Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Fractured Reflection on Riding Within One's Self


Okay. I am going to briefly consider some new bike tech. But ultimately, I am going to make a point that is more spiritual than technological.

Let us limit our domain, for a moment, to sport bikes. These are machines that are made to go fast. Faster, in fact, than  90 percent of sport bike owners can take them into straights as well as turns. But in addition to speed, they have other characteristics that distinguish them from each other, for better or worse. These differences can be quite subtle, only discernible by those who have sensitive tastes. They can also be quite categorical, like the difference between fifty foot pounds of torque and a hundred. For a prospective sport bike rider, this diversity makes for a beautiful if overwhelming world. 

Still, one can unify this diversity under one banner: they are all bikes that do what you tell them to do. But a new type of bike has finally arrived and it requires us to reconsider some things.

The advent of traction control and anti-locking braking systems have changed bikes in an interesting way. Such bikes no longer do what we tell them. If we ask for full throttle, they might give us less than full throttle. If we ask for all the brakes in the world, the bike will cut that request back by a crucial degree. Certainly, it is still important to our well-being and our racing line that we take care with our steering inputs. But the other mind, the one tucked away in servos and circuit boards, is there to filter our movements, to augment our performance. It has been this way with our cars for many years. But now is the rise of the machines for motorcycles and we would do well to reflect on this.

I think it is sensible to think that one is not riding alone when one rides such a bike. It is easy to see this as the sea change, the point after which nothing will be the same again. I can dig this perspective and I don’t mind it. But I feel that this moto-discourse is always painted with broad strokes and I want us to adopt a different vantage point. 

Instead of seeing the computer revolution as a maligned or welcomed revolution in motorcycling, one that takes away from or gives life to our favorite activity, look at it as merely one option among many. In other words, think of all the bikes out there as potential answers to the question: what kind of rider do I want to be? 

Debates over bike technology tend to start with racing and then somehow be superimposed on the majority of the motorcycling public. But those guys aren’t like us. The vagaries of traction control, engine mapping or even fuel injection mean something fundamentally different to Spies and Hayden than they do to us. They ride to win at all costs. They will lose weight, get surgery, isolate themselves from their friends. We go to work, ride on the weekends, do an occasional track day. We can’t think that their debates are ours or that the curve of their development is imperative to our moto lives. The question that I pose—what kind of rider do I want to be?—is intended to bring us down to our own levels.

The ‘04 zx-10 is fucking nuts. The ‘06 CBR 600 is butta smooth. The ‘09 R1 exhaust note is a straight eargasm. Do you want to exercise incredible restraint for most of your time on the road? Do you want to ride with more abandon and not worry too much about certain consequences? Do you want to be lulled into the machine by its mechanical noise? Take away the pressures of your friends or your immediate riding community. How does this sound to you then? Consider the option of traction control? Do you want to be fast from your own hand or would you like your bike to make decisions for the both of you? Do you want to be faster than everyone else or does your need for speed transcend the desire to weigh yourself against others? 

If we think like this, it matters much less whether the next man has trick parts or if his bike is decked out with a funny crankshaft or a computer that can think faster than he can feel. We should ride our own rides, according to our own internally developed expectations. I feel like if we do this, if we start from more private and reflective desires, we will crash less. This is mostly a hunch, but I think that riding within ones private desires will keep us cool, much more so than living up to a public demand to be faster or louder. But more importantly, I think divorcing ourselves from capitalist cycles of development and the hype of the racing world will open new vistas of enjoyment, new possibilities of experience. 

I am tired of people saying to me, “is your bike really fast?” or “I don’t like 600s because they're too slow.” or a million variations on a tired theme. I would much rather hear someone speak on the musical mix of wind and exhaust noise, or the odd comfort that accompanies the constant worry that there will be headshake under acceleration, or the perfection of the seating position. Let us abandon the pursuit of pure speed and look deeper for the song that has been faintly playing for as long as we have been riding. 

I speak on this because it is a small world and the “long tail” of moto desires can be granted with no trouble. Also, I am tired of rolling up on riders who open their mouths to talk about bikes and spit pure cliched boredom. Lastly, as I continue the journey of my own moto path, I see that it doesn’t resemble Robert Pirsig or Valentino Rossi or my riding friends. And the more I let my desires grow on their own, the more I discover about myself, for good or evil. 

It doesn’t hurt that such reflection also makes me faster. Heh. 

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