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Back to School…

November 27, 2011

…to seek an answer: Who am I to Race?

"I'm going to be really hard on you today" (Linda Doll Cluxton Photo)

“You’re not going to have much time to study this,” says Andrew Cowell in his Australian twang. He’s shaking the course handouts in the air and sneering at us over his reading glasses, “so get it right, get it memorized while we’re going over it. I’m going to be really really hard on you today!”

I am sitting in the (relative) quiet of the Press Room during Barber Vintage weekend wearing the fluorescent Beginner Vest. I had read about racing lines and technique over the years, so I felt somewhat prepared. Large displacement bikes are ripping thru the straight toward turn one and rattling the glass walls. I feel a knot in the pit of my stomach.

A stew comprised of fear, excitement and anticipation is coming to a boil just below the surface of my leathers. I compartmentalize and bite down on the mouthpiece of my Camelbak. My instructor is demanding constant hydration, at this moment I’m happy to comply.

Rattling the classroom windows: pro racers duriing practice. (Linda Doll Cluxton photo)

Today we will spend half our day learning race basics in the classroom the other half will be spent on the track. Our day will close with a 1 on 1 oral exam and a mock race, I will need to do well on both to pass.

“Is there anyone here who cannot be on his bike, engine running, ready to ride in less than 10 minutes?” asks Andrew, “it’s going to be a busy day on the track!”

While teaching the class, Andrew is also coordinating with traffic control for the practice sessions to stream our class into the mix. He wants us to get maximum time on the track but not at the expense of safety; the race school students need to be sharing the track with bikes and riders who will keep a similar pace.

Andrew started us off slowly, with introductions and getting to know our respective levels of experience, moving to the course bookwork. In the middle of an explanation, his cell rings, he nods, snaps it closed and in his best Aussi quips,

“Right!! Get your gear on; we’re up in ten minutes. Go!”

Oblivious to the landscaping, lost in fear and concentration. (Linda Doll Cluxton photo)

I cannot believe that I’m riding on the beautiful track at Barber, but I have no time to gaze at the lush landscaping. I am learning the course simultaneously looking for brake/throttle/turn points and visual cues. My first track session passes quickly.

Back in class we do a rapid de-brief where Andrew talks about what he saw individuals doing wrong. He is also interested in our self-evaluations: what is working, what is not. How does our bike feel, how is it turning/braking/accelerating. Do we have questions about lines or getting our knees down in the corners?

The extent of my racing experience was a single track-day a month earlier. All of my classmates on the other hand, were experienced racers and track-day addicts who were attending the school to be legal to race AHRMA. My experience of 15 years as an airplane pilot would not take me far on a racetrack.

Andrew drilled flag memorization, bike prep, bike position, racing lines and track etiquette. What I did not expect was his focus on our mental attitude, whether in the pits or on the track or on a country road.

“When you pull your helmet on,” he said, while actually pulling on his helmet, “make the act a signal to your brain to Relax and to Focus.”

I knew I could memorize flags and the starting boards. What I had little experience in was taking the proper line, leaving room for riders to pass me and riding within inches of strangers. I knew that these skills could only be learned by time on the track, something I had precious little of. If I passed the course on Friday, how was I going to grid-up with scores of other riders for Saturday’s race? My attitude would have to see me through.

The clock shows 5 pm, the hour for us grid up for the mock race. No more classroom, this was our final exam and all eyes will be on our class, especially Andrew who kept vigil in the glass control booth on the top floor.

Andrew supervises the Mock Race (Linda Doll Cluxton Photo)

I was gridded in the first row joined by an SV650 and another big-bore race bike. I was straddling the mighty 40-year-old Honda 350. As soon as the flag dropped, I forgot about attitude and doggedly pursued the two bikes speeding away from me. I stayed with them fine till turn 5, where I entered the corner way too fast, my gaze fell to the wrong place and I ran off the track…in front of Andrew, my friends and thousands of racers.

Mock Race Grid: That would be me trying to look brave. (Linda Doll Cluxton Photo)

I was angry with myself; I hadn’t done what I was taught! I was racing the other racers, not the course. I fixated on the outside of the turn, so that’s where my bike went. I had stayed upright but the face under my helmet was red with embarrassment. Andrew’s voice came back to me:

“Relax. Focus. Look through all turns. Look far down the course.”

Last place in the Mock Race is a win! (Linda Doll Cluxton Photo)

I finished out the mock race in last place, but didn’t care. I was on the track at Barber and I was practicing mental discipline.

Saturday and Sunday found me racing! Each day, as the one-minute board went sideways, I took a breath, relaxed and renewed my mental focus. With every lap, my confidence grew, I relaxed more and in doing so, I was able to keep fine-tuning my technique. It was amazing.

