March 25, 2006

13 degrees, 58.05' N; 61 degrees, 01.90'W

Tiny little Marigot Bay, St. Lucia, only has about 10 moorings but it has WiFi. Welcome to 2006.

I'm in the Carribean on a rented 45' catamaran with some friends. Picked up the boat yesterday in Martinique, moored here in the dark with a few near misses, BBQ'd off the deck, took the tender to the mouth of the bay for a night dive (a few lucky lobsters escaped us), and generally had a great time.

We'll leave first light, if not sooner, for Bequia, about a 10hr sail in these winds.

Posted by rick at 09:17 PM

March 18, 2006

Mad Kaw

When I was in elementary school I managed to somehow convince my parents to buy me a little mini-bike. It had a 2.5 hp lawnmower engine and a centrifugal clutch in it and when you pushed on the rear brake (no front brake) the lever moved a piece of steel into the rear tire to slow it down - not exactly high-tech. Well, the minibike turned into a dirt bike, then a bigger dirt bike, then in college a street sport bike, then another, then another, and another, then finally "liter bikes" (1000cc sport bikes).

The funny thing about most of these street bikes is that they're so mind numbingly fast that I will never be worthy of any of them. The last bike I had was a 1996 Honda CRB900RR, when it came out it made the power of a 1000 (back then about 120hp at the shaft) and weighed less than the lightest 600 made at the time (420lbs). Then on my birthday last year I bought a brand new 2005 ZX10R -- and a lot has happened in the last decade of motorcycle technology. This new bike makes 180hp at the shaft and weighs 390lbs, and is much better handling etc. in general.

However, this has left me with the biggest gap between bike's and rider's abilities I've ever experienced. I am not even close to being able to push the limits of this bike. It's a six speed and does over 100mph in first gear. I have never on the street gotten the throttle wide open with the rpm's at the redline (where it makes the most power), in the first couple of gears this just results in a very high speed wheelie. In every way, braking, handling, power, me riding this bike is kind of like a dog watching TV -- I'm not really getting as much out of it as is there.

This left me with two choices:
1) Never learn how to ride a bike like this. I'd be like one of those rich tools who buys an exotic sports car and never takes it on the track.
2) Learn how to push the bike to its limits.

Obviously 1 isn't an option, I do have to look at myself in the mirror, and since riding fast on the street with cars etc. is just stupid, I went looking for some track time.

I've done the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's advanced rider course, and I've been on the track before in a program called CLASS, put together by a former racer named Reg Pridmore. CLASS was mostly safety and performance oriented. This time I wanted something a little more aggressive so I signed up for California Superbike School. I've now completed both levels 1 and 2 at CA Superbike School and plan to take Level 3 in the summer.

The program covered how to get around the track the fastest. It is not a safety school, it is a racing school. It is very aggressive, there was about a 5% crash rate per rider per day, with one reasonably serious injury (broken foot/ankle) over the two days I was there..

In each day there were five track sessions in total, with classroom time with the legendary Keith Code (of "A Twist of the Wrist" instructional book and movie fame) before and after each track session. In level 2 we also go to play with the "lean bike" -- a bike fitted with outriggers that allows you to lean way over w/o fear of crashing. In level 3 that bike becomes the "slide bike" and you get to learn to slide your tires w/o fear of crashing.

By the end of the second day I was able to really move the bike around the track. My lap times dropped from over three minutes to 2:20. My instructor asked "how does it feel out there?", "great" I replied. "Does it feel like you're going faster?". "Hmmmm, it does, but it feels like I'm in at least as good of control of the situation as I was before". "Good", he said, "you're going a lot faster". I even managed to keep the front end of the bike down while I got it to wide open throttle at redline on the back straight exactly once, a furtive glance indicated this happens at 126mph -- something best not tried on the street.

So, the next obvious question is: do I want to race? I'm still on the fence. I think I might sign up for an open track day, but racing requires all new gear (I'd need to get a track bike, something smaller than my 1000) and a new level of commitment to the sport. I don't really have time for a new competitive sport right now, so I think I'm going to stick with instructional events for a while, I still have a lot to learn and for a given amount of time I think that's the best way to learn the most.

Posted by rick at 01:31 PM