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Welcome to Men of an Age

This is not my first Rodeo

If you’re not crashing, you’re not trying hard enough.

— Every racer on earth.

Push yourself. Just do it, chances are you won’t die. More than likely you’ll start to live a little more. This blog will be about getting to an age, whatever that is, when you decide “Fuck it!”, I’m going to do what I want to do.

That doesn’t mean to be irresponsible, or to be immoral. Don’t check your virtue or values at the door, but do dump your fear and anxiety. Life is too short to wait.

The future is no place to place your better days.

-DMB

So we’ll talk about motorcycles, track days, racing, ADV riding, whatever. I’ll do some gear reviews, share some insights, and ask a lot of questions. We’ll meet some friends along the way and make some new ones.

My 1st word of advice: Grab a Handful. Momentum is our friend. On bikes and in life. Don’t be afraid to give it some throttle and relax, Let the bike do it’s thing. It’s not easy but as Eric Wood, owner and operator of Penguin Racing School loves to say. “Bikes don’t crash themselves, people drag them down.” Eric has an uncanny ability to teach the most complicated techniques and the theory behind them in digestible and tangible chunks that will make you faster (and safer) on the track. Eric is also FAST, like really FAST.

Why the Track is a great place to LEARN

Why is the track a great place to learn? It’s really simple actually. It’s a controlled environment. And controlled environments are more forgiving of mistakes.

That’s what we seek if we are learning math, art, or golf. Pretty much anything difficult to master requires time in a dedicated and controlled environment. And motorcycle riding is hard to master.

Furthermore, we train for dangerous activities even more purposefully. Things like commercial and military flight instruction and training are done primarily in a simulator. Formula 1 drivers spend more time in the simulator than in the actual race car. And motorcycle riding is inherently dangerous.

So why would anyone want to learn how to ride anywhere but on the track? I guess if there was a simulator for it that would be better yet!

When people hear that I am “going to the track” I think it congers images of hooligans and lunatics recklessly swerving in and out of each other at breakneck speeds, laughing like maniacs at their impending death. I don’t know why that is, but it’s pretty clear based on the responses one gets when they tell people. It also couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s get this straight. Riding AT the track is safer than riding TO the track, and maybe even safer than driving there to begin with. Why?

  1. No cars, dogs, potholes, construction, distracted drivers, etc. All the things that pose the most danger to a motorcycle rider on the street are absent. You can focus on riding, not scanning for danger. There are only other guys and gals on bikes out there and they want to avoid crashing just as much as you do.
  2. Much less to hit. Besides no vehicles, there are no houses, curbs, guardrails, bridge abutments, or other solid objects just off the edge of the pavement. Tracks have runoff. Where there are hard objects that you could hit the often have a soft covering like an air-fence. If there is a particular corner with a smaller margin of error it will be designated as a no-passing zone to minimize risk as well.
  3. Emergency medical personnel are available within seconds. Parked right there in pit lane is an ambulance waiting to be dispatched as soon as a serious crash happens. Flaggers at multiple points around the track, all in radio communications with each other keep an eye on every inch and every rider. If something happens they all wave a red flag to stop, or slow everyone to leave the track, as they dispatch the EMTs. That isn’t going to happen on the street unless you crash in front of the hospital.
  4. Separate groups are based on ability/speed. You will be riding with people of similar experience, caution, and speed. I will not pass you on the inside of that downhill, off camber corner (not only because I’m not supposed to) but because we are not out there at the same time. Everyone around you will be staying far away, they’ll be going about the same speed, and will be focused on what’s ahead. The only thing you’ll have to focus on is your riding.
  5. High-quality expert instruction. Every on-track session will be followed by classroom or individual evaluation by an instructor. Nearly every organization has a “school” for novice riders and many have classes and instruction all the way up to the expert group (and if you ask someone will lead/follow to give you individual help). You’ll learn the proper line first (because it’s not just faster but safer too) by following an instructor around for the first several sessions if not all day. You’ll learn proper techniques for braking, throttle application, initiating turns, body position, and on and on. There is always something to learn, and people there to teach it to you in ways that you can understand, consume, and repeat.
  6. It’s a family. Motorcyclists treat each other like family. We’re close, we share something special and we know it. Everyone there will be willing to help you. I’ve crashed at the track and total strangers have helped me make repairs, given me parts, and generally been supportive to help me get back out there as soon as possible. Not just physically but mentally too. You’ll have the support of everyone there, from novice to seasoned expert, young to old.
  7. It’s transferable. As I’ve written before, riding on the track has not only made me a safer but also a more patient street rider. I know that in a few weeks I can push myself and my machine closer to the limit so don’t feel the need to do it on the street (as much). I’ve learned skills that help me ride better and safer everywhere. And I’ve trained my brain to react and stay calm at much higher speeds than I’ll be going on the street, reducing panic and adding safety.
  8. It’s fun. Look this might be #1. Even mopeds today can break the speed limit in seconds, if not first gear! At the track we can go fast, safely, and legally.