Into turn 5 on Sunday. etech photo

When I replay my memories from Barber, I am delighted by the mental state I achieved while roaring around the track in close quarters with many other riders. I felt an inner stillness in the face of intense concentration that I have not felt in any other sport. Thank you Andrew for leading me to such a rewarding conclusion. I now understand why so many dedicate the time and money to go racing for precious little seat time. I cannot wait to go again.


Visiting the Crack House

October 18, 2011

“Hey, you know that NESBA has a “Free Introductory Special” don’t you? We could put your bike on the trailer and you could get some free track time.”

So spake a riding buddy who was taking her race bike to a track day in preparation for the October AHRMA vintage races at Barber.

Free track time, I thought. All I have to do is borrow some leathers, tape up my lights and attend a beginner’s track etiquette briefing…then I get two sessions on the racetrack gratis. I’m in!

NESBA stands for New England Sport bike Association, an organization who’s charter is to get everyday street riders on racetracks where they can explore the limits of their riding abilities safely. It’s not about speed; there are neither trophies nor races. NESBA Track Days are an open-air classroom for learning more about piloting a two-wheeled machine.

My friends are experienced road racers who call them selves Cheap and Shameless Vintage Racing and they campaign CB350s in the Novice Production Class. Leathers were borrowed; space on the trailer was made for my overweight ’06 Bonneville and we all headed south to Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC.

Post bivouac in a curry-flavored (cheap) motel, we’re on the Kershaw Campus. I’m listening to a safety briefing and am more than intimidated by the young guys on sport bikes who are stretching their tattooed bodies in preparation.

Is this an Iraq mission briefing or a track day at Kershaw?

Peace Pilot: Please don't strafe me...

Myself and my two fellow Free Introductees were to ride in a subset of the Beginner group, led by Eric, a Rider Coach in a yellow jersey. He was astride an R1 Yamaha, my classmates on shiny GSXR du Aniee. Within seconds of rolling onto the track, the instructor and the two juvenile speed freaks were out beyond my visual range. I was clueless. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

The track had none of the usual cues to help me: no oncoming cars, no double yellow centerlines, no debris-strewn shoulders, no turkeys sauntering across the road, no glass. I was out of my depth. I felt like a Spitfire pilot over the Channel being jumped by German fighters as sport bikes jumped me from both sides. I felt as if I no longer knew how to ride a bike. I endured the 20-minute session. I didn’t come close to the experience I had anticipated.

Doing it wrong: sitting up tall on the way to a picnic.

“Wasn’t it greeeeeeaaaaaatttttt?!” beamed my buddy, Linda, as her helmet popped off like a champagne cork to unleash her bubbling excitement.
“Ah, well…ah…I’m not sure…” I stutter.
“You can blog all about this! It will be greeeeeaaaaat!” she quipped as she passed her bike to team manager, Scott.

I didn’t want to pee in anyone’s Cheerios right then, but I was at a very low point. I felt as if I had just been handed my private pilots license and the keys to the Space Shuttle. I wanted to run and hide: I felt out of my depth.

Dammit! I thought. I know how to ride a fricking bike, I’ve read all the books on apexing, racing lines brake points, hell I even took CornerSpin! But I suck at this. I don’t think I can stand to be out there for my final 20-minute session. How humiliating…

Deep in thought (fear)...

The minutes were ticking down to the next Beginners session, so I had to make up my mind.

To be or not to be: participating…whether tis’ nobler to bow out or ride…

Crossing the paddock, I ran into Eric, the Beginner Rider Coach.

“I saw you out there, and I know you were struggling. Next session, find me at the starting line and we’ll stick together. I’ll speed up only if you do, and I will not leave you until you feel comfortable. You’ll get it.” He smiled warmly, patted me on the back and sprinted off.

I donned my way_too_big_for_me leathers and rolled up next to Eric. He smiled; I smiled. He put it in gear; I put it in gear. He snapped down his visor, I snapped mine down. He then grabbed my shoulder and screamed over the engine noise,

“Relax! Have fun! Just follow me. This is going to be great!”

I stuck to his wheel as he showed me the racing line, his helmet turned backward toward me more often that it was facing forward. I sped up a tad, so he did. We had finished one lap and already I was getting comfortable. Lap two, more speed, he on his R1, me on my Fat Girl Triumph. The line was becoming more familiar.

We kick up the speed another notch. I’m relaxing more, a smile is starting to blossom beneath my helmet.

Yes, yes, I see! I’m thinking.  Ok.. this is good!

