I am a senior rider of average ability, but I love riding motorcycles of all makes and styles. I learn a little something from each bike I ride. The chance to demo a variety of bikes is what draws me to Americade in Lake George NY each June. I’ve taken some pretty wild rides at Americade over the years. These are some of my favorite demo memories.
Suzuki GSX-R 750 — Redline or Bust
I was used to the relatively low revving V4 engine on my ST-1300. At around 8 grand call it a day and shift. Then I demo’d a GSX-R 750. The ride leader was on a GSX-R 1000, so you know she was serious about this demo. All you have to do is follow, right?
As I shot up the highway entrance ramp in second gear I watched the tach spin past high noon and keep right on going. Why shift when you have thousands of RPM left to spend on the way to 14 thousand? Tucked in behind the leader at 90 mph on the interstate I finally slipped the bike into third while as its air box howled and exhaust can screamed. Pure demo joy on a bike someone else maintains.
The rest of the ride was a blur as I tried to keep up with her and my fellow crazies. All I know is that little 750 provided one of the most exhilarating demo rides I’ve ever taken.
Indian Chieftain — Landing Gear Down
My wife wanted to try out one of the BIG Indian baggers, so we queued up for a ride on a Chieftain. As I settled into the saddle and she on pillion, the girth of the bike impressed me. I don’t know what it weighed, but it made my ST feel sprightly. “Are you sure you can you hold this thing up?” she ask. I grunted, lifted it off the side stand, and started the engine.
The guy ahead of me on a smaller Indian was a bit erratic, moving around his lane and figuring out the balance thing. But as we exited the Interstate to a twisty secondary road he was doing fine.
I decided not too push the Chieftain through the corners. So we loped and vibrated along at a leisurely pace through the Adirondack countryside. Up ahead I could see a Stop sign at the first real intersection on the ride. Brake lights blinked on as the line of stately Indians slowed.
At the Stop sign the guy in front of me came to a graceful stop and then slowly fell over. The full weight of that shinny new Indian pinned him to the road like a butterfly in a museum display. Ride leaders quickly lifted the bike off him as he explained that his normal ride was a CanAm Spyder and he was not in the habit it of putting his feet down at a stop. We all had a good laugh at the poor fellow's expense and the ride headed back to the paddock. The leader told me later this happens at least once every year.
Kawasaki Concourse — More Counter Force
Coming off an ST fitted with Angel GTs I was used to fairly light steering inputs. Nudge the bar and the old girl complied. Not the case with the Concourse I tried out one year. Part of the demo route covers a very tricky downhill left-right-left.sequence on a two-lane section of road. This bit comes near the end of the ride when you are getting to know the bike and probably a bit over confident in your mastery of an unfamiliar machine.
I was eager to push the big Connie on the two-lane and the ride leader set a rapid pace. I stayed on his tail through a series of uphill turns. The Connie felt heavy but seemed to handle much like my trusty ST. As we crested the top of the hill and began the downhill section I made mental note about the decreasing radius left coming up.
On the brakes hard entering the first turn of the sequence I found myself inches from the lead bikes rear tire. But the Connie’s brakes were good and I was able to put some distance between us for the next turn. As we railed through that turn I realized I was getting in over my head. I wasn’t sure I had enough traction downhill to pull in more brake, but my entry speed into the next corner was fast.
I began counter steering and trail braking while that decreasing radius corner swept up on me. Problem: Counter steering was not having the desired effect. I began to run wide. More pressure on the bar. Still wide. Even more pressure on the bar. Still wide but starting to come around. Push harder! Harder. Harder. Jesus!
I have never pushed a bar as hard as I did on that Connie. I’m not sure if its reluctance to turn in was due to the downhill, the OEM front tire or the bike’s geometry. But man it took a ton of bar force to get it around that corner. My ST felt like a sports car after that demo.
Aprilla RSV4 RR - You’ll Let Me Ride That?
I’m captivated by Italian race bikes homologated for the street. One of my faves is the Aprilla RSV4 RR. This 200 HP, 450 pound beast performs so far above my pay grade I have no business even thinking about it. But there is sat in the demo line just waiting for someone to hop on.
