Posted by: silverback | 2014/04/08


My buddy Aaron called me a dickhead the other night. It’s not unusual, because I kinda am – not maliciously, but my sense of humor goes to dry, occasionally biting, wit. I just calls ’em as I sees ’em.

In this case, however, he was chastising me because I was riding “too fast.” He was lamenting that I wasn’t leaving anything on the table, going balls-out on the motard on early-season dirty roads. We had just returned to his driveway from a blistering hour on local roads, climaxed by both of us momentarily losing the front ends of our bikes in the same corner – nearly side-by-side. I couldn’t really figure out why I was the dickhead in this case – I wasn’t twisting his throttle. In the corner we both washed, he was actually in the lead!

I’ve been riding motos for 32 years, on the street for 27 of them. I have a whole lot of miles under my wheels, and a broad base of skills in other vehicles, on dirt bikes, and on the track. He’s been on street and track for only five years or so. I think this is where he judges me to be unreasonable – comparing his comfort level in relation to mine. When I pull on the helmet and set off down a curvy road, everything changes. The road just pulls me – I see the lines I want to take, and I sit atop this machine that was designed by men to do such-and-such a thing based on my inputs, and I use the skills I’ve developed to ride the line I see, using the machine as best I can to accomplish that. Most of the time I can moderate, but often enough, I become so focused on following that line that everything else fades into the blurs at the edges. When things are clicking, I just forget everything else. I exist in the moment – the very microsecond now where all the inputs and all the feedback and all the intangible information come to maintaining the knife-edge balance of forces that allow these bikes to do what they do.

We’ve been hitting some dirt roads. I love dirt roads – I can get the same thrill at a marginally lower speed, I think because the bike slides around – the magnitude of forces acting on the bike are lower because there’s less available traction. The bike works the same, though – and that’s a hard thing to wrap one’s head around. So many riders tense up and ride stiff (which is exactly the opposite of what we should do) when traction is limited. To really enjoy riding dirt roads, you gotta loosen up and play. The brakes work, just not as well – spend some time experimenting with how hard you can apply the brakes before the tires start sliding. Acceleration works the same – apply throttle, weight shifts rearward, and the bike accelerates. If you apply too much throttle, though, the rear will start to spin – but it’s manageable just by changing your input. When leaned over a little, if the rear begins to spin, the bike will rotate because you’ve compromised the friction component that was causing your change in direction. So with more experience comes more confidence, knowing how much drift ought to come with a certain throttle input. It’s a matter of not only instinctively knowing the appropriate inputs, but also knowing the traits of your own machine – to an extent.

Aaron has been cautious on the dirt – he does not appreciate not being hooked up, tractionwise. As I watch, I see very tentative braking, then a very cautious tip-in to an artificially reduced lean angle, and very hesitant application of throttle. Granted, his dirt riding experience is extremely limited – most of his riding has been on clean, dry streets or racetracks. His excuse, though, was that his modern, stiffly suspended, tuned-fuel-injection Husqvarna motard is less suited for dirt than my old, soft, enduro-conversion KTM. And I believed him up until this past weekend, when I convinced him to let me have a go on a dirt road familiar to me.

I hopped on this wonder of modern machinery and headed down the gravel road, expecting this thing to be a handful of ill-handling, fire-breathing, rear-swapping terror. Into the first corner, brakes to threshold – ooh, nice fork action! really good feedback. Then flip it into the corner, dirt bike style, with a straight inside arm, outside elbow bent, weight atop the seat, expecting a big push – oh wow that thing just turned! Finish the corner with a little throttle, bracing myself for the inevitable swap – I’ll be damned, this rear suspension really is amazing!

Whereupon the dirt road just started pulling me forward. Everything behind my helmet disappeared – the line showed itself, and the bike did exactly what I asked it to do. Pretty quickly – within a matter of two or three more corners – I was riding that bike as if it were my own, drifting it off every corner with a heavy whisper of throttle, leaving a dark trail of roost between upshifts, then heavy brakes into blipped downshifts and just enough rear brake to set it sideways on approach, bang it on its side thru the apex, and back on the throttle to maintain a graceful arc to corner exit, stand it up, shift, repeat…

A couple miles later, I came out of my speed-induced haze and thought to myself, “Wow. This thing is really good! Which means in comparison, Aaron is probably not having near as good a time on my heavy, ill-handling (in comparison) old beast. I guess I’ll stop here and wait for him to trade back.”

I have to admit, I waited long enough that I started to get nervous he may have dropped it. But then he came around the corner and rolled up shaking his head.


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