Halfway through lap 3 I am ready to jump out of the nest. As if reading my mind, Eric turns around gives me a thumbs up and a huge wave to pass him. He tails me for another lap. I am psyched. I’m no longer losing my place on the course, the line is pretty apparent (how did I not see this before?!) and I get down to the serious business of grinning.

I began to memorize visual cues for each corner. I played with brake and turn in points to grant me a smooth line thru the curves. Man, this was riding. Suddenly, I see the white flag signifying the final lap. Game over. Not for this impatient man…I want more.

NESBA knows what they are doing by offering a “free” intro. The sweat hadn’t dried on my brow yet my Visa could be found pumping digits into the trackside computer. I signed up to become a NESBA member, and paid the remaining $150 for the rest of the track day.

“We have never had anyone who took the freebie not sign up for the rest of the day!” said the NESBA cashier. His back was to the track, and I was facing him. The Expert class was howling around the course making conversation difficult.

“Yeah! It’s the most expensive “free” ride in motorcycling,” he quipped. In the distance, just above his head I saw a very pretty Triumph Sport bike cartwheel through an arc, the pilot flying a few feet in front of it. I had never witnessed a crash in progress before.

(Gulp) “Hey that guy just high sided!” I say a tad too loudly.

“He’s up, he’s OK”, says the money-man turning back to me, “but his bike is no bueno. Oh well, that’s racing!”

Undeterred, I stash my new NESBA card and take to the track. At the close of each 20-minute session, the Rider Coaches meet us in the hot pit for some debriefing. This was an unexpected benefit. The coaches filter through the pack of riders during the sessions watching for potential safety problems as well as making notes about the riders’ individual technique challenges. To be fresh from 20 minutes on the racecourse and to get instant pointers from experienced riders was wonderful. My problems stemmed from not leaning off the bike enough and not looking through the turns enough…hmmm where have I heard this before?

Cheap and Shamelss team troubleshooting an oil leak on Linda's bike

During my 3rd session, I vowed to keep up with my riding buddy, Linda; she aboard her demure 1970 Honda 350 and me riding my ‘06 Triumph Bonneville 800. Battle of the Twins?! She’s riding a grocery getter from 40 years ago, a college student commuter and I’m piloting a modern street machine.

Nooo contest, I thought.

I watched entranced in turn two as her rear tire disappeared into the pack. I never saw her again till the session debrief. I had double the horsepower at my disposal and I still couldn’t catch her!

Holy hot pit, I thought, this shit ain’t easy.

Gettin' it done: Linda makes it look easy.

Up till this point, I had never understood the drive to go racing. Watching my racing friends scrimp and save, crash and tweak, it seemed like a good deal of time, money and traveling were traded for precious little saddle time. I didn’t get it till I did it.

On the track, I became really invested in all aspects of the course’s 14 corners. The opportunity to ride through them continuously, watching my performance improve was addicting. The corners had become bar snacks and good beer.  I couldn’t stop; I wanted more of this drug…crack in the corners. I wanted to keep twisting the throttle to watch it all go by again.

At some point, I was not being passed as much, and I actually was dueling it out with another pilot! HooWee! Afterwards I find out, it’s a young girl…on a Ninja 250…that’s right: me on a big fat 794cc twin dueling with a girl on a 250cc bike. See how this works? It’s not the bike, it’s the rider.

Yes, that is a Ninja 250 about to eat my lunch...

By days end, I had ridden five 20-minute sessions and was exhausted through to my eye sockets. I could barely walk, but the sense of accomplishment had my endocrine system feeling hot-wired to an espresso machine. On the ride home I could not get certain corners out of my mind. I was analyzing, toying with braking deeper, apex-ing later, re-running that time when I locked up the rear brake and almost went off the course (something racers call Going Farming).

My Cheap and Shameless mates had schooled me that after a full day on a race track, I would be able to lie in bed and mentally go thru the whole course. They were right. I never did take a stopwatch to see if my mind was running at my true lap speed, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked. I wanted more.

In between sweet dreams of the perfect corner, I had panic nightmares where I found myself at the podium of a 12 step meeting.

“My name is Arthur, and I’m a Motorcycle Racer”

“Hi Arthur!”

I can forsee a cash stampede coming on and the barn door has already been left open.  First the long term, big items.  A track bike, a way to haul said track bike, leathers to wear while sitting upon track bike when off the trailer.  Oh wait…how to haul it?  A camper…visions of bench racing with riding buddies whilst camped next to the track come to mind…strong ale is involved…oh man…

Let’s not forget the recurring costs: race compound tires, track fees, gas for the bike/trailer hauling vehicle…grrr…I must find a way to get back on a track on the cheap…

Flexing Muscle Memory

October 11, 2011

How Does CornerSpin Transfer to the Street?