The demo gal noticed me ogling it and asked if I’d like a ride. “I can ride that?” I asked incredulously. “Well, if you want the Tuono instead that’s fine too.” “No, no, the RSV4 will be fine” I heard myself saying.
The next thing I knew I was astride that Italian beauty with the engine burbling as the ride leader walked me through a maze of race-ready computer electronics. He suggested Street mode rather than Track, which I was to discover was a very wise recommendation.
He mounted a Tuono and a few other riders and I were off in a snarling line of super bikes. The V4 growled and snuffed at low RPM as we chugged down Main Street. At the highway entrance ramp I rolled the throttle open and felt the bike bolt forward. I had a death-grip on the bars to stay on the seat. I had never experienced an acceleration rush close to that. And we were just getting started.
We exited the Interstate and the leader disappeared down the road. A few of us gave chase and we soon caught sight of his tail light braking hard for a sweeping turn. I stole a glance at the speedo and to my amazement it read 103 mph.
I pulled in a major chunk of front brake and those race-ready Brembos sheared off speed like I had hit a brick wall. The power, feel and linearity of the braking was unworldly compared to a “normal” bike. So this is what a race bike feels like.
The rest of the ride alternated between frightful acceleration and heart-stopping braking. I put my average riding skills in the hands of Aprilla’s electronic gods of corner-ABS, traction control, wheelie control and quick shift (Who has time to pull a clutch?). I had never ridden a bike like the RSV 4 RR. And I probably never will again!
KTM 390 Duke — Stir that Gearbox
I love the KTM brand. This Austrian company does it all. Adventure, touring, street, squid. You name it. They have a bike for every occasion. Motorcyclist editor Ari Henning had been campaigning an RC 390 on the California road race scene and I followed his adventures monthly. When I saw the little Duke in KTMs demo lineup I wanted to try it.
While the rest of the demo dogs fought over the 1190s and 1290s, I quietly folded my 6-foot frame over the little 390. I felt a bit silly sitting on it: Like a moose on a pit bike. But once the engines were started the child’s play was over.
The 390 Duke is a 40 HP, single cylinder, 350 pound machine with a 6-speed gearbox. The red line is a modest 10,000 RPM and to keep speed up you gotta shift shift shift. And while you’re at it keep the revs high near the top of the power band. This was one demo I would feel guilty about afterwards because the poor 390 kept flashing its over-rev light at me during most of the ride. But if I was to keep the big bikes in sight I just had no choice.
There was no way I could stay with the big Dukes on the interstate as they howled into the sunset in a KTM-orange blur. But once into the twisty section of the ride the little Duke came into its own. Luckily for me the 1190s were equipped with mild off-road tires. This kept these powerful beasts from running away from me in corners. Aware of their tire situation, the big dogs took it easy when leaned over.
They key to riding small-displacement bikes quickly is keeping corner speed up and staying on top of the power. And the 390 obliged. As we carved and strafed the demo route I stayed with the big Dukes by braking late and maintaining corner speed with steep lean angles. It was fun to repeatedly pull up beside an 1190 at corner entry, hang on his tail through the apex and watch him pull away as he poured power on at exit. Then do it again at the next corner. Over and over we danced this ballet chasing the ride leader home. He had true street tires and was completely untouchable.
As I mull over these wonderful demo rides I offer a silent thank you to Lake George law enforcement. These guys and gals seem to know what’s in a demo rider’s heart. While they won’t give you a pass to go nuts, they aren’t hiding behind every bush with a radar gun trying to write tickets. Demo ride leaders are also great at what they do — allowing average riders like me to experience what a motorcycle can do in the real world.
What would you pay for additional horse power and performance for your FJ or Tracer? I got to thinking about that reading accounts of riders on this forum who just gotta have more. Is it a rational purchase or not? I crunched some numbers to try and figure it out.
Let’s start by saying the 465 pound (wet) FJ in stock kit produces about 105 HP at the rear wheel. That gives the bike a 4.43 weight to power ratio or 4.3 Pounds per horse. In this state the bike will run a quarter mile in the low 11s and easily hit its governed top speed of 110 MPH.
Now the fun begins. Lets add an ECU flash to the mix. For about $250 you can have the stock unit programmed to modify the fuel map and do some other useful stuff (soften throttle response, disable speed limiter, alter fan operation, etc.).
