The Happy Warrior

10 February, 2006 Temperature: 26 degrees F (-3°C)

Just over three months ago, I wrote a blog entry called Attitude Calibration. It was my second entry in this blog, and I had only been scootering for three days. I was amazed by the adjustment I had to make in my riding style and attitude, with only one-quarter the horsepower of my regular ride, the KLR 650.

My epiphany was that you couldn’t ride aggressively on such a humble machine, hence you had to adopt a very calm, zenlike attitude about riding in general, especially in traffic. I actually thought at the time that I would be okay with this, even though it goes against every instinct and reflex I have ever known.

Who was I kidding?

I guess it worked for awhile. The Baron was an unfamiliar animal; quick to the point of twitchiness in handling, and so much slower than what I was used to in acceleration and top speed. It took some time for me to adjust and assimilate all these new sensations.

So, for those first few weeks, I was overcautious and tentative. My hyper-awareness was driven by fear of failure, and I approached every ride like a test card in an X-plane development program. Whenever I felt the onset of aggression, I pushed it away.

Not anymore.

Controlled AggressionNotwithstanding the terrible, almost unreadable poem by William Wordsworth, the term that best describes my riding state of mind these days is The Happy Warrior. It is an attitude of controlled aggression, in which I try to make the most out of every ride by pushing the envelope of our performance, in time, speed, and style.

When roads are dry, I take a racing line around corners. Leaning in hard to strafe an apex is almost as much fun on a scooter as it is on a sportbike, and you stand less chance of violent dismemberment. When conditions are cold and/or sloppery, I respect that, and concentrate on overcoming those challenges.

Still, I can’t resist the temptation to drift flattrack style around a snowy corner. But I only do that when conditions are right, and there are no other vehicles about. If I screw that up, the cager will be looking right at me, and will therefore run me over. It never fails.

But I now find myself attacking the challenges of heavy traffic with mischievous glee. This is where I have GOT to be careful. The Happy Warrior has scant armor against a steel bumper or a concrete curb. This is where I have to practice my controlled aggression with the emphasis on control.

The Baron and I take advantage of our size and small footprint to squeeze into places a cage can’t go. We take to the bike lane or the shoulder when the boxes stop moving. When we come to a red light, and are in the right lane, we turn right, and find a way across the road, so we can cut through a parking lot and continue on. The challenge is to always stay within the law, or at least appear to. If there is a reasonable doubt, you have some wiggle room. We are all about wiggle room.

But we pull these maneuvers with a high profile, hoping that the box people will see us and a lightbulb will flicker in their sluggish brains: “Behold! He is escaping the grinding monotony of gridlock on a vehicle that costs less than the yearly depreciation of my Ford Extortion!”

When they get home, they will boot up their computer and research motorbikes, finding out that in most states, you can get an endorsement on a scooter, without learning all that hand-clutch and foot-shift rigamarole. This plants a seed, and soon a For Sale sign appears on another anachronistic SUV.

Well, that’s the dream, anyway. One Less Car. If we can do that today, maybe we can do it tomorrow too. If a bunch of us do it, we might actually make a difference. Isn’t this the most fun you can have in public service?

Update: The trouble with the Baron the other night was a crack in the spark plug boot, which allowed the spark to short to ground. Crewchief Lorne replaced the coil and plug wire combo and the problem was solved. It seems that the constant shower of cold saltwater slush embrittled the boot and caused the failure. This will go into my Test Pilot Report.

Here’s an addendum to this post on attitude…

I didn’t address the beautiful, relaxing, zenlike state of the moto-tourist. This is because I am commuting on the Baron in city traffic. If you try this mode in the city, you are one of those folks to whom excrement happens. You hear this all the time: “I was riding along, minding my own business…”

Yeah.

If you ride in traffic, you had better be minding EVERYBODY’S business. That’s what it costs to enjoy this freedom of movement on a motorbike. Along with your controlled aggression, you need a side order of situational awareness. That means knowing what threats exist within 360 degrees of your position, and what they are likely to do in the next 500 milliseconds. A tall order for some people, but not so hard for anyone who plays video games.