The last post found me geeking like crazy about my weekend at Cornerspin: ’Roadracing in the Dirt’. I do not own a dirt bike or dual sport, and I do not road race. I had a great time slipping and sliding on those little bikes, but I wasn’t sure how many muscle memories I possessed until I got out on the street to carve up some mountain roads.

My first ‘aha moment’ was for my braking technique, which I noticed right after pulling out of the driveway. Not only was I doing it much more confidently, I was also shifting my weight fore and aft to compensate for the loading on the bikes suspension. I learned through drills how to execute a panic stop without my usual worries about front wheel traction.

We have many roads here in Western NC on which to practice downhill cornering on decreasing radius off camber turns. The slow speed Cornerspin drills came back into play. I modified my downhill corner approach to brake hard before the turn-in point, eyes on the corner exit, then dump the bars into the turn while picking up the suspension with the throttle. It worked. Downhill corners have been my nemesis.

This was a fantastic revelation; for once I wasn’t coasting, and debris on the tarmac didn’t rattle me as much as prior to all the dirt work. I can also feel the front tire better, and when it does lose traction due to slick road paint, or debris I don’t slam the throttle shut.

I also find that I am working with visual reference points more naturally and automatically. Sure, I’ve read about all this stuff over the years, so what I’m saying is not new. What is different are my muscles, they have been trained to automatically react to braking or uneven traction without getting my pulse into the stratosphere.

Recently, I was approaching a left 90 degree corner. I realized that I was entering it too hot, I got on the binders and the rear wheel locked up. No biggie…except that I was fixated on looking forward, not where I needed to go. For a millisecond my body locked up, then everything slowed down and I overheard an internal conversation.

“See that turn point in your peripheral vision? It’s getting closer, you have to react.”
Wow…I am going fast, too fast to plow ahead and stop in time!
“I know, here comes that turn-in point…you’re going to blow past it.”
Shit. What do I do? (eyes finally coming off fixation mode and starting to look into the corner for the solution)
“Commit to the Turn! Dump the bars and roll on the throttle, Slick. You can do this!”

I had conjured up my personal lessons from Cornerspin
*Commit to the turn.
*Don’t wait for the bike to settle down and solve the problem for you.
*Look past the corner.
*Commit! Move your body, drop the bike into the turn, and
* Stay committed: roll on the gas.

I did it. The tires held and we hissed around the bend without mishap. I’ve been in this situation before, attempting to wrestle my body away from my mind when it’s target fixated. This corner was different. Once I put my eyes on the turn exit, my body took over fluidly. This was a great feeling. But what are you going to say to your riding buddy when you stop?

“Hey I did a really bone headed move back there, and I didn’t crash! Woo Hoo! Isn’t that cool?”

Exactly…who’s going to say that? These moments are personal, little souvenirs from the asphalt. I have to give the credit to Aaron and the Cornerspin instructors.

Slidin and Cryin

September 28, 2011

Riding the mountain roads in winter and early spring reminded me of just how little I know about this sport of Motorcycling. We had a great deal of ice and snow in Western NC, so our roads contained little surprises of traction-robbing deposits dropped in the most inconvenient locations.

My tense shoulders after winter rides drove me to watching On Any Sunday for the flat tracking scenes. I then popped “Faster” into the DVD player to watch Garry McCoy power sliding his GP bike. No inspiration hits me other than I want to know more about sliding a street bike.

A riding buddy passed me a link to “Cornerspin, Road Racing in the Dirt.” Not a flat track school, nor a dirt bike school, but a road racing school taught on mini bikes in the dirt.

On their site, I read articles by road racers and track day addicts wherein they thanked Cornerspin for shaving seconds off lap times on favorite tracks. It sounded convincing, but I was left wondering how applicable it would be for me: the average middle-aged street rider, with no predilection for racing. I signed on.

The entire weekend is about exploring the limits of a motorcycle’s traction. Using a diverse group of drills, Cornerspin aims to commit the lessons you learn to muscle memory. Building one upon another, my skill, and confidence grew by the hour. I’ll try to explain.

“You can’t believe how much traction you really have,” says Aaron Stevenson, the chief instructor and creator of the school, “until you learn to push it.”

Aaron loves his job!

He’s right and I did. The bikes are 100cc dirt bikes shod with street tires, allowing us to feel the loss of traction more easily. The first morning, we were drilling straight ahead braking on soft dirt using the front brake only, feeling for the limits of traction. Braking was not the only component here. Our coaches were grilling us on other disciplines such as: reference points for beginning and ending braking, proper body position that will allow you to control the bike when you do lose traction and most importantly: vision.

