Since when had a back protector become de rigueur to ride to the hardware store? It struck me recently tripping over a set of Alpinestars in the living room: When was the last time I dressed like a normal person and just went for a ride? You know, pull on a regular set of boots that don’t have replaceable toe sliders or side-buckle closures and a normal jacket sans armor and disappear into the crowd. The best I could come up with was 1985.

This coupled with getting caught up in John Burns’ latest descent into hypercycle madness – “But please don’t take that to mean the manufacturers should ever take away our gnarly, fuel-gargling, tire-wrinkling (yet Euro4-compliant!) Superbikes. No, please, not that!” – woke me to the fact that somewhere along the line the standard motorcyclist that was me had disappeared along with our standard motorcycle sensibilities. Was this a temporary or terminal condition?

Whatever – Superbikes Forever!

Most folks will never ride a 180-horsepower superbike, never mind ride one to anything near its potential on a public road. Most folks will never see a racetrack from the business end. Most folks will never don a pair of Alpinestars, mount a set of tire warmers, drag a knee around a corner with malice aforethought, or wear a set of one-piece leathers. Most folks don’t live in California. Most folks are normal, saddled with normal jobs, doing normal things, with normal concerns. I’d wager a staggering amount of pocket change that more riding apparel in this country in decades past has come from places like Tractor Supply and Sears than any bike shop. Today, like everything else, the likes of Tractor Supply and Sears have probably been supplanted by Walmart, where most folks shop.

I’d be so bold as to suggest that Levi Strauss has protected the hides of more motorcyclists in this country than Dainese and Vanson combined. Meanwhile, I long ago became a gear snob who feels naked without being encased in a full complement of body armor and vented everything. My helmet has vents, my visor has vents, my boots have vents, my jacket has vents, my vents have vents.

Garden variety motorcycle sports togs circa 1982, and still suitable gear today in some circles. My current visor has more vents than that Bell M-1 helmet.

Garden variety motorcycle sports togs circa 1982, and still suitable gear today in some circles. My current visor has more vents than that Bell M-1 helmet.

And now comes Burns and his superbikes ripping holes through the air at triple-digit speeds. I could tell he had fallen off the sensiblecycle wagon again after his latest superbike binge with the lads out at Auto Club Speedway. This wouldn’t be news, and he wasn’t exactly shy about it.

“Now that both my parents have been deceased for some time, I require a larger dose of danger every year, as the only one left to frighten is myself. It’s what Casey Stoner says in this Mat Oxley article about why so many F1 fans are now MotoGP ones: “Fear is part of what gives you the adrenaline rush, it’s part of why we love to do what we do, because it gets your heart racing, it gets your blood pumping,” he said. “It’s that slight bit of fear that keeps you interested.”

He just kills me sometimes. It wasn’t but a few weeks back he had been holding forth on the fun to be had on bikes that developed reasonable levels of yonk and swearing off land-based cruise missiles in general, almost sounding like a normal sentient being, and yet here he was deep in the thrall of yet another speed-of-sound, shoot-me-out-of-a cannon, too-much-of-everything-is-just-enough binge.

Whatever – Drunk with Power   

To wit: “Too much horsepower really takes the fun out of it.”

Mmmyeah. Thus spake John Burns, sensible man, and now look at him. Hypercycle John feeding the fear monkey on his back, praising the virtues of escape velocity. Like sands through the hourglass, as the Burns turns. This is what happens when you provide an otherwise rational human being with the power of a nuclear sub and the processing capabilities of a Mars lander.

He is incorrigible, but this isn’t John exhibiting signs of a split personality, this is evidence of the increasingly disparate world we find ourselves in, one in which fly-by-wire F-22s and Curtis JN-4 Jenny biplanes from a century before occupy the same metaphorical air space. And it doesn’t stop there.

Did you know that the highest percentage of motorcycle owners per capita are in South Dakota (1-12), New Hampshire (1-17), and Iowa (1-18)? That’s right, according to our own USDOT, the axis of motorcycling is comprised of three states best known for – give me a second here – best known for not being California (1-47). California is ranked 43rd between Hawaii and Utah.

If I squint I can imagine a sharp young sociologist PhD candidate somewhere that may be able to draw some commonality out of the annual Laconia/Weirs Beach speed fest and pagan ritual – Black Hills/Sturgis rally – and the Iowa State Fair. But I’ll be damned if I can.

 There is a black box under this rider’s butt that controls planetary movements and commodities markets worldwide. It also can govern wheelies.

There is a black box under this rider’s butt that controls planetary movements and commodities markets worldwide. It also can govern wheelies.

