Thursday, December 31, 2015

Better Sweat Than Blood

The older I get, the more protective gear I wear when riding.  Call it wisdom, fear, old age, whatever you want, but the truth of the matter is, the stuff works.  Today's motorcycle safety equipment is ergonomically designed, stylish for those who care about that sort of thing and can really save your ass if you get into a bad spot.  Sure it's not exactly cheap, but missing work for a week or three costs a hell of a lot more.  Don't even bitch about it being hot, I'd rather sweat than bleed any day.

This isn't going to be a harangue, rant, polemic or diatribe about why you are a piece of human garbage if you don't wear your gear, we've all heard those time and time again.  The safety nazis haven't been able to legislate total bubble wrap protection for anyone venturing out of the house yet, so you still have enough freedom to make your own decision.  For now.  Instead it's just a little blurb about the latest addition to my off-road gear bag:  a pair of Thor Force XP knee guards.

An ounce of prevention....well, in this case about three pounds.

I had been using soft knee armor in a pair of Bohn Adventure pants, but a 15 mph tangle with a tree earlier this summer convinced me that was not enough.  It was a stupid crash that was entirely due to operator error.  I was looking for a trail while moving along at a fairly rapid pace for the terrain.  I saw the entrance I wanted just as I was passing it, grabbed a handful of front brake, locked the front wheel, which slid and then started to tuck, sending the whole stupid mess hurtling towards the ground.  I let off the brake and somehow managed to keep the bike upright, and pointed towards a tree about as big around as my leg.  Instead of looking where I wanted to go, I continued staring at the tree, and target fixated myself into a nice leafy wreck, the area right below my patella taking the brunt of the impact.  For those not familiar with trees, they don't move much, despite tossing yourself into them with great exuberance.  And they are hard, even the little ones!

At the time of the crash I was by myself, and had not come upon any other riders.  I spent about twenty minutes assessing the damage and using the ice water bag in my hydration pack to reduce the swelling before riding back out of the woods.  It was not a major injury, but it certainly did not feel good and it made moving around painful for the next couple of weeks, with a nasty tendency to swell incredibly everytime I stood up.  And all of it entirely preventable with a $99 pair of knee guards.  Beforehand that Benjamin seems like a lot to spend, but afterwards it seems really cheap to avoid this type of thing.

After riding in the knee guards for about 30 minutes, I forgot they were there, but it's reassuring to know they are.  Lessons learned....

How come you have two kneecaps Kris?  Gee, I dunno.

I didn't even hit or twist my ankle, but the bruising and swelling made it's way down there too.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Young and Dumb, Old and Stupid

Short one today, non-motorcycle related, just an observation really:

Middle-age is funny.  Everybody younger than you thinks you're an idiot.  And everybody older than you thinks exactly the same thing.  Anyone your own age is too nice or doesn't care enough to let you know one way or the other.  Like I said, funny.

Who is this old creepy guy/young whippersnapper and what is he doing?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Change in the Wind

I find myself severely lacking enthusiasm for roadracing in 2016.  Maybe it's the holidays or the lousy weather or the thought of endless hours driving deeper south for racing due to the death of the Mid-Atlantic region.  Whatever it is, there seems to be a change in the wind.

I came to racing because riding on the street did not satisfy the need.  The biggest issue with roadracing is the lack of track time.  Even on the best days you will usually not get much more than an hour to 1.5 hours actually riding.  Over a three day weekend this adds up to less than five hours, and most race weekends are only two days.  Coupled with the fact that my drive times to the track start with the lowest at 7 hours and go up from there, you end up with a very high per lap cost, and not only financially.  It becomes a grind and a rut.  A job.  And I've already got one of those that isn't a whole lot of fun.

The desire for two-wheeled warfare is still there, as is the constant need to improve and test oneself, but perhaps the method of delivery will change.  The more time I spend riding in the woods, the more time I want to spend there.  At the end of a day off-road I feel as if I've run ten road race weekends, but in a good way.  I am exhausted to the point of elation, have been mentally and physically challenged, tested limits and honed skills and experienced the thrill of speed (20 mph dodging trees feels fast as fuck!).

Perhaps the time is ripe for a change, at the very least a breather from roadracing to help make it feel fresh and enjoyable again.  Lest familiarity breed contempt.

I could never leave this entirely, but a respite to recharge and reinvigorate was surely in the cards 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Primum Non Nocere

Primum Non Nocere.  "First, do no harm."

This is the fundamental guiding principle of medicine.  It should be the same for anyone that would lay a wrench on a motorcycle as well.

The two-wheel community is awash with "builders" and "customizers" churning out choppers, cafe racers, brat bikes, bobbers, rat bikes, scramblers, streetfighters and their even more hybridized offspring, brat scramblers, rat bobbers, cafe fighters, rat brats and scrambled chopper racers.  Every bobo with a shed and a hacksaw is trying to create his or her "dream ride" and ending up more often than not with Frankenstein.

Don't get me wrong, I fly the DIY flag more proudly than rednecks in a jacked-up truck do the Stars 'N Bars, but I've also come to accept that there are certain things the motorcycle factories and all their engineers with fancy degrees know better than I.  In my limited wisdom, I have become loathe to mess with these things.