On my second pass, I felt the front brake lock up twice, each time my fingers modulated the pressure, returned me to traction and I stayed upright. I also learned that it is possible to lock the front wheel in a stop and not crash, it’s all in body positioning and handlebar awareness.

From the braking exercise on, I was driving hard toward my braking spots and applying maximum stopping in very loose conditions. I’m still in awe of the experience-I stopped harder and shorter than I’ve ever attempted on a road bike.

It's all about the gear: "How do I look?"

Did I fall? Why yes, I did…. 9 times. None of them hurt very much because we were outfitted with the Robo-Cop level of padding. I don’t know how Aaron and his guys do it, but the atmosphere throughout the weekend was more like a family gathering than a road race school; where everyone is taken care of, no one’s ego is bruised and everyone felt like equals. Don’t get me wrong, all of us were pushed to a high level of riding, and the technical classroom sessions during rest breaks were mind numbing with new input. Yet, at no time did I sense any “I’m More Experienced than you” which can be commonplace in motorcycle tutelage.

Another solemn moment in the classroom session: Aaron and students assume the proper handlebar position.

“Shut em down, I want you to hear this,” said Aaron. He explained the proper body position to stay upright while controlling rear wheel traction on the very tight circular course in front of us.

“…and once you have it down, I want you to take your left hand and place it on the gas cap. OK, start em up!”

I shit you not. The radius of the circle was such that staying upright with speed controlled dictated that we pilot our bikes by tipping them over pretty far to the inside…on slippery dirt. This was hard enough. Once we were comfortable we were to do this with one hand.

Guess what? I did it. We all did it, in a very short time period. This trend of starting small, then building the degree of difficulty is a constant at C-spin.

Testing the limits of traction. Ibuprofen is required.

“When we have the throttle applied or we’re actively braking, we’re pilots; we are in control. When we are Coasting we are passengers. Do not wait for the bike to guide you thru the turn. Be the pilot. Commit to the turn and do not stop trying,” said Aaron during our first classroom session. This idea became a mantra for the weekend and an important stimulation item as many of the drills became more complex.

On another drill we were running a very tight kidney shaped course comprised of three tight corners with a particularly tight 120-degree turn. The corner construction kept our speed low, so we could not rely on momentum to get us thru. We were forced to work the bike around every inch: it was all body mechanics, braking and gas.

The exercise was difficult, but if we used all that had been said about Gas, Brake, body position, reference points, eye discipline and commitment we’d do fine. Eventually I did. I slowly dialed in my reference points, found the proper line, and paid attention to body discipline and I was nailing it. It felt good.

Traction is all in the mind...student at speed.

“OK great! Now one handed!” shouted Pete over the engine noise.

I knew it was coming, and from the sliding circle exercise I knew it was possible. I did it. Shaky at first, but I came around. So did the other 5 people riding this tiny kidney with me. Our speed increased, and our lap times one handed seemed faster than two handed.

The kicker for getting a good lap was the first turn off the back straight. IT required braking very deeply into the corner and turning my head beyond my shoulder to look behind me before I tipped into the turn. It felt amazing to be braking hard and deep, looking beyond the apex (behind me) then tipping the bike and gassing it to stabilize the chassis…one handed.

Eyes locked on reference point...note the slick tires.

“Hey! Who can hit the barrel with their handlebars? Who’s gonna be the first?” chides Pete who is standing next to the blue barrel inside turn one.

I couldn’t believe it. Hit the barrel with my bars; on the inside of a 120-degree turn one handed. We did it. I must sound like a broken record at this point to you, but the skill and confidence building that goes on minute by minute was amazing. Not only is it very cool to nail a tight turn in the dirt, riding like a street rider, and then do it one handed, but the shock of hitting the barrel with the hand guard of my throttle hand was the unspoken gift.

A gift because striking the barrel proved that if the bikes chassis is stabilized with proper pilot position and throttle control, a leaned over bike will remain stable, even when striking a large object. On one pass, I actually knocked the barrel over, but I was accelerating out of the turn, so the bike tracked like a Sidewinder missile, and I only felt a mild bang on the bars.

A few days before I attended Cornerspin, I had taken my ’06 Bonneville on a route that was downhill gravel and dirt for a few miles. I remember well the fear and apprehension and the resultant tight shoulders and neck after the ride. With my Cornerspin skills fresh in my muscles, I am eager to try the new tools I’ve acquired in my Pilot Toolbox. A fire road on my road bike, when compared to sliding and braking one handed on a tight dirt course, seems like child’s play.

“Art, don’t you have a dirt bike? I mean, if I were spending $ on instruction, I’d sign up for a Keith Code school or a track day, not this dirt bike spinning thing you’re going to.” This same sentiment was repeated to me by street riding partners long before I took the Cornerspin weekend. Now that I’ve attended, I strongly disagree that the outcome of just horsing around on a dirt bike would take me to where Aaron Stevenson did last weekend.

