Survival Riding

I have ridden all my life and the only time that I have not ridden Harleys was back in the 70’s and 80’s when I couldn’t afford one. Despite the AMF days, before the big buyout (which of course, like most good investments, I did not get in on), Harleys have always been cool, even if at times they have been mechanically challenged. Recently, the Metric stuff has forged its own cool. It was not always this way. Think back to your first real ride. Not the Honda 50 ‘mini-trail’ your dad took you to buy one Christmas helping fund the purchase single handedly, making him your hero and pissing off your Mom. Nor the ’75 Honda 125 dirt bike you put together in high school with tape and snot, to run from the cops and terrorize your girl’s parents. Think of your first real ‘street’ bike. I’ll bet it was a 70’s Honda CB (500 or 750 model) or maybe even a 60’s Yamaha 305 Scrambler, with those cool high double pipes with perforated covers. Nonetheless, it sticks in your mind. You occasionally see it in Walnick’s or at a vintage meet and think, “Wow, I never should have sold her.”

Now here you sit. On your proverbial throne, reading this drivel, with your chariot of fire down in the garage. Be it a V-Twin (of the American or Italian variety) or an in-line four sport. You are its master. It is your salvation. Without it you are less; with it, you are more, much more. My point is, of all the bikes you have ridden in your life, which did you ride the best? Can you ride your current bike to its full potential? How well do you know your bike and how much confidence do you have in it and in yourself? Could you survive? What if ?

The bike down in your garage, you know it’s every curve. Stripped header bolt (overly helpful friend), scratched front fender (damned bicycle in the driveway), shaky left mirror (aftermarket Chinese junk), the list goes on. Only you know these things. This domain is yours. Where to kick into 5th or 6th at highway speed, cold weather starting trick, how not to spill gas when fueling. No one in the world, not Matt Maladin himself, could catch you on an identical machine. Or, could he? Or, could Frank, my neighbor? How about maneuvering to miss that ladder in the HOV lane, or the squirrel just outside Suches, GA on State Route 60? Or keeping cool the first time your peg scrapes on a high side curve? I didn’t know how I would react either. That was until I made a study of what makes the bike go/stop/turn/skid/ high-side/low-side/dive/fade/etc.

I see people every day in my business with horrible injuries. Some clients, I never even get to meet. I meet the widow. I think, hey, whether I’m on a Harley or a sport bike, a dual sport or a vintage bike, I want to know the answers to these questions. How will I react? How will my bike of choice react? These lessons I do not want to learn on I-85. So here is what I did. And this is what you must do! If not for you, for your wife, or kids, or parents. Start with a book. I have learned there are thousands of books out there in the motorcycling genre. Hands down, the best book out there to date on being the best street rider you can be is “PROFICIENT MOTORCYCLING- The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well” by David L. Hough. It’s not a sexy book. No big busted umbrella girl photos, or wheelie/stoppie shots of guys on custom stunt bikes, just very basic but important systems to implement in your riding. Cages, wind, rain, urban survival, deer, dogs, David covers it all. It also has an excellent breakdown of what makes a 2 wheeled vehicle do what it does. Some physics you can take for granted, some you should not. Want to borrow mine? Take it, I read it – I’ve read mine a couple of times already. Books, unlike hand tools, I will lend out. After all, they were invented to be read. You’ve got to promise to pass it on to your best riding buddy. Once digested, you will learn at least one trick that could save your life.

Now to implement them. What’s the best way? You can try this stuff out on the street with guys in cages. Or, you could join groups who do ‘track days’ and race bikes in the controlled environment of local race tracks. Frankly, a riding school is the best way to go. I have done several and always learn something. It’s like an investment. I’ll never really know whether they helped because I missed the ladder, and the squirrel, and despite the rain I feel relaxed. I’m not an AMA superbike star. I am not a privateer chasing the cup. Not even close. At this point in my life, I’m a little league coach who occasionally gets to ride. So, what have you got to lose, besides your left leg? Buy Motorman’s tape. Take Sunshine’s class. Sign up for MSF. Read the book. Being a rider is WAY different than being a driver. I would hate to get a call from you (or your wife) for anything other than, “Hey Steve, are you going to bike night this Thursday?”

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

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