Continued from “Let the Good Times Roll!”…
When I left off on the last post, Eric and I were riding our Kawasakis on Minnesota Highway One, between Duluth and Ely, through the heart of Iron Range country.
This road rises and falls, twists and turns through thousands of acres of young forest. It is well-seasoned pavement, but still free of potholes and large cracks, and it has none of those treacherous tar-snakes that upset Frogwing’s suspension so much, when we are out playing Cafe Racer.
We followed Eric and Gypsy effortlessly up and down the hills and around the corners. I can ride Frogwing surprisingly fast on challenging pavement, so long as I remember the old beer commercial maxim: “Smooth over everything.”
With gangly forks and a tall, relaxed frame geometry, Frogwing doesn’t like fast, twitchy control inputs. This sets up oscillations which take awhile to damp out. But when ridden smoothly, Frogwing can dance through the corners just as fast as most average sportbikes.
Just when we had settled into a fast groove, the tall grass at the left side of the road exploded in a blur of buckskin!
This yearling buck must have panicked when he heard us coming, because he leapt onto the road just thirty feet in front of Eric and Gypsy. As soon as his hoofs hit the pavement, he slipped. Hunkered down and scrambling, he was lucky that Eric’s Playstation-honed reflexes were so quick. Hard on the binders, Eric locked up the rear tire, but the dual discs up front slowed Gypsy enough that they missed the deer by about five feet.
What fascinated me most about this episode was the way my adrenaline kicked in, and I experienced that slow-motion vision that occurs to some of us in moments of extreme danger.
Time was suddenly moving as slowly during my free time as it does at work!
My hands and feet did what they were supposed to on Frogwing’s controls automatically, while my brain sorted through our options. My vision sharpened, and I was able to see a wider field of view. I was measuring the progress of the young buck against the closing velocity of Eric and Gypsy, while mapping out my own escape route should they collide in front of me.
This is where riding in a staggered formation really makes sense. Had we been travelling side-by-side or single-file like some riders do, we would have gotten in each other’s way during our avoidance maneuvers, potentially ending in a bike-to-bike collision. But offset to one side and well behind, I was able to calmly assess my options and make the necessary steering and brake inputs to miss both Eric and the deer, with plenty of room to spare.
I notice that Eric doesn’t discuss this near-miss over in his blog, as this is such a common occurance in his daily riding that it didn’t even occur to him to mention it. This is just a normal traffic hazard up on the Iron Range.
So the deer escaped with his life, and Eric and I rode on as though nothing had happened.
When we reached the `sweet spot’ of Highway One, Eric pulled over to the side and asked me if I would like to have a go with Gypsy, now that he has built her into the bike I always wanted her to be. I’d have been a fool to say no….
I was amazed at the way my muscle memory came back as soon as I mounted her saddle. Gypsy and I had some epic rides together, back in the day, and the old magic came back almost instantly. Within the first half-mile, I already felt comfortable with this old friend that I hadn’t ridden in over three years.
Much of this should be credited to Eric’s work on the suspension, however. Progressive fork springs and a fork brace have transformed Gypsy’s steering from slightly flighty to rock solid and compliant. Gone were the little tank-slappers that I used to experience when I rode her fast. Oh, and we did go fast.
That Kerker race pipe is a musical instrument equal to the Termignonis on my old Ducati. The little GPz 550 needs to rev a little to stay in the power band, so we were playing a speed-metal symphony of clutchless upshifts and rev-matched downshifts, over several octaves of the musical scale, back and forth through the twisty sections of Highway One.
It was pure musical, motorcycle bliss!
Gypsy and I were having so much fun that we rode the same serpentine half-mile four times, back-to-back, before Eric came by in the opposite direction on Frogwing. It’s a good thing too, because the sides of my boots were getting bevelled going through the corners. I don’t wear kneepucks anymore. We stopped and compared notes for a bit on the side of the road, snapped some photos, and continued on.
Later we both went back to our own bikes, for the ride to Eric’s parent’s house in Bigfork.
During that ride, we came across the strangest road. This stretch of pavement ran between farms and forestland, in straight lines and 90Â° corners, with no stopsigns. The left-hand corners were posted for 15 miles per hour, and the right-hand corners were posted for 10.
Now, those of you who are well-versed in sportbike lore will recognize the following formula:
For those of you who are not adrenaline junkies, let me `splain…
This refers to those friendly yellow advisory signs posted at the entrance to sharp corners on most paved, public roads. Cafe racers apply this formula to whatever number they see on that sign, and that is the speed at which they enter the corner.
Thusly, a 10 mph corner is entered at 30, and a 15 mph corner is entered at 40 miles per hour.
These kinds of speeds require serious lean angles, and perfect pavement conditions in order to reward the rider with a little taste of what he could experience routinely on a racetrack.
But public roads being what they are, subject to government budget cutbacks and the like, you are ill-advised to try to apply this formula to any road you do not know intimately.
That said, I must admit I was feeling very racy on that sunny Saturday afternoon. Following Eric through the first few of these turns, I realized that he had yet to learn “the formula”. So as we approached a clean left-hander, with no gravel visible on the racing line, and no oncoming traffic, I banked Frogwing over on his ear and gassed it through the corner, on the inside, and blasted out of the corner on a wave of big thumper torque.
Then, I waved him back past me, and re-assumed my position to his right-rear. When we came upon a clean right hander, I decided to try the outside line this time. He turned in to clip the apex at the proper point, and I waited just a split second later. Then, banking hard over, I gave Frogwing a handfull of throttle, and we sailed past them again, inside of their exit line. This time, I smiled and waved as we squirted by.
Oh, this was more fun than I’ve had in a long time!
Well, we finished up with that foolishness and headed for Bigfork, to visit with Eric’s folks. After that, we rode back to Chisholm, to spend another evening racing motorcycles in cyberspace.
On Sunday morning, I awoke early again, but this time I let Eric sleep. I rode Frogwing around town, to find a photograph with which to close this little story. There it is, above. Then we rode around town a little more, just to store more images in my memory banks, and finally we went back to Eric’s house to say our goodbyes.
We talked about the familiar metaphor of motorcycles and women. Many years ago, I left my first wife to wander the West Pacific with the Marine Corps. When I returned, she had lost thirty pounds and presented me with divorce papers. Huh.
Three years ago, I parked Gypsy in my shed while I built more exotic Cafe Racers. This past weekend, I rode her again, better than she ever was, but no longer my bike. I think I detected a certain note of vindication in the howl of her well-tuned exhaust.