There is no way that I could magically find the correct combination of body awareness, throttle control, braking sensitivity and overall skill jump just by thrashing a dual sport on fire roads. Cornerspin has a very unique formula that enables you to drink from a fire hose of knowledge in your mind whilst taking what seems like baby steps on the bike. The coaching is by experienced road and flat track racers who possess the maturity to comment in a constructive directed approach. Many times, they forced me to take control of my performance by asking pointed questions as to why I was doing what, and how I planned to get out of it.

Bikes, gear and track were all provided leaving us students to concentrate on riding. I have not pushed myself on a bike like I did during Cornerspin. I am still smiling at the bike handling skills that were drawn out of me. I could never have accomplished so much in so little time. I plan on riding this weekend, so I’ll report back on my personal observations about Corner spin skills transferring to heavy road bike handling on the twistys.

Geekin on the Race Bike

July 24, 2011

If you were a fly on the wall at Motorrad lately (haven’t we all been?) you would have witnessed me whittling away on Ivan’s vintage race bike in preparation for Mid Ohio.

The newly fabricated exhaust needed to be repacked and painted.  I rebuilt the Mikuni carbs, and swapped out the rear wheel bearings.  Why?  I-man noticed a bad wobble during his last trackday session but (endurance racer that he is) he kept going.  How bad was it?  Oh I dunno….the wheel only moved like 1/2″ side to side.  Had I been riding, the crash cart drive would have found me crying in a fetal position somewhere in the woods…deep in the woods.

New Breather Can Mount

With all that changed out, it was down to Greenville to ride the Dyno and get the jetting right for the new exhaust.  Ivan and Brad got numbers.  Leave it at that.  No racer is ever happy with the numbers, but some money has to be spent on groceries and rent, so having said that, we’re ecstatic with the Dyno Numbers!!…until the next cash infusion.

Go-fast parts out of the way, it was on to the fun stuff.  Motorrad picked up a new sponsor; the fiberglass specialists, Boxer Cafe.  That means that last years fairings left and the opportunity to change the livery arrived.

Ivan settled on a metallic silver which really looks good against the black frame and the bead blasted engine cases (pay no attention to that red battery!).  Tank was relined and painted, as were all the new glass parts from Boxer Cafe: fairing, seat tail, front fender.

Installation was easy, the hard part was making white backgrounds to mount the numbers against.  Up front, I traced out an oval Ivan found lying amidst the shop detritus.

What bugs?! Diggin the shade tree paint booth.

Within the new silver/black scheme,  we didn’t like the look of the plastic side panels from years past, we preferred the vintage look of painted on oval roundels.  But how to do it….

Freehand taping is No Bueno

The free hand striping method didn’t get it done, so I lofted another smaller oval in cardboard, then transferred it to the tail fairing.

Schoolboy drafting to the rescue: cardboard mockup in place.

Blue tape is next (too much espresso today, Art?) Ivan gives me the OK to proceed.

But does it look OK from above?

Symmetry lesson: had to cheat the left side to get it to come out well.

The hard part is over, the rest is just the good housekeeping of masking, sanding and painting.

Masked and shot in our state of the art open air spray booth.

The icing is sweet: I get to place the graphics

Dang! Just like downtown!

Symmetry is god. Paint and logo look great..

Now comes the sponsor decals.  I was sweating the location, error led to more trial, then Bob’s yer Uncle!

Will this placement work?


 “Not so fast, silly boy,” quips Ivan.   “Let us not forget our daily bread (sponsor)!”

Of course, Hidenau, makers of awesome vintage bike race tires.

“Bless me Ivan for I have sinned.” (me)

“But….but….but the green in their logo will totally ruin the silver/black scheme!” (my inner interior decorator having a hissy fit)

“No Bucks?  No Bikes!” (that would be my inner accountant speaking).

The green on the logo isn't my favorite, but a racer has to get paid.

So, in the final hours, the windshield was drilled for fasteners and installed, a new battery mount was created, the optical beam was positioned out the fairing for Mid Ohio’s course and the transponder was charged up.  All that was left to do was for someone to jump aboard and make racing noises…which is the closest I’ll ever get to piloting this machine in anger.

Vroom-vroom. Grown men at 'work'.

 Ivan says that the grid will be tough at Mid Ohio due to the Manx Nortons and British twins who have notoriously high horse power to weight ratios.  I am confident that he and Brad will show em a rear tire or two.  I think it’ll be a throw down Bro-down.  A full scale Brodeo  A  Stay tuned…..


