The Pace | Street Savvy

By Nick Ienatsch, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

Racing involves speed, concentration and commitment; the results of a mistake are usually catastrophic because there’s little room for error riding at 100 percent. Performance street riding is less intense and farther from the absolute limit, but because circumstances are less controlled, mistakes can be equally catastrophic. Plenty of roadracers have sworn off street riding. “Too dangerous,” they claim. Adrenaline-addled racers find themselves treating the street like the track, and get burned by the police, the laws of physics and the cold, harsh realities of a hostile environment. But as many of us know, a swift ride down a favorite road may be the finest way to spend a few free hours. And these few hours are best enjoyed riding at The Pace.

The Pace focuses on bike control and de-emphasizes speed. Full-throttle acceleration and last-minute braking aren’t part of the program, effectively eliminating the two most common single-bike accident scenarios. Cornering momentum is the name of the game. Since the throttle wasn’t slammed open at the exit of the last corner, the next corner doesn’t require much, if any, braking.

If braking is required, the front lever gets squeezed smoothly, quickly and with a good deal of force to set entrance speed in minimum time. Running in on the brakes is a confession that you didn’t get your entrance speed set early enough because you stayed on the gas too long. Running The Pace decreases your reliance on the throttle and brakes—the two easiest controls to abuse—and hones your ability to judge cornering speed, which is the most thrilling aspect of street riding.

Crossing the centerline is a sign that you’re pushing too hard to keep up. Even when you have a clean line of sight through a left-hand kink, stay to the right. Use every inch of your lane if circumstances permit it. Enter at the far outside of your lane, turn the bike relatively late to apex at the far inside and then accelerate out, just brushing the far outside as your bike stands up. Steer your bike forcefully but smoothly to minimize the transition time. Don’t hammer it down because the chassis will bobble slightly as it settles, possibly carrying you off-line. Since you haven’t charged in on the brakes, you can get the throttle on early, which balances and settles your bike for the drive out.

More often than not, circumstances do not permit the full use of your lane. Blind corners, oncoming traffic and gravel on the road are a few criteria that dictate a more conservative approach, so leave yourself a 3- or 4-foot safety margin.

The street is not a racing environment, and it takes humility, self-assurance and self-control to keep it that way. The leader sets the pace. If he pulls away, he simply slows his straightaway speed slightly to close the ranks. The lead shifts occasionally with a quick hand signal, but there’s never a pass for the lead with an ego on the sleeve.

Following distances are relatively lengthy, with straightaways taken at more moderate speeds. Keeping a good distance serves several purposes, besides being safer: Rock chips are minimized, and the Highway Patrol won’t suspect a race is in progress. Not tucking-in on straights or hanging off in corners also reduces the appearance of pushing too hard.

If you’re getting the idea that The Pace is a relaxing, non-competitive way to ride with a group, you’re right. Attitude is the most important aspect: realizing that the friend ahead of you isn’t a competitor, respecting his right to lead the group occasionally and giving him credit for his riding skills. When the group arrives at the destination after running The Pace, no one feels outgunned or is left with the feeling he must prove himself on the return run.

The racetrack measures speed with a stopwatch and direct competition. Performance street riding’s only yardstick is the amount of enjoyment gained. Hammer on the racetrack. Pace yourself on the street.

This story first appeared in the November 1991 issue of Motorcyclist magazine.

By Nick Ienatsch
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