Still, there is no reset button out here on the streets.

19 Responses to “The Happy Warrior”

  1. Bill Sommers Says:

    I was looking forward to your views on attitude. I agree with you 100 percent. I think about the law of averages, and how at some point they’ll catch up to you. It’s in recognizing when that moment arrives, and how you are prepared to handle it that dictates the outcome of the situation. City riding has it’s risks. But I take the risks with an attitude of caution and awareness. I enjoy riding. Be it on my scooter, or my Harley Davidson, I like riding. I just have to be mentally ready.
    On a pretty cool note, two guy’s from work have been sucked into my scooter commuter mania. One just picked up an old Honda Aero in real good shape, and the other, a 1965 Sears Allstate Vespa. It’s nice to see them excited about scooters, and having a little more in common with them than just work. I’ve got them reading your blog as well. It’s information worth sharing. Thanks…Bill

  2. Dick Aal Says:

    Boy what a difference a day makes in your mood and attitude. You got over the bike breakdown real quick.
    Your description of making a game of comuting rang a bell with me. I used to ride a Suzuki 1000 or drive a Porche 356 to work and really made it an adventure each commute day. It really made the commute bearable as I would rather have been at home or work instead of battling traffic to work and home. It also seemed to be better in the moring when I was fresher and able to attack the commute. Keep trucking (figuratively)

  3. Eric Says:

    Another great post, and worth the wait. Glad to hear the Baron is back in fighting trim, and that it was just a minor deal. The elements of winter here in Minnesota can definitely take their toll.

    You hit the nail on the head with the bit about controlled agression, and minding EVERYONE’S business. Being the most vulnerable person on the road in terms of metal-to-flesh ratio, you have to know exactly where the boxes are and where they are going. 360 degree awareness indeed.

    Keep riding (well) and writing (better)!

  4. Mad Says:

    “If you ride in traffic, you had better be minding EVERYBODY’S business”

    Yeah great post Gary and very true words. City riding is one area of riding where I haven’t lost any confidence after my last off (my confidence has suffered a bit doing the fast “freeway” stuff). I love switching the old spidey senses up to eleven and going looking for trouble in the traffic. Nothing better than filtering through the tiny gap a belligerent cager thought he’d closed you off from!

  5. mnscooter Says:

    OK, taking it from the top…

    Hi Bill,
    Yes, you get it. Besides all the practical advantages of commuting by motorbike, you have to acknowledge the fun factor. If it isn’t fun, because of fear or comfort issues, then you shouldn’t do it. But if you ride to have fun on weekends, why NOT ride to work? In most cases, it is more economical than any kind of cage.

    But I know many people who own motorbikes for recreation only, and drive their cages to work. How sad.

    Hey Dick,
    How DO people tolerate the whole box-in-traffic, gridlock thing? That would drive me insane. I don’t know what the average commute time is in this country, but the way most people commute is just a waste of their lives for that period of time. What we do, making an adventure out of it, essentially indulging in our hobby while travelling to and from our occupation, really is the best possible solution.

    Hello Eric,
    How’s life treating you these days? Are you still with NWA?

    Folks, Eric is my cousin, who lives in far northern Minnesota, and he was featured in the very first “Backroads Diary” column. On a dirtbike, he is hell-on-wheels.

    Thanks for the comments, cuz. I’ll see you sometime this spring…

    Mad… Yeah, I used to love “filtering”. It was legal in California, where I learned to ride streetbikes. It is illegal here in Minnesota, much to my frustration. I still do it, once in awhile, but always with that “reasonable doubt” factor in the back of my mind.

    However, when someone moves intentionally into my path, trying to block my progress, that makes it personal. Then all bets are off. I will ride on the sidewalk to get past them, if I have to. This works much better on the KLR.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  6. Eric Says:

    Hey Gary,

    Yeah still at NWA. Aside from the labor/bankruptcy issues, things are going really good. Reading your column has had me itching to pull the bikes out all winter. But the GPz is gonna stay right where it is, in the heated garage.

    The suzuki might make a blast out onto the lake though, if I get brave (just to remind me of my younger/dumber days). I’m sure I can talk Chad into firing up the KLX too. Then again… maybe not. We’re not that young anymore.