If we accept the premise that a motorcycle is a vehicle first, then there are a few tasks it must be able to perform and in a better fashion than say, a 1987 Yugo with 200K.  First it must go.  Second it must stop.  Third it must turn.

Any modifications in either of the three areas should only seek to improve upon the foundation laid by the factory.  Many times this is not possible, so maybe it's better to leave it alone (do no harm)?

In the "See Me, Hear Me" mentality possessed by so many motorcycle enthusiasts what would seem to be common sense is thrown out the window.  It's a case of function fucked over by a warped sense of form.  Go ahead and stretch the front or rear of that bike until it's nothing more than a John Holmes sized penis extension.  Take perfectly good working suspension and make it rigid so it pounds you into hemorrhoids, impotence and herniated discs.  Remove half of your front brake system so that people get a better look at your super shiny chrome rims.  Cut, hack, grind, chop, bolt on, take off, do whatever it takes to make us feel like individuals.  Idiots, but individuals!

Obviously it's your bike and you're still free enough to do what you want to do with it, but before we pick up that wrench, torch or hacksaw, maybe we should ask ourselves, "Why?".

So you take a motorcycle with nearly 200 horsepower, capable of 200 miles per hour, install a floppy extended swingarm so it needs a runway to turn around and remove one of the front rotors so it now has half the stopping power?  Seems like a good idea to me. 
Seriously? I can bend those fork tubes with just the power of my mind.  One pothole and you are headed to the hospital.  The front brake provides 75% of the stopping power of a motorcycle, so let's not install one.  Brilliant.

So you took off technologically advanced shock absorbers and replaced them with solid struts, then, it was so uncomfortable you had to add a shock absorber to your seat?  It's that kind of forward thinking that got America to where it is today.
No fenders to keep water and rocks from spraying you front and back and nothing to keep your testicles from dragging on the rear tire if god forbid you slide back off the Karen Carpenter thin seat.  Rock on man!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I have been a little lax on posting lately.  Writer's block would be a convenient excuse, if only it were true, but it's mostly just being lazy.  Oh, and projects.

I always find myself getting wrapped up in these motorcycle projects.  Occasionally they turn out ok, but mostly they just cost money and time and at the end of it all you are left with a big pile of neither.

Thinking back, this propensity for projects must have started in my adolescence.  Inevitably some beat to shit two-wheeled conveyance well beyond its last legs would breathe a final gasp while falling into my grubby little paws, and like a well-smitten john with his favorite lady of night, I would set about to "saving" the machine.  As in the story of the hooker and the trick, it never ends well, Pretty Woman is a lie.

There exists a long, shameful list of vehicles that I have thrown good money after bad at and ended up selling at a huge loss just to get out from underneath.

  • The 1978 Kawasaki Invader snowmobile that ate up at least $1,700 of my college money when I was 17: sold for $275 to my lowballing friend.  
  • The $2500 1979 Honda CB750F that I spent another $1,800 on turning into a cafe racer: sold on Ebay for the princely sum of $1,300. 
  • The Suzuki T500 road racer with special chassis, forks, wheels and engine, at least $20,000: parted out for only $5,000, because no one would buy it whole for $3,000.  
  • The 1982 Yamaha RD350LC "money pit" with a running tally of nearly $15,000: I still have it and they are going to bury me with it so I can get my money's worth out of the damn thing.
Some men spend money on booze and women, I spend it on motorcycles. That RD, however, purchased about 8 years ago was my breaking point.  I vowed never to get that deep into something again.  I had matured at least enough to recognize a bad relationship when I saw it, and I knew that some things are better abandoned than seen through to the bitter end.

And yet I can't resist the urge to tinker with things, or "make them better".  As I stare at the pile of parts on the garage floor that have to be finessed, massaged and then finally probably hammered and cajoled into place, I realize this is the start of another project.  Dammit. 

A small sampling of my various projects over the last 25 or so years

Friday, December 11, 2015

Grow Up II

It really irks me when people toss things out the window of their car.  Cigarette butts, fast food containers, beer cans, diapers, I've seen it all.  Maybe it's because as a motorcyclist I am more exposed to the elements and more aware of my surroundings, or maybe it was that Burger King cup full of piss that hit me in the face shield while travelling through Louisiana, thrown by a couple pillars of the community on their way to church.

Whatever the reason, those actions smack of total disregard for other people.  I don't care if you smoke.  Hell, I don't even care if you smoke in public.  Light up until your lungs collapse. But use an ashtray like a civilized human being.  Eat Big Macs until your arteries are full of sludge and your heart explodes, but I'll be damned if I'm going to dodge another white bag festooned with the golden arches haphazardly tossed by some ADHD dipshit playing Angry Birds on his phone running red lights and taking his half of the road out of the middle.  Use a garbage can.

In short, grow the hell up.  We all have to live and drive here, start acting like it.

Baby, it is so hot when your perfectly manicured nails flick that still hot butt at my helmet.  I want you so bad... 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Grow Up

I am giggling in my helmet when a strange idea pops into my head:  I simply do not feel like an adult.  Sure I've got most of the trappings of adulthood now, grey on the head, ear hair, I make that grunt sound when I bend over, pay lots of bills and taxes and work 40+ hours a week to do so, but it really feels like somebody else.  Not me.

