A QUES­TION OF BAL­ANCE

THE SLOW-SPEED STRUG­GLE

Cycle World - - Ignition - BY PETER JONES

Are there two types of bal­ance for hu­mans? One con­cern­ing how a hu­man bal­ances it­self and the other con­cern­ing a hu­man bal­anc­ing it­self on some­thing else? I’m guess­ing there is be­cause I’ve come to the con­clu­sion, re­gard­ing the se­cond type of bal­ance, that we are not all cre­ated equal.

Con­cern­ing bal­anc­ing my own body on my own feet, I gen­er­ally have no prob­lem walk­ing, even on un­even sur­faces. In fact, I can walk and chew that prover­bial gum at the same time. Sure, I might bite my cheek, but I won’t bruise my knees.

Al­though I’ve rid­den mo­tor­cy­cles for years, nay, for decades, I’m still a lowspeed buf­foon. I just can’t shake it. Bed wet­ters likely know ex­actly how I feel, liv­ing with this per­sonal curse. The shame, oh, the shame.

As you can guess, I suck at do­ing wheel­ies. I took the short-lived Keith Code wheelie school years ago, and I sucked. Had we been graded, I’d say I clearly failed: F+. The + is for try­ing. But I also hadn’t ac­tu­ally en­joyed my­self.

I have dropped a $100,000 mo­tor­cy­cle while do­ing a U-turn. Min­utes later I set a 200-mph land-speed record on it.

I took a four-day civil­ian rid­ing class at the Mid­west Po­lice Mo­tor­cy­cle Train­ing school (MPMT) in Troy, Michi­gan. It’s one of those schools that trains you how to ride a Har­ley-david­son at low speeds through tight turns and nar­row, twist­ing cour­ses. Con­cep­tu­ally it sounds pretty easy, but my skills have never been more thor­oughly tested and put more into ques­tion than at this school. This school did grade its stu­dents. I did fail.

Were I un­able to com­fort­ably and con­fi­dently ride a mo­tor­cy­cle at higher speeds— speeds in which a mo­tor­cy­cle’s ge­om­e­try and spin­ning masses es­tab­lish the ve­hi­cle as hav­ing mo­tor­cy­cle dy­nam­ics—i’d have given up rid­ing. Bot­tom line: At speed a mo­tor­cy­cle re­quires no fur­ther skill of bal­ance than does sit­ting in a chair. At low speed, it’s like a windy day on the edge of a precipice. Stand­ing on one leg.

I’ve never come close to fail­ing a race­track-based school, and I have en­joyed ev­ery one of them im­mensely. While at­tend­ing the school Fred­die Spencer hosted at Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way, I found it gig­gly fun to glance down at the speedome­ter, my knee straf­ing the pave­ment, just be­fore hit­ting the tran­si­tion onto the front straight’s bank­ing. I did a Pen­guin school with guest in­struc­tors Randy Ren­frow and Dale Quar­ter­ley. Hey, I also road­raced, and rarely did any­one ever point at me and laugh while I did that.

Go­ing back to that MPMT school for a mo­ment, I botched the part of it that had to do with low speed, but on the fi­nal day we were re­quired to ride at a “high” speed up to­ward an in­struc­tor, who would sud­denly sig­nal when we could brake and then en­ter a tight course. I loved that ex­er­cise. I had both tires chirp­ing, mod­u­lat­ing the brake. I was warned that I was brak­ing too hard. I laughed. As far as I was con­cerned, I was brak­ing com­fort­ably and read­ing the feed­back. I was chill. Do­ing U-turns, I was hat­ing life.

These ex­pe­ri­ences have shown me that there is a grand dif­fer­ence be­tween the sweet com­fort of a 140-mph sweeper and the hell of a 5-mph U-turn. The skill sets for each have noth­ing to do with the other. I know how to in­tel­lec­tu­ally deal with the risk of high speeds and how to read the feel and feed­back, though it does fade at times of lit­tle prac­tice. On the other hand, I’m in­ept at bal­anc­ing things that are not me.

The fastest I saw just be­fore hit­ting the bank­ing in Ve­gas was 114 mph. Knee puck on the pave­ment. And I’m a park­inglot dis­as­ter.

BY THE NUM­BERS

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