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I'm a Rookie, How do I Wheelie?
Warwind's Avatar
Posts: 7
Join Date: November 4, 2003
Location: Hedgesville, WV
May 13, 2004, 05:05 PM

Saw this on another forum; though it was an interesting read.



Paul Dean
Cycle World – September 1988

"OH. BOY." I THOUGHT TO MYSELF " this is gonna be spec-god***n-tacular. If I can keep this guy in sight at least some of the time, I'm really going to learn something."

Well, learn something I certainly did. But not what I had expected. I had hoped to learn how an accomplished roadracer uses his God-given talent and invaluable track experience to ride fast—and I mean really fast, the kind of fast most riders talk about but never see—through the backroad twisties. What I learned instead was that I was either very naive, fairly stupid, or both.

I didn't learn it all in one gulp, though; I had to have quite a few demonstrations before I finally got the message. This first lesson came more than 20 years ago near my hometown of Pittsburgh. I'd never even seen a roadrace at the time, but I still considered myself a pretty fair rider in the swervery. I was able to bash my 650 BSA's pegs, stands and mufflers into the pavement almost at will, and no one ever seemed to run away from me on the curvy backroads that lace the rolling, wooded hills of Western Pennsylvania. And although the idea of actually going roadracing never entered my mind back then, I somehow concluded that the best way I could learn to become invincible through the corners would be to do some backroad blitzing behind an honest-to-God roadracer.

An opportunity to do just that arose one Saturday morning when my friend Dale called and asked if I wanted to ride down into the hills of West Virginia, where some of this country's finest twisty roads are located. It sounded like a great ride, I said, but I already had a commitment to do some of those weekend domestic chores that help keep the ship of marriage afloat and on-course. He then informed me that a visiting friend of his family would be accompanying us, a guy from Massachusetts who. Dale claimed, was one of the better roadracers on the East Coast. My bike and I were in Dale's driveway before he had a chance to hang up the phone.

For the life of me, I can't remember that roadracer's name. If he's out there reading this, I apologize. But for this discussion, his name isn't important. What matters is what he did on our ride—or, more accurately, what he didn 't do. He didn't run away and hide from us. He didn't slide the wheels and throw sparks on every corner. He didn't carve up those West Virginia backroads like a bike riding slasher gone berserk. He didn't light up the sky with the most awesome display of riding fireworks I had ever seen.

Instead, he rode . . . well, responsibly, if that word can be used to describe someone who spent the better part of two days banking a Triumph Bonneville over at radical angles and riding at illegal speeds. But he always seemed to be under control, never hobbling, never looking crazy, never passing on a blind corner or apexing on the wrong side of the road. Sure, he was fast, fast enough that I sometimes had to struggle to keep up with him, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated.

I was disappointed, but I counted my blessings: I'd had a thrilling ride, no one had crashed, and my wife didn't seem upset that I hadn't mowed the lawn or fixed the backporch steps that weekend.

Since that time, I've had the privilege of going on quite a few fast backroad rides with various other roadracers, from the not-so-famous to the world-renowned, including the sport's king of the recent past, Kenny Roberts, and its likely superhero of the near future, Kevin Schwantz. And all of those rides have practically been replays of the first. I've gone into them expecting to witness some of the most outrageous pavement-scratching imaginable; what I've seen instead has been some surprisingly sensible sport riding.

Indeed, these racers—despite being people who make a living by performing high-speed acts of derring-do—are fast and smooth on the road, but never out of control. A little uninhibited, maybe. Fun-loving, -- usually. Sometimes even a bit raucous.

But they ride as though they're much more interested in staying alive than in staying out front. As it took me a while to figure out, there's a perfectly good reason why: They know the score. They know that on the street, there's nothing to win and everything to lose. They know that to ride on the road as aggressively as on the track is like playing Russian roulette with a six-gun that has five bullets in the chamber: Your chances of living very long are somewhere between slim and none.

On the track, roadracers ride right on the edge; but the track is a controlled environment, a place where they can figure out precisely where the edge is by systematically and gingerly nibbling toward it a little at a time. They survive by staying in control of the variables and minimizing the unknown.

But when you ride at ten-tenths on the road, you often don't learn what the variables are until it's too late to do anything about them. Unexpected hazards crop up—dirt, water, broken pavement, decreasing-radius turns, cars on the wrong side of the road, cars backing out of driveways; if you're already riding on the very edge just in keeping the bike on its wheels and staying between the shoulders, you have nothing left in reserve to help you deal with the danger. That's not minimizing the unknown; that's maximizing it.

My message here is not to say that all sport riders should slow down to a bluehair crawl. I'm merely suggesting that those of you who habitually charge the backroads with reckless abandon might try backing off a click or two. The people most qualified to ride the twisties WFO are those who roadrace for a living, but they won't do it. They know better. And because of what some of them have shown me over the years, so do I.

And so should you. —Paul Dean
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