The learning curve is steep for folks who want to enter the ranks of motorcyclist. Often, riders seem to be speaking another language. Initial confusion can be alleviated with some deft web surfing to decode the morass of letters and numbers that make up motorcycle models. Still, finding the proper bike to begin your journey to becoming a motorcyclist can be a challenge. That’s why publications, such as MO, are so important. We break the classes down into their component parts and see how they stack up against each other – which is one of the reasons we love our jobs. We act as, if not ambassadors, at least teachers for the two-wheeled life.
Still, once the neophyte has advanced to the point that s/he is actually planning on interacting with living, breathing motorcyclists, all kinds of trouble can be averted with the understanding of a few key moto-specific terms. So, study these well, and you’ll blend in the first time you roll in to the local motorcycle gathering place. Also, remember the wise words said to me by a grizzled veteran before my first trip to the famed but now defunct Marcus Dairy in Connecticut, a mere week after I started riding: “Whatever you do, when you pull into the lot, don’t do anything stupid. Everybody will notice.”
10. Brain Bucket/Skid Lid
While fairly obviously referring to helmets, the terms brain bucket and skid lid are largely hold-overs from the Bad Old Days when many riders thought helmets were evil and would certainly ruin your street cred. (Although there are still some knuckle-dragging adherents to the “helmets will break your neck” school of thought, ignore them. Like the wooly mammoth, their time has passed.) Your helmet is one of the first things that defines the type of motorcyclist you are – or hope to become. Wear one of those cheap, plastic jobs with the fake DOT sticker, and you’ve tagged yourself as a rider operating with limited brain capacity. These fake helmets can actually do more harm than good.
When it comes to helmets, choose the style you want – just make sure you get a DOT-legal one. But if you’ve got a face you want people to enjoy looking at, a full-face helmet is your best bet.
9. Pavement Surfing
While at first blush, pavement surfing sounds like it could be a fun ride down a winding road, but if you really think for half a second, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea that pavement surfing is something you want to avoid. Unfortunately, gravity and the laws of physics being what they are, every rider does it at some point. Hopefully, you’ll experience it at a low speed where your ego is bruised more than anything else. However, you’ll still want to make sure you’ve got the gear to keep your soft and chewy center from being feasted upon by the thousands of tiny teeth that make up tarmac or macadam or asphalt or however you refer to pavement (Never mind that Britons refer to sidewalks when they say pavement. –Ed.).
8. Chicken Strips
Chicken strips are the stripes of virgin rubber on the outside edges of a motorcycle’s tires. The further the scuffing goes to the edge, the greater a sporting rider’s hero status. Tire manufacturers have even put gauges on their tread to give riders a target to shoot for. While all motorcyclists may check out each other’s tires, sportbike riders are the most notorious for checking out tires as a proof of skill – kinda like dogs sniffing a tree to see if anyone’s pissed higher than they did. You can almost feel the contempt in the air when a rider walks past a bike he covets only to see that the tires are just worn in the middle and not the edges. If you’re more interested in appearance than actually learning how to ride well, you could always buy some racer’s take-off tires that will be completely scuffed and even have some balls of rubber clinging to the tread’s edge. However, if you don’t have the skills to match your aggressively scuffed tires, your cod-piece will ultimately be discovered.
7. Crotch Rocket
While women are the largest growth segment within motorcycling, go to any gathering of riders, and it’s still mostly a sausagefest – and we all know what men are commonly accused of thinking with. (There is the crotch.) Now, add into the mix a motorcycle designed for maximum acceleration, cornering, and braking. (And there’s the rocket.) When young, testosterone-addled riders gain access to high-performance motorcycles, the resulting shenanigans give us the crotch rocket pejorative commonly held by riders who simply don’t understand the pleasures of mastering the control of a sportbike.
