When I started riding on the street I had already established a short yet violent resume on the asphalt. I had wrecked a Cosworth Vega … twice. I’d blown up a Fiat X1/9 … twice. I endoed and rolled a Porsche 914 at something approaching triple-digit speeds so violently it ripped out one of the half shafts and left one of the rear wheels lying in the road. It was black Reynolds Wrap before that mess was over. Oh, and I bent Mom’s Firebird, a lot …
I was, in short, a complete idiot. Any reasonable person would conclude that behavior of this sort would lead to a short lifespan. What a great time to start riding, right? Which is exactly what I did, but we’ll get back to that.
Just within the past few years I have had occasion to advise two gentlemen who apparently had mishandling motorcycles on what should be correct tire pressures for their bikes. This does not make me a genius. In fact, truth be known, these are both highly successful, highly paid professionals in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore region who have enough IQ points to host a MENSA mixer. Amazingly, after my advice, both bikes suddenly would go around a corner and act properly. It made me look like a genius, right? Wrong, I’m not. What it does make me is a guy who has been around bikes a long time and paid attention occasionally. And that only happened a couple of ways: Because somebody helped me out.
I don’t know if you recall what it was like to start riding on the street, but I do. It was an entirely different world. It was daunting, the cars were so close, there was so much going on. About the only more complicated piece of machinery you can operate than a motorcycle is a helicopter, and that’s only because every appendage is busy keeping the damn thing in the air. The only way I could ever go from wrecking every car in sight to riding a bike on the street without consigning myself to the hospital or worse was with help, and I got that help in the form of a fella named David Paul.
David Paul ran a rider’s school that consisted of himself and a CB-200, and David knew how to ride. More importantly, he knew how to teach. He was using early MSF materials, he’d set cones up in the parking lot, and he’d drill me on countersteering, looking where I want to go, proper braking techniques, and being smooth. It was fun. He could see I took to it. He’d ride with me on the street and observe me to see if I did it right. I learned a great deal from him. I’m very grateful for him doing all that. Without him it would be hard to say how things would have turned out.
Something clicked in me, and I realized if I kept playing screw around on the street, I would die. Or, if you prefer, in the immortal words of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel: “Mortal danger is an effective antidote for fixed ideas.”
A handlebar never touched the ground on a public road, and I learned some manners.
Likewise, when I started racing I had an old friend, Steve Tice, who had raced. I knew Steve knew what he was doing when it came to racing something on two wheels. I also knew that Steve knew things I did not. So I simply asked, “Steve, just tell me anything that might help.” Well you might as well have called the Rapid Deployment Force for a hand because that simple question became a torrent of information and his presence at rider’s school in Pocono, and help in too many affairs in all things racing to recount. He knew all these things, he observed me on the track and told me to ride with the balls of my feet on the pegs – it knocked half a second off my lap times. His mere presence was reassuring, and we had a good time.
I asked Steve at the end of that long first weekend, “Steve, how can I ever repay you?” His answer was simple.
“Help someone else.”
I promised him I would. In other words, help someone else getting started out. It could be street riding. It could be racing. Just help someone. That has always stuck with me. And that is exactly what we have done.
So, best to start close to home, right? My future wife was number 1.5; number 1 was a guy I worked with who was a new rider whose CB550 I rebuilt in offtime. If you know someone willing to learn about motorcycles and you care, HELP THEM. I love that horrified look people get when they see an inline-Four in pieces, kinda makes it all worthwhile.
A few years back I was able to help a fella pick up a new bike, and he was a natural, took right to it. The point being that everything YOU take for granted is knowledge and can help somebody new trying something that is really challenging. You know it, you take it for granted, they don’t.
Roadracing, I don’t even know where to start; Kurtis Smith, Glen Hootman, Mike Reid, Michael Andrews – they were not new riders, they knew how to ride. What they didn’t know was tech lines, registration headaches, and the drill. If you do, YOU can help. That help is huge. And it can make all the difference, and that’s all I’m talking about here. Be the difference maker, give somebody a lift, give somebody a crack at it. We know how much we love it, let them know.
I kept my promise to Steve, I still do. I hope we all do. And, yes, I’d loan you the gearing to beat me to the checkers at the track.
About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.