Long Strange Trip: Dark Side Strategies

It is truly the great irony of our wonderful sport, though it’s something few of us think about unless we’re older. (And with the Big Six-O just a couple years down the road, it’s something I think about pretty often these days.)

Motorcycling, as we all know, is a thrilling, mind-bending and life-changing pursuit, a sport with the ability to change one’s world in wonderful and meaningful ways.

Of course, it can change your life in terrible ways, too. And if things go really bad, it’ll delete you from this wondrous existence in the blink of an eye.

Growing up in motorcycling as I did, riding dirtbikes and racing motocross as a kid, riding streetbikes in college and beyond and, eventually, road racing for 35-plus years, I really didn’t give a lot of thought to motorcycling’s Dark Side. I knew it was out there, lurking in the shadows, and saw glimpses every once in a while. But I was immortal back then, made of rubber and very cocky and way too damn skilled to get hurt (ha!), and just knew I’d be able to out-maneuver the many 4000-pound four-wheelers (or oiled-up corners) that tried to take me out. 

And it worked. I survived all that early motocross, the years of crazy canyon riding during college, and the three decades of crazed daily LA commutes, backroad/R&D testing and road racing in Southern California with nothing more than a few broken ribs and some minor road rash.

But I was lucky. Skilled, for sure, and able to extricate myself from a lot of close calls. But fortunate, too.

Truth is, most folks don’t have that many miles and years and experience under their belts (or that much luck), all of which makes streetbike riding a potentially ugly game.

I was reminded of this the other day on a ride up a local ski canyon on the Harley-Davidson XR1200X I bought a couple of months ago – which I’m absolutely loving, by the way. (More on that next month.) On the way up I spied a dead mule deer on the side of the road, and immediately flashed on all the close calls I’d had over the years with four-legged friends in the mountains, and all carnage they can cause to cars and trucks, let alone motorcyclists.

It got me thinking about all the things I’ve learned to do naturally but don’t even think about, and of course some or all are gonna be things others can benefit from – especially with the summer riding season in full swing and many of you heading off to the Black Hills this week for all the kick-ass riding there.

The poor gal probably never knew what hit her. Hopefully it was over quickly, and hopefully it wasn’t a motorcycle. Careful out there!

Most single-bike crashes happen when a rider gets into a corner too fast and panics, usually stomping on the rear brake (because they don’t have proper front-brake skills), standing the bike upright and riding right off the road, often into a guardrail, hillside, another vehicle or off an embankment – or worse. The fix, of course, is to always – always! – get your speed set comfortably before you tip the bike into the corner. Do this and, unless there’s oil or something ugly in the turn, you’ll rarely be surprised.

On that note, be conscious of where in the lane you’re riding. On right handers, keep to the right of the lane, as the middle and left side of the lane is where oil and other slippery stuff tends to collect. Left handers are tricky, because you want to be to the right in case an oncoming car (or motorcycle) drifts over the centerline (a danger in either direction). But again, the middle or outer part of the lane is where it’s often slick – so be extra careful of lefts and be sure to scan the pavement out there carefully as you bank her in.

Scanning ahead, yes. Very important, as your vision is your guide to proper speeds and your ability to negotiate turns and any surprises that pop up – and they will. And when they do, be good at using your brakes. Sportbikes are short-wheelbase things, which means using the rear brake in a sudden stop is extremely tricky. But cruisers are typically long and heavy – which means the rear brake is way more useful and super helpful in getting our bigger, heavier bikes slowed down in a hurry. Practice emergency stops using both brakes strongly, with a bit more emphasis on the front than the rear. Get used to doing this and you’ll have a far better chance of doing it without thinking when Bambi’s mom runs out of the woods in front of you.

You don’t wanna end up all stiff and dead like this gal, right? 

If you dare to go toe-to-toe with Boehm find him at
longstrangetrip@thunderpress.net. May your wounds quickly heal

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