So, get out there on the track. Find a local organization and sign up. Roadracing World keeps a pretty good list. In New England I can personally recommend Fishtail and Penquin.

Roadracing World Calendar

Fishtail Riding School

Penquin Riding School

You can thank me when you make it to expert group and you pass me on the inside on that downhill off-camber corner…

Now go ride!

Why I Crash.

I just returned from a beautiful couple of track days. I know a lot of my “virtual friends” were also out on the tracks around the country and around the world. Unfortunately some didn’t fare quite as well as I did. Sorry guys. It happens as we all know.

Fortunately no reports of serious injury, mostly just broken bikes and bruised egos.

We’ve all been there, and if we haven’t, we most likely will be. And personally I think we should be. My motto has always been, “If you’re not crashing, you’re not trying hard enough.” (it’s right there on my front page even). I think pushing ourselves is important, but we shouldn’t do it mindlessly, or carelessly. That’s just being irresponsible.

So why do these crashes happen. Very rarely are we riding our bikes or tires over THEIR limit. We simply are not that good, just admit it.

Sure sometimes it wasn’t avoidable. We can have a mechanical failure that results in an fall (could still be our fault…) And every now and then someone else runs into us, falls in front of us, or pushes us off track. But in my experience a majority of the time it’s as simple as this most famous quote:

“Your ambition outweighed your talent.”

Casey Stoner to Valentino Rossi

I ride with Penquin Racing School quite a bit, and Eric Wood always makes it a point to say “Our bikes don’t crash themselves, we pull them down with us.” It’s true. Most of the time we only have ourselves (mostly our ego) to blame.

But WHY do we crash. That’s the point here.

After I fall I take some time to think about what I did that made me end up testing out my pretty new suit, and wrecking all those shiny bits I put on my bike. Here goes my top 3, you might find yours are different:

  1. Not concentrating – whenever I find my mind wandering even a little, I pull in and refocus. My worst crash was because of a momentary lapse of concentration, just prior to a difficult corner. I don’t go out rushed, or without taking a minute or two to focus on what my goals are for the session.
  2. Focusing attention away from where you are GOING – related to concentration. I’ve crashed because I was focusing my concentration on something behind me, or thinking too far ahead. It’s OK to think ahead, but only when the situation allows you to take a little focus away from the then and there, or the very immediate future. Like on a straight.
  3. Passive or reactionary inputs – this is when I react to a situation rather than anticipate and make intentional (and precise) inputs to correct errors. My most recent crash happened from adjusting my line mid corner, as I was trailing off the brakes, as a reaction to realizing I was going to miss my apex. I should have accepted my current trajectory and planned for what I needed to do on exit to mitigate my mistake instead of trying to correct it immediately and compound it greatly.

So, what can I take away from my experiences crashing? It’s always mental. Either I didn’t prepare or my focus was somewhere other than forward.

I didn’t get to these conclusions immediately, trust me. I tried to blame cold tires, or a cold track, or a patch of pavement….sometimes friends helped me rationalize even “Oh you must have hit that bad spot” or “Yeah the track temp wasn’t up yet” etc. Maybe they are preparing to rationalize their own upcoming crashes, or past ones, but the truth is, I wasn’t focused. It was 100% mental.

