Your Sport Touring Motorbike Fix

Brian WringerDec 15, 2022Contents6 CommentsShare

Unfold our FTC disclosure melodrama here. The following article was last updated on Jan 12, 2023 ...

Velocity Philosophy (A Mannerly Guide To Speed)

My name is Brian and I like to ride fast. There, I said it. Call it a confession, it's also a celebration. I'll bet you like to ride fast, too. After all, why bother riding fast motorcycles unless we get to dip into those vast reserves of speed and handling once in a while?

And on certain wriggly, writhing roads, when the time is right, when the pavement sparkles just so and we can see far enough, we do more than dip. We positively bathe in speed, luxuriate in lean angle and revel in the soapy, slippery dance of physics and physicality. It's honestly the most fun you can have with (waterproof, armored) pants on and I truly feel sorry for all those muggles crawling along on four wheels.

“Leaving aside piffling concerns such as speed limits, it's certainly possible for the ethical, polite rider to proceed with great alacrity.”

Are you with me so far? Are you one of the brethren and sistren of the "Order of Two Wheels", the red-eyed, slobbering, nail-biting devotees of the tilted horizon? Well, that conjures up one big question about motorcycles and the people who ride them rapidly.

Is Speed ... Okay?

Yes. It is. Leaving aside piffling concerns such as speed limits, it's certainly possible for the ethical, polite rider to proceed with great alacrity. But here's the crux of the biscuit, the meaty core of the matter. For skilled riders, within the limits of physics and shouting distance of sanity: how fast is too fast?

Speed Blur

It's complicated. Velocities vary. How do "We The Fast" move with minimum friction and maximum joy through a busy world full of slow things, slippery things, hard things, stupid things and nasty pointy things?

Let's get a few prerequisites out of the way first:

  • You're trained and experienced
  • Your motorcycle is up to the task
  • You're dressed for the job (gear, helmet, all that jazz)
  • We're talking about riding on public roads, not a track

With all of the above said, what are some things a polite sporting rider needs to know?

Speed Or Not, Paranoid = Polite

Just one quick safety-adjacent lecture: It's super-DUPER rude to splatter yourself and your bike across nature or into Buicks. The same goes for making fellow riders stand around at the side of a road talking to cops and EMTs. Let's not harsh the moto-mellow with your disgusting innards or idiocy.

Littering just isn't nice.

And so the most inviolable law of rapid street riding is to only ride as fast as you can see. Simple concept, tough in practice. Just out of sight, around every corner, there's an enormous cow, or the stuff the cow leaves behind, or a couple of pickups parked in the road having a chat, or farm machinery, or a crawling cruiser parade, or a yawning chasm, or a balrog.

Or all the above.

Never compromise on giving yourself the space and time to brake and dodge any possible hazard lurking beyond your line of sight. Every corner is Heisenberg's until you lay eyes on it. No matter what the rider in front is doing, reserve all decisions for yourself.

Adopting and living in this ruthless, zero-trust, frankly paranoid way of thinking is the crucial skill for rapid street riding. It's a high-speed, high-stakes exercise in 3D image processing and 4D physics. It takes practice and intention to develop and maintain the mindset and skills.

Have A Little Respect For The Locals

Believe it or not, all those wonderful, wiggly, winding roads out there weren't built for the likes of us. The road tax on your measly 3.5 gallons of gas is not what paid for the last 140 miles of immaculate, perfectly arced, banked pavement. Or that cracked, gnarlsome, off-camber, reducing-radius nightmare, as the case may be. People live and work out here. That means it's on us to be polite.

Drag Race Speed Ain't Necessary
  • Keep a lid on straight-line speed. Any moron can buy a literbike and stretch the throttle wires on the straight bits, thus attracting the wrong sort of attention. Don't be that guy.
  • Be as invisible as you can in towns. Slip through clean. Ride quiet and as discreetly as you can with your fluorescent, armored riding pajamas.
  • Mailboxes = kids, dogs & Dodges popping out of driveways. Step it down a notch. Leave a little more reaction time in reserve and bear in mind that folks might be watching.
  • Keep the RPMs down around folks. However much you enjoy the righteous heavy metal music of internal combustion, locals universally find it startling and annoying. That's especially true with the racket emanating from an aftermarket exhaust.
  • Be an economic force for good. Buy local, pay in cash when you can and tip lavishly at restaurants. Train the locals to smile when they see motorcycles.

And if you get stuck, chill. Poking along a twisty road behind an ancient pickup or a tractor? They're probably not going far, just to their field or home. It's always okay to stretch a bit and enjoy the scenery. Just watch for sudden stops and turns.

Speed Means Being Nice To Slowpokes

Just when you get to the good bits, you see the twisty road addict's worst nightmare: a conga line of flatulent chrome-swaddled cruisers wobbling and weebling around the corners at 5mph. What the hell are they even doing out here? These jokers don't even like twisty roads!

