Shockingly, I never got around to watching this film until this week. It was released 2 years before I was born, rated X, so the first 15 years of my life, I just wasn’t likely to see it. I’ve known about it since the 80′s or 90′s, friends mentioned it, and of course I’d seen That Suit. But given the crowd I ran with from age 15 on, when I started riding my scooter, you’d think it would’ve been playing at some art house or something. But nope. I saw Born Losers, which was my favorite 60′s era “Bikesploitation” flick. Until now. And not just for the flawless Lanvin custom leather suit. I’m already plotting how to make a replica with D30 armor inside instead of fur.
I’ve been thinking about SIPDE lately. It’s the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s acronym that’s very handy for riding- Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute. They must be done in order. Don’t mix that up. Scanning used to be so automatic is wasn’t even conscious. Then I started riding a bicycle. At 15mph, your eyes can safely wander. You notice stuff you’d never see at 20+mph.
The hard part is getting back to 20+mph vision, which requires consciously ignoring shiny distractions and ONLY seeing the things that matter. Mainly the big, fast things that could kill you. Not much else matters. Not that intriguing billboard. Not that new store that looks like it might be interesting. Not the cute guy waiting for the bus. None of that matters. It’s rather annoying that I have to re-train my brain when switching from bicycle to motorcycle. But there it is.
If I was a snake, I would’ve bit you…
Identifying hazards is pretty simple, but requires an awareness of your environment. Like the guy I had to pull a Lorenzo on while riding the bike path on Saturday. Two men rode side by side through an underpass, convinced they were the only people on the whole bike path, on a Saturday afternoon, and that nobody could possibly need to get some momentum while trying to get up the hill at a considerably faster pace than them. They failed to identify the possibility that others may want to share the path with them, particularly through an area where traffic noise was likely to drown out any calls of “on your left!” I think the only injury was someone’s pride. I thought when they told me I was supposed to ride slower than guys they meant fast guys, not all guys.
Tonight I exited 110NB on 9th st as usual. Except my timing was such that I had to tuck in behind a gravel truck. I could’ve passed him on the left, as there are 2 lanes to the left at the bottom of the exit ramp. But I saw another gravel truck merging from 9th st. Being a local, I knew that the major construction sites are on 7th and 8th, accessible at the very next left turn onto Figueroa. So I waited a second, saw that the 9th st gravel truck was signaling left, and of course the one I could’ve passed on the left also moved to the left. Waiting a second and then passing both trucks on the right was the safer decision.
People think Predicting is hard.
It’s not. Except when you’re riding too soon after your last concussion, you should be able to predict that cab which is lit up as available is going to dive across 4 lanes of traffic, or stop suddenly, or both, to pick up that fare that just shot their arm up. But that’s NYC. LA is a lot less predictable, because most LA drivers are not only NOT professionals, they’re actually not even driving. They’re getting stoned, or looking at their phones, or both.
But some things you can predict. An LA driver will almost always turn right then immediately head for the left lane, and vice versa. It’s an LA thing. It took me awhile to become comfortable riding here (again) when I moved from NYC in 2001, but eventually I found the flow. It’s not a natural, smooth flow like Rome, or even NYC, but it’s predictable enough. Just keep an eye on the front wheels of cars as you’re lanesplitting and try to avoid splitting past a gap in one lane. Someone next to that gap may suddenly decide that’s the void they’ve been looking to fill their whole life. And take it easy diving in as traffic is just starting to slow, those are the people most likely to want to change lanes.
And always expect the car waiting to turn left to not see you. They know you’re not big enough to hurt them, and unless you look like you just rolled off the set of Sons of Anarchy, you don’t look like a threat. So I make myself more visible, because wearing neon pink actually isn’t enough. (proven). When approaching the intersection, I’ll put one hand out in a “stop!” signal, while shaking my head “no!”. As I pass them safely, that hand changes to a thumbs up for good behavior. I don’t care if they were just waiting for those pedestrians in the crosswalk, they still get a gold star for not hitting me.
He who hesitates in war is lost.
This phrase is something I live by. I rarely hesitate when riding in traffic, and when I have I know it wasn’t ideal. Make your decision and OWN IT. Sometimes that decision is “Here is where I get to exercise patience and tolerance. these “muscles” are weak as hell, and could use some practice.” Other times that decision is “fuck yeah I can fit there!” That sort of decision can be fatal if you second-guess yourself because that gap you were counting on is constantly changing. It could shrink to nothing in a split second.
Now go out and RIDE! I’m sick of meeting motorcyclists who live in LA but refuse to ride here. Be part of the solution. And if you’re nervous, find a group ride, or a buddy who’s got some patience to ride with. I suck at riding slow. But the East Side Moto Babes meet up most Tuesdays for a nice chill ride. You don’t have to ride vintage to ride with them, but it helps if you’re a babe.
Enjoy this video of my booty working it around the track on Saturday…
The weekend of October 12th and 13th, Yamaha sponsored their annual Owners Appreciation Event at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. The track days were conducted by Zoom Zoom, and awesome as always. Zoom Zoom does a great job, and Yamaha kicks down some money to make it free (if you’ve got a newer Yamaha) or $100 for the rest of us. This is a brilliant strategy from a company that prides itself on making kick-ass sportbikes.
