The Art of the Curve
It’s been a while since Charlie and I had been on a bike, and it was starting to show. After the 3900 mile and three weeks trip from the upper tip of Washington state back to Arkansas, I wasn’t too sure she would ever want to ride again. So, due to the grueling conditions I knew we would have to face crossing 1500 miles of New Mexican dirt, I decided to let Charlie sit that one out, and then came the accident within ten miles of the finish that pretzled my leg and kept me off bikes for the last six weeks.
So tonight I exchanged the walking boot for a pair of riding boots and gingerly took the DR650 out for a spin; Charlie was NOT happy to be left behind, but I needed to see how the old ankle was going to hold up. When I got back to the Casa, I took a chance at suffering canine-inflicted soft tissue damage by uttering the magic words: “wanna go?” She looked at me in disbelief, as if she wasn’t too sure if we would ever ride again, then vaulted onto her bike, the big Honda CB1100.
As we began to hit the twisties, I heard an odd sound coming from behind me. Charlie is notorious for her earsplitting “CHARK!”, but this usually occurs at the beginning of a ride, as if to tell me “c’mon, dad, we’re burning daylight! It’s time to roll NOW!”. But this was a sound I hadn’t heard her make before in the thousands of miles we’ve ridden together;
It was a yowl of pure ecstacy, rising and falling as we dove into the curves.
And that’s what it’s all about; the curves. Anybody with a bit of hand/eye/foot coordination can go fast in a straight line, but the corners is what separates the apprentice from the journeyman, and ultimately a master craftsman.
Stay with me, now; we’re going on a little ride; I promise to tie it all back together.
First, there’s speed. If you enter a turn too slowly, you lose much of the momentum needed to smoothly exit the curve and set up for the next. But the obverse is true as well, as if you carry too much speed into the curve, you usually have to brake at the most dangerous time, when the bike is leaned over and traction is diminished. Even if a crash is avoided, the result is the same as if you entered too cautiously; momentum is lost.
And one of the worst things you can do is coast through a turn, as this allows the bike to rise in its suspension with the resulting decrease in traction. If you stay on the throttle, the bike stays settled, the contact patches where the rubber meets the road are increased due the steady twist of the wrist that prompts the engine to transfer the power to the rear wheel, keeping the bike “planted”.
Then there’s lane placement. It’s always easy to spot an inexperienced rider, or even a seasoned one that is fearful due to fatigue or other circumstances. They will usually be hugging the inside line in the belief that by distancing themselves from the danger of oncoming traffic, that severe dropoff, or whatever else they fear, they are somehow “safer”. The truth of the matter is that the setting up to the inside severely limits how far you can see through the curve and identify any hazards that may be lurking just around the corner. What you can see can often be avoided, but you can’t negotiate what you can’t identify as a hazard.
I could go on all night with the intricacies of the art of the perfect curve, but what does this have to do with life?
Life is what happens in the curves. A curve might be a loss of a job, a birth of a child, a divorce, a death of a spouse, anything that causes a distinct change in direction. In my life, turning fifty was a major curve, and I was doing all of the wrong things to set up for it properly. I was set up to the inside, the “safer” route, which severely impaired my vision of the road ahead. I was coasting, which lessened my contact with the road, i was even braking way too early. Surely, I thought, my best years were behind me, the kids grown and going on their own journeys, why throttle down towards a future that appeared a bit bleak and uninteresting?
One of the most important facts in motorcycling and in life is what’s known as “target fixation”, that you always go where you look. If you’re concentrating on where you don’t want to go, that ditch, that dead possum, that oncoming truck, there’s a very good chance that’s exactly where you will end up. You have to acknowledge the hazard, but at the same time, focus on the road beyond it.
I was fixated on a future that I could not imagine being any better than my past, and as a result, I was racing headfirst to the exact result that I wanted desperately to avoid. But there was so much more on the other side of that curve, and there always is; we just have to be set up in a position that we can see further down the road.
But often the curves start to come harder and faster than we can ever imagine we could possibly handle, and sometimes it pays to use the straightaways to slow the bike for a bit and regroup. There is nothing wrong with intentionally slowing, but you can never stop; being stationary on the side of the road is one of the most dangerous places a motorcyclist can be, as you become the target that others will inadvertently fixate upon.
Zig Ziglar once said “if you’re not green and growing, you’re ripe and rotting”. Regardless of our perceived age or position in life there is always more to expect hidden beyond that next curve, and the same curve that may conceal a hazard will always reveal an opportunity. If I hadn’t had the motorcycle accident that almost ended my life with a ruptured colon, I probably never would have even been in the right frame of mind two months later to stop on that deserted country road and check that nasty crate. True, the encounter with the stump and the resulting colostomy were unexpected and VERY unpleasant curves to have to negotiate, but the ultimate outcome was finding Charlie Bravo. And finding Charlie didn’t just alter my path, but put me on a brand new road, destination still unknown, but it’s been an awesome ride.
It is my earnest hope that each of you who are currently encountering a particularly strenuous set of twisties will find your own personal Charlie on the other side. In the meantime, you can continue to borrow my Charlie vicariously, as she really belongs to all of us anyway. Or, as she no doubt believes, we all belong to her; she’s such a diva.
We be of one blood, ye and I.