Posted by: silverback | 2010/03/27

first ride of the season

i have work that needs to be done – everywhere. i have wood to start chopping & stacking for next winter, i need to install a new thermostat, winter’s fallen detritus needs to be cleared from the yard, trees need pruned, garage cleaned…the list could be endless. i also have a very important client visiting the plant next week to run a large number of samples on the machine i recently built, but i’m in the middle of installing a series of improvements to the tooling and process. i was at work today, a Saturday, making no small amount of progress, when the obsession started.

the sun is out, and the day warming. spring is happening out there, and i was inside on the second nicest day so far this year. this would not stand. let me get to a stopping point and i’ll go. time is short – Laura went to do a 12K run this morning, but she’s bound to be on her way back by now, and then she’s got a list of things she wants to get done, meaning my afternoon will be spent with our son. he’s an awesome little guy, but damn! his energy is boundless, and i’m going to have to find some wide-open space in which to let him loose. i’ve got about 2 hours…just enough time for a quick loop on the moto.

yes. that is exactly what i need.

i quickly finish up the bit of mechanical install i was amid, leaving fairly obvious notes & labels for the electrician who would be in behind me this afternoon. i shoot Laura a text telling her i was going to burn a loop, and head home to gear up. i pull my Triumph Speed Triple off the battery tender & roll it out of the garage to warm up as i dress. it’s nearly an automatic process at this point in my life – slip my textile overpants on top of jeans, slip on my boots, my Cabela’s windproof sweater since it’s just in the low 50’s. next the textile jacket with wind liner, zipped to the pants, ipod in the pocket with noise-canceling earbuds, helmet, gloves. slip my wallet in the tankbag & i’m off, in less than ten minutes.

the bike sounds good after a long cold winter; not the first time it’s been out of the garage this spring, but the first time it’s been out for a ride. she suits me perfectly, the big 1050cc three-cylinder pumping out impressive torque from low in the revs, bouncing perfectly-spaced exhaust pulses off the high roadside banks every 240 degrees of crank rotation. her fuel light comes on immediately, demanding a fresh tank of 93-octane to begin a fresh new season of riding.

pulling out of the gas station i whack the throttle open at just the right moment around 4000 RPM, lifting the front wheel off the pavement for a few hundred feet, then begin the business of shaking off the cobwebs. i’ve done a couple weekends at the track over the winter, but riding on the street is a much more challenging game of risks versus rewards. especially this early in the season, as the roads have all taken a beating over the winter. today will be a reconnaissance ride, sussing out the locations of new potholes & frost heaves, sandy patches & flood zones.  i will also spent more than a few miles reacquainting myself with my baby.

i bought this 2005 Triumph in early 2007 with under 6000 miles on it. she’s about to roll 30,000. we’ve been through a whole lot together – my first track day, two major crashes before retiring her from the track, two trips to Daytona for the AMA races during bike week, too many days racking 300+ miles to count, and one or two 400+. more than a couple close calls with guardrails or oncoming traffic at illegal speeds, and (at least) one high-speed run from law enforcement. she simply does exactly what i want her to do, every single time. the comfortable, upright position is easy on my body at most of the speeds i should be traveling; the wide bars permit me to flick the bike quickly from one side to the other on the tight curves that abound in the most rural areas in these mountains; the above-average suspension keeps me pinned to the line i want, and the aforementioned torquey liter-plus triple builds neck-straining thrust in any gear. there is only one other bike/rider combo in my entire spectrum of friends and acquaintances that i have trouble hanging onto. i don’t have trouble keeping him in sight, but the dude is undeniably talented. usually the Triple & i are the class of any group, as humbly as possible.

it doesn’t take very long to get into some seriously twisty bits of road, and they are not all as bad as i expected. in shady spots and north-facing areas, the vestiges of salt & sand are still very evident, so the approach under braking & initial tip-in must be handled fairly precisely, done in one of the two wheel-tracks cleared by “cages” in each lane. some of the lighter-macadam roads are especially hard to read, so i reduce my pace just a notch & practice smoothness on brakes going in and throttle coming out. i definitely feel a little front-end push in a few places, and feel my rear stepping out in a few more. some new holes have popped up in places, mostly in areas of old pavement & backwoods aging bridges.

we recommence our mind-meld, my bike and i, she giving me subtle feedback to my every input, whispering conditions at the pavement-tire interface through my fingertips and forearms, balls of feet and gluteal cheeks. the road ahead is familiar, unfolding as it has so many times on this, my favorite loop – my “go-to” après-work decompression ride. familiar, but never the same. this is the reason street riding remains so appealing to me – it is never the same ride twice.

many people i know have completely given up riding on the street after discovering trackdays. “it’s so dangerous,” they say, “the track has ample runoff – no oncoming traffic – everybody is going the same speed – it’s never dirty…” the list goes on. all these things are true. i love riding on the track for all these reasons, coupled with the fact that there is no speed limit. personally, i think track riding and street riding complement each other. the street teaches me how to read the pavement, how to anticipate the unexpected. it teaches me restraint, how to dial it back to 7/10ths. most of all, every lap on the track, while a challenge to be sure, is generally the same as the last. you can do as near a perfect lap on the track as you can do, then attempt to do it again. it is repetition.

on the street, the road changes daily. a rainstorm washes leaves & mud across a corner here & there, a dually truck will pull some gravel out of the shoulder. alternatively, the state may come in and lay down some fresh, smooth & sticky black asphalt on some random piece of road in the middle of nowhere, creating a six-mile playground that didn’t exist last week. you might time it perfectly, hitting your favorite stretch of curves on a summer evening in perfect light while seemingly every soul on the planet has gone inside for an hour. the challenge of turning the perfect lap on the street is not judged by the timer. most often it is judged by the fullness of the soul upon passing through. nailing the perfect line into a sandy corner, pushing the front just that much across the silt transition from right wheel-track to left, gently nudging the right grip so that the tire bites & the bike snaps in just so in the middle of the clean pavement, rolling on the throttle smoothly enough to slide the back tire just off arc, driving out with just a hint of dirt-track. or the discovery of a post-storm rivulet midcorner, requiring a split-second push on the inside bar to momentarily tighten the line, then a snap on the outside bar to stand the bike up for just that long, then yet another reversal, back down on the knee, all processed & implemented in less than the time it took to type the words, “oh shit a stream.”

i knocked out my most-favorite-ever ninety miles of roads in under two hours, and despite the first twenty miles being hampered by heavy, if fast-moving, traffic detouring around the I-40 rockslide on the first nice weekend of Spring. there was some crap on the roads here & there – some sand, some wet spots, some mud, a little gravel. but there were some amazingly clean stretches of familiar asphalt that begged for just another fifty feet before brakes, a half-second sooner on the throttle. i found that perfect midcorner spot for my head a few times, just above the handgrip on either side of the tank. the place where i could best hear the mechanical symphony of valvetrain, intake whine, and exhaust pulses resonating together upon cracking the throttle open at the apex, with a soaring crescendo stopped in perfect time to the next upshift. the road treated me well today, each corner unfolding knowingly into the next, the ideal line easily discerned.

upon returning home, my wife had thoughtfully brought me some amazing take-out from one of our favorite restaurants, and my zany little boy was bouncing around the house, wearing a foam-rubber block and proclaiming himself to be Spongebob Squarepants.

my soul is indeed full.



  1. Glad you were able to shake off the cob webs. So when are we riding 🙂

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