Thursday, August 27, 2015

To The Very Edge

The sun comes out the next day at Roebling Road.  I want to ride the FZR in the worst way, but as I have not yet purchased roller starters, the bike will have to be push-started.  A fellow racer agrees to assist me.  I explain to him that I will give it three tries and if it doesn't work I will go back to the EX.

Third try the four-cylinder comes to life and it appears the Yamaha will finally see combat duty.  A plan hatches to run it in Clubman to get some practice time, knowing full well the bike is not legal for the class.  I check with the other racers and as none of them have a problem with it, I decide to go for it, knowing that I might get protested.

The Yamaha handles better than I can ride it, but has ZERO power below 10,000 RPM.  10-13k it is sweet and fast for its displacement, but get it out of that 3,000 rpm power band and it bogs and sputters like a two-stroke and feels like it is going backwards.

The learning curve is steep, as the chassis is willing to do things that my survival instinct is not yet prepared to allow, while the lack of bottom end and midrange power make them absolutely necessary to run the thing at a reasonably quick pace.  My mind refuses to wrap itself around how fast this machine can corner.  My road racing experience up until now has been mostly limited to flexi-framed machines that proclaim the limits of handling and adhesion in loud and distinct tones,  whereas the FZR seems willing to take you quietly and unawares to the very edge of tire traction without a shake, quiver or wobble.  To the very edge, but over?  That is the question.

Razor sharp handling, dull and blunted rider

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Short Circuit 2

As the rain continues at Roebling Road, so does my plan to remain faithful to the EX500, despite it seemingly dropping one cylinder during my first race.  I assume something got wet, and begin checking everything over that I can in the time between races.  Next up is the V6 Lightweight race, that I had planned on running the FZR in, but as I only have one set of rains which are currently mounted on the Kawasaki, the FZR will have to languish in the pits under its waterproof cover.

Once again it is the battle of the EX500 trio, myself, Kurt and Michael all riding Kawasaki's underdog commuter twin that was never designed to be a racer.  My bike is the fastest and lightest of the three, having been developed over the last two years by yours truly, but I also have only about 20 laps around this racetrack, and I am struggling.  The rain is also a real problem.  A simple fall at the beginning of the season can bring about a quick end to the season, dashing any championship hopes.  I have to keep it upright.  I remind myself that this is simply going to be a throwaway weekend and there will be plenty of opportunities to accumulate points.  As long as I don't do something stupid.

The three of us battle back and forth in the wet conditions.  I make it up to second place a few times, but then get passed by Kurt in a few of the sections of the course I am still trying to figure out.  As if on cue the ignition starts crapping out again.  I am pissed, screaming inside my helmet as the rain streams down the face shield and my boots fill with water.

I soldier on and finish third with the leaders still in my sights, but unable to be caught by me.  Thoughts turn to tomorrow, and drier weather.

Herein lies my ignition trouble.  Somewhere.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wet Hen

Rain continues to fall overnight and into the next morning at Roebling Road.  I am left with no choice but to put the rain tires on the EX500.  The FZR will see no action today unless it dries up.  I could, in theory, swap the wheels from the EX on to the FZR (both bikes run the same wheels) but I have no desire to run the FZR in the rain, and since the Kawasaki is eligible to run all the Yamaha's classes, the EX will be pressed into double duty for the day.

Practice is wet, but the rain tires make it at least tolerable.  I am not overly thrilled about learning a brand new to me track under these conditions, but often you cannot choose your circumstances, it is just a matter of dealing with them.

As it happens, there are three rain tire shod EX500s on the grid for the V5 race.  Kurt Kesler is using his backup bike instead of his FZ600 monster and Michael Wagner is on his 500 as well.  Should be interesting.  I have beaten both of these riders before, but that was in the dry on tracks I knew well.

