The Dinner Glass Effect

How many times have you heard people say, “I ride my own ride, but…” followed by a story of a fabulous fail?  Or have you’ve heard someone simply solve the mystery of “What happened?” with “You didn’t ride your own ride.”   Since not riding your own ride seems to be the cause of a blizzard of crashing—if you just ride your own ride then ipso facto you won’t crash.   By the way, what does “ride your own ride” mean?   How do you know you’re not?  Nobody gets up in the morning and says, “Today?  Today I shall wad my bike” or “Today?  I think I’ll go get addicted to crack.”

We generally don’t consciously decide to have bad things happen to us.  Disaster is easy to see in hindsight but foresight often fails us.  I think I have an insight into this that I like to call the “Dinner Glass Effect”.  Sounds cool, could be a master’s thesis on hydration while eating or the psychological effects of the shape and color of a glass effecting consumption amount and frequency but, it’s not.

The Dinner Glass Effect is about drinking and driving.  Imagine, at this very moment, you are sitting in a restaurant and having dinner.  Take a little inventory of what’s on the table with you.  Breadsticks.  Pasta.  Salad.  Empty plates.  Wine glass.  WAIT.  Wine glass!  How many people are with you?  Count.  If you are with 4 people there should be 3 wine glasses.  If there are 2 people then only 1 glass…because if you are drinking there has to be the designated driver right?.  Perhaps your argument is that since you’re only having a glass of wine with dinner you don’t need a designated driver.  Sure, you don’t drive drunk but you will drink and drive…I mean have a drink and drive…errr…consume an adult beverage and drive…damn, there’s just no way to make that sound responsible is there?

That is the Dinner Glass Effect.

It’s about personal tolerance and excuse; where do you actually draw the line?  If you have a glass of wine with dinner and drive to the movie you are–by definition–drinking and driving.   I know that sounds a tad zealous but, if you have a beer at a barbecue and leave to catch your kid’s T-ball game you’re drinking and driving because alcohol is in your system just not a lot.  Imagine you hit a light pole.  That’s OK–right?  I mean you had a beer and knocked a pole over so big deal.  But if you hit a bus full of nuns and orphans and one gets hurt then you’re a driver involved in an accident that has alcohol in your system.  Somewhere out there is there a mystical point where too much alcohol moves you from average innocent consumer to premeditated drunk.  It’s not measured by .08 as much as it can be how much damage and mayhem you cause.  That’s the Dinner Glass Effect:  one glass and driving is not a big deal but, one glass and hit a pedestrian and you’re in a world of hurt.  Simply add: “Police believe alcohol was involved” to any sentence and see how that feels.

I really don’t know where “having a drink” and “drinking and driving” separate.  As I said, it seems to be a matter of degrees.  When we apply that same fuzzy math to “Ride your own Ride” we find the same calculation taking place.  When you cease to “ride your own ride” seems to depend on how hard you crash and how honest you are with yourself.  All that rationale of “he only hit a curb” v. “nuns & orphans aflame” comes into play when we talk of exceeding our own riding limits because we look at a simple bruise far differently than we do a compound fracture.

I regularly watch riders violate the “ride your own ride” axiom.  Hell, I do it myself.  To see it just ride sweep on a group ride (or just slip in behind a group) and you’ll know what I’m talking about.  As soon as the ‘slinky effect’ gets going those riding in the back are in real trouble.  The Slinky is when the first rider hits a turn he may do it at speed but the following riders coming behind him will pile into the turn, and thing get a little balled up.  By the time they get through the last rider is hot footing it to catch up and then get all over the brakes before the next turn, the front and back may stay the same distance apart but the middle oscillates…like a Slinky.  Watch this from behind and you’ll see the scurry and slither as riders (trying not to get left behind or be the slow one) push well past their comfort zones.  Those poor SOBs aren’t riding their own ride, they are in ego survival mode.  We’ve all been in that place where pride drives us to work a little harder, brake a little later, throttle up sooner.  Nobody wants to be the slow one.

To my mind “Ride your own ride” is used mostly as a cop out.  It’s an excuse and a shout into the darkness that is all sound and no flesh.  Tell me what “ride your own ride” means.  Define it.  The only real answer I can ever get from anybody is that if you crash you’re not riding your own ride.  Duh.  That’s a retrospective subjective measure.  That’s kind of like asking, “What happened” getting the answer, “I fell down and went boom.”  The follow up is a natural, “How do you avoid that in the future?” Answered by, “Don’t fall down and go boom.”