A standard ECU flash yields maybe 4 additional HP and that works out to about $65 per pony. Not too bad considering the other benefits that accrue. The ECU flash results in a 4.22 W/P ratio. A very slight improvement that might not even be noticed.
The next step is usually an after market exhaust system. Now we begin to spend some serious dinero. For simplicity sake let's round the cost to one thousand dollars including block off plate and other miscellaneous hardware. From what I’ve read the gain might be on the order of 10 HP. With this improvement we are paying about $100 for each additional horse and the weight to power ratio improves to 3.8 pounds per horse from the stock 4.4.
So is that roughly half-pound-per-horse improvement to 120 HP worth the $1,250 spent? It will in theory yield about a 0.2 second reduction in Quarter mile time so maybe so.
But consider this: The bike doesn’t ride itself. So with a 200 pound rider aboard a stock FJ, the real weight to power ratio around 6.3 pounds per horse. Now, if that rider diets and looses 30 pounds, the weight to power ration improves to 6.0 pounds per HP. And if one HP is roughly equivalent to10 pounds, that weight loss equals 3 additional HP, almost as much as the ECU flash.
So what would you pay for a few extra horses?
I’ve been thinking about the role fatigue plays in our riding experience. And more often than not it’s the role of a villain. A villain who sneaks up on you from behind and clobbers you with a sucker punch. You never knew what hit you.
I’ve had three close calls recently due to fatigue and none were the result of high-mileage Iron-Butt days. Each occurred on shorter rides where I was tired and not smart enough to take care of myself. Worse still, I had a passenger on two of these misadventures. Here's what happened...
Dragging at the Dragon
Over the course of three days I rode from NH to Tennessee to visit The Dragon. We booked a room at Deal’s Gap Resort and settled in for a couple of days of Dragon slaying. The first morning there we woke up, had breakfast and set out to explore the notorious two-lane. After a couple of out-and back passes getting familiar with the road. We were ready to rock.
The Dragon is really one continuous corner with few straight sections. Corners are tight and traffic can be heavy. As we stepped up the pace on pass number three the corners came at me with no let up. Left, right, quick left again then another left and a quick right. It was never ending.
And then fatigue set in. I began to run wide in right handers and flirted with gravel in lefts. And you know what? I did’t care. I was in some type of “zone” where my brain shut off and my body kept going. I slowed down. I would experience this phenomena again later that summer.
Down and Out at a Roundabout
It had been a great day at a Maine lake. My wife and I rode two-up to a friends lake-side cottage about 60 miles away to swim, fish, visit and get out on the bike. At the end of the visit we headed home with nice memories and a touch of sunburn. Life was good.
Our route was blue-highway two-lane with the occasional intersection sporting signs to China, Norway, Peru and Denmark. About half way home we came upon a traffic rotary. I saw it well in advance but it did not register. At this four-way intersection the wide concrete island forming the center of the rotary was elevated a few inches above the road surface. The shoulder around the center island was gently ramped to meet the road.
I entered the rotary eyes wide open. Did not divert right as I should have and rode directly up and over the center island bumping down the other side. My passenger screamed and I woke up. Once again I had zoned out. Brain off, body on.
Running on Reserve
We had gotten a bit lost on a day-ride through Quebec. So we passed on lunch to lay down miles in an effort to complete our 250-mile loop before dark. With my wife on pillion my gas mileage was less than normal. After noticing the reserve warning had fired I was feeling desperate to find a gas station in our rural location. And finally at the next crossroads there it was. A premium petrol oasis.
All I had to do was cross a busy two-lane, pull in and fill up. The road was clear to my left. To my right, way in the distance, a logging truck was bearing down on the intersection. I remember the feeling of urgency I had about getting some gas. Just do it!
I began to cross the road and, looking right again, realize I had mis-judged the speed of that monstrous truck. He was almost on top of me… and my passenger. I goosed the throttle and we shot into the gas station as he roared past with horns blaring. Wisely, the folks on the other bikes waited for the truck to blow by before joining me at the pumps. “What the hell did you do that for?” a riding buddy asked. I had no answer.
Cause and Effect
I’ve thought about these incidents a lot and have come to believe that fatigue was the underlying cause of each. On the Dragon I was tired from the three-day ride to get there. I don’t usually ride three consecutive days and now I know doing so takes a toll on me.