Wayne Shelton disappears on his lightning quick 550 Yamaha Seca, leaving the EX500 trio to fight for also-ran status.  Rain falls harder and the spray from the bikes compromises visibility, making it necessary to wipe the visor at the end of the front straight before Turn 1.  As the race wraps, I come up on the shortest end of the stick with some intermittent ignition problem rearing it's ugly head during the race, leaving the door open for Kurt and Michael to go by on the last lap, relegating me to the 4th spot.  Some days you have to be happy just not to fall down.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Righteous Anger, Recurring Agony

Maybe you've seen the YouTube helmet-cam videos of angry motorcyclists waving fists, screaming, kicking cars or worse, at brain dead car drivers who have somehow violated their rights on the road.  It seems we are a nation of eager victims ready to rage at the slightest offense against us while recording it all for posterity.

Who can blame them?  Anyone who has ridden a motorcycle on the streets for more than fifteen minutes knows the fear and resultant anger that arises when a Xanax addled soccer mom in a mini-van makes an illegal left turn into your path. I freely admit that there are several taxicabs in the city of Philadelphia sporting steel-toe sized dents in their quarter panels from yours truly as a warning for encroaching my space.  As it stands now I have the shortest motorcycle commute of my life (<5 miles) and inevitably at least one asshole attempts to kill me on my way by doing something stupid and illegal.  The only greater failure in education than those who 'teach' our drivers in this country comes from those who teach English.

Motorcyclists are a minority oppressed and often killed by a senseless, careless majority of inattentive dolts.  We are 26 times more likely to die in an accident than our 4 wheeled counterparts!  We have the right to be angry, violent and vicious!!!!!!  Right?

Wrong.  If you didn't know the score on the streets before riding, after your first day you will.  When running with the bulls, don't cry when you get gored in the ass.  The plain truth of the matter is this: Car versus Motorcycle, car wins every single time.  Lucky enough to survive your encounter? Please enjoy an expensive ambulance ride, lingering injuries, time off work and a smashed ride, as insurance companies jockey to refuse payment first.  Meanwhile Mrs. Soccer Mom gets a $15 ticket for "failure to yield", a small dent in her CRV and then continues on her merry oblivious way to Starbucks for a latte.

No amount of screaming, yelling, aggressive retaliatory riding or YouTube posting is going to change that or get drivers to stop texting, drinking, sleeping and wake up and pay attention.  More often than not, the best defense, is defense.  If you plan on taking to the mean streets, be prepared.  Recognize that trouble comes from all around and never count on drivers to "do the right thing", expect them to do the wrong thing, the dumbest thing, the craziest thing, every damn time.  The best road riding advice I ever got was this: 'Ride like everyone out there is trying to kill you.'  Because they are.

Watch the dipshit in the video above, he's lucky to be alive to bitch and moan about something he could have prevented.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Inauspicious Beginnings

Mid-March finds me at a rainy Roebling Road Raceway in Georgia.  This will be my first outing with both the EX500 and the FZR.  Expectations are high, but with the rain, so is trepidation.

I've got two morning practices to figure out the new to me track, dust off the winter cobwebs, re-learn the EX and learn, sort out and come to grips with the new FZR racebike.  It's a daunting task but I have come into this prepared for teething problems.  My mindset is to use the first weekend as a throwaway practice deal to get my act together.  Because the two lowest results from the season do not count, I won't have to put as much pressure to do well on the first weekend and focus on tuning the bikes and myself.

It ends up being the right plan, as a comedy of errors ensues.  The wind picks up to a terrible howl on Friday night.  Things are clanking around outside, moving and shifting under the strain.  My main concern is for the somewhat flimsy canopy covering the bikes.  It is certainly not designed for this type of sustained tornadic pressure, so in the middle of the night I hop out of bed to secure it better, only to find the front has collapsed and the rest is about to follow.

Running back to the van to grab duct tape and something rigid to splint the compound structure fracture, I arrive at the open passenger side door just as a 30 mph gust of wind catches it, slamming the steel door frame into my skull.  I stand there for a few moments, trying to convince myself not to pass out, wind whipping at me in my stagger, the torrent soaking my half-naked, barefoot body.

I succeed in remaining conscious, if not exactly lucid, duct taping my broom to the broken canopy frame in the hopes it will survive the night, grab some ice from the cooler for my head, hoping that I will too.

