Monday, May 9, 2011

An Open Letter to the Tampa Squid

Very few people like to hear unsolicited advice. Most of us feel that some loud mouth on the street telling us to put a hat on our baby is encroaching upon our self-rule. The instant reaction, though we might not display it, is one of “Who the hell are you, exactly? I know what I’m doing.” Crucially, this reaction is reflexive and often has nothing to do with whether we in fact know what we are doing.

Which brings me to you, the Squid. 

There are some things that I want to say to you, but it would be inappropriate to just pull you off the road and tell you what I think. I have actually done it before and it made little difference—after all, what gives ME the right to tell YOU how to ride?—so I am going to try something different. I will write you a letter and post it on the internets. So, if you come across it and feel receptive, you can read it. Just know that I am not trying to condescend or establish my own superiority in relation to you. I genuinely want to help. 

Here’s the thing: you are a Squid; you are a rider with a poor skill set. Most Squids are just new to riding, out on their first bikes trying to make sense of the world. Some Squids are a few years on and simply haven’t yet replaced their bad riding habits with good ones. Some Squids ride with groups, sometimes large groups, of riders who are equally Squidish. In these groups, bad riding habits don’t only multiply, but are legitimated by the fact that they are practiced by that particular community. At the point where Squid-icity is no longer a stage in a rider’s life and becomes a way of being, something very, very bad has happened. Something that I like to hope is preventable. 

I think it is preventable if you start your moto journey with the right crowd, or with the right perspective, or with the right advice. For you, it appears to be too late for the first two so, please, listen to what I have to say.

I see you on the road in traffic everyday and there are some elements of your riding style that are problematic. First, you ride in the center of the lane. This is bad because this is the area of the lane that car tires straddle, which means there is a higher likelihood that there is something there, that you can’t see, something obscured by the cars in front of you. I learned this the hard way and hit a dead skunk once. It didn’t look or smell too nice and it could have been prevented if only I chose to ride close to the edge of the lane, in the tread line left by the cars.

When you ride closer to the edge, especially in traffic, your visibility increases. You can see all the way down the road instead of just seeing the back of the truck you are following. You also make yourself visible to more drivers, because your lights shining down the lane split hit almost all of their rear view mirrors. You see more and they see you.

Lastly, by riding closer to the edge of the lane, you make it easier to switch lanes. If someone in a car gets stupid and slams on their brakes in front of you, you will be able to switch lanes much faster if you are already at the edge of the lane. This also makes it less likely that you will be hit by the car behind you.

Your lane changing needs a bit of work also. I see you just kind of lazily drift from one lane into another. Almost as if you are not thinking about it and are doing it accidentally. This is bad because you are losing an opportunity to perfect some skills. Once you put on your blinker, which you should be doing, you should switch lanes as quickly as is possible on your bike. This will allow you to train yourself to swerve. A lot of riders get into accidents by freezing up when they encounter a sudden road obstruction. They never practiced swerving and because of this, they didn’t swerve when it became necessary. So you should think of every lane change as a chance to practice swerving. You will get to know better how your bike handles, which will only add to your skill set.

Oh, and don’t follow cars, or bikes, as closely as you have been doing. First off, you shouldn’t be behind big trucks or vehicles carrying things that could fall off. A friend of mine once had to deal with a ladder that had just fallen off a truck directly in front of him. It was almost really bad for him, and he knew how to swerve. No, you need to be far enough away from a car to see well down the lane and react well should something happen. This is Tampa. Stupid shit always happens in traffic.

Once I rolled up to a packed parking lot and your bike was in a parking space taking up the whole space. Not a good look. Four sportbikes can fit into a regular parking space. If you are the first to a space, and it is a space that you will have to back out of,  simply pull into the space and park on one side closest to its entrance. This way, cars that are looking for parking will see you, instead of pulling in like aloof idiots, hitting your bike, then leaving in a hurry. Also, other bikers will be able to park there and you won’t be blocked in. Its a win for everybody.

Out on the road, I notice that you don’t make use of racing lines when you are riding. This is admittedly a pretty hard thing to learn, but it can be very helpful. It isn’t really something I can describe in this letter, but there are many resources that you can use to learn about them, most notably Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist series. 

Racing lines are nothing more than safe ways to negotiate turns. A stupidly high percentage of motorcyclists blow out the side of simple turns all by themselves every year and a lot of these riders die because they hit obstructions off the road. This is needless and if you knew a thing or two about setting your entry speed, finding a good entry point and apex, and being smooth on the throttle through the exit, you would be so much better off. So please, check out some books on the subject.

By the way, you should do a track day. It is a little bit expensive and you will have to haul your bike 3 hours up to Jennings, but just one track day can really help you get a grip on how your bike works and what your personal limits are. Too many sportbike riders get bikes and just ride them on the road and it is kind of a waste, if you think about it. It is crazy fun to spend a day not worrying about speed limits or fire hydrants. You owe it to yourself to try it at least once.

You can rent gear at the track, but honestly it is silly that you don’t have enough gear of your own. 

Your choice of gear is bad. I know that gear can be expensive. I know that it is not required by law. I know it is hot outside. But gear is the very first term in the traffic strategies that you should be developing. Most people don’t want to have their skin scraped off and I don’t think that you are any different. But you ride in a t-shirt and shorts, sometimes without a helmet, or with a helmet, but with it strapped to your backseat. Probably you don’t worry too much about what others think of you, but you have to know that more experienced riders don’t respect your style too much. You are the butt of their jokes and even the guys at the dealership and the bike gear supply stores think you’re kind of dumb and probably shouldn’t be riding. 

And so long as you cruise in a t-shirt, they are right. Biking is fun and it is popular and it can get you girls but it is also serious. As serious as life, death and skin grafts. So you have to wear gear. First off, you have to wear a helmet. I have seen you with that old cheap helmet with the scrapes down the side of it. This helmet tells us more about your priorities and your skill level than anything. Helmets are worth the investment, which I know can be quite considerable. I have been on funeral rides for people who got in 15mph accidents and died from the head trauma. I would prefer to not have to go on rides like that anymore. 

But you also have to rock a jacket, gloves, kevlar jeans and boots. In other words, you should be dressed for the crash instead of the beach. It is easy to think only of where you are going, or how much of a hassle it is to deal with your gear when you get there, but don’t let that stop you from protecting yourself. Biking is risky. One way to offset that risk is to be as prepared as possible for a situation that is out of your control. Also, and this is something that people don’t consider, your choice to wear gear is itself part of having skills on the motorcycle. 

Skills just are the ability to make the right choices and moves at the right time. The first choice you should make is to gear up, which will give you the opportunity to further express your skills on the bike. Without a helmet, the wind will get around your sunglasses, dry out your eyes and compromise your vision. Without gear, you will lack the confidence to commit to turns and such. You don’t know this because you don’t wear gear, but you will see what I mean if you pick some up. 

I am droning on. I suppose I should mention that there are some things about your style that I find annoying. Like, why do you have to rev your engine so much when you turn on your bike? It is fuel injected. All you have to do is turn it on. You don’t have to blip the throttle ever, apart from downshifting. I saw you one time backing into a parking space, blipping the throttle the entire time, with that loud ass exhaust. It makes you look like a douche and I don’t think I am the only person that thinks this. 

Okay. I will stop now. Thanks for listening. I hope we can ride together one day. 

1 comment:

VentCover said...

Yeah. Bane of all that we work for. I spent a good minute looking at "motorcycle squid" videos after reading. There was no laughter.