So what are we to make of all this? I have a friend that actually wrote a basic computer program to balance intake tract length to exhaust length for optimal tuning depending upon preferences: top-end horsepower or low-end torque. Today’s Suzuki GSX-R can adjust that on the fly. Old tuners knowledge meets new-age tech. That is the world we live in. One crowd called motorcyclists dressed in everything from denim to Dainese riding two-wheeled machines as varied as the states they call home. This is who we are today.

Meanwhile, I can only hope for a beginner bike shootout in the future where we can all monitor John’s progress through rehab and see how he gets along with those withdrawal symptoms. Give him an afternoon with one lone rear suspension setting to adjust: preload. See how he copes with that. In the interim I plan to dig out my old pair of hunting boots, ride to the veterinarians to pick up a prescription for the dog, and reconnect with my roots. I’ll leave the vents closed on my Arai for old times’ sake. For all you guys wearing jeans and Red Wings, I’m with you in spirit.

Ride hard, look where you want to go, and if you see Hypercycle John coming with that electro-assist, trail-braking, crazed look in his eye, make a hole; he probably set the magic switch to Hockenheim-Kevin Schwantz again.


    In high school it was a jeans jacket, jeans, open face helmet Frye boots work gloves. My first full face helmet was a Bell that was a replacement for my open face that was stolen. I had to save up for it. I used it until the early 90s. I was also gifted a no name leather jacket that year from my parents. It lasted a couple of years. Now I am old and have two or three of everything. Except a good leather jacket. My Dainese sport gloves I’ve had for 17 years developed a couple of holes in them. My local tailor is attempting to fix them. Maybe I’ll get another 17 out of them. Repairing good equipment is the right thing to do. I test rode a Speed Triple. I’m pretty sure that is the most powerful bike I have ever ridden. Most folks don’t ride.

    • Born to Ride

      My very first leather riding jacket has been repaired no less than half a dozen times by the cobbler in my town. I only crashed in it twice(or was it thrice?), but I wear it nearly every time I go ride when I’m not commuting, so time takes its toll. Just recently had the palms of my favorite gloves patched. The leather on the fingers and gauntlet is turning brown with sun-bleaching. My Carolina 8″ boots are due for a resole after 3 hard years of service. Repairing good equipment is absolutely the right thing to do. A wise man once said to me, don’t replace tools that still do the job. I’ll take that to the grave.

      • spiff

        I still wear my first and only leather riding jacket. It is now my cool/winter weather jacket. It has been over 115 the last two days. Had to buy a summer jacket living in the desert.

  • john phyyt

    New Hampshire ! Who would have thought ? This is just such excellence in Writing that I am amazed and delighted.

    Soon there will be the road shoot-out of these road rockets and If last time was an example . Simply the finest moto-journalism to be had anywhere.
    A giant thank you to

    And finally to Troy : I always enjoyed your input and enthusiasm enormously. If you , again,race the Grom for 24 hrs please write a freelance piece. You are missed.

  • Old MOron

    Ha ha, that JB is quite the chameleon. Not long ago he was “low and slow” John, singing the praises of anything with forward pegs (or better yet, floorboards), and no suspension.

    And you’ve reminded me: I really need to find a commuter suit. Thanks, Mate.

  • 12er

    I turned in the redwings about 6 years ago when boots were finally made in a size 15… Many o sole burned to 45 degree angles and into the leather.

  • John B.

    When I was a kid I took guitar lessons. Eventually, I learned to play a little, but never could master the techniques. Decades later Guitar Hero came along, which allows people without musical aptitude beyond the ability to count in time to play along with their favorite hits. I enjoyed playing Guitar Hero with my kids; especially watching them enjoy the same music I enjoyed in my youth, but It never felt like we were really playing guitar (or bass).

    Is it fun to ride a 2017 super bike with electronic aids that enable people to do things on the track they could never master on their own? Does it make racing skills such as trail braking obsolete, and, if so, are today’s electronicnanny-laden bikes more fun to ride than their predecessors?

    • Born to Ride

      Not in my experience, but then again, I haven’t ridden one on the track with the fury level dialed to 11. It is my opinion that mortal human beings can’t handle more than 150 hp with any degree of skill unassisted.

      • spiff

        There is a group of old GP riders standing next to their half liter 2 strokes with a finger in the air.

