Tomfoolery - My Broad Motorcycling Perspective

Tom Roderick
by Tom Roderick

I’m writing this from inside an Airbus 380 en route to Montreal, Quebec, Canada to ride Can-Am’s newest Spyder, the F3. According to EiC, Kevin Duke, in his recent editorial, the Spyder isn’t a true motorcycle, yet he assigned me this task (such is the prerogative of being Chief). Having never been to Montreal, I readily accepted, but also made it abundantly clear in my response email to him that I do not want to become MO’s trike editor.

Nothing about motorcycling thrills me more than cornering. Acceleration, braking, wheelies, etc., are all good, but lean angle is my addiction. Not just in the natural feel of leaning into a corner (vs. the unnatural feel of cornering an automobile), but the physics behind the action. How the two little contact patches between rubber and road create enough friction to withstand cornering G forces. How those forces prevent the bike from falling over when leaned. I’ll sometimes think and wonder at the physics of cornering a motorcycle even when my knee puck is strafing the tarmac at the apex of a bend.

This is the kind of riding I love. All my non-motorcycling friends see pictures like this and wonder how I don’t fall off. That’s when I give a short physics lesson.

It hasn’t always been this way. I grew up idolizing the outlaw biker style. Blame it on all those B-grade biker flicks playing on late night TV in my youth. A couple friends were wheelying Ninjas around my high school, but I wasn’t impressed. I made my first Sturgis appearance when I was 18.

When a younger me was hired as San Luis Honda’s newest salesman, Walter, the sales manager, asked me during the interview what model Honda on the showroom floor I’d choose to ride. “The Shadow 1100,” I immediately replied. “Why,” he asked. “Because it most closely resembles a Harley-Davidson,” said I.

After so many months hawking motorcycles to Central California residents, learning everything I could about CBRs and their FZR, GSX-R, ZX-R competitors, it came time for me to actually experience a sportbike. It was only a 30-mile delivery ride mostly on the 101, with a few twists and turns getting to and from the freeway, but it changed my entire motorcycling perspective. I took ownership of a CBR600F2 soon thereafter and never looked back.

One day I volunteered to test a Can-Am Spyder. Next thing you know, I’ve become the weird-bike/trike tester!

Jack was a mechanic at two of the dealerships where I sold bikes in the early ’90s. He was a vintage enthusiast and gave me the bug. The second of the two dealerships at which we worked together specialized in vintage bikes. It was here where I got to ride models normally seen at museums or at auction. People complain today about technology detracting from the riding experience. Try operating a motorcycle with a foot clutch, suicide shift and spark advance, and then tell me how technology is a bad thing.

I used to admire sidecars from afar, never really paying them much attention. An old girlfriend’s father had one. He’d put the grandkids in the hack, make a sharp right and smile as the kids screamed with glee at being elevated. It wasn’t until I tested a two-wheel drive Ural for MO a few years ago that I discovered how much fun I’d been missing not having given sidecars a real chance. Testing a 2014 2WD Ural Gear-Up in the snow last February was a highlight of this year.

At least the Spyder had handlebars. The Polaris Slingshot, while fun, has a steering wheel!

Duke also sent me to the launch of the recently introduced Polaris Slingshot. With its bucket seats and steering wheel, it’s certainly no motorcycle, but, like the Spyder, it’s classified as a motorcycle because it has fewer than four wheels. It’s gotta be labeled something, and motorcycle is as close as it gets, which gives it an exemption from meeting the FMVSS safety standards for cars. The Slingshot doesn’t lean, doesn’t lane split and doesn’t wheelie, but it’s a helluva lot of fun, and I begrudge no one for buying one of these, er … motorcycles.

By sharing these experiences, I was intending to coerce others into exploring new riding experiences whether they be two wheels with a sidecar, a trike, a vintage bike, a cruiser, etc., but having now read what I’ve written, it seems apparent (outside of Evans’ review of H-D’s 2015 Freewheeler), I’ve become MO’s go-to editor for things of a three-wheel nature. Damn you, Kevin Duke!

Being the de-facto weird-bike editor has its perks. Getting to ride a Yamaha YZ450 with metal spikes in its tires on a frozen lakebed is definitely one of them.

It’s all good. Next month I travel to Spain for BMW’s press launch of the revamped S1000RR – a two-wheels-only event with plenty of cornering and lean angle.

Had I my dream garage, though, one’s thing’s for certain. Sprinkled among the two-wheel performance exotica would be a smattering of select vintage bikes, some cruisers and certainly a 2WD Ural. And maybe, depending on the expansiveness of said garage, a Spyder and a Slingshot. But only if there’s enough room among the other bikes: MXer, supermoto, speedway, dual-sport, tourer, sport-tourer, adventure-tourer, naked hooligan, some two-strokes … yeah, it’d be a big garage.

Tom Roderick
Tom Roderick

A former staffer who has gone on to greener pastures, Tom Roderick still can't get the motorcycle bug out of his system. And honestly, we still miss having him around. Tom is now a regular freelance writer and tester for when his schedule allows, and his experience, riding ability, writing talent, and quick wit are still a joy to have – even if we don't get to experience it as much as we used to.

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