Monday, September 03, 2007

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



bryce said...

That's sound advice that I'll have an easier time following these days. I used to love running the heck out of my scoot. I'd tuck down and pull the throttle back all the way. I'd zoom along like that for miles and miles on end. Every once in a while I'd set off the rev limiter.

That probably goes a long way toward explaining the broken valve spring. Surprisingly, the darn thing ran quite well even after that until I rebuilt the cylinder head.

Conchscooter said...

The pleasures of eighty percent are easier felt after youthful one hundred percent excesses are enjoyed and remembered! I am glad I exceeded so that I can allow myself the maturity to be balanced at eighty percent in old age...
Ha! you need to be riding more, says I who have no ride at all!

irondad said...

Welcome back. Missed you for a while. It was worth waiting for. Wise advice. Always leave yourself a way out. Liked the part about the orchestra and music. Very appropriate.

I wanted to leave a more sage comment but, hey, it's 4 in the morning and I've got a long drive to head out on. I'm exhausted already!

Steve Williams said...

When I think about the GTS and the 80 percent rule I know that I live within the bounds in terms of riding. But I push it with the engine RPMs sometimes hitting the REV limiter when I venture out onto the freeway.

You've written a thoughtful reminder on where I should be striving to place myself as a mature and safe rider.


Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

CodyandMichelle said...

Welcome back my friend:)
This post was written for me I feel, it's something I can understand and put into words my slow brain can understand. I can start putting it into action right away, but i think it'll take many miles to actually get it right!

American Scooterist Blog said...

Bryce, Thanks. Sometimes we get lucky, eh?

Hi Conch', yes I finally got the chance to get back on the bike. Got myself seriously lost the other night. Ended up a few towns over but how I got there I'll never know. I started in the near opposite direction. That's night riding for you.

Thanks Irondad. That about sums up the advice I have which is useful lol. Coming from you it means a lot.

Hi Steve, I guess a bike has to be ridden into the uncomfortable zone to some degree to know though. Crossing that edge....

Yup Cody, this was for you. I should have put it up sooner so I apologize for that. You're right about it taking time to really know those feelins, sensing where the perameters are. But there's a great feeling when a rider is reasonably sure of where that twenty percent starts and keeps it safe in their pocket. Just in case.