In Maine a long day of non-motorcycle activity, combined with too much sun and insufficient hydration, set me up to enter the zombie zone on the ride home.
In Quebec blowing off lunch to make more miles caused not only the bike, but also the driver, to almost run out of gas. Each of these unfortunate incidents was totally avoidable and I owed it to my pillion to do much better as the pilot she put her trust in.
Fatigue is an insidious companion that can silently creep into your ride. It screws up decision making and judgment without you knowing it. Stupid little mistakes tell me it’s around: forgetting to cancel a turn signal, failing to shift into top gear, focusing in the instruments not the road. Obsessing about a ride-related problem. I’m now aware of these tell-tale signs and take them seriously.
Here are some things I do to keep my riding fatigue and in check:
Know Thyself - When I was younger my body was a mean machine. I could neglect it and it still did what I demanded: Hike further, run faster, ride longer. Now, well north of retirement age, I know those days are over. To keep running smoothly the machine needs rest, lots of maintenance and constant fueling.
One On Ten Off - I stop every hour to stretch legs and break the monotony. It clears my head and readies me for the next hour on.
Hydrate or Die - I carry a water bottle and drink during every break to avoid dehydration. In summer I add Gatorade or a similar mineral replacement to counteract the effects of sweating.
Feed the Beast - I carry trail bars, nuts, candy and other snacks to munch during breaks, keeping sugar levels ups and replacing calories burned by my brain as it navigates the world on two wheels.
Night Night - I make sure I get adequate sleep the night before a long ride. I’ll be tired soon enough once on the bike. I sure don’t want to start that way.
How You Doin?- I regularly check in with myself during the ride to see how I’m feeling. Legs cramped? Thirsty? Hungry? Cold? Hot? Back hurt? A quick physical inventory keeps me aware of what’s going on with my body and alerts me fatigue-inducing issues .
The insidious thing about fatigue is that it joins my ride slowly, quietly. Little mistakes and oversights grow bigger until a major phuckup seems moments away. I’ve been lucky so far slaying Dragons and dodging logging trucks. But left unchecked, fatigue will always try to claim my ride. At this stage off my riding life , I do everything I can to keep that from happening.
I had been thinking about it for some time. I had friends that did it, and for a while I thought they were a bit foolish. But then, with the way the world is these days, I finally came around to seeing their point. Their arguments made good sense and they claimed they felt much better about their potential for survival. So I said what the hell. Why not?
No, I did not buy an electric bike like a Zero SR. I didn't start saving garbage and join a composting club either, or replace all my underwear with organic cotton tidy whiteys. What I did was start wearing the brightest green day-glow high visibility helmet and jacket I could find on the Internet. And you know what? It's made a real difference.
Hi visibility clothing uses fluorescent dyes that interact with ultraviolet rays from the sun. The effect makes the clothing seem to glow. And the glow is more pronounced when light levels are low, such as on cloudy days or at dawn and dusk.
My high-vis jacket and helmet might draw snickers from the Harley guys in camo pants and black leather vests that I come across, but I don't care. What I do care about is that left turner up ahead who starts and then stops when she sees the high-vis guy pop out of the background. It's just such an annoying and unusual color it gets you noticed very quickly.
I wore my "colors" all through the 2018 riding season. I bought a textile jacket for cooler weather and a mesh high-vis for hot summer days. I wanted ti make sure I did not have an excuse to go incognito and skip the wearing-O-the-green.
There have been countless times when a car has started to make a move on me and then stopped because the driver quickly differentiated my color from the other stuff in his visual field. When I wore more bland colors that did't happen. My LED headlight, wide bars, mirrors, and tinted windscreen all were easy to ignore.
Going green might not be for everyone. I know some of you young pups are concerned with image. And some of you old road dogs have been wearing the same gear for decades and resist change.
But, it's a given that for most of us, the most dangerous thing we do in life, is ride a motorcycle. If you can tilt the odds just a bit in your favor, who cares what the hell you look like?
So I suggest you consider going green, to be better seen, even if you think it's not too keen. You'll adjust!