So what can I do? What can all of us do? Practice. Ride more. Take things slowly, build your speed. Focus on ONE thing per session, one corner, one part of riding position, brake application, brake release, throttle control, etc. ONE THING at a time. Most importantly stay focused on what you are doing out there.

“Failure is the Greatest Teacher”

-Udai Yadla

The good thing is that crashes teach us something about our riding, and about ourselves. They test our resolve and our commitment to getting better. They bring us together as riders. And eventually, in a weird way they make us proud. I know the first thing I do when someone finds out I ride on the track is show them my Crash Video.

Now go ride!

Stop Working On Your Bike!

Let me just put this out there from the start. You’re probably not going to like it but you need to hear it.

Adding expensive bling isn’t “Working on your Bike” it’s bolting on something worthless….just stop.

I know, I know, what else can we do right now during the pandemic. Let me give you an idea, O.K? Something actually worth doing.

Build a custom or do a restoration. PLEASE! I can’t stand another Facebook post about polishing your brake calipers so they are easier to clean. That doesn’t make you a better rider. You aren’t safer, and certainly not faster.

Build something. You might learn a little bit, it will be productive, and in the end, it will probably cost about the same as adding a dozen anodized bits, or upgrading your already perfectly working slipper clutch, brake reservoir, and coolant hoses.

For around $1000 you can get started with a Japanese bike from the 70s. A thumper or twin, that might even still run. If you look hard, you can get something that is complete but doesn’t run for less, maybe even free depending on it’s state of disrepair. At least here in the U.S.

What you don’t have the tools? Then buy them, there aren’t many special tools needed for 70s and 80s Japanese bikes anyway.

Where can you find the parts? Lots of places, because Japanese manufacturers used the same parts across models, and some have “reborn” those models recently, even finding new parts is easy, and there are 40 years of used parts out there all over the place.

No room? Bullshit. If a guy can do it in his studio apartment you can do it in your shed, or find a corner of the garage or basement.

Don’t have a clue what to do? Good. You’ll learn as you go, the best method for gaining knowledge in the world. There is a forum for everything and specialty shops that are willing to offer free (and good) advice to customers. Not only is this a poor excuse, it’s the reason you should be doing it in the first place!

Imagine how much better you’ll get at actually working on your pride and joy after, with the confidence of a complete restoration under your belt.

I have a little bit of experience actually working on bikes. I club raced a 1992 TZ250 for a few years, and did my own top ends. I tackled actual upgrades to my WR 426 Supermoto, rebuild the forks on my SXV450, and have worked as a bicycle mechanic. I retrofitted newer electronics on my RSV4, added a blipper, and swapped out a few other true performance parts like suspension and wheels.

But a frame up restoration is something different altogether. So, here goes.

I’ve always wanted a TT500 ever since first stepping into Al Russell’s Yamaha in 1978. As I’ve written in this blog my Dad and I walked out with an MX100 and an MX175 and it all started. I still had an affinity for the TT though and last week I found a 1970s TT/XT/SR for sale somewhat locally, so I pulled the trigger.

A week in it looks like this, and I’m struggling to wrap my head around all of the work I have left to do.

I’ve been grinding and filing the frame for days already. Polishing aluminum is tedious as hell. I have parts everywhere and on order from a dozen places. I still have no idea on paint/powdercoating and controls/electrical. But I’ll get there I’m sure. And if I don’t I’ve learned a lot along the way and can always just sell what I have for about what I’ve spent. If I do end up with a nice custom I can keep it, or sell it for a small profit.

So that’s it. Just stop spending your money, and more importantly your time, on shit that anyone can buy and bolt on that offers no real performance or increase in safety.

Just because we are bored, doesn’t mean we have to be stupid. Make something yourself, and think about it as an investment in YOU.

-Go Ride (or build)

PLUS Racing Invader Suit Review

I took the plunge just before the new year and joined a bunch of folks on The Aprilia Factory facebook group and ordered a fully custom (measurements and colors) race suit from Plus Racing out of Hungary. It was a bit of a gamble but they have a handful of riders in MotoAmerica and other regional professional series in Europe. Online reviews seemed legit and were nearly all complimentary. The price was outstanding.

