls, hair in places where it had not previously been, the need for deodorant etc.. There was an older guy, Steve, from my neighborhood, I wouldn't really call him a friend, who was constantly getting me into things I would have done better to avoid (the year prior he had given me my first and last beer and managed to get me chased by a very angry bull). Steve's friend had a mini-bike, a Honda 50 to be exact, 3 speed clutchless affair if I remember correctly.

My parents strictly forbade me from riding or owning anything with a motor and for the most part I was happy pedaling my ass all over the neighborhood on my Huffy. But Steve wouldn't let up. He kept telling me I had to come over to his buddy's house and ride this thing. When he questioned my newly blossoming manhood by calling me a "pussy", I gave in, told my mother some lie about playing baseball and coasted the Huffy down the big hill towards fate.

When I rolled up they were taking turns riding around in circles and figure eights in the backyard. They gestured for me to take a turn and I stated that I just wanted to watch. My manhood again was doubted by the instigators. I was informed riding this thing was "easy", it only had 3 gears, all I had to do was shift up with my left foot.

I knew nothing of gears or shifting, never having ridden a 10 speed, or even one of those super sissy 3 speeds that could get you a beatdown from the BMX gang in my neighborhood. I was a one speed wonder.

After mounting the diminutive Honda (after all it was not even as tall as my bicycle!), I began to wobble around the yard, feet doubling as brakes and outriggers. After a short lap I returned, fully prepared to end my excursion into motorcycledom. Steve had other plans.

"Take it up the hill."
"No, I don't want to."
"Oh come on you baby, take it up the hill."
"Why don't you guys?"
"We already did. Just ride up, turn around and ride back down."

The hill was not terribly steep or large, but it was daunting as I was still unsure about how to ride this thing. Steve pressed on. Being somewhat weak-minded and impressionable at this young age, I did what I always did. I gave in. I was instructed to "give it lots of gas" to get up the hill, turn around and come back down, shifting into second, then third on the way down.

Heading for the hill full of trepidation and fear, with Steve yelling "More gas!", my eyes watered, (not from crying). I ascended the hill and felt some elation, managed to turn around at top and began my descent, with Steve screaming "Gas! Shift! Shift!". Somehow I got that ferocious machine into third gear and came barreling down that fucking hill at what seemed to be 100 mph. Steve and the 50's owner jumped out of the way as I zoomed past them. The drug of speed overcame me and I experienced a joy that felt like flying.

This joy lasted about .5 seconds as my mind realized the yard was coming to an end, followed only by a nasty hedge, sidewalk, street and death. I screamed, "How do I stop this thing?"

Steve responded, "The brakes!"

Unable to find the brakes in time, I stuck my feet out, which slid across the grass as the hedgerow loomed quickly at me. I could almost feel the thousand pricks, cuts and jabs from the sticks, I had a vision of getting poked and losing an eye. I needed to stop this roller coaster gone wrong. I turned the bars as hard as I could to avoid the hedge. The front wheel tucked and I remember taking the handlebar solidly in my ribs, knocking the wind out of me. I still ended up partially in that goddamn hedge, but at least I didn't lose an eye.

I gasped, trying to fill my seemingly collapsed lungs with air. The only thing I could think was: do not let these fucking assholes see you cry. Do not let them see one single tear or you will never hear the end of it. They continued to laugh heartily as I finally resumed normal respiration.

When Steve regained control of himself, he said, "I told you to use the brakes, dummy! Hey are you crying?"

I nodded negatively, mumbled something about having to go home for dinner. I pedaled my way up the big hill home, eyes watering (not crying), wincing in pain with what felt like a broken rib, bleeding from a thousand little cuts, trying to make up a baseball story to explain the injuries and thinking only one thing:

Motorcycles suck.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More or Less Bunk

Much as I expected, I find myself behind Mr. EX500 again and we begin our dance. Without making a dipshit move I cannot find a way around. I dig into my bag of tricks but the only thing that seems plausible is the outside move at the end of the back straight I used on him last time. I have my doubts that it will work.

Lap after lap I draft him down the straight, a little bit closer each time, elbows practically denting the gas tank I am tucking in so hard, neck straining as I watch the bike's tail section. For a moment I wonder if I might get light-headed from breathing too much of his exhaust. I know if I make the move too early we might end up fighting back and forth until one of us makes a mistake. I can't make a pass and break away, we are too evenly matched. I have to make a pass very late in the race and ride defensively so there is no opportunity for the other rider to try anything.

