Saturday, January 13, 2007

Midwest Scooter Enthusiast

The Comfort Zone

Each of us has ridden alone. Many of us prefer to ride in groups. It depends upon the individual. We all have a comfort zone of safety we strive to maintain no matter how we ride. Some of us have been involved in situations where other riders simply made us feel we were putting ourselves in dangerous situations riding with them. Situations which made us put distance between us and the other rider(s).

Its a matter of self preservation. You either trust who you're riding with or you don't and it changes your riding style when you're with people you're not sure of.

Sometimes you get really lucky and find someone whose skills and availability are very close to your own. Suddenly every ride is prefaced with a call to that one special riding buddy. Someone whose style you've grown accustomed to. You may even have developed your own set of rules for riding together.
I have just such a friend. His nickname to this day is Whitey. He could ride circles around me. He rode (and still has) a 1977 Suzuki GS 750. In my opinion one of the unsung best machines I've ever had the chance to ride.

Whitey is predictable when he rides. You never have to guess what he's doing because he's either in your mirror, right beside you, or leading the way with a smoothness I have seldom seen in other riders. Skill.

There were other people with whom I rode back in those days, but they rode differently. They were a little more... loose. Not that they were faster, they weren't. Not that they were necessarily worse riders, they might not have been.

There is a natural swiftness in Whitey's riding style. Yet you can see something else in the way he positions his bike in a lane, how he moves as half of a pair of riders or as part of a larger group. The best fitting description of him is as an imminently alert motorcyclist.

In some ways those years riding with Whitey have colored my perception of people I've ridden with since, although I never admitted it until now.

You can see people who've been through something similar. They tend to ride alone. They miss a special riding buddy. Sometimes more recent bad experiences with other riders make them shun the group rides they'd have joined in the past. They'd feel much safer in the singular. Knowing what I do, I can't blame them. Especially in a world of motorists who are often blind to who might be sharing the roads with them. If you asked someone what the colors of the vehicles are around them as they drive their cars and SUV's, how many would be able to tell you what they are? How many would have to shut something off in order to hear the question?

I've been that guy for a few years now. The one who rode alone or in very controlled environments where traffic is light and riding is done in staggered formation. Its hard to find a riding partner whose actions are utterly predictable.

But you have to keep up hope. You need to allow the chance to present itself. Because every now and then you find another such rider whose skills are close to yours. Someone whose of a like mind. It reinforces that hope.

I have to remember the years of riding with Whitey produced something which took a long time to develop. It had to be learned. You find what works best in practice. Out on the country roads. Adapted signals and positioning. Paying attention to the other guy. Nowadays there are prescribed hand signals so that riders of relative unfamiliarity with one another can communicate. We never even thought of that sort of thing back then. We just came up with our own language.

I've found another such rider. The kind who instills a sense that the ride will be safe with him somewhere around me. He rides well and he rides spirited. He also exhibits that same quality of being swift and smooth in his riding style Whitey has.

I like to ride with others but usually passed on the opportunity in the recent past. For a long time I had a fear of having another rider too close to me. Unsure of what the other guy'll do... A fear of the unknown rider. Probably more than is healthy.

Living on the outskirts of Saint Cloud Minnesota has given me a chance to breath deeper in the wind again. The roads are quiet. People seem really cautious around that scooter. And I've found another rider of the same mind as me. So am I lucky? No, that's the guy on the other Vespa LX150 I'm riding with nowadays. Its good to be confident riding with others again.

The Roadbum


Bryce said...

You've said you'd like to ride with me, but after reading that...I'm not so sure. ;)

Predictability is important. I've ridden with a few people who move around a lot in their lane. That's fine when you're riding alone, but in staggered formation it's disconcerting.

That said, I'm reasonably predictable and swift. My mom and I were out riding one day on a curvy road I like to haunt (which she used to ride when she was younger than I am). She has many years of riding under her belt, with a lapse equal to most of my life between her last bike and current one. She had an 1100cc Honda, and I had a 150cc scooter. She had trouble keeping up with me. She seemed genuinely impressed with my riding.

If you want to know how people really ride, and if a group can gel, you should go for a 3 day weekend 300 miles away. That will tell you everything you could want to know about how a person rides.

On such a ride, the sun went down and we were still far from our stopping point. I had been out in front, but was being cautious for a bit. We had a brief stop where I asked if the pace was ok. One of the guys in the group gave a one line pep talk that went something like "Haul ass, and look out for deer."

Everyone was fine with the increased pace, but I bet they were glad someone else was out there to be the first hit any wayward deer crossing our path. ;)

American Scooterist Blog said...

I thought about this a little today and a latent thought came to surface reading what you just wrote; most of my fears had to do with the people I rode with when I lived in the Twin Cities. That is one messed up town for riding anything. I grew up in Milwaukee and my dad's side of the family is in south Chicago. I never had any qualms about riding a motorcycle all the way through the city either by 41/94 or taking the tollway. I think it has to do with the design of the roads. How they flow. Which Minneapolis has been trying to correct but its still bad. When you have people entering an expressway from either the right or left and then crossing all lanes of traffic to get to another freeway or ramp on the other side, it bungles the whole thing up for everyone. And makes it pretty scary. The few people I rode with in the Twin Cities routinely crossed traffic with barely a glance while traffic behind was left to brake or swerve. To tell you the truth, its the damn freeways in that town. The road patterns look like scribbled dimentia when seen as a map.

pff I bet you're a hell of a lot better rider'n I am.


CodyandMichelle said...

Michelle and I haven't been riding that long, maybe that's why, even though we have a SC, I'm most comfortable riding alone or with Michelle. She is a very good rider and we are very instinctive with each other, life imatates art and all that.
Our SC golden rule is to ride in staggerd formation and we also use hand signals. But it's just so much easier riding with someone you trust and just seem to know what the other one will do. Plus in FL we don't have hills or twisties, it makes it much easier....well we do have major obstacles like senior cagers who can't see over the dashboard much less see two wheelers!

Combatscoot said...

When I first started riding on the street, I was in the Air Force, so I rode with military buddies. When I moved home, I rode with my Dad alot. I moved away, and didn't do much riding with anyone for nearly 10 years. It's been hard enough just meeting people I could tolerate talking to, much-less finding someone to ride with. Recently, when I bought a scooter, things really changed, and now I have a group of 5 people I ride with occasionally, and 2 that I ride with often.

American Scooterist Blog said...

Cody and Michelle: You guys are pretty lucky that your bond goes into the riding style you both share. Too many couples I hear about are so different he would have a heart attack if asked to spend prolonged periods in the passenger seat with her at the wheel.

Combatscoot: You know, I'm starting to wonder if the majority of scooterists are just more safety conscious than other riders. Maybe it has to do with what we ride, I don't know, but everyone I talk to whether locally or by internet sure puts a premium on being the msot attentive they can be while riding. Right down to the gear they'll wear when they ride. I count it as a major advantage to be associated with you and other scooterists. Whether or not we ever meet, I get the sense we scooterists are of the same mind about how we ride. A real sense of community.