Jul 1, 2010

Handicapping

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

I recently taught an MSF Experienced Rider Course (ERC) with another refugee from our magazine. He is a serious rider with a small collection of motorcycles in various states of abuse and deterioration and an even bigger collection of small businesses and personal responsibilities. The result of that complicated mid-life is that his motorcycles don't always get the love and attention the need and deserve. The result of that result was that on this Sunday morning, he had nothing to ride. So, his choice was to give up the class, use one of the state's motorcycles for class demonstrations, or turn over all the demos to me. To cover his bets, he'd already pulled one of the state's Suzuki GZ250's from the trailer when I arrived.

To satisfy as many people as possible, the state provides us with a fair selection of motorcycles for the Basic Rider Course. We have small sport bikes, a couple models of dual purpose bikes, some standards, and some cruisers. Why an experienced and talented rider would pick the GZ250 from that assortment is the inspiration for the title of this rant. The GZ250 is a clunky-shifting, long-wheelbase, uncomfortable, awkward and imprecise mini-cruiser. If you want to look like you know what you are doing, this would be the last bike you'd pick for demonstrations. (I've written before about how dumb I think cruisers are, so this isn't going to be that discussion.) His reasoning for picking the one bike in the trailer that he didn't like riding was: he was handicapping himself with a poorly designed motorcycle so that student's wouldn't be able to claim he was "cheating" the course on an easier-to-ride bike than the implement they'd brought.

Many of us who teach the ERC get that response from the hippobike crowd when we demonstrate on our motorcycles. So, we compensate. I usually ride my 650 V-Strom for these classes, although my everyday ride is a 250 dual purpose. Unless I'm going some distance or need the carrying space the V-Strom's 3 cases provides, the 250 does my commuting job pretty damn well. So, when I ride the V-Strom for an ERC, I'm handicapping myself for the benefit of the many characters who bring over-sized, hard-to-ride motorcycles that overwhelm their skills and physical capabilities. I guess I'm trying to show some sympathy for their poor choices. The more I think about this, the dumber it seems.

At the other end of the learning spectrum, when the MN-Sportbike guys throw one of their Hedonistic-Enthusiasm parties and I'm able to sign up, I often bring the 250. It's more fun to ride. The only way I can keep up with my group is to go fast in the corners, since everyone is going to hammer me on the straights. I learn more about cornering and I push my own limits harder on the little bike. Did I mention it's more fun to ride?

In emergency situations, I'd rather be on the little bike. It's stops faster, turns quicker, is able to leap tall curbs in a single hop, is as happy riding in a ditch as on the pavement, slips between practically any traffic space, and, if I find myself lying under it, it doesn't weigh much. Splitting lanes in an emergency maneuver is way easier on the 250. Swerving away from a traffic obstacle is effortless and doesn't even require much thought.

It's obvious that lots of American motorcyclists think that buying a big bike is like buying a big car: bigger is safer. That is about the dumbest rationale I've ever heard. When you are vaulting over the handlebars, you want the smallest motorcycle you can imagine in the air behind you. It's hard to come up with an emergency scenario that would justify being on a large motorcycle. In any crash situation, the highway, traffic, engineering, and nature have handicapped motorcyclists to a sensational disadvantage. We don't need to give up any more than we have already donated to make this demonstration seem "fair." When you are on the top rung of that risk-taking ladder, it's past time to start looking for any advantage you can find.

Even when I'm demonstrating on the V-Strom, I get "That's easy to do on your bike, trying doing that on my Giganticusmaximus " My response is usually, "Why would I want to do that?"

Seriously. Why would I want to ride a motorcycle that was designed by a committee that has the group intelligence of a Spinal Tap audience? Hell, my 650 is too big for the stuff we're doing on this range. My 250 would be perfect here, but I'm handicapping myself with a road bike so that you won't feel bad about not being on the wrong motorcycle for your skills and our purposes. If you think this U-turn exercise is easy on my V-Strom, you'll really be disgusted at how easy it is to do on the bike I ride everyday.

By the way, I put 5,000 miles on my 250 last year, what did you do on your 1800 Hippodromeopotamus? Are you going to ride that thing, or just watch it deteriorate in your garage? You can't ride it, right? You're afraid you're going to crash it and kill yourself because it's too big, too powerful, and you don't have the skills to manage it. You should have bought a 250 for your first bike, but you didn't want to look stupid. You missed that bet, dude. You can't look dumber than when you are selling your $25,000 motorcycle for $5,000 with 2500 miles on the odometer and a rash of scratched up chrome from when you dropped the bike in your driveway.

3 comments:

  1. Back in the 1980s the understandings derived from racing began to affect the design of all streetsters, including giant sofa-bikes. I recall Mark Homchick, then working for CYCLE, arriving on such a bike for some kind of testing day. He swooped in at surprisingly high speed, got the thing turned, and then backed it into a parking space with real aplomb. I realized that less rake and less trail had arrived on even the vastest of bikes.

    Naturally, the styling departments have to keep such bikes looking as though they have Bonneville/1960 rake & trail by such artifices as non-parallel fork tubes and steering axes, but the "damage" was done. Riders of very heavy motorbikes liked the lighter steering and improved maenuverability, so it never went away.

    Just for drill, it's interesting to drive a heavy, pre-power-steering car like a '40s Buick. You simply can't steer at all unless it's at least creeping, and people learned to drive that way - get it moving, then you can steer it. And the steering wheels were BIG.

    KC

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  2. The really sad thing is that so many people would have a lot more fun on the 250 than the Hippomaster 1800. But, most people just don't have what it takes to go against what the crowd is telling them to do.

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  3. I agree. Most of us who have been riding for a while began on little bikes and many of us remember those motorcycles more fondly than the bigger, more expensive stuff we've owned since. Bucking the expectations of peers is tough. You could make a good case for not having peers, if they are that dangerous.

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