    I’m looking forward to riding again this spring… We’ll keep you out of the mud-bogs this time though!

    Later

  7. Mad Says:

    I shall have to try and remember not to filter when I visit Minnesota then…

  8. Steve Williams Says:

    Gary,

    It sounds as if you have moved from the Zen mode of riding towards the Unreal Tournament mode. We used to play that every day at lunchtime on our building network. I had to stop when I noticed a “twitch” reaction from playing so much. I can see the same feelings arise when I decide to move through traffic, swing across a parking lot to beat a line of cars. It feels so fluid, just like running through one of those game maps. I just half to remember I really don’t have any weapons other than my reactions and skill with manipulating the machine. And all the cagers have a Redeemer….

    steve

  9. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Mad,
    Don’t worry about remembering… If you try to filter here like you do over there, you WILL be reminded. Minnesotans really seem to get offended by someone taking what they perceive as an unfair advantage. That’s why we can’t pass the law that would make it legal in our state.

    Hi Steve,
    In rereading that post, I’m not entirely sure I expressed the whole message. For me, the concept of controlled aggression just puts me in the right frame of mind, with all synapses firing, for good, safe riding.

    If you are more passive and zenlike, you might miss that cager who is practicing his own aggression, controlled or (most likely) not. The key is knowing when you can’t win, and having the self-discipline to back off.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  10. Steve Williams Says:

    Gary,

    I think I understand. You’re talking about the ride be an active process where you are entirely present and mindful of everything going on with yourself, the scooter, the road, and the other drivers. I pretty much meant the same except I was reading a lot of adrenaline into the “controlled agression” which to me ultimately means a loss of focus and control, especially if the aggression is anger related.

    I try to be entirely present and not let my mind wander while riding. I agressively pay attention.

    steve

  11. mnscooter Says:

    Well put, Steve. Your last two sentences pretty much sum it up. If I wrote like that, it would be a short blog.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  12. Seagullplayer Says:

    Todays words; WD 40

    Great read, again.

    Rubber down

  13. Marty Laplant Says:

    Gary,
    Have you written any yet about the care, cleaning, drying etc. your protective garments get?
    I have ridden in every kind of summer weather and dampness and cold don’t go together.
    Further I can’t imagine what you must look like when you have hit the freeway in “Salt Bath” conditions.
    Thanks,
    Keep on rockin!

  14. mnscooter Says:

    WD40? Would that be for the sparkplug boot? I hadn’t thought of that. Good idea, SGP.

    Marty,
    This is going to sound pretty bad, but I haven’t done anything to clean my stuff yet. The Aerostich Darien is amazing, in that it seemed to soak that stuff up and not show it at all. I’ve only ridden one time on the freeway in heavy salt spray. The legs of my leather bibs were crusted in white, but the Darien didn’t show anything. I shook out the leather, and rubbed a bit of motor oil into it, and that was all.

    I guess I’m pretty old-school where this stuff is concerned. I actually want my gear to look as well-used as it is. I don’t usually retire a leather jacket until it falls off me of it’s own accord. So I’m the wrong one to ask about the care and feeding of riding gear. Sorry…

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  15. irondad Says:

    Second the Aerostich thing. It’s a badge of honor with long distance riders to have a well-worn “Stich”.

  16. tiff Says:

    Nice triumph pic!
    Fixated? Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about! - y’see I live 5 miles from the factory in Hinckley…..

  17. Marty Laplant Says:

    That’s it, I am going to get me some Aerostich and get back on the road.
    Thanks!

  18. Seagullplayer Says:

    I use WD 40 on every electrical connection on the bike, it really helps keep the water out. That is what it was made for.

    Rubber Down

  19. mnscooter Says:

    So true, Irondad.

    Tiff, only 5 miles? Why the hell didn’t you go put that fire out? For what it’s worth, I took that pic from an old wallpaper I downloaded, and then photoshopped it to add drama. I do love most of the new Triumphs. Someday…

    SGP, yeah, that makes sense. Here I always thought it was just a slippery, he-man cologne.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

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