What feels like me are my solo, early morning off-road rides (read about them here: My Church).  The thought occurred as I was practicing an enduro technique called a "log pivot turn".  Basically you approach a log from the side, compress the suspension, then, as it rebounds you loft the front end slightly by applying throttle and releasing the clutch and sort of bounce it over the log, landing on the other side at a 90 degree angle to the obstacle.  I had been trying to get this move down, but it was a struggle.  After what seemed like 1000 attempts, several of which ended with me sprawled on top of the log wondering what went wrong, I finally nailed it perfectly, hence the giggling.  I rode away, got a little excited and popped a celebratory wheelie that almost went too far, still chuckling to myself.

I get an obscene amount of enjoyment from these rides, so much so that sometimes I look over my shoulder to see if someone is going to tell me to stop.  I hope not.  On rare occasions I wonder if maybe I've missed out on something as a failed adult.  But then I go do a few more log jumps and realize it's probably somebody else who is missing out.  

Disclaimer: This is not me, however I assure you I look just as cool and stylish as Chris Birch does here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Where From Here?

"How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?" -Dr. Seuss

The logical thing, at least in the tortile logic of the racer, would be to begin mounting a defense of hard won championships.  Who vacates the castle after sacking it and driving forth the infidels?  Now is the time to fortify the defenses, increase military spending and rout out any remaining resistance before they have time to regroup.  Scorched Earth baby!

I almost went this route, and I still may, should the fancy strike me.  But there are realities.  Keeping two racebikes shod in slick tires over a season is monetarily daunting, even with Bridgestone contingency money (thank you Bridgestone!!).  The WERA Mid-Atlantic region is dead for my classes, which means a minimum 7 hour drive to Roebling Road Raceway near Savannah to defend #1 plates.  I drove so many miles chasing this thing that it took something out of me.  My body loathes sitting in one position for that many hours, cramping and aching, and the van isn't getting any younger either.  I went for broke this season, and I very nearly got there.

Crazy ideas of famous/infamous races I want to run are rolling around in my adolescent brain (Classic TT, Dakar, etc.), but until I become independently wealthy those will remain in fantasyland.  I suppose one shouldn't get too greedy when it comes to competition, I've been lucky enough to line up on the grid at some of the best racetracks in the United States.  But that's the problem with racing, it's never enough, there is always something to chase, some loftier goal with an even deeper chasm on the other side should you lose your toehold.  On the untrodden precipice of which new abyss would I choose to practice my fouett├ęs?  Stay tuned.

I don't think this is how it's done.  Twelve years later and my neck still hurts.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gather No Moss

Physical fitness is a crucial component to riding a motorcycle quickly.  I've found this applies not only in roadracing, but even more so off road.  That 30 pound spare tire from too much Bob's Big Boy is like an anchor on the racetrack.  Sure there are fat guys that can go fast, but why put yourself at a disadvantage?

Over the last five years I've lost some weight.  I won't go into specific numbers, but let's just say it's a fairly significant amount.  Now before you start patting me on the back and telling me what a wonderful achievement it is, you can put your accolades back in your pocket.  I have never looked at this like an accomplishment, but more as the righting of a wrong I committed against myself, the fixing of something that was broken, nothing more.  I took responsibility for my actions instead of rationalizing, making excuses and denying my reality.  I chose to live, as opposed to being crushed to death under the weight of my own weakness.

In the end it was a simple choice.  I wanted to ride a motorcycle as fast as my skill would let me, and that wasn't going to happen carrying around what amounted to a small person all the time.

Getting fit is like building speed on the racetrack.  You do it slowly, or you crash and burn.  Make a change, evaluate.  Practice.  Keep at it.  Commit intelligently, fortune hates half and dumb asses.  It's funny how the lessons that racing teaches are applicable in every facet of life.  As long as you're moving, the race is still on.

The author, turning laps of a different sort.  All in the quest for speed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Crash

No, not that kind of crash.  The post race season crash.  The "after all the awards are handed out, sponsors thanked, victory speeches given and you are left alone with $3 worth of plastic signifying your accomplishments that no one outside of maybe three other people on earth give a shit about" crash.

The days are shorter, moving so quickly into darkness and it's wall to wall holiday mayhem consumerism everywhere you turn with the only apparent message that if you truly love someone, you better go into debt to get them something shiny they don't need.  Soon we will mark the passing of another year and those trophies and #1 plates will mean even less, because the idiots will be lining up to take them from you, and if your head isn't in it, if your heart isn't in it, you are going to get beat.  Or hurt.  Or dead.

So you soul search on those restlessly damp nights that make all the old injuries ache, an ever present reminder of dues paid, each scar a vivid receipt.  And you wonder how much you might have left to pay, because no one gets a free ride, ever.  And you wonder if it is still in you.  And you pray for some sort of cattle prod in the arse to shock you out of the funk, because race season is a long way off and you sure as shit aren't getting any younger. Ho ho ho.