Squids are a class of foolish riders often associated with crotch rockets. Squiddly behavior is characterized by actions that display a lack of common sense or an impulse for self-preservation. The term is reputed to have its origins in the surfing world where young, inexperienced, and unpredictable surfers were considered squirrelly kids which was shortened to squid for the obvious oceanographic reason. Through evolution, the term eventually moved to solid ground to another group of squirrelly kids.
Typically, squids ride without proper gear and often without much clothing at all. Think shorts and sandals – helmet optional – while doing wheelies in an effort to attract attention from passersby. Although squids can frequently be identified at a stop, based on their wardrobe (or lack of), their behavior on the road is what truly sets them apart. Pulling into traffic without looking and weaving in and out of lanes play heavily on their dance card, along with choice bike modifications such as removing mirrors on a street bike because they ruin its lines. (Hint: So do impacts with bumpers.)
Lest you think that I’m displaying a prejudice against sportbikes, I’ve witnessed squids in just about all segments of motorcycling. However, as hipsterism invades the vintage bike market, the percentage this class is representing in squiddom is increasing – albeit at a lower physical speed.
In case you need more information, this video provides a terrifying look into the mind of a squid.
Anyone who has ridden a bicycle knows what a wheelie is, but a stoppie? Simply put, a stoppie (a.k.a. nose wheelie) is applying the front brake with enough force and proper timing to lift the rear wheel. When done correctly, the rear wheel can be lofted to almost vertical. Accomplished riders can even carry a rolling stoppie quite a distance before setting the rear end down. Go too far, and you get to meet mister pavement face first, providing the fodder for endless Youtube videos. If things get really ugly, you might get to experience…
4. The Flying W
Although more common on the dirt side, street riders can achieve the notoriety of the Flying W, too. Proper Flying W form requires that the rider hold on to the grips while their ass and legs arch skyward to create the W. In most instances, this position is followed by an abrupt introduction to the surface of the earth. I am living proof that sometimes, however, luck will allow you to end up back in the saddle and on two wheels. While racing at Willow Springs, I ran wide at the exit of Turn 1, leaving the track at around 100 mph. After the race, the two guys I was dicing with said I exhibited classic Flying W form with my feet higher than my head as they passed me.
Back in the days before traction control (TC), watching a bike leave a nice long darkie as it exited a corner was a sight to behold. Symbolizing the ultimate in throttle control, a darkie is the black stripe from a rear tire spinning at just beyond its limits of adhesion while accelerating through and out of a corner. Traction control has lowered the bar considerably, but even armed with the knowledge that the rider has merely twisted the throttle and the electronics are preventing the aforementioned Flying W, seeing a bike or three leaving black stripes in front of you on a track day is still enough to get your heart pumping.
2. Tar Snake
Although these snake aren’t alive, in the right conditions, they can bite you. Tar snakes are the tar lines that are used to seal cracks in roads. Obviously, they offer less traction than regular payment, but in most riding situations, they aren’t really anything to worry about. However, in wet conditions, they offer approximately the same coefficient of friction as snot and should be avoided. Additionally, in extremely hot weather, they tend to soften and even melt a bit, making them quite treacherous when encountered mid-corner. While tar snakes going across a lane can give you a little wiggle, it’s the ones that run parallel to your path of travel that really need to be avoided. Plan your line accordingly, and you’ll easily survive these squiggly monsters.
1. Twisting the Wick/Giving it the Berries/WFO
One of the big reasons we love motorcycles is the experience of acceleration they provide, and there’s only one way to get the most out of your bike. Twist that grip! While cars may have their pedal to the metal, nothing compares to the descriptive ways riders refer to opening those butterflies – think WFO (wide f**king open), pinned, stretching the throttle cables. While I’ve always associated “giving it the berries” with Project Swillmore editor, John Burns, my favorite euphemism for letting your bike’s engine get its ya-ya’s out would have to be “turning up the loud tap.” Until all motorcycles are electric, higher engine speeds and acceleration will be associated with a massive increase in volume – both in terms of sound and fuel consumption.