May 23, 2011

Tractor-Bike...very low key Moto Rally

I wrote this after recently attending a low key Moto rally and swap meet. Within hours of reaching home, I felt the need to take stock of such a mellow yet great trip. I mean, aren’t they all great when rolling on two wheels…to us nerds anyway?

Agreed, but haven’t you taken a ride during which nothing really stood out yet you are left with a feeling akin to you and your riding buddies curing Cancer over the weekend?

“Took an epic ride this weekend. It was amazing!” you say enthusiastically and a tad too loudly to a co-worker on Monday.

“Cool, what was so special about it?”

“Oh man, it was great! We camped, took country roads…” you pause searching for the defining moment, but the words don’t come.

“….roads, country roads,” the co-worker prods.

Right then you realize that:

1) You might not have had as good a time as you think you had.

2) Your Co Worker probably wonders if you were really pressing wild flowers into the pages of a Bible.

3) You have just sounded like the geeked out moto-nerd that you truly are.

So, being that smooth political player, you whip up your wristwatch and blurt, “Oh shit! I’m late for that conference call!” You Exit.

This is a problem. Words that will not come, like the riding partner who never shows. The Words have escaped, flown the coop…poof! I suffer from this more times than not.

The Words for last weekend’s trip escape me perhaps because they are not here: in my home. They are strewn along 600 miles of verdant country roads, which I experienced solely by rotating my right hand to pour fuel into my carbs. The Words were carried aloft by the countless birds that passed over my head, or darted suddenly from a hedge, narrowly missing my riding partner. When I saw that transpire, I smiled into my helmet…Words were stolen by that squirrel I braked hard for, and the tractor I passed on the sweeping uphill. The Words slipped out of my tent when rain delivered a fresh breeze to dry me sweating in my bag.

Maybe The Words are not permanent because they were written on the sky I rode thru, and I rode thru an atmospheric variety show. Sunny humid air with cloud-hiding haze that makes me think I should also be smelling the salt from a day at the beach. Dark cumulous skies that signal impending rain by dropping the temperature rapidly. Or fog drenched cool air that gives way to sunny dry air, with visibility so clean and a blue so deep that it hurts my smiling eyes.

The Words have been distilled and blended into the olfactory elegance of Wild Rose, Honeysuckle and freshly mown fields seasoned with a dash of my partners exhaust, a few feet distant. My nose can further senses The Words in my moist helmet liner and my gloves as I pull them on after heating in the sun…or by remembering the smell of pork rinds and funnel cakes, bologna and scrapple: rally food.

Reward for a trip well Ridden?

The Words are sprinkled into the taste thesaurus: the hard earned beer, the superb burger, the wretched cold chicken tenders, libations with new friends…part of that ginormous bug that just morted itself on the lower rim of my helmet, spilling into my mouth…sun block from my tank bag…that morning camping-taste in my beard…water in my Camelbak, sucked in while riding…perhaps the memory of all these tastes has the power to conjure The Words.

The sound of The Words is in my exhaust note filtered by foam rubber under my helmet…by wind buffeting in the wake of a truck. They are spoken by the metal voiced Cicada, toned down by distant thunder and finally sated by the patter of night rain on my tent.

Do The Words reside in the fatigue I feel now; my hangover from a trip well ridden? I must plan another trip soon, before The Words get further ahead of me. I plan on catching up to them.

Doctors Orders

May 19, 2011

Rare Moment: Jeremy and I at Rest (LDC photo)

Today was the first day of 2011 to get over 70 degrees (3/11/11), so Dr Jeremy and I met up early afternoon to ride.  The Bonnie’s new front sneaks only got 70 miles yesterday, and I want them thoroughly broken in for our run up to Henry’s next weekend with Racergirl, so more corners were in order. 

It was J’s turn to lead, and somehow I ended up directing our trip anyway.  Did I mention I have control issues?  We headed south along 25A, hooked left onto Mills Gap, then a quick left onto Pinner’s Cove Rd.  Just after Killer Corner, I took us right onto Merrill Cove. 

Killer Corner is my pet name for a short stretch of Pinners Cove, that appears during a long downhill with pretty evenly spaced corners of consistent radius.  You’re in for it when you notice that you’re pretty comfortable until this one right sweeper gets suddenly tighter.  This radical reduction in radius demands all your attention, so you are unprepared for what comes next: 50-100’ of straight road that suddenly dives into a 180 degree downhill left…and there’s a drop-off if you run wide. 