There may be no clear definition for “Ride your own” except to “don’t exceed your abilities.”  How the flipping flapjacks are you supposed to know your limits?  Getting near a limit means you’re increasing danger.  Here’s where I bail out and go with the symptoms.  There are some distinct symptoms.  Symptoms may be the best measure because if you start feeling a couple of distinct ways it points to your discomfort and discomfort means you’re no longer in that skill space that is uniquely yours.  In the past I’ve discussed the symptoms of fear that manifest when you’re riding by describing it as “riding tight”.  Riding tight is when you’ve got tension in your body, if your arms are tight, your shoulders hunched or your jaw clenched then you are riding tight.  Fear tightens you up, it’s your body getting ready to fight or flee.  In essence it is your subconscious readying for disaster.

Think:  your subconscious is prepping for disaster.  Or, more appropriately, your lizard brain is saying, “I’m scared.”  If you’re frightened there’s a reason for it and that reason is you’re probably not riding your own ride any more.  Pushed out of your comfort zone the instinct for self-preservation is saying, “DO NOT DIE!  STAY ALIVE AND SHARE THAT DNA!”  It seems to me that objectively there’s no measure for riding outside your abilities.  Sure, you may run wide on the exit or be too hard on the brakes going in, but the bottom line is that this is fully a personal, subjective call.   Yes, you can be blissfully ignorant of the fact that you are riding over your head, but that’s a special kind of stupid that requires you to ignore clear signals from your brain.  You can willfully ignore what your safety oriented brain is telling you–I know I can–but ignoring means you’re aware and actively choose to continue with an activity.  We all do that.  We all say the risk is worth the reward and we push somewhere we’re not comfortable going.  Thanking risks is natural part of growing a skill; sometimes you suck it up, take a chance and push forward.

Like a glass of wine with dinner, riding outside your comfort zone can sneak up on you.  You’re not racing your riding—but a ride can turn into a race, even against yourself.  When you’re riding a nice forest road heading to nowhere you probably aren’t looking for a race. What’s amazing to me is that I know when I’m going on a ride that I am going to be pushing it on, I also know when I’m on a ride I don’t expect to push it.  AND I know when a ride I didn’t expect to push it turns into a ride where I’m pushing it.  The trick is to admit the difference to yourself and accept responsibility when a friendly ride becomes a risky one.  A ride’s mood and tempo can change on the fly and it is our responsibility to feel that and make the decision to continue or to retreat.   Honestly?  Sometimes you are weighing fear of crashing against the fear of embarrassment and since ego and self-image are in play, reason and fear of injury are easily overruled.  Riding your own ride is about knowing and accepting yourself.  Once your teeth are set do you have what it takes to unlock your jaw and let it go or do you hang on no matter where things go.  I’ve been suckered into riding over my head.  You’ve been suckered too.  The real question is: are you willing to admit you made the decision, you poured the glass, and you drank the wine?

“Ride your own ride.”  Easy to say.  Tough to do.

*note to self:  Deanies in N.O.



No Turning Back

Taking a lunch break from my day gig of teaching high schoolers to shoot and edit video and pondering commitment a tad.  Our Faculty was called in for a mandatory meeting before school today; which to my experience means we’ve had a student fatality.  I really hate being right about these things.  Succinctly, we had a student take their own life over the weekend.  As always this is a crushing blow to children and adults alike, I cannot imagine how the family feels.

I’m not a morbid person.  I used to shoot TV news.  I’ve seen death in several forms.  I’m not overly interested in how this person chose to exit this life but I will share this:  in these things there is often a level of commitment that sometimes absolutely eludes me.  Some paths allow for a change of direction or are really just an attempt to cry out for help.  This student chose a path that required absolute commitment and engaged a process that once started couldn’t be stopped.  

It was also a–how do I say this–an almost flippant method that required split second timing.  The  kind of thing where, once decided and acted on, you have no time to regret your decision, you’re all in.  Most states in the US have “Lemon Laws” or “Buyer’s Remorse” laws that allow you to get the car home and then change your mind and cancel the sale.  For this young person there was no calling for help or vomiting up the pills, there was simply no turning back.  


What does this have to do with motorcycles?  Nothing.  It’s about taking actions which have no recourse, those places from which you can never return.  Think about your choices.  Are you closing doors or burning bridges?  Can you recover from your decision?  Can you fix it?  

Or is there no turning back?   

