80% Rule Revisited
When you ride a motorcycle or scooter you learn you can operate the machine a few different ways. You can barrel through the turns at the edge of your capability with sweat popping out of your forehead and tingles running up and down your spine, or you can take another pace which puts you near the edge with options.
When I was younger I thought I was in high gear. I leaned her hard. My footpegs were sprung and I tapped them to the tarmac regularly. Sometimes I held the edge, playing with my life. The sparks I knew were rooster tailing on the dropped side a cool visual shower between the front and rear lights of the bike. People following my line told me so.
But every now and then that spooky moment would occur. Just a few pebbles in the path and the shimmy of death began. In that moment you either ham fisted it into the ditch or you instinctively relaxed and rode it out like a good dirt tracker. My parents insisted my first bike be an enduro and I learned it well. Still, I played too close to the edge for street use and bravado.
Over time I began experimenting with how I rode these wonderful beasts. Holding lines and pitching into the turns. How much countersteer seemed best when combined with different lean angles. I became smoother. I certainly felt more in control.
Then one day a man I knew, a collector of Nortons and Triumphs, spoke of something he called the 80% rule. Simply put, he said there was no reason for a street rider to flirt with disaster by riding to the limit of that rider's capabilities. He also spoke of the bikes breaking down less below eighty percent throttle and tach. He said you could hear a bike's preference if you just listened to the machine run.
In order for music to be played well, a musician adjusts against what the musician hears.
Somewhere above eighty percent throttle the natural pattern of engine sounds becomes jumbled. The notes in the engine's song as you ride seem as though the various sections of the orchestra are playing different rhythms. When the drums outpace the horns and the woodwinds can't suck enough air to keep up something's about to give.
If you're lucky, instruments in the mechanical band beneath you simply stop playing. There's a minor flash, an epiphany in the rhythm section as the bike dies a quick death and you roll to a stop. But what if the players articulate the tune and your own skill in conducting puts you two measures behind?
You slow the tempo down. A more deliberate pace, a broader potential. Should a car cross the center line in a right hand sweeper you can flop the bike and move from the left third of the lane to the right third because you've given yourself at least twenty percent to work with in a dire moment. Its knowing a shortcut but not living by it.
In a world where all forms of inattentive driving can be encountered we have to take every advantage we can. Eighty percent throttle (or rpm's) lets our bikes run the way their designers meant them to. That remaining twenty percent usable throttle can make the difference in squirting out of a jam if need be. But we can only use that twenty percent if we leave ourselves the room to make it available.
A bene placido