Once on Merrill Cove, the road relaxes into fewer hills and more valleys.  The day was exquisitely bright yet no trees have leafed out.  The underbrush is starting that green haze down low, but overhead the barren branches turn the midday sun into a strobe light against my face shield.  Spring was everywhere, and it was the first time since Oct 2010 that the skin of my neck between helmet and jacket was enjoying the rush of wind.  Without leaves, you can see well down the road which allows for great awareness of the terrain ahead.  This is a magical time of year to ride.  Warm, but no trees to obscure corners…yet. 

Merrill dumps onto Concord, and Meriwether Lewis (that’s me) takes a right instead of left.  This quickly dumps us back onto Mills Gap, less than ½ mile from where we got onto Pinners Cove.  Realizing that I’ve led us into a circle on what was supposed to be a ‘medium length ride’, I relinquish the controls to Dr J.  I smile behind my helmet when he leads us back onto the same route: he liked it and wants to practice Killer Corner again.  No complaints from me.

My ride up until this point has been the usual choppy ham fisted affair when I’m leading.  The good doctor is one of the people I love to follow because he’s smooth.  Once he dials in a speed for the conditions, he stays there.  He sets a spirited pace, but is never reckless. By the time we’re half way round our second lap on Merrill’s Cove, I’ve settled down considerably from just following him.  I’m able to read the road better as I watch his silver Arai reappear thru the bare forest in a distant corner.  

The Zone has found me again, and my senses come alive.  I’m thinking about nothing, yet I’m aware of everything.  It’s warm, so warm that there are no residual cold spots along streams or in the shade.  The dry afternoon heat has coaxed creosote smell from old chimneys which has become the background for the other olfactory observances of the season: manure, cut grass and dozens of blooming trees. 

The streams are still swollen from all the rain of a few days ago, and I can’t keep from smiling when I catch short glimpses of wild water roaring over rock streambeds.  Forsythia yellow shouts at us as we roll past.  Trees are pink and white with blossoms.  Hawks and Vultures can be seen all day working thermal currents above West facing rocks. 

J leads us onto Cane Creek and we hook east to grab 74A.  This road is a good rest from the constant twisties of the last 20 miles, and I allow my mind to wander.  I’m amazed at my ride yesterday, and today is working out to be just as good.  This area we live in is not to be believed if you subscribe to the theory that life begins with a twist of the wrist exiting a corner.  I know that J will be taking us out to Garren Creek for that little stretch of curvy heaven between 74A in Fairview and Rte 9.  I’m salivating in anticipation.

 Just like people all look different, so do roads out here.  No corner is the same, the radii all change constantly.  Some roads look like they were laid out on horseback, the rider pouring a trail of flour to mark the way.  Others have a fine camber with consistency of turn that only a grader with a GPS can create.  Garren Creek tends toward the former in the beginning, and the closer we get to 9, the road becomes somewhat modern. 

So, here I am, totally settled in behind Dr. J, and I notice another thing: seldom do I see illuminated brake lights from him, and he doesn’t appear to need to shift that often either.  I start to pay more attention to his (lack of) braking and his corner rhythm.  This unlocks a stuck mental cog for me, and I begin to ride a more consistent speed with less highs and lows and less braking.  My right hand begins to feel like its being controlled by a neurosurgeon, the changes are very very slight.  A couple times I don’t feel any transition from front braking and throttle movement. Did I just do that?  This makes my Inner Rider smile.  I don’t want this ride to stop. 

It doesn’t.  Once he hits 9, Doc takes us back towards Bat Cave, and we head into Chimney Rock for refreshments in the shade.  It’s early afternoon on a Friday, so the Harley crowd are still at their jobs down in the flatlands and their ‘bad boy’ lifestyle apparel hangs in a lonely closet somewhere in Charlotte or Atlanta.  The espresso bar was closed (panic sets in here) but I do have a full water bottle.  Doc goes for death by ice cream; bemoaning that his new ‘Stitch is too tight already. 

I try to explain how much I enjoy following his lead but as usual the words sound hollow as soon as I get them out.  Maybe it’s because we were putting ear plugs back in at the time…  

We head home via 74A.  No tourists or Harleys to block the corners.  The river is pounding the rocks on our left as we slice thru Bat Cave, Gerton and Hickory Nut Gap.  I’m having a great time trying to keep a consistent speed and getting off on the rhythm that the corners provide when I don’t brake.  My mantra today seems to be “I am one with the throttle”…I am the throttle…the throttle is me…I throttle therefore I am… 

I pull up to J at a light where 74 gets all 4-laney and boring.  Then he says thru his helmet,

 “I’m thinking of hitting the Parkway North and getting off on Town Mtn to head back into town, you got time for that?” 

‘Of course’, says my mute thumbs up.  

Today was around 85 miles, all of it twisties and all of it good.  I still cannot believe how much I love this sport and how honored I feel to be able to enjoy these great roads with such good riders.