Saturday, May 8, 2010

What Lies Beyond the Curve

Perhaps no other form of life on this planet but human beings make a habit of preparing for something unforseen.

We shoulder a heavy load just in this endeavor alone: A GPS in case we get lost, a patch kit in case we get a flat, a heavy jacket in case it gets cold, a top-off in case there's no gas station, a knife in case we're attacked.

Maintaining a margin of surety against the unknown seems so human nature.

twisty mountain road
The road snakes its way through the canyon and you can never see down the highway for very far. Each twist and turn is a mystery. Will there be sand? A decreasing radius? An idiot crossing over the double yellow? Even if I've ridden this road so many times, there's still a chance that there's something beyond the curve I'm not prepared to deal with.

But each time I come into the same curve, I wonder if I can just go a little bit faster. 15mph above the number posted on the warning sign used to be my standard, but now even that seems not enough. I need to keep my brain calculating.

I come up to a 30mph switchback and drop it down into 4th, the engine roars and winds down, slowing me down a little. I look up ahead and take in the periphery and watch the painted lines stream by. The exit point comes into view, I bring on the throttle as I make my cut to the inside, and rocket out.

I look down at my speedometer to see the results.

Yet I'm not doing this to tempt fate. I'm doing this to ride. Not just sitting on a motorcycle that happens to be moving, but getting into the zone and making it move.

ortega highway curves
They say that motorcycle riding is really all about the curves. If we never had to steer, anyone could ride a motorcycle and no one would have any fun.

And it's always the curves that sorts out the riders. Some fear them, others crave them. But even among those that crave them, there's still trepidation. I can always ease my mind by riding more slowly, effectively buying insurance for whatever the curve might bring me. But slow down too much and I'm no longer having fun.

At such a level of safety, my brain stops calculating, my mind is no longer in a zone, and I just get bored. A harder twist of the throttle, a greater angle of lean, a more graceful line through the curve, is what keeps me focused on a challenge. But will that speed someday become boring as well?

ortega highway motorcycle
The fact is that I've ridden these roads so many times, and yet I still feel a sense of insufficiency. That I still have a fear of what might lie beyond the curve, and still don't possess enough skill to deal with whatever might be there in short enough time.

And for that reason I find myself slowing down, only to come out realizing that I didn't have to.

5 comments:

  1. You say, what a lot of the rest of us think... Only you use better English! But it's that 'pushing the envelope'... if even just a lil' bit... that keeps us Alive. It's injecting that lil' bit of unexpected and unknown... that lil' twinge of excitement... that puts the frosting on "Knees in the Wind"... If I lose that... I might as well get a windshield... and some doors...

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  2. I need to push the curves harder ... I'm still getting used to my Harley and testing her (and my) limits on it. My girlfriend (and passenger) is actually pushing me to take curves faster. If you ride fast enough, you can "straighten the curves," she says.

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  3. LateralG has some great diagrams of "late apexing", which is the correct way to run through a curve, will let hit a curve faster, and actually provide more safety....

    http://www.lateralg.org/tips/apex.htm

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  4. Not trying to be a weenie... but be careful how far you take this. You'll find other blogs of riders showing regret (post accident) for an insatiable and ever-increasing desire for speed and pushing the limit on the road. If you need to improve your skills or feel that thrill, do the right thing and practice on a track or other "innocent bystander" free zone. I agree that testing our limits makes us better riders and we should all strive for more knowledge and experience; but doing so in an uncontrolled environment and involving others users of the road with no interest in our desire for more speed/thrill is reckless at best. I don’t expect you to change your style, but remember that just because your bike can do it, doesn’t mean that you should.

    Now go ride your ass off, just pretend there’s a little kid in the middle of the road around each blind corner. Remember, if you can’t see it, you need to be able to stop before you get there. And finally, make sure that it’s only your fate that’s being tempted.

    And “faster” and “more safety” is an oxymoron. At what point does the safety of a particular track through a turn become moot due to increased speed?

    Yep… I’m feelin’ like a weenie right about now.

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  5. The last line of the post is probably recognizable to most bike riders and many car drivers as well. I was driving a very powerful car south through Spain over the last few days in the rain (it was supposed to be nice weather!). The car has semi slick race tires and so many times I wanted to gun it through the inviting corners but I was wary of grip and no knowledge of what waited around the bend. So many times I came out of a bend thinking I could have taken it 20 mph quicker, but the bottom line is....you never know what is around that bend.

    Hopefully the rain will stop tomorrow and I will try it just a bit quicker....

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)