The Speed Demon

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Speed is not always a dangerous thing, in fact it is often an allay..

Next time you look at a stationery motorcycle you need to see it for what it is . . . dead, limp and lifeless. It is a chrome and painted deadweight unable to even hold itself upright. Heavy and cumbersome it has less functionality than the paperweight on your desk. But start it, let the clutch out and miraculously it comes to life . . . awkwardly at first, it moves forward like a drunken man, but as the revs climb it becomes lighter and more agile. It sheds its kilos as the engine begins to enter the power band and quickly transforms from 'dead-weight' to 'feather-light'.

There is a principle here . . . when a bike has speed it has life! Deprive it of its forward momentum and it just wants to clumsily hit the deck! This puts a new light on the action of braking. As the callipers squeeze the disk it is squeezing the very life out of the beast that keeps it upright. The bike becomes heavier, less manoeuvrable and increasing dependent on the strength and agility of the rider to keep it upright. Fact is, your ability to keep it upright is flimsy as best because even at 6kph your legs are going to flay about, momentarily propping the bike up before flaying about once again.

Without taking the argument to ridiculous extremes a biker has to see speed as an alley and the brakes as a threat. The biker must apply the brakes judiciously, wisely and within the correct time frame. There are times when these situations are obvious, like slowing down before a sharp bend or an emergency stop for a vehicle in your path. Conversely there are times when speed is inappropriate, like a hairpin bend, but in between these two extremes of braking hard and pouring on the power there is an awful lot of grey. It is in this grey where the principal of "Speed - Your Alley" comes into its own. Speed is the factor that is going to keep the rubber down. Practically one can therefore see that locking up either the back or the front wheel is bad news. One wheel stubbornly refusing to move while the other spins, is a symphony in chaos.

There are many other situations when wisely applied speed is the answer. Take for example the situation when you are suddenly confronted with a sheet of water across the width of the road. Hit the water under heavy braking and you have two factors i.e. the water and the brakes, trying to bring you down. Conversely tapping gently into the gas as you hit the same water and you have a good chance of staying upright.

David Hough in one of his books tells of a situation late one night when on a patch of high-speed roadway the tarmac suddenly disappeared under him and his 350kg Gold Wing were suddenly and blindly careering across sand, stone and loose bits at 65mph! Knowing that it was only his speed that was keeping him upright he did not grab for the brakes. Instead, easily and smoothly, without stressing what little tyre traction he had, he began to slow down. In a controlled and stable fashion the bike steadily shed its speed until as suddenly as it started the dirt was gone and he was back on the hard stuff! Clearly here was a rider who knew that speed was his alley and that the brakes were only going to bring him down!

On the topic of cornering it happens to us all . . . we enter a bend too quickly or the bend tightens up more than we expected. While a little judicious braking can bring some relief most of the time dropping the bike a little more and feeding the bike with a steady flow of power is all that is needed to pull the bike through the bend. I as a very average biker have probably not tested more than 75% of the traction my tyres have to offer when under steady, smooth power.

Recently on an extended off road tour I was faced with my first river crossing. I had crossed water many times before but this was not merely moving water . . . it was all RIVER! A designated 4 x 4 crossing the water level and river width was more than I was comfortable with. I scouting the riverbed, banks and surrounding area looking for other options . . . there were none! It was forward or turn around and do a 15km detour. Again only constant, persistent and steady forward motion would keep the bike up. Stopping in the middle with a 200kg deadweight on slippery submerged rocks was not a place to be. Shedding my luggage and pillion passenger I entered the water at a brisk walking pace. Thereafter it was only . . . 'Give it Gas', 'Give it Gas' and 'Give it More Gas'!! Stopping was not an option and as the bike humped left and right, up and down, so my intent on the opposite bank came more sharply into focus. In fact, I hit the opposite bank and just kept on going and going and only stopped hundreds of meters down the road! Flushed with success I walked back for my gear and my wife!

So a paradigm shift may be needed. The brutish power that I hold in my right hand may well be that which is going to pull me through. That suspension-crushing power that I hold in my left hand is that which if used unwisely, may well see me on the tarmac!




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