Winter is definitely upon those of us in Northern climes. On a good day bulky jackets, heated clothes and toasty grips get us through a quick 100-mile ride. But sooner or later our seat time is severely curtailed. Once the snow, ice, salt, corrosive brine and other cold weather indignities take over the road, even an unseasonably mild day can be un-ridable.
And while most of us don’t actually hibernate, we do tend to go a bit flat-line during the dark months. In addition to being less physically active, we also tend to lose our mental sharpness: Call it our rider’s edge. Which it too bad because when Spring finally comes it brings unique problems for the returning rider: Yawning pot holes, endless swaths of sand and salt, low sun angles, and rusty reflexes to name a few.
What’s an addicted rider to do? Well, you could go South: south Florida, Arizona, southern California, or maybe even South Africa. FJ forum members from these locales seem to cope with winter just fine. But if you can’t go south, maybe the following approach will help you make it to Spring.
Cage as FJ-Tracer Simulator
Now that might sound crazy, but it is a great way to keep your motorcycle-mind in gear in the season of the blinking battery minder. During your daily comings-and-goings in your cage, think like you’re on two wheels. For example, try to predict what that left-turner at the intersection will do. Is she going to make a run for it across your path? How about the guy waiting to pull out of the mini-mall ahead on the right? Can you see his front wheel start to roll indicating he’s making his move on you?
Then there’s the line of parked cars on that narrow street across town. Can you see a head in one of the cars and anticipate his next move: An opening door? A pull into traffic? What about the pickup with the backup lights lit? What’s he gonna do?
And how about your cage’s shadow: Where is it? Directly in front of you means that oncoming traffic is probably flying blind in your general direction. Shadow directly behind means you might be missing something in the solar glare.
When you cruise the super-slab evaluate your following distance. Are you maintaining a four-second safety bubble between other cages? Then play some highway chess.
Look 12 seconds ahead and predict the moves the other players are going to make. Slow dude in the left lane moves right? Tailgater in the middle lane moves left? Guy in right lane cuts you off to pass the truck? Plan a coping strategy for each potential move and congratulate yourself when your assumptions are correct.
As you roll continuously calculate an escape route in the morphing traffic pattern. Better to head left toward the median or right to the breakdown lane if somebody screws up? Whoa! Where did that tail-gaiter on your butt come from? Are you scanning the rear view on a regular schedule to keep surprises like that to a minimum?
Finally, Note your distractions. Are you making or taking a cell call? Fiddling with the entertainment touch screen? Staring in wonder at the GPS? Vow to never fall into these inattention traps on the motorcycle.
Winter can be a long hard season for many of us, but it doesn't have to be totally wasted time. Playing motorcycle behind the wheel of the cage won’t rush Spring, but when it eventually arrives you’ll primed to ride.
I am standing on a traffic island in the middle of a busy intersection called St. Ninian’s Crossroads in Douglas, the biggest city on the Isle of Man. I am a volunteer course marshal and my sector location is close to the start, at the end of the Grandstand Straight atop the steep drop known as Bray Hill.
TT legend John McGuinness snaps his Honda CBR1000RR into fifth gear as he comes into view for the first time. Running 160 mph, he draws a bead on my traffic island and heads straight at me. Time slows. I peer into his face shield as he floats past just inches away. I see serenity, determination and total control.
The Honda Fireblade's wind blast blows me backward into a fellow marshal. “Pretty crazy, aye?” my comrade laughs. All I can mutter is, “Jesus he was close!” Other riders follow at 10-second intervals, displaying varying levels of ability, boldness and control. Seventeen minutes later, McGuinness rips through on a flying lap. Now running at 175 mph, he carves an even tighter line toward me.
Then it hits me: I could be killed doing this!
It’s amazingly easy to become a TT course marshal. No license. No test. No CPR certificate or political connections required. You just, well, volunteer. Part of the reason is that the 37.73-mile Mountain Course requires an army of course workers. Fresh meat is always welcome. During the 2011 TT fortnight, more than 1500 individuals served as marshals, and 350 or so were first-timers just like me.
A rookie marshal is issued a bright orange vest, a handy How-To booklet and is required to watch a video describing what to do when bad things happen. Tips include: Always be aware of your own safety (a marshal was struck and killed by a racer in 2005); Drag unconscious riders off the course by the back of the collar (to avoid further spine injury); Wear your insulating gloves before touching a downed Zero Emissions (electric) bike.