The Process: Fantastic. It started with a few messages and e-mails with Hozzane Schudery, the VP of Sales. Hozzi seems to never sleep, despite being 6 hours ahead of me he was always available for questions, to review options, etc. and make thoughtful suggestions along the way. After submitting my design (he provides the templates) and measurements he would follow-up with any questions and makes sure to confirm the final design and measurements before the suit goes into production. He keeps you updated along the way with pictures and notes, even though he’s clearly working on dozens if not hundreds of orders at the same time. I’d have to say it was as a personalized sales experience as I’ve ever had even though it was 100% online.

Obviously it takes a few weeks to make a custom suit. I waited and waited as other members of the facebook group got theirs and posted pictures and reviews. Everyone had the same things to say. 100% satisfied, in fact often surprised at the quality and construction. On par if not better than anything they currently had. That’s saying something since anyone that can afford to own and ride an Aprilia, can afford top brand gear too.

My suit arrived via FedEx in about 10 weeks from the date I ordered and made my deposit. It sailed through customs despite recent issues with the pandemic, which was something I was worried about. Not that this was within the control of PLUS, but it does show that they didn’t try and save a few bucks by going with a cheaper/riskier delivery option, even though shipping was included in the price.

So that is the review on the process. Couldn’t have been better. Now the important part, the suit itself.

The Fit: Perfect. This is my fourth set of full leathers, and it fits the best. Partly this is due to my being an American no doubt, but also because I’m 5′ 10″ but only have a 30″ inseam. Every suit to date has been too long in the legs and too short in the torso. Since this was made to measure, no such issues. The arm length too is spot on. It’s tight like a race suit should be, and a bit uncomfortable walking around, like a race cut suit is bound to be. In riding position though, that tightness disappears and it becomes snug, but not loose. Again, perfect fit.

The Construction: Solid. Seams are all good, stitching has no visible weak spots. YKK plastic zippers throughout. Use of stretch panels, neoprene, and keprotec are all on par with top of the line suits I’ve owned. I didn’t go with any upgrades like kangaroo leather or stingray inserts which would no doubt have put this suit at a level above many much more expensive (2x or more) off the rack options. A full zip-out liner completes the construction nicely, and perforations are adequate but you can also chose to not have them if you prefer that.

Protection: Above average. I choose the airbag compatible suit with extra expansion panels. It is designed to work with IXON (Klim) airbags but I would imagine would work fine with the latest Alpinestars and Dainese stand alone offerings too. (note: those do not have an algorithm for the track.) Besides the airbag, the internal protection on knees/shoulders/elbows/hips/back is SAS-TEC that is CE approved (you can upgrade to full Level 2 but some of mine were of the level 2 variety upon closer inspection, thanks Hozzi!). External protection on shoulders, elbows, and knees adds safety as well. Replaceable elbow sliders and knee pucks are included.

Style: Very good. Obviously with a fully custom suit, style is ultimately up to you. But the quality of the colors, the screen-printed graphics, and logos are all good. My only minor complaint is that some of the logos (esp. on high wear areas) could have been done in leather and stitched on. There are downsides to that approach though as it can substantially weaken the leather and is heavier, so it’s a give and take proposition. Still I like the look/feel of stitched on letters/logos. Otherwise the colors that Hozzi steered me towards are a great match for my new helmet that we used as the basis for the design. Seeing others’ designs and looking at examples on the website and that Hozzi can send you, makes it clear that they can do almost anything you wish. Pink cammo, no problem. Want to look like Iron Man, go for it. The Design team really is good.

Overall: 9/10 – Excellent. Given the price, I doubt you can find anything better, to be honest. The options for custom suits are growing but so far nothing I’ve seen can compare.

So, that sums it up for now. Obviously one of the most important factors is how well it protects you and holds up in a crash. Hoping that day doesn’t come, but if it does I’ll make sure to do that review as well. Others that have crashed have reported that the suit holds up great, and I didn’t see any reports of failures or injury from people who have tested it out completely.

Size DOES Matter!

Well at least it does with respect to tires. And it matters in a much more complex way than most people seem to understand. Width in my opinion is not the most important factor, so I guess in that sense it’s similar to the famous saying.

