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?
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.
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.
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.
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.