        • James Stewart

          Having watched Kevin Schwantz throw his evil Pepsi Suzuki 500cc 2 stroke around Laguna Seca at the First? GP Bike event there in 1988, I must agree with Spiff. Large attachments and great skill was needed, and no Nannies were to be found

          • ralph newton

            72′ Laguna Seca Super Bike International,Cal Rayborn’s Harley XR750..My brother sneaked a delivery van full of us in..One of the high points, and, of course,Mr Rayborn’s last year here.

          • James Stewart

            Interesting – I had no idea that Harley road raced the XR750 back in the early 70s. I do remember my Dad taking me to a Flat Track/TT race in the Houston Astrodome back in the early/mid 70s – and those were certainly Harleys.

          • ralph newton

            Well, the XRTT variant was road raced for over a decade. Shame they couldn’t put it on the street because the motor would burn up.The bike that won the first Super Bike International at Laguna Seca had the new motor stepped up from the original of 1970. Not surprising your not familiar with them,Harley didn’t make very many of this version and the Rice Rockets dominated after 73 anyway..

        • Born to Ride

          I wouldn’t consider two stroke era GP riders as mortal humans. They were gods among men.

          • spiff

            I knew what you meant, but couldn’t resist. Lol

    • Kevin Duke

      Riding bikes requires considerable skill and fortitude even with the so-called nannies.

    • BDan75

      Not the best comparison. If we’re talking guitars, I’m thinking it’s more like being Slash circa 1989, except none of the groupies have STDs and your liver is made of cast iron.

  • john burns

    It sounds like somebody’s compression shorts are in a twist because Sean did not buy him a plane ticket to come ride around the race track with us? It’s truly amazing how anybody who can ride an SRX-6 can now blast around like Mick Doohan. OK, well not Mick Doohan, maybe Mick Doohan’s mom. Still a lot of fun.

  • Lewis Petri

    Thank you, I needed a good hearty laugh to start my day!

  • Starmag

    If Honda would only make a NC700 with 180 HP and traction, wheelie, and cruise control, Burns could find nirvana.

    • spiff

      They do, they call it an “Accord”. My sister has one.

  • BDan75

    I know most readers are already aware, but still feel it should be said: If you’re wearing normal denim jeans on a bike, you may as well be wearing shorts. Levi-Strauss never protected a motorcyclist from anything but a sunburn.

    (I learned this the hard(?) way by falling on asphalt while running in jeans one time, and I ain’t no Usain Bolt.)

    Also, you can get dead and/or skinned quite easily on a motorcycle with 30 horsepower.

    • Bryan Spears

      Thanks for the laugh, BDan75. I read the article and also thought about how a pair of jeans wouldn’t protect you at all.. but your sunburn comment is perfect. Except for the rare instances when my cat hides (my wife swears I misplace them but I know it’s you, Pancake) my gloves, I gear up from head to toe.


    Well, now I want to move to South… No. No I don’t. Never mind.

  • BillW

    I assume it wouldn’t be kosher to post a link to a competing site (and it doesn’t seem to be working right now anyway. Did it finally die?), but if you think riding in jeans is just fine, go look up Wes Siler’s article “Why Wearing Jeans on a Motorcycle is a Really Bad Idea” on Ride Apart/Hell for Leather (also available, now, on Jalopnik). He had a low-speed lowside crash due to hitting a patch of broken glass while making a left turn on a city street in LA, and ended up in the hospital getting his derriere debrided to get the bits of asphalt out of it.

    Putting on all the gear before a ride really sucks, except compared to the consequences of not having it one when you need it. Part of the reason we wear better gear today is because better gear is available at relatively reasonable prices.

    • Gruf Rude

      Long ago, I slid across an intersection on my butt in levis after lowsiding on an invisible diesel spill. No damage to my derriere at all. My classic Marine Corps Zippo lighter in my left rear pocket took the slide in stride and from that day on, I could pull out that Zippo, point to its scars and honestly state, “This baby saved my ass!”

  • Dan

    Truthfully, I throughly enjoy the 3 mile ride to the grocery store with nothing more than my gloves, sunglasses, and hard-shelled backpack. I had my spill in ’04 wearing a helmet, gloves, shorts and a hoodie. Broke my leg and have a rod from my knee to ankle. I finally picked up another bike this year, and it’s been a reawakening to the sheer love of the ride. If I’m going any sort of distance that knowingly includes a fair amount of traffic, it’s full gear all day because I know through experience that you can’t trust the guy in the car next to you. But I say it’s quite liberating to strip it down and let all your senses in on the fun…even for 3 miles.

  • Vrooom

    Lot’s of us ride year round that don’t live in California. Sure it rains in Oregon, not being water soluble however I’ve found that it actually doesn’t bother me. Snow is less good.