We've all been there. Keeping your cool behind these snorting roadblocks is by far the most difficult challenge for the mannerly rider. Yes, they're being rude but there's no use in sinking to their level.

Slowpoke Cruiser
  • Stay calm and be nice. Even though you've traveled for days to be here, expending your last dollars and vacation days, it's not your personal road. They're probably terrified and the poor things just don't know any better, so pity them.
  • Don't take it personally. Don't expect to be invited to pass but it happens sometimes. Wait a bit, try to look casual but eager and see if they wave you around (more common in some areas than others, numbers depending).
  • Sometimes you can just blast past the lot at the first opportunity. Unless you have a significant straightaway, the chances are unlikely. And for some reason slowpokes love to travel in vast, blatting herds; passing three or four of these dawdlers is easy but ten or twenty or fifty gets mighty sketchy.
  • Pass 'em all or none. Shoving your way into the middle of the conga line mid-pass is, well, pretty rude at the least and often sparks very impolite reactions. If you can't pass the herd all at once, don't bother.
  • Use your knowledge of the road. If it's a route you know well, perhaps waiting it out for a bit is the best option. Maybe there's a good passing zone ahead, or a tavern that might slurp up the herd, or an intersection with an opportunity to re-route.

Bottom line, you can always pull over and wait a bit. It might be time to stretch anyway. Maybe there's a pretty overlook or shady intersection, or your bladder is tingly.

Engage scenic mode and re-cast your attitude to enjoy the glory of natural vistas expanding around you. Just embrace the suck. If you're truly stuck with nothing to look at, remember, any time you're riding a motorcycle, you're legally required to be happy about it.

Pass Politely, Please

You've got the room, you've got the powah ... grip it and rip it, right? Well, yeah (kinda). Have some consideration for the plodding pass-ees.

Pass In The Other Lane

It's just plain unsanitary to try and share a lane with a stranger, you know? Keep your distance. Another opening will present itself.

No Shock And Awe

Some riders are truly, blissfully, entirely incapable of looking in their mirrors. Overall, try to avoid completely surprising anyone with a blast of unexpected motion and sound. Not even they know how they might react.

Be Irresistible And Be Gone

One hates to speak of such coarseness but once in a while, a pass awakens dormant competitive instincts and the pass-ee activates the atrophied twisting muscles in their right hand. Passing politely requires a certain assertiveness or verve, such that you're past and gone from view in the relative blink of an eye. No interaction = no taking offense = no offensive reaction.

Mind The Double Yellows

Use the utmost discretion with double yellows! I may have heard tell somewhere of a pass or two that happened in a double yellow line area. If you're considering such a thing, keep it to a minimum and make damn sure it's a sure thing.

Being Passed Is Super-Polite

Ego has no place here. We're all about maximum giggles per wiggly mile. Your velocity, your joy, your choice and if someone is making a different set of choices that day, then it's only polite to facilitate their joy, thereby increasing the net joy in the world.

Polite Riders
  • Watch yer six. Keep half an eye on your mirrors (which is always good advice). If there's a headlight haunting your posterior, make some indication that you've seen them. Then, move to the right a bit. You can wave 'em around at the first reasonable opportunity.
  • Be predictable. You don't really know exactly what the pass-er is planning. Strive to maintain about the same pace. Be extra-smooth and completely predictable. If you move to the right side of the lane, stay there in case they decide to attempt a same-lane pass.
  • Watch for multiples. Once the pass-er has done their thing, stay smooth and predictable until your mirrors are clear. It's pretty easy for motorcycles to hide behind each other, so assume there are more there.

And don't forget the fist bumps at lunch! Even if you don't know the passing riders, odds are decent that you'll see them at the next sandwich shop or overlook. Spark a little extra joy when you can.

Asshats Ruin Speed

Once in a while, especially in locales with famous roads, you interact with a different brand of dangerous and rude rider. This often manifests as a rather pushy gaggle of riders on scraped up sportbikes. They're doing all sorts of aggressive, unsafe, stupid, impolite things.

You know ... Asshats.

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It's not about velocity. It's about stupid behaviors. Things like riding very close to each other and other bikes, sharing lanes, high-speed runs on the straights, excessive noise, passing on the right, blocking, using the oncoming lane in corners, racing, competitiveness, stunting and outright aggression.

What's the well-mannered sporting gentlerider to do?

Well, for starters, keep calm and separate. Unless you have a badge or you've been hired as their riding coach, correcting asshattery isn't your job. Even if it were, true-to-form Asshats never hire anyone who threatens their self-proclaimed rank.

Unsafe Riding Gear = Stupid

Also, Stupid tends to make a mess. The best defense against Stupid is to simply not be there. Stop and wait 'em out or turn onto a different route, change plans, etc.

It's important that we try not to be mistaken for Asshats. Whatever consequences arise for the Asshats, make sure you're separated from them in the minds of the locals and law enforcement. The goal is to represent motorcycling in a way that will be received with welcoming gestures whenever you return.