My patience wanes on the seventh lap and I make the move, pulling out of his draft and braking as late as I dare at the end of the back straight. I pass on the outside and make it stick, barely. The tires are telling me we have reached the limits of adhesion, and the chassis responds by twisting itself up into a fucking pretzel. I laugh and force it through the corner by sheer strength of will.

I now replay the other rider's lines in my mind and copy them verbatim, knowing I will be much harder for him to pass if I am exactly where he wants to be. Gone is the wide entry, wide exit, everything is tight, close to the vest with no margin for him to stuff it up my inside, which experience tells me is nearly always where a guy will pass you. If he wants this pass, he is going to have to earn it. He doesn't. I beat him. Again.

Although history will not record it as such due to our difference in ranking, we both know.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


As many of the vintage racers roll out of Mid-Ohio, so roll in the modern guys for the WERA event on Monday and Tuesday. It's a double header, meaning I will race the D-Superbike and Clubman classes both days. The other EX racer is also staying, but even though we will be on the racetrack at the same time, due to the fact that he has expert status and I am still a lowly novice we aren't technically racing one another. I don't think either of us gives a shit about rider status. The gauntlet has been thrown down. It might be getting a little bit personal. It's amazing, we have hardly spoken a word to one another up to this point, but we are very obviously getting inside each other's heads.

The thing is, once you've beaten a guy, you know it can be done. They stop being some mystical demi-god with supernatural riding abilities and become just another guy on a bike. And since I am a mystical, supernatural, demi-god rider in the making, I have the edge. Despite my faith in that high school logic, I know it will not be easy. This rider is going to do everything to "keep me honest" as they say. We are so evenly matched that the only way to triumph is to suss out each other's weaknesses and capitalize on any mistake, no matter how small. This is difficult enough to do sitting at the chess table, but at 100+ MPH, with other 20 riders and 15 turns to navigate properly? Downright fucking daunting. I grin maniacally just thinking about it.

Ohio Kris Larrivee

Monday, March 9, 2015


My mind made up, I calm down and get some sleep. In the morning I do some reconnaissance and locate my doppelganger's motorcycle. The running gear is identical to mine, CBR front end and rear wheel, ZX swingarm, Fox Shock and he is running slicks. I can see Keihin CR carbs under the gas tank, just as I am running. The only noticeable difference (other than cosmetic/fairings) is his Kerker exhaust as opposed to my D&D pipe. No excuses.

He is gridded a few spots in front of me. I know that I cannot let him get away. The plan is to do just that, catch him and latch on until I can find a spot to make a pass. Simple plan in description, vastly complex in undertaking.

I get a hell of a start, first into Turn 1, the fast FZR hybrid tries to come around the outside of me. I think for a split second, let him go, then my mind answers: make the son of a bitch earn it. I do. I refuse to give up the line and force him to run a little wider than he planned. It doesn't matter as the turn straightens out and he opens the gates on that FZR, the fucker is just gone. I am astounded at how fast the bloody thing accelerates, staring as man and machine become smaller and smaller heading into Turn 2. So mesmerized by the speed of the FZR am I, that I forget to upshift and goddamnit if Mr. Ball doesn't come sailing by me on the EX.

Swearing and screaming into my helmet at my unending stupidity, I give chase, only to be balked as another FZR and a Honda Hawk come by in 2. We head into Turn 3, the Keyhole, an off camber uphill to downhill righthander that leads onto the back straight. I am straining every muscle in my neck to keep my eyes focused on that EX500. If he gets away here, it's over. I spend two laps trying to make time, pissed that I let him by me. I finally catch him in the complex of turns that lead out onto the front straight. I have no motor on him, so a draft and pass will be the only thing that might work. I suck at Turn 1, so decide not to pass there, instead following and watching him ride.

His style is much different than mine. My lines are wider, more sweeping, while he seems to protect the inside, probably to keep people from passing. Both methods seem equally effective, because we are running identical lap times. Nose to tail we head through the Keyhole again, I get on the gas a little sooner, but the bikes are so equal I cannot make a pass. I draft him the whole way down the back straight, closer to his rear wheel than I have ever been to another bike. If he makes a mistake, blows a motor, whatever, we both go down. He guards the inside as we come to the right hander at the end of the straight. I pull out of the draft and show him a wheel, on the outside, not intending to pass. I don't think he noticed me, or it would have surely tipped my hand and prevented me from using the move again.