One day I work a sidecar practice. The unlikely machines bounce awkwardly past, pilots and passengers fighting to keep them aimed downstream. A pair of TT veterans running outfit number 15 catch my attention. Passenger Kevin Morgan is 59 years old and driver Bill Currie is 67—these guys are my age for god's sake! There rig is one of the first out for practice and they wail past me looking like real contenders. There is hope for all of us older riders!
Ten minutes into the side car practice race control orders a course-wide red flag. There’s been an “incident” near Mile 17 at Ballacrye Bend. It’s a narrow, high-speed, left-hand sweeper with a jump in the middle: typical TT terrain. We wait for the session restart but it never comes. Practice is canceled. Rescue helicopters scramble into the air.
I soon learn the two old guys running outfit number 15 are dead. Crossed up, flipped over and crashed out on a part of the course they’d navigated successfully so many times before. The TT claims a third victim a week later when Irishman Derek Brien meets his end at a high-speed corner called Gorse Lea.
The TT takes no prisoners and teaches all comers that none of us is immortal. And that's an important lesson to remember whether racing --or marshaling-- at the Isle of Man. And something I try to keep in mind every time I throw a leg over a motorcycle.
Note: I wrote this account of my 2011 IOM experience for Motorcyclist Magazine. It appeared in the November 2011 Issue.
What's a blog
I'm not socially connected, so this is it for my purposeful online presence...
In the beginning there was a blurring of what it meant to be a motorcyclist, versus a "biker", forget about the nicest people who were not cognoscente of what they were or didn't know enough to care as long as they got there in one piece.
I early was "experienced" by lack of upbringing. Life and death, good and bad, happy and sad, those things then were simple. At least to me.
Being experienced I knew what I wanted, and if not specifically generally how to get it. It only took timing and money, neither I processed in adequate capacity. But things either worked or didn't and I was busy enough not to be in a rush. Other people got in the way or helped me along, whether I told them or not. Not exactly part of the solution or problem though close enough for the girls I went with. Other men were a given. We had a duty originally but due to a place in Southeast Asia respect for that duty waned. The Man cared not about the things it should have so we parted company amicably as long as I flew low. Thus came Flylow Custom, my skunk works supplied over the north fence in the west no mans land of the Convair Kearny Mesa plant.
There in the mid-70s I worked with 40+ years older vets who came back from WW2 to women riveting together B-24 and PBY, and got on board the Cold War Atlas missile program while the 880 jetliner lost out to the 707, just like when I left GD after my comparatively brief tenure. In the early 80s Boeing was winning the ALCM fly off because Convair insisted on amortizing Tomahawk tooling rather than develop a new air frame even though there was no nuclear hardened ALCM requirement. Pilots don't do as well as sailors in ships and subs, or grunts in holes in the ground when things go bang big time.
As I did not want to crash and burn on the ALCM program, I did the unheard of thing and asked to join the struggling 757-767 subcontract. Learned all about how to determine baseline design changes and what they cost through total production. And they're still flying them and have to make spares. Can you say 8,000 change orders? Got tired commuting up to Seattle on PSA, sweeping our Boeing rooms for bugs, and dealing with mimeographed flip cards on Roll-A-Dex of standard hours out to .0001 for every single task required to build an aircraft based on time and motion studies at the Lindbergh Field plant 35 years before. At least they did not ask me to cut my hair, trim my beard and not wear clogs with my 3-piece suit. I discovered a Silent 700 modem and had it worked out to send back changes to the encoders to enter, so I could print out each change order up there to have the Boeing bods sign off right then and there, rather than have to fly back and do it on 13 column pads while Convair paid for the cost of money due to the delay. Sounds crazy now but this was a time of mainframes, and when the TI 59 with a 1.25" thermal paper printer was cutting edge. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TI-59_/_TI-58
However, there was one thing I took to be the end all of what I learned at Convair, succinct as the company moto "Only Right Is Right".
I applied that philosophy to everything I did afterward, initially Ultralights and of course motorcycles, but also with my interaction with humans and animals.
In my now later years I'm not so quick to insist on that motto being correct for all applications.