Let’s just focus for now on rear tires since that’s what most people think about changing the size of. Sure you could get fancy and mess around with the front (we might actually unknowingly change that size when we change brands btw) but most people stick with something like a 120/70 on their sportbikes whether it’s a Ninja 400 or a Ducati V4.

The primary question is should I get a “bigger” tire? Meaning should I move from a 190/55 to a 200/50 or something along those lines. What the person is really asking, and may not even realize it is: Will a WIDER tire be better?

Let’s assume better is in this case faster in the corner…that’s another topic altogether, cause on that big bike slower in the corner may actually be faster…oh man so confusing. You wonder: “Will I be able to lean a little more with that extra 2-3mm per side?” No, it’s likely NOT going to be 10mm wider, it’s probably 5mm if you read the specs. In fact one manufacturers 190 may be just as wide as another’s 200, again for another day. My guess is that if you can feel 3mm extra you already have a tire guy so you can focus on riding better.

Faster? Probably not noticeably. It may actually be slower, since that tire is also likely 7-10mm larger in diameter unless you went down in aspect ratio (that second number). What, there are other size differences, I thought it was just wider? NOPE, and that can have a major effect on your bike.

A wider rear tire will in turn also change your ride height, it may even affect chain angle and swingarm angle. Most importantly it adds the worst kind of weight of all, rotating mass. (so much for those Ti rotor bolts!)

Sure maybe a slightly increased contact patch keeps that TC off for a millisecond longer…but again if you can feel that, the software guy is already optimizing your electronics corner by corner.

I’m not against changing tire size, I just think you should ask the right questions, be prepared to make set-up changes, and educate yourself before spending more money on a “bigger tire” thinking you’ll instantly get results. It just doesn’t work that way with anything, especially not tire size. But, if it gives you the confidence you need, a good panacea is always worth the extra money!

A list of the best things to MAKE YOU FASTER!

This is an easy one.

  1. Riding Instruction
  2. Getting in shape
  3. Setting up your suspension

OK there you have it guys. Three things 100% guaranteed to make you faster. #1 will cost you 1/3 of that new pipe that doesn’t do shit other than make you fail sound check, and the second one is FREE! #3 is pretty cheap, set your sag, maybe get a piston kit for your fork, stock stuff is damn good already.

I know, I know you really want that Ohlins TTX, that new Akrapovic Ti exhaust, and those carbon fiber air ducts for your new Brembo GP4 calipers….that’s fine, really go for it.

But remember what Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh:

“Christ! You don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt. What you need is a curveball.”

A motorcyclists’ “Ungodly Breaking Stuff” is good setup, practice, and being fit.

Spend your money on farkles and bling, but I really doubt it’s going to make you much faster. I know I don’t get faster from it. Sure, I still upgrade my bike, don’t get me wrong, but I try to choose functionality, safety, and reliability first. Then speed. Yes I converted to a 520 chain and lightweight sprockets, after the originals wore out. I picked up some used aftermarket forged wheels at less than half price because they do make a big difference on handling. I installed a piston kit in my stock forks and purchased springs that match my weight and riding level and found the cheapest adjustable shock I could find rather than rebuild my old OEM shock. I mostly upgrade parts as they need replacing, and don’t dump perfectly good stock parts in favor of bling. Instead, I use that money for trackdays, good tires, and quality gear.

I had the chance to purchase a new bike this winter. 20 more HP, newer electronics, etc. etc. I decided not to do it. I spent less than half the money I would have needed on retrofitting better electronics and a few of the above upgrades. Then, I bought a new helmet to replace my 5 yr old one, and ordered new leathers that are airbag compatible. O.K. I splurged a little since they are custom. But, I did get a great deal, and they will fit perfect. Now I can afford a few more trackdays.

This winter I’m working out, building core strength, and practicing body position on my bike in the garage. All these things WILL make me faster, and safer, and don’t cost anything.

So commit to getting better, faster, and stronger. And you will. Looking good and having all the sparkly bling is cool and all, but it only gets you rep at Starbucks, the fast guys know you can’t buy speed, you have to earn it.

You got a bike, then ride it!

