Thursday, May 1, 2014

A New Adventure

Motorcycles have been my primary hobby (obsession?) for nearly 14 years.  I’ve logged many thousands of miles on many different bikes.  Little did I know when I started that something I took up on a whim would become such a defining part of my life.
I had a very early brush with the dangers of riding a motorcycle when a month and a half into my riding career I was rear-ended at a stoplight by a pickup truck doing about 35 mph.  I was okay for the most part, as I was thrown clear and landed on the roof of the car in front of me.  After about 12 years of safe rides, the risks caught up to me again last July, an experience I wrote about here.  Neither of these really phased me, even the July crash which resulted in some pretty painful injuries.  I was back on a bike in a few weeks, considerably sooner than I should have been!

Now, less than a year later, I’ve had another freak accident due to a likely mechanical failure (hard to diagnose since the part I think failed was completely destroyed).  I walked away from this one completely uninjured, but with a very changed mindset.  Truth be told, I’m not sure where the seeds of this idea came from, but it started before the crash.  All I know is that it’s time to make a change.  Motorcycles are a part of me, and I don’t see that changing.  That said, sportbike riding on the street is drifting outside of my risk tolerance. 

A number of things have combined to push those risks up over the years.  Traffic is increasing, drivers seem to be increasingly distracted, road conditions are getting worse, and law enforcement is becoming increasingly aggressive in targeting even the riders that go out to the middle of nowhere to play around.  These are all factors that I don’t control. 

One factor that I do control is that over the years, my riding ability has increased to the point that I’ve got to go too fast to continue to challenge myself and get the adrenaline rush of days past.  I’m not the guy that’s flying by you on the highway like you’re standing still, while riding a wheelie in shorts and flip flops…that’s never been my way.  I’m the rider you probably never see speeding, because I’m looking for roads with lots of twists and turns and no traffic.  I’m also the guy you probably pass in traffic on my way to or from those roads and wonder why he’s wearing full leathers, gloves, and boots in 90 degree heat.  Despite taking every possible safety measure, nothing is going to adequately protect a human being from a car, tree, guardrail, or other solid object at speed.  It doesn’t take going 100+ mph to get hurt either.  I was only doing about 40 when I went down in July, and I broke a clavicle, two ribs, and had hairline fractures in two vertebrae.  Had I not been in full leathers and wearing a top-quality helmet, my injuries would likely have been much worse.

“Get to the point already!  Where does this lead?”

To the racetrack!

My first day on the track at Virginia International Raceway in 2002 doing California Superbike School
To anyone who hasn’t spent time on the track, that probably sounds completely ridiculous as a risk management strategy.  The fact is though; going fast on the track is safer than even going slowly on the street.  It’s a controlled environment: there are no cars, everyone goes the same direction, the surface is carefully maintained and kept clean, there is designed runoff area should someone go down, safety rules are strictly enforced, and there are emergency services on site should something go wrong.  The racetrack completely eliminates the concerns about getting a speeding ticket as well.

What’s it going to take to make the change?

Here’s my list so far:
  •  Track bike - I’m buying a 2012 Kawasaki ZX10R that’s already got most of the track prep done.
    • This probably isn’t the best “starter” track bike, but I’m accustomed to and really like power!
    •  I’ll post a follow up once I have the bike.
  • Trailer – Comes with the bike.   
  • Trailer hitch – no big deal.
  • New leathers – looking for a custom, made-to-measure  suit. 
    • I already have most of my gear, but my suit’s about 13 years old, time for a new one.
    • Stay tuned for a future post on this purchase, and a review once I get my suit.
  • Back protector – Just ordered a Forcefield Pro Sub 4 from Competition Accessories 
    • These are supposed to be the best thing out there right now, review to come.
  • Spare parts, tools, gas, and tires.

Once I have everything together, I’ll be doing track days and racing schools all over the Southeastern US.  I'm already booked to repeat level 1 of California Superbike School at Virginia International Raceway in August.  At some point, I’ll probably do some competition as well, but that’s still a ways off.

I picked up a couple of GoPro cameras this winter, so reviews and track stuff will all be getting upgraded to video coverage going forward. Stay tuned!

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