I shadow him for the next lap, waiting, so close I can smell his shampoo. We come out of the Keyhole again and come wailing onto the back straight. Inches from his rear tire I wait agonizing moments for the perfect opportunity. I see his head come up, signalling his braking point, pull out of the draft and make an outside pass. We head into the right hander at the end of the straight. (If you look at the picture at the bottom of this page, you can see the rider's head turned in my direction, I think I may have surprised him passing where I did!) This turn immediately flip-flops to a left hander with no passing opportunities, and I have the inside line and I am ahead of him. Now I just have to stay there.

I can hear his motor droning just behind me and I know he is close. I cannot slow down and I cannot fuck up, else he'll have me. I push so hard the front slides a little and I end up out on the rumble strips in a little tank slapper. It happened so quickly I didn't have time to let off the throttle, and just kept on going. I keep him behind me for the final lap and finish in fourth place, exhausted and elated. There is nothing like triumphing over such an evenly matched opponent. Obviously an outright win would have been the most preferable outcome, but somedays you take the best you can get.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


It might seem silly, losing sleep and agonizing over what many consider a hobby. What a piss poor word for something that invades every cell of your body and changes you to the core. Like combat or childbirth, experience it even once and you are never the same. Every corner of every road becomes an opportunity, with an entry, an apex and an exit. Every stoplight feels like a race start. The smell of damp pavement a reminder of waking up at Mosport in August. Your way of thinking and prioritizing are re-shaped, you have to learn true focus, on and off the track. I have found it requires incredible mental strength, especially when you already feel at the limit, to go faster and not fall down.

I know that unless this particular EX500 has some wildly built motor in it (I don't believe it does), it cannot beat me if I don't let it. There is no way in hell I am going to let that happen. Whatever this son of a bitch can do on his bike, I can do on mine. I will not let him get away.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


In checking the grid position sheets for the Gen X Superbike race, I come upon one other EX500 in the ranks, along with the FZRs and Honda Hawks I mentioned before. I assume I will beat that EX handily, as I have several others already this season. My assumption would be wrong, so wrong in fact that this would signify the beginning of a rivalry to last the remainder of the season, and nearly be my undoing. For now I remained blissfully ignorant of the struggles to come.

Eyes narrowed to slits watching for any twitch from the flagman, then the race finally begins. I get a good start, fourth or so off of the line. The leaders are close, but I am too jaded to have hope that I can hang with them. As we round Turn 3, the infamous Keyhole, and onto the back straight, my cynicism proves correct. Given the chance to stretch their legs the Hondas and Yamahas are gone, a couple of slow starters making their way past me as well, including the goddamn EX. The bike that I am supposed to beat without missing a beat is now in front of me, and pulling ahead.

Try as I might I cannot catch that stupid Kawasaki. I stare at his tail section in disbelief as this bike and unknown rider become the objects of my focused hatred. To be beaten by faster machines is one thing, but I refuse to accept that a bike on equal footing with mine can outrun me. That means it is purely my fault and my riding is sub-par. The race ends with me in a lousy sixth place and the other EX500 just ahead in fifth. A long, restless night follows with a lot of soul searching, trying to figure out if I had it in me to beat him tomorrow.

Ball's got balls, no doubt. Could I beat him on the second day?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Celebrated Obsolescence

Vintage Motorcycle Days lives up to its name, with two wheeled machines of every size and marque from the last fifty years and beyond. The swap meet is a great time if you don't mind sifting through rusty detritus for hidden treasures, just make sure your tetanus booster is up to date! A whole circus of other events, demo rides and lectures is taking place as well, but I came for the racing, everything else is just a distraction.

Due to the odd rule structure for this one-off, once a year event, I will only be racing one class per day: Gen X Superbike Lightweight. If it were not for the WERA event that follows on Monday and Tuesday, it would not be worth the trip to do two races. I will be pitted against the FZR 400s and Honda Hawk 650s. Both models in stock form boast more power than my built EX, as well as aluminum chassis. I have my work cut out for me.

On a positive note, it is not hot or humid as is normally the case for VMD. It is in fact eerily cool, a much welcome departure from my last venture to Mid-Ohio (to read that story, please click here: ). I am excited, and as ready as you can be while waiting to race...

Blisteringly fast FZR hybrid that would win the Gen X Superbike Lightweight class