For example, don't try to pass Asshats. If you run up behind a slow gaggle of potential Asshats, observe for a bit. Confirmed asshattery gets super-duper-extra-stupid if you dare look faster. Slow up, stop, whatever it takes to get away from them. Don't spend time behind them, lest you stir their competitive juices to the point they depart controlled flight.

If a swarm of Asshats using both lanes are trying to pass, let 'em. It's the fastest way to remove them from your presence. Carefully move to the right (one favorite Asshat move is the same-lane pass on the right, so be careful with that). Slow down and wave 'em around. Watch for straggling, struggling Asshats.

Avoid stopping with Asshats. Again, it's about maintaining separation. Hit the next gas station or taco truck if you can.

Choose lesser-known routes. Fortunately, Asshats tend to stick to a specific set of roads, or famous roads. They'll blatt back and forth on the same stretch for hours.

When The Road Shines, Let The Velocity Flow

To conclude things, yes, speed is okay. That is assuming you've assessed your surroundings, have a full field of view and aren't outriding your own skill. Knowing what your bike can and can't handle is part of that skill, by the way.

But don't treat those opposably thumbed non-riders ā€” cagers, equestrians, joggers, mowers and hang gliders ā€” as if they're placeholders bowing as we fly by. They maintain the towns and secret roads we love so much. Pay admission with respect, thanks, and generous gratuities.

Sure, ride like the wind, but mindfully. It's not hard to rise above the Asshat rabble so that we'll be welcome when we come back. You do want to come back, right?

Checkered Flag

How Do You Blend Speed With Responsibility?

Come on. Be honest. You know everyone's at work and that wide open sweeper ain't gonna bake itself. How do you self govern and to what end? Your input is invited. Leave a comment!

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Brian Wringer

About Brian Wringer

Brian Wringer is a big idea guy, wordsmith, branding expert and vintage motorcycle enthusiast. He's led countless rides and is a GS Resources "Super Site Supporter".


Menhem says:

Enjoyed reading this article. However, was mostly interested in articles to improve my riding skills on technical roads such as Triple Nickel (Ohio 555) or Tail Of The Dragon (NC 129).

EXCELLENT article! I really enjoyed it and agree 100% with it. Iā€™d love to share this with the MSTA members on our website and in our club magazine, if you will allow me to do so.

Many thanks, Patrick. As far as I'm concerned, whoever wants to blast this article out to assorted corners of the universe is welcome to have at it with my compliments. Just give proper credit to the author (Brian Wringer) and the original publisher (TRO).

I'd love to see more discussion, too. Let's talk about speed, baby.

Robin Dean says:

Patrick, there are two "best" ways to share TRO articles on another website.

The first is simply sharing the permalink and sayin' "Hey! Check this out!" or whatever. This article's permalink is:

The other is to repost the article either in portions or in full using the all-important canonical link in your page's html. The canonical link would be the very same permalink as above:

More on canonical links here: Consolidate Duplicate URLs

Thanks for reading!

@Menhem, thanks for the great ideas. Just as a taste, a wee sniff...

I'll direct you to the "Paranoid is Polite" section above, dealing with a "zero trust" riding mindset. But there's much more to be said on that topic, There are many different ways to implement "zero trust" in your riding.

To use your examples, 555 in Ohio is famously and ridiculously unpredictable in just about every way; sight lines, road surface, farm machinery, camber etc. It's sort of obvious that you have to be on high alert in every dimension here. The same goes in my usual haunts in southern Indiana; the roads don't make any sense, so rapid progress requires different skills, such as dealing with unpredictable, unexpected surfaces, as in Robin's article.

By contrast, the Dragon and many of the nearby mountain roads in TN, NC, VA, etc. require a different sort of zero trust; mountain roads generally "make sense"; they're engineered in a fairly consistent way, there are fewer connectors, and they follow the landscape in certain ways. So you have to be on alert in a different way to avoid getting lulled into a sort of complacency; it's easy to start to think you can actually trust these roads and foolishly get too close to exiting your traction circle.

There are also things to be said and discussions to be had about the psychology of "famous" or intimidating roads. I've seen skilled riders lose their nerve more than once when confronted with some tourist trap road bearing a monstrous name. Dual-sport riders love to scare each other with dire reports of "baby heads", sand, etc.

Watch this space...

Helene says:

One thing that I have found to be invaluable in the passing and in the politeness departments both, is to use your blinkers. Not only do you signal your intentions (communicate), but you also exhibit deliberate, non-panic behavior (blinkers are not at the top of the list in breathless, adrenalin-fueled road stunts). The other sense that I have developed over the years is that of walking in the other guy's shoes. I do not use overly bright lights or long beam lights except at night when necessary - I hate being blinded myself. For the rest, what you describe is very much how I ride, including the ability to switch speeds and modes between towns/dwellings and open backroads.

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