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Kelly HowardA. Light, FlickrApr 22, 2023ContentsCommentShare

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Never Try To Impress Your Passenger With How Far You Can Lean Your Motorcycle On The First Date And Other Self-Evident Truths

The editor in chief, in search of a keyphrase for this article, couldn't find anything better than "motorcycling human idiot", so take comfort in that.

Because humans are a bunch of idiots. Just look at the headlines from any news source. More telling, compare the headlines from different news sources.

Despite the fact that ancient Greeks empirically proved the sphericity of the earth over 2000 years ago, Scientific American found that nearly two percent of us agree with the statement "I've always believed the earth is flat". That's a little more than six million of your neighbors in the US.

As a result of living near the Johnson Space Center and being married to a bright, beautiful woman who spent her career in NASA world, I've met real, live astronauts. Impressive, highly educated, literal folks who epitomize rationality and have circumnavigated the earth from space. They have seen our lovely blue ball and know the earth is an oblate spheroid.

“Our worst experiences make our best war stories, and many of our war stories happen as the result of being a motorcycling human idiot.”

"Never underestimate the power of human stupidity," said Lazarus Long, a science fiction character conjured by author Robert Heinlein. We idiots continually prove it to be wise counsel. Climate change, large-scale human suffering, and overpopulation are all examples of our crazy behavior.

But most confounding of all, there's a large group, one that uniquely defines the term "motorcycling human idiot" by choosing to transport ourselves from one place to another on two-wheel machines that are proven to be thirty-something times more likely to result in our death than a nice, safe automobile. And we're convinced it's a logical, well-thought-out choice. Who's the crazy one here?

Todd Loves Every Motorcycling Human Idiot

Todd is a professional motorcycle salesperson down at [local boutique motorcycle store]. The guy's good and has been doing it a long time. As I sat down to write this paragraph, I realized that I've never seen Todd actually ride a motorcycle, but he manages to sell plenty of 'em.

I had been bitten by the new bike bug, maintaining a holding pattern of "only looking" mode that coexists with the well known "really honey, this is a safety issue" phase – modern bikes have all these new electronic features that help prevent a crash! It might save my life!

We had our motorcycle safety classroom in that dealership. I was chatting with Todd while waiting for students to arrive. I mentioned I was interested in the used Ducati StreetFighter sitting on their sales floor.

Todd went into a full-fledged, red-faced rant.

"That motorcycle has over two-hundred horsepower, and no one needs that much horsepower! It should be against the law!" ... he went on for a while. I responded, "Todd, if we rode what we needed, we would all be on 250's (cubic centimeters)". Our training class uses older Suzuki TU250's for students to ride.

It's a great little motorcycle, with a single cylinder, 250cc motor that has maybe twenty horsepower. It will top out in speed at around ninety miles per hour, making it usable for freeway riding. It's capable of carrying a passenger and would be completely competent for long-distance travel.

No motorcycling human idiot that I know, including myself, wants one as their personal transportation.

Motorcycling Human Idiot Wheelie

Big twin cruiser rider: "Have you seen my new bike?"
Sportbike rider: "Not since second gear."

My old friend, Jim Stoy, liked to talk about motorcyclists' behavior when they get in a group. "They check out each other's bike, look at how many chicken strips they have on the tires, and brag about the horsepower like a bunch of dogs smelling each other's butts".

Homo Sapiens: The Most Evolved Creature On The Planet

Chicken strips are a curious phenomenon. Motorcycles lean to go around corners, so motorcycle tires have a rounded profile. Tires for motorcycles are an amazing engineering marvel, with compound traction grip levels, specialized profiles for the intended use, and excellent wet weather traction. Most miles on a street ridden motorcycle are straight up and down where tires need the least amount of grip.

But cornering takes high levels of grip, so engineers have developed tires that have soft, grippy rubber on the sides but have harder, longer-wearing rubber down the middle.

That grippy rubber allows motorcycles to achieve lean angles not considered possible a decade or so ago. Veteran motorcyclists can look at tires and tell how much leaning the rider has done by the wear patterns. If the motorcycle has not been leaned very far, the edges of the rubber are still shiny and smooth.

Those areas are called chicken strips because the rider didn't have the courage (or ground clearance) to lean. It's a derogatory term. But anyhow, back to "that motorcycle has over two-hundred horsepower, and no one needs that much horsepower!" ... by Todd.

With the creation of the Suzuki Hayabusa in 1997, which were capable of just shy of two-hundred miles per hour, manufacturers realized they needed to deal with public alarm. Many citizens could not see the need for a motorcycle that would go that fast and worse, were convinced it was a public danger. So, the motorcycle manufacturers got together and agreed to self-impose a maximum speed limit of 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour in the US) on their motorcycles.

At eighty-five miles per hour, Texas highway 130 has the highest US speed limit of which I'm aware. There are several motorcycles that will go more than eighty-five miles per hour in first gear.

100 lb/ft (pound-force foot) = 135.58 Nm (Newton Meter)

Years ago, Stoy and I were out riding in the Texas Hill Country. We met a guy who had ridden all the way from the Pacific Northwest on a Yamaha Seca equipped with a 650cc motor. He was in full road-race leathers and heavily packed for a long-distance ride.

Saddlebags and a tall, large tank bag. A skilled, quick rider, he was looking for the curvy, fun roads and asked to ride with us. Stoy and I were on liter bikes, a term defining engine size of 1000cc motors. Later, our new friend complained about not being able to keep up. Stoy got down on his hands and knees to examine the underside and rear tire of our friend's motorcycle.

"I think I've found the problem", announced Stoy. "You have a lack of newton-meters".

“Most motorcycle problems are caused by the nut that connects the handlebars to the seat”
- A. Nonymous

Our worst experiences make our best war stories, and many of our war stories happen as the result of our relationship to motorcycles. I taught a motorcycle safety class in tropical storm Allison. This was a storm that dropped something like forty inches of rain on the Houston area in a short period of time, causing widespread damage and loss from flooding. I had to wait a couple of hours for the high waters to recede in our neighborhood so I could get to my class.

My wife thought I was crazy, saying "There won't be anyone there. This is a tropical storm!" but I was sure someone would be. Students often have to take time off work, and the classes aren't cheap. Someone would be there.

Sure enough, nine out of twelve motorcycling human idiots were there, tapping their toes and looking at their watches. This is a true story, but I'd be willing to bet there's someone reading this now, saying to people around them "that's nothin'. You should've seen ..."

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What? Should've Seen What? You Know You Wanna Tell!

There are a too many stories to cram into one article. Which ones are your go-tos and why? Your input is invited. Leave a comment!

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Kelly Howard

About Kelly Howard

Kelly Howard is a track day enthusiast, instructor and road rider. He's best known for the involuntary smile his Kawasaki ZH2 imposes using g-force alone.

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