A Curve in The Road

I am trying to understand why a curve in the road is so revered by the motorcyclist. The same person in a car would rather avoid it. To understand the word itself we must explore its origins. There is an interesting development in our roadway system here in North America over the course of the last 200 years. We have evolved in our mode of transport and we have upgraded our roadways to accommodate our travels and ever speedier vehicles. Accordingly, roads have become less ‘curvy’. Engineers and politician through the last century must not have been bikers as they paved a ribbon of highway across the United States straight through mountains and over gorges and across rivers. They alleviated as many curves as possible, all in the name of progress and expedient travel. This flies in the face of the every motorcyclists intended route. The shortest distance between two points is, in fact, a straight line which is the antithesis of the coveted curve. Using a variational formulation of distance and its associated lack of curvature the Euclidean distance between two points in space ( and ) where the distance is the minimum value of an integral: meaning the optimal integral is simply put a straight line. Progress? – I think not!
In my youth my Professor Father Murphy (Catholic School) attempted to parlay these theories to me to no avail. The physics of curvature is quite complex. How will this help me later in life was my classic query. To build or alter a highway engineers factor in many variables such as road crown, water retention, slope, angle, pitch, etc… Be that as it may, bikers will stay up late at night researching which route is curviest and which has better turns and how to avoid the straight and explore the curved way to get there, wherever “there” is? Needless to say, the “curve” is the goal for us ‘riders’ while it is avoided by our distant brethren the ‘drivers’. The word itself is of course a noun, describing a person place or thing. But when used in the fashion described in this writing can also be a verb as in “I pitched the bike left and curved through the turn”. The word’s definition in the Oxford English Dictionary describes it as “a line which gradually deviates from being straight for some or all of its length.” Simple enough. The word’s origins can be traced to the Latin phrase curvus, translating to crooked or bent. I have no interest in a bent or crooked road, but a curved road suits me just fine. I care not who designed it or when, just that my bike navigates it’s curve and makes me smile in my helmet! This may explain my poor performance in Latin classes of youth regurgitated to me by a hooded nun whose name I’m sure was Sister Mary or perhaps Sister Ann. I cannot recall, neither Nun nor lesson. Just the same, my interest in the curves of the world makes up for my Latin transgressions.

We all grew up near a particularly nasty curve carved in the roadway a century ago when horse and buggy sped along at 10 or 15 MPH. The local folk often give the moniker to such a place as “dead man’s curve”. I trust that such a turn existed somewhere near your house as a kid unless you grew up in Kansas. The tail of the Dragon in Tennessee has 318 curves in its 11 mile stretch and is curve Mecca for many. The more the better it seems. The best road racing tracks in the world are those that are designed with the best combination of curves laid out in a challenging fashion. Laguna-Seca in California, Monaco GP in France or the Spa-Fracorchamps circuit in Belgium to name a few. Me, I’m partial to Highway 129 in Georgia across Blood Mountain. No admission fee.

Every motorcycle produced today is engineered with ground clearances to navigate curves at the utmost lean angle. They are equipped with foot pegs that have ‘scrapers’ underneath lest the rider dare to test the maximum lean. Tires are designed to allow bikes to navigate curves at very low lean angles, generally far lower than the ability of the rider. The ‘rake’ and ‘trail’ of the design of a bike is a complex equation all bearing on the handling of the bike in a CURVE. Why is this so? Because we all dream the curve dream, that’s why. Certain cars do emphasize turning radius and are designed for curves but generally to circle around and grab the elusive parking spot just vacated in front of the cleaners. There are exceptions to this rule with Porsche or Ferrari. Though the curve is generally the province of the bike. We covet the curve. We seek it out. We travel long and far to find it, that curve that eludes us. To taste its radius and pitch our bikes to and fro through never ending successions of linear arcs. Sliding over saddles left to right, throwing the machine back and forth. How delicious. All for the sake of turning a simple noun into a simple verb. Father Murphy and his Nuns would be proud.

Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride strong, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home.

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