Head Shake – The Unwritten Rules

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The one nice thing about the United States Army is you learn early on there are the written rules, and there are the unwritten rules. Knowledge of this simple truth can prove helpful throughout one’s life and has many useful applications. Take motorcycling for instance.

We know that drinking and riding, and how being unlicensed, untrained or in your first year of riding can lead to a greater probability of piling in your bike. We know these things. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation goes to a great deal of effort to promulgate this message. That’s all good, that’s the written rules.

Now, let us talk about the unwritten rules, the ones you have to figure out on your own. These are often dearly paid for but once learned are not soon forgotten.

Rule Number 1: Do not, under any circumstances, ride angry. Say for example you stayed up late the night before and crashed at your girlfriend’s friend’s house only to awake early the next morning to go help her dad paint a guest room in their house. Good, right? Uh huh, then say you were exhausted and fell asleep on said girlfriend’s bed. Now say, just by way of example, that you woke up and the aforementioned girlfriend is all pissed off because while you did indeed help her dad out, you didn’t spend any time with her. The proper response is not to get pissed off and pull a wheelie out of her driveway, down the hill, and – purely hypothetically of course – run into the neighbor’s yard because, amazingly, bikes will not turn with the front wheel in the air. This is a bad move; do not do it.

Be determined if you wish, be resolute if you must, eat a pecan log at the local Stuckey’s and cuss like a sailor at the gas pumps for all I care, but never, ever ride angry.

Be determined if you wish, be resolute if you must, eat a pecan log at the local Stuckey’s and cuss like a sailor at the gas pumps for all I care, but never, ever ride angry.

If you feel a bout of anger coming on, squelch it. When the visor goes down you are allowed to be determined, but you are not allowed to be angry.

Rule Number 1a: Never, ever, ever, ride really angry. So let’s say, again, just for example, that you are a licensed road racer out in practice on the short track at Pocono International Raceway. And say, just hypothetically of course, some idiot brushes you on the banks completely out of shape and goes wobbling into turn one, albeit at a considerable velocity. You observe yon idiot for a couple of laps and get a case of the ass and decide it is your duty in life to pass this joker because you are pissed at his general lack of good form. This is a bad idea. Nobody “wins” practice. Let the clown go, lest you actually do show this guy on the edge of control a front wheel the moment he tosses his bike with you running over his leg and high-siding, and punching a hole in your cases and doing the face-plant of the century, thus destroying a perfectly good helmet. Not good; not good at all. Do not do it.

Rule Number 2: Never get in a hurry. Have a routine and observe it. Much like any professional military pilot is familiar with a kneeboard, you should have a checklist, even if only mental, of a ritual you observe before going riding. Yes, it is anal retentive, but more importantly, it will prevent errors. And errors can hurt, or worse. You know it has happened to you: you forgot to fasten a chinstrap, you forgot to zip up your boots, it could be anything stupid. Or, it could be the crowning achievement of all time that occurred in an endurance race at Nelson Ledges Raceway.

Always have a plan and stick to it. Have a routine so you have it down rote and do not have to think about it. Photo by Tom Riles

Always have a plan and stick to it. Have a routine so you have it down rote and do not have to think about it. Photo by Tom Riles

Your humble author was engaged for an hour or so circulating the track and minding his own business. This is what you are supposed to do in endurance racing. Meanwhile, back in the pits, one of my teammates is presumably supposed to be paying attention and halfway have his shit together and be ready to rock and roll when I pit in, fuel up, and off he is supposed to go. Right.

So, I come burning into the pits. We’re going to smoke this stop, at least that’s what I was thinking. And he’s standing there with his helmet on waving his arms around and yelling at me, “Where are my gloves? Where are my gloves?”

Think about that for a second: I’ve been out on the track racing for the past hour. So, how in God’s name would I know where this clown’s gloves are? But I looked at him, then I looked closer. The tower announcer has taken notice of this Keystone Cops pit scene and is announcing these antics to everyone within earshot, while I notice my buddy’s helmet isn’t sitting right on his head.

“Rich? Did you look inside your helmet?”

Amazing what one might find when they look inside their helmet. Almost as amazing where gloves can hide.

Do not get in a hurry, have a checklist, even if only mentally, and stick to it.

Rule Number 3: Do not get big and bold. As soon as you underestimate a bike, it will bite you. It can be any bike, usually the more stupid, the more likely.

Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

- Proverbs 16:18

…and maybe even a swim.

I once almost managed to park my girlfriend’s (later Wife Number 2) Yamaha XS360 in a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The six-foot drop off the bank would have only been rivaled by the swim afterwards, and the resulting recovery operation. The throttle stuck on the thing, and I got to the kill switch in time, but it was closer than I would have liked. This is what happens when you just know you are the next Eddie Lawson and manage to fire up a rusty XS that has been sitting in a Navy property yard in Norfolk for an entire carrier deployment.

Then there was that small matter of caroming off trees on a mini bike with a throttle that actually has a rabbit and a turtle on it, but that is too disturbing to recall. The point being, do not get overconfident. A bike, any bike, can bite you if you approach it without respect.

Investing in good equipment is investing in your future here on this spinning rock. Just do it. The ass you save may be your own. If you have a 10-dollar head, etc. etc. …

Investing in good equipment is investing in your future here on this spinning rock. Just do it. The ass you save may be your own. If you have a 10-dollar head, etc. etc. …

Which brings us to Rule Number 4: Proper maintenance and good gear: just do it. Don’t half-step on that stuff. The costs can be high, so don’t skimp on safety equipment or tires. The cost of half-stepping can be considerably higher than the cost of doing it right.

Finally, we conclude with Rule Number 5: Do not ride a bike exhausted. Contrary to popular belief, it is entirely possible to fall asleep on a motorcycle. I know this to be a fact. You do not want to do this, as motorcycles can fall over on occasion. If, for example, you have spent the entire night on a beach chatting up a beautiful young lady, it might be a good idea to grab a nap before packing up and heading for home. This is a precautionary measure to prevent you from falling asleep between the Georgia Avenue and Connecticut Avenue exits on the Washington D.C. Beltway, which could have adverse ramifications and ruin your whole trip. No falling asleep on bikes. Eat your vegetables, too. And hydrate, dammit.

Follow these simple rules, learned the hard way, and you will have a long and enjoyable life riding through the world. Ignore the rules at your own peril. Be safe, have fun, and 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.

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  • Michael Howard

    Great stuff. Probably the biggest threat I face is letting myself get mad at idiots in traffic. Yes, they certainly are idiots. But, no, I shouldn’t let them get to me. Hmm… maybe when someone does something that makes me want to act stupid, I should start taking the next turn and ride around the block to break away from them and calm down.

  • Robotribe

    Great stuff. Thanks for these. That’s all.

  • john burns

    and nice form on the TL1000. Jesus God man how old are you anyway?

    • Oslo Norway

      Depends what day you ask me, John, currently I date from the paleolithic era…

  • Bruce Allen

    Great bio, Chris. Perhaps you can convince the editors to let you review a “main battle tank.”

    • Oslo Norway

      Oh man, I would LOVE that, I would kill to hear an M1 fire up again or walk a tank line at dawn…