Unbeknownst to me, a new one of the$e was in my future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Season's Dawn

We tend to think of life as being a long journey, consisting of stages, tribulations, milestones and moments.  A race season is much like that, lasting eight months for some of us in the southern regions.  It begins with fresh hope and excitement, a clean slate, a new plan.  If a racer has enough luck and talent, he soon finds his groove and gets down to the business of winning.  Without both of them in abundance, the struggle ensues.

Bike problems, brain problems, injuries are among the countless obstacles queueing up to besiege the hapless competitor.  Eight months of that can rattle anyone's confidence and reduce focus to a blurry memory.

Championship wins are born out of consistency and commitment.  Motorcycle sprint racing championships require balls to the wall commitment, going fast for those eight to ten laps, those twenty or so intense minutes, without falling down.  Then being able to do it consistently twelve, twenty, thirty times a season, again, without falling down, or at least not doing it very often.  Even after managing all that, you still have to do it faster than the best guy, who is trying his damndest to do it faster than you.  What a glorious mindfuck!

March approached like a prowling lion, soon my mindfuck would begin.

The FZR, ready to race.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Harm's Way, Tragedy Through Stupidity

"Tractor Trailer Plows Into Parked Bikes Along NC Interstate!"

Those were the headlines a few weeks ago.  Apparently a tractor trailer swerved off the road after the driver fell asleep and ran into six motorcycles parked on the side of I-85 in North Carolina.  Two motorcyclists would end up dead, four injured and the truck driver arrested and charged with felony hit and run and two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle.  Some reports stated that the only reason the truck driver stopped later was because he had a flat tire.

My initial response was anger, even hatred towards the truck driver.  After all, the piece of shit had killed two motorcyclists out of carelessness and kept going.  Open and shut case of right and wrong.  No need for further thought, although something kept troubling me.  Some bit of a thought remained like a piece of food stuck in the teeth, but my brain was assigned to pressing tasks and soon moved on to other things.

Until last Sunday morning.  As I was returning from one of my ritual Sunday morning dirt bike rides (which have mostly supplanted my street bike rides), bike safely stowed in the back of the van, I made my way down the on-ramp off of 195 to merge on I-95 Northbound.

The on-ramp starts as two lanes, then merges, to the right, to one lane before depositing you into the speeding traffic of 95N.  As I headed down the ramp, which is at least a 1/2 mile long downhill run with vehicle speeds from 50-70 mph, the traffic, fairly heavy for a Sunday morning, all began to swerve, LEFT.  'What the hell?", I thought and suddenly the reason for this maneuvering came into view.  Fifteen motorcycles and at least twenty riders and passengers were stopped on the side of the on-ramp.  Some were seated on their machines, others were leaning on the guardrail, one woman, dressed in tank top and shorts, was walking from one bike to the other on the traffic side of the breakdown lane.  I saw lots of "beanie" helmets, bare arms and even some bare legs.  There appeared to be no emergency, no mechanical issue, no pressing reason for the coffee break.

Then it struck me, that nagging feeling I'd had since hearing about the accident in North Carolina.  Why in hell were all these motorcyclists putting themselves in harm's way to begin with?  I have seen it many times, these cavalcades of chrome festooned land-yachts parked precariously on the sides of interstates, traffic whizzing by at 80mph while weekend warriors smoke cigarettes and shoot the shit.

Can these riders not see the utter folly in such an act?  Motorcycles, bar none, are the MOST vulnerable vehicles on the highway.  Even an Amish buggy offers more protection.  The only advantages we have over the 4-wheeled cruise missiles programmed to seek and destroy are the abilities to out-accelerate, out-brake and out-maneuver them, but these require skill and training to make full use of.  We live in a country with hordes of sleepy, self-absorbed, drugged, angry, aggressive, texting, make-up applying, earbud wearing incompetent fucktards behind the wheel.  A motorcycle is just another target for these poorly piloted projectiles.  At the very least we should be moving targets.

Nothing short of a life-threatening scenario will bring me to the side of one of our nation's highways, whether on two wheels or four, the risks are simply too high.  I don't know why the motorcyclists in North Carolina were on the side of the highway, and while I would never try to lay blame on them for this tragedy, I do know for certain, however, had they not been there when that idiot fell asleep, two more motorcyclists would still be alive.

Horrible tragedy.  All the more so because it was preventable.