They used to call it “Run what you Brung.”

I can’t tell you how many times I hear or read that someone can’t do a particular ride because they don’t have the right bike (this goes for MTB too). Seriously? I mean Seriously?!

Just get out there and ride. Sure, you’re not going to take your Fat Boy on a Motocross track or anything (or…see below) but most of the time, if you have a bike you could be riding it.

Photo Credit: Steff Staff MCN (https://www.motorcyclenews.com/news/2018/january/harley-davidson-fat-bob-off-road/)

I ride my Dorsoduro on the track, to commute, on gravel roads and even the occasional double track, all with a set of Dunlop Q3s. I’m lucky enough to have a spare set of wheels that I put some TKCs on and have greatly increased it’s off-road worthiness and plan to explore even more now.

So that’s another point I want to make, small changes to the bike you already have can make it more versatile. Riser bars, different tires, lower or high gearing, all small changes that can have a big impact on how capable your bike is in different situations.

I’m starting to think that all those Forum Jockeys with their Garage Queens are doing nothing but spending time and money on bling that adds nothing to their riding experience and posting pictures of their precious all day is mostly because they don’t or can’t fuckin’ ride!

My RSV4 didn’t pass sound inspection at a trackday last year (imagine that!). What did I do? I drove home over an hour and half and picked up the trusty Dorsoduro, then drove an hour plus back to the track. I still got in a day and a half of riding with my buddies. Sure their 1000cc bikes blew my doors off on the straights, but I kept up with a lot of them through the corners. See it here:

My buddy John wheelies past on his V4 Ducati, what a dick!

Thing is I rode. I learned some things riding a slower bike, and I had a hell of a lot of fun. I did that all with the WRONG bike, if there is such a thing.

Go Ride!

Tire won’t seat?…don’t blow yourself up!

There are a lot of examples on the web on how to mount your tires yourself. Just be careful of the ones you follow!

At least he’s wearing safety glasses…

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT do it this way. There are hundreds of these videos on YouTube, some with thousands of views. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Even the most difficult tires can be seated with just two things you probably already have: a ratchet strap and a compressor.

Yesterday I mounted a pair of Continental TKC80s to my spare wheels. Disclaimer here, the rear tire is a 180/55 – 17 and I put it on a 6″ rim. Not ideal, but it’s the largest 60/40 ADV tire available.

Tire, Strap, Chuck…all you need.

Preferably I’d use a 190/55 but the Conti is actually pretty wide for a 180 and works fine. BUT, it’s a bitch to seat because it’s not designed for a rim that wide….there is about an inch gap on each side of the tire between the tire bead and the rim shoulder. Plus it’s cold out, and the tire is stiff. I wanted to ride though so I mounted it. I didn’t use an explosion although it would have been warmer.

Strapped Tire

All you need to do is put the tie down around the middle of your tire and ratchet it tight until the tire beads start to touch the rim shoulder. A little soapy water helps here too (as it does to get the tires on the rim, but you already knew that right?)

Then even a small compressor can seat your tire as long as it creates enough pressure. You don’t even need to remove the valve stem and have a chock that will “rapid fill” your tire if you use the strap. (another commonly recommended but unnecessary method on the internet).

Ready to install

See, wasn’t that easy, and no lost fingers or 3rd degree burns!

Now it’s time to Go Ride!

What’s a little snow with these tires?!

Get to the Track…you’ll never go back to the street

Well maybe that’s not entirely true, you might still ride on the street, I do, but you’ll stop trying to go fast all the time. That’s maybe the best part about attending a few track days a year, it removes the desire to ride fast on the street. Not all the time at least.

I enjoy my days on the street more now, maybe because I have a more reasonable bike for street riding than my sportbike, which can easily break the speed limit, in first gear, with the front wheel in the air, in about 3 seconds…

My street riding now consists of the occasional commute, some back roads, some dirt roads, and a frequent run to the beach. I ride reasonably fast, but take in the experience more for sure. I even stop to look at the view now and then.

A nice view of the Atlantic

There are a lot of other benefits to my overall riding experience of going to the track as well and we’ll explore those over the next few blog posts. But for now, get out and ride!