California Superbike School’s Keith Code accurately summarized the existential conundrum of every road racer when he asked rhetorically, “You have 10 dollars worth of concentration, where do you want to spend it?” I’d maintain that the wisdom revealed by Code’s question goes far beyond the race track; it applies to life in general, and is confirmed every time I see a miscreant in a mini-van texting while purportedly driving.
When that 10 bucks is exhausted, multi-tasking becomes a myth, and my 10 dollars worth of concentration was issued back during the Kennedy administration. Not adjusted for inflation, my 10 dollars of concentration is more like four dollars and change. I’m pretty much metaphorically broke, so I try to spend it wisely.
My attempts at concentration austerity over time begat the unwritten rules. Recorded in scars, emergency room visits, and credit card receipts over the years, they were all purchased with experience, almost all of which could have been avoided if I hadn’t been overdrawn at the Concentration Savings & Loan. I would like to use this space to expand upon a column of the same name that we ran a couple years ago (The Unwritten Rules) and see where we might save a few more bucks.
Rule Number 1: The Seemingly Inconsequential can Hurt You. If you haven’t seen ample evidence of this simple truth, you will. It is acutely evident in racers, but it applies to all riders. Bicycles, skateboards, pit bikes, sleds, toboggans, rollerblades, unicycles, and yes, trampolines can all lay you low, possibly send you off in the flashy wagon, and cause you to miss the next race or ride you were looking forward to.
The examples have been countless over the years. Fearless men who would wheelie down Road Atlanta’s Nordic ski jump-caliber hill onto the front straight busted up after a zesty trampoline session. Or the skateboard with your name on it. Or the possessed BMX bicycle straight out of a Stephen King novel. I have picked my brain endlessly over this phenomenon and can only conclude that some higher power in charge of this joint either has a particularly sardonic sense of humor or there is something peculiar to racers, and riders in general, that leads to these sorts of mishaps.
I suspect this has something to do with the highly talented and fearless meeting the seemingly harmless, and hundreds if not thousands of hours of seat time on a superbike, and the confidence that entails. Maybe that confidence doesn’t translate so well to the toboggan world when the cruel laws of physics, and trees, are brought to bear. One should never feel any confidence when approaching a contraption that basically does not steer, or at least not very well, unless your name is Lars. Exercise extreme caution around these contraptions of distraction or avoid them entirely.
Rule Number 2a: Screw Up Insurance, you need some. Screw Up Insurance takes one of two forms: there’s the Before the Fact Screw Up Insurance, and the After the Fact policies available.
After the Fact policies are there to ensure that, after your inevitable cock up, the situation can be remedied quickly before anyone has noticed, or you destroy your unbreakable Snap-On droplight by hurling it across the garage like Nolan Ryan, or both. And I can think of no greater example of an After the Fact Screw Up Insurance Policy than the lowly magnetic-wand tool. If you don’t already have a couple in your toolbox, you need them. Magnetic wands are nothing more than a glorified magnet on a telescoping stick. If you have one small and one large you can cover most situations. And we all have those situations.
You drop one of the small screws that secures your brake master cylinder cap down somewhere in the dark recesses under your tank, or that pesky cam chain withdraws down the cam chain galley when some pit oaf diddled with the screwdriver intended to hold it up, or the worst-case scenario, the errant nut in the gravel driveway. I would not wish the nut in the gravel driveway on my worst enemy, but with the aid of the magnetic wand you can look and feel like a prepared genius in no time. Extend wand, stuff into the dark recesses of doom, poke and hope, pull it up, stare at it like a chimpanzee, stuff it down there again. Just keep that up and chances are it will emerge with the missing fastener or whatever it was you so carelessly fumbled into the ether.
The gravel driveway? That involves sweeping the big wand around like a weedwacker slowly. You will look quite stupid, but mere mortals watching this ritual will regard it as magic when you find your hardware and you breathe a sigh of relief. Which brings us to…
Rule Number 2b: Better yet, though, why not just avoid the unpleasantness entirely, which is where Before the Fact Screw Up policies come into play. For a prime example of just such a policy designed to preempt mechanical misery, look no further than the U.S. Military, an organization well versed in machinery and the men and women who break them. Observe yon, “Remove Before Flight,” tag. The remove-before-flight steamers, tags, and what have you are not simply there to look cool, they are there to remind you to check something important before you go flying off, and let me tell you, they have applications on bikes as well.
I once managed to bend the front disc on a basically brand new Honda 600 several hundred miles from home at a dragstrip in Florida. This was a minor problem in that: 1) I was entered in a race there that day; 2) I had a story to do; 3) It was not my bike, it was brand new and borrowed from Honda; and finally, 4) It is difficult to do cool guy burnouts on a CBR600 with no brakes.
And the way I bent that brake rotor would have been worthy of Bonehead Hall of Fame submission. The night before I had the bike in the back of a pickup at the hotel. I had secured it with a disc lock up front and a large cable lock at the rear to ward off the midnight shoppers. The previous day had gone well with practice runs and we were looking forward to race day. We got to the track the next morning, and I was pumped. It was a picture-perfect Florida morning, I was singing BTO’s, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” badly to an oldies station.
I plopped the ramp off the tailgate, removed the cable lock, pulled the tie downs, and we proceeded to pull the bike off the truck. The bike rolled back fine, my boss was on the tail section and I had the bars, and then the front tire seemed to hang up in the transition from the tailgate to the bed. No problem, we pulled harder, we pulled right up until the bike and the ramp came entirely off the truck with all the elegance of an 82nd Airborne drop. It became evident pretty quickly why – I had neglected to remove the disc lock, and the locked front wheel had dragged the ramp off the truck.
One piece of bright duct tape with a note scribbled on it, a field expedient “Remove Before Flight” tag, serving as a reminder adhered to the key lock, the instruments, or the disc itself would have prevented that. But in the absence of that simple precaution, I was left to scrounge the pits looking for a spare disc to no avail. I still ran the race, we still got the story, and Honda did get their bike back in one piece properly repaired, but it could have been a perfect situation but for one “Remove Before Flight” tag.
All of these things – personal injury from the seemingly innocuous, mechanical mayhem that can be mitigated or avoided altogether – they all steal from your Concentration Account, and we are trying to save you a few bucks. Assemble your own unwritten rules if you haven’t already, and spend your concentration where it was intended to go: riding your motorcycle.
Ride hard, save your real money for where it belongs (on tires and good gear), steer clear of platters of hot wings the night before the race, and, most of all, look where you want to go.
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.