In Praise of 35 Ponies

Yup. This is about the joy and excitement of 35 ponies. If you’re asking yourself, “Really? Does he intend to try and convince me that 35hp is a good thing?” you’d be wrong. I figure that my audience for this is broken into 3 groups.
     1. Folks who automatically say, “You can never have enough horsepower and you’re always better off with more.”
     2. Folks who say, “Really? Won’t you get bored and need to trade up? Low power is for beginners right?”
     3. Folks who say, “Hell yes. Nothings better than going fast on something slow!”
If you belong to one of the first two groups–give me a chance and think this through with me and I believe you may find that low power bikes aren’t just for beginners or things we outgrow. Low power bikes are where we can build a basic skill set and exploit our inner intellectual rider. Low power bikes help hone our craft and craft is the first step to becoming “crafty”.Low power bikes are interesting because if you want to ride with real speed you have to create the speed yourself. With 30 or even forty ponies you can’t come out of that corner, stand the bike up and unleash hellfire; you need to pack speed with you. Big horses allow you to spank it on the straights and then park it up in the corners. Too often riders with excessive power race from corner to corner only to gently bend the bike around the next turn and then turn the dial to eleven before wildly backing off and carefully making the next turn.In order to ride quickly on a low power bike you need to “carry more speed”.

This means you want to enter a turn with good speed but you also need to exit with as much as you possibly can. The concept of carrying speed is vital to low output bikes because you can’t just twist and go. You don’t have 150 ponies–you have 1/5th that available and you not only need to make the most of that meager number you need what the military would call a “Force Multiplier”. According to the DOD a force multiplier is defined as: “A capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.”

The force multiplier that small bikes employ is (drum roll): Smoothness.

Generally we talk about big horsepower getting you into big trouble quickly and that’s true, it will. But, an important conversation to have is that big power will camouflage poor riding and give you a false sense of grandeur. Because you can tap the ton on that straight you think you’re fast when in fact you’re only fast on the straights–in corners? You’re a roadblock. That abundance of throttle and lack of corner speed is one of the reasons huge power should be avoided by newbies; it’s the basis of that hard saying “In slow, out fast. In fast–out dead”. Trying to make time in the straights is often why we crash in corners. Being able to run up into triple digits can lead to leaving the paved roadway and striking fixed objects–comprehende?

With 30 ponies you have to manage your throttle and brakes and ride with real awareness of speed because once you lose speed it’s very difficult to get it back. Since you’re trying to have as much speed as possible at the exit you pay real attention to entry and line. A sloppy rider is hard on the gas and hard on the brakes trying to make time in the straights figuring horsepower will fix things. A smooth rider will be more in control and not as ragged and out of shape as they coax more out of the bike. Where do you think sayings like “smooth is fast and fast is smooth” come from? They are bits of wisdom garnered in the real world.

Are 35 ponies too few? Not for me. Riding is fun. BIG fun. I won’t turn you down if you offer me a chance to ride that SS1000R, I’d be happy to twist that things tail. But I won’t turn down a ride on a 250 twin either. Why? Because if it’s got two wheels I’m gonna have a good time with it AND because I learned to ride on underpowered bikes I know that it’s not the size of the wand it’s the magic in the wizard that makes things happen.

Don’t be afraid to learn to ride. Don’t be worried the bike is ‘too small’. It ain’t. Only thing that might be too small is your mind. Open it.

I Can’t Explain

As a rider you’ve probably been asked:  “Why do you ride that damn thing?”  How do you answer?  I can’t.  I end up so paralyzed for prose that I end up saying, “Why not?”  Which can lead to a litany of liabilities that carry a double underlined “Death:” followed by “Loss of limbs or motion” and the best of all:  “My cousin once knew a guy who had a friend that met a dude who’s stepbrother…yadda, yadda, yadda…who died/eats through a straw/was castrated by the gas cap.  OK, I may be exaggerating that last one but you know what I mean.

When it comes to riding non-riders don’t seem to get it.  In fact, a lot of riders don’t get it and make up fairly lame reasons.  Yes, some are tongued and can’t explain it with words but others just seem to be faking it.  I can’t explain it.  I can look into someone’s eyes and see it or the lack of it but putting it to paper is pretty damn difficult.  There is no blood test or Rorschach blob that looks like a bike which will expose the truth; you simply get it or you don’t. 

 How do you pour an experience so personal and intimate out to someone?  Lately there’s another issue I’ve been trying to get someone to say, “I understand.  I get it.  I’m empathetic.  Been there understand it.”  But I can’t express it and everyone who tries to sympathize with me feels like a poseur…they’re sincere but they’re in that ‘pat juniors head’ and satisfy themselves they tried mode.  

Then again ain’t that just life?