$100/day is a quarter of the cost of a typical track day at my favorite race track. It was so fun to be back out there, and on my big boy. The Refuel event was fun, but my Zero FX tops out at about 80mph, which makes for a very boring run up the front straight. I trained a little to try and build my strength, as I knew two days on the R1 at Laguna would be a serious workout. But it wasn’t enough, so my lazy ass could barely walk by the middle of the second day. So I packed it in early, as did quite a few others. Track days are a great way to appease the need for speed, and Laguna is my favorite track to ride. You can see pictures of me on-track at gotbluemilk.com
In August I was asked to cover Suzuki’s 50th Anniversary party at the Indianapolis round of MotoGP. It was a lovely party, especially because I got to see the Suzuki that was my first real motorcycle. They had this nice history wall, with media highlights from all their 50 years of selling bikes in the US. You can read my story on RideApart. Before the GS450 I’d only had scooters and an MZ150, which looked like a motorcycle but ran like a very high-maintenance scooter. The GS450 was the most powerful bike I’d owned. I bought it from my friend Jaxon, who’d been using it as a motorcycle messenger. At the time I was a scooter messenger, delivering letters and packages around San Francisco on a 1965 Lambretta TV175. The Lambretta had been properly rebuilt by Barry at SF Scooter Centre, so it ran like a champ even under the hardest conditions. But I saw the messengers on proper motorcycles getting the higher paying out-of-town runs, and wanted a piece of that. In the early 90′s in San Francisco, all the cool kids rode BMWs and the REALLY cool kids rode Ducatis. I didn’t have the kind of money for either, and needed something practical. So I bought Jaxon’s GS450 when he upgraded to a bigger bike. Continue reading Suzuki Girls…
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away known as New York City, there was a biker chick. She liked to go fast. In fact, she traveled hundreds of miles to a distant race track on race weekends to do so in a safer environment. On one of those race weekend mornings, the track was a bit cooler than she’d expected. Cracking open the throttle on T2 a little too ambitiously for the lean angle she was riding at, she sent herself into a highside.
Essentially what that entails is- the rider feels the bike start to lose traction, so the natural reaction is to slam that throttle shut. Which she did. Which then results in the bike regaining traction entirely too quickly. Which then confuses the hell out of the poor motorcycle, so it bucks side to side like a wild bronco, trying desperately to shake the offending pilot off, who should’ve just gently closed the throttle a little… When the bike succeeds in spitting the rider off into the air, we call this a highside. This one resulted in concussion #4. And the gift of a lovely set of tire warmers from her caring brother.
But I’d do it every weekend of the year if I could. I’d even do it on a higher level if I could. But I’m just not that fast. I’m fast enough to get to the racetrack in a reasonable amount of time, but can’t get around the track nearly as fast as the pros. So I watch them, and enjoy the show. Making it even more enjoyable, I write about what I see for Gas2 and when there’s no electric races to cover, RideApart. Or even Jalopnik. Sometimes I also write for CleanTechnica, like this piece about the rad solar farms I saw being built on my favorite back road en route to Laguna Seca.
I’ve been riding Yamaha R1′s since 2002. Even I find it hard to believe that over a decade has passed since I first discovered that absolute power does indeed corrupt absolutely. I love my big boys, but they’ve never had names. They certainly have more personality than the Honda’s I’ve ridden, but not as much as the Ducati I owned, which almost immediately told me his name was Fred. Making the annual pilgrimage to Laguna Seca, our favorite way to bond, he told me his name, Big Will. What’s interesting is that this didn’t come until after living together just over 3 years, and him tossing me off in December because I made the slightest error on the wrong tires. Lesson learned, I switched back to Pirellis and had him fixed up.
But now he has the scars of a crash, something none of my R1′s have endured. It’s weird to think I haven’t crashed a single R1 in all these years. I’ve crashed other bikes, developing a theory that I only crash bikes I don’t like. I wasn’t thrilled with my 09, I loved my 04 better. But she had 50,000 miles, and when the stator & rotor melted together I decided it was time for something new and shiny. That new & shiny R1 happens to be a lot heavier, and seriously thirsty. Then right after our 3rd anniversary, I abandoned him for Shaq, a Zero FX which is perfect for everyday riding, as I reported here. Big Will sat and collected dust until the time came to get that starting issue sorted before the sabbatical. $1300 later, he was ready to go anywhere, as fast as I dared. Yet I discovered on this year’s ride I just didn’t want to go as fast. It’s really unnerving, and something I hope to work through in Level 4 of California Superbike School sometime soon. Continue reading My R1 Has a Name
Riding down Western through Koreatown under a full moon, hoping nothing spectacular would happen. Full moons and Friday nights, especially a holiday weekend, tend to spell disaster on the streets of LA. I smelled it, and this time it was easy to tell which car it was coming from- the hooptie 80’s sedan that had seen some hard miles. Windows down, they stop for a red light. I see the driver is smoking. I think “shit, they’re Black. I don’t want to be that asshole profiling Black dudes.” I pull alongside the passenger, and stop. I look in, planning to threaten to call 911 and report the driver for DUI.
When my friend Jenny said “I’d like to visit Portland for my birthday” I said “Let’s go!” I’d only been once before for the Net Impact Conference, and had a great time. Since then I’d gotten deeper into pedal-powered bikes, so I wanted to explore the country’s Bicycling Capital. We made a stab at getting bikes from friends, but wound up just renting these single speed hooptie city bikes. They were painfully slow, geared to handle most riding for most people, so we didn’t really get much of a workout. But we rode all over Portland for a few days! It was rad.
So I’ve got a new love. He’s big, black, and thrusts harder than any of my previous loves. Best of all, he doesn’t have any dirty habits and is totally low maintenance. Read all about him, and our first 180 miles of the honeymoon over at Gas2.