Class of 2010 Comparison Test | Megaphone

Into The Lion's Den

"I 've got nothing to worry about. I can keep up with these guys, no problem." That's what I told myself at the second gas stop on our 511-mile ride from Los Angeles to Sonoma. Being a new-emphasis on new-rider, my concern from the beginning had been keeping up. I was feeling confident. I was having fun. This is why people ride motorcycles-the freedom, the brotherhood, the hooligan behavior. As it turned out, I didn't have a clue.

Flashback to a month ago: At our weekly editorial meeting, Cat announces that Infineon Raceway would be the proving grounds for the Class of 2010 comparison test. Ari punches me in the arm, and suggests I ride up with the rest of the editorial team. Should I mention that my longest ride to date was just 150 miles? Or that I've never, ever, been on a racetrack? Nah, I'll be fine. Right?

Back to the present: All gassed up and full of confidence, I was ready to go. I'm doing just fine until, for the first time since leaving LA, the road starts to twist. Two turns into Highway 33 I watch guest tester Matt Samples lean the Aprilia into the curve and just flat-out disappear. Fark! What do I do now?

Thank God, I finally come upon the rest of the guys, stopped at the side of the road. I hope they weren't worried. I've just shut the CBR600RR off when Catterson says, "The hardest thing about being the slowest guy is that everyone is ready to go when you catch up." Then he starts his bike. Here we go again! Before he pulls away, he tells me that the back half of the 33 is the technical part and, oh yeah, be aware of gravel on the road. Jesus, I know I've already prayed to you a dozen times today-ya mind hearing a few more?

Finally the roads straighten out, and-could it be?-I see them up ahead! Rolling hard on the throttle, I catch up just before the third gas stop. I've spent the last two hours alone on the gnarliest road I've ever seen, and survived!

We're barely halfway to Sonoma and already I'm exhausted. My spirits, dampened by the cold weather, sink further when I hear Ari extol the virtues of upcoming Highway 58. His excitement spells nothing but trouble for me. Then I remember I'm on a ride that most motorcyclists would kill to be a part of. Time to suck it up, then, and enjoy the moment.

The moment is short lived. There was this long straight, followed by a steep, downhill, decreasing-radius left, and you can guess the rest. I'm fine, except for a bruised ego, and the bike's fine, too-just a tweaked turn signal. I get up, knowing I have to get back on the horse, er, Honda. I swear at myself, and the innocent bike, too. "Start dammit! C'mon, you're a Honda-supposed to be bulletproof! Oh, thank you, Jesus, again!" I'm back on my way.

Little did I know, the hardest part was still ahead. After 10 cold hours on a sportbike, tired and mentally exhausted, Bay Area rush-hour traffic is upon us. Splitting lanes in the rain is the absolute last thing I want to do. We finally make it to the hotel and I collapse by the fireplace in the lobby. "This is why people buy touring bikes," Aaron says. "This is why people buy luxury cars," I think to myself.

The hardest part of the trip wasn't riding 1500 miles in four days on a sportbike. It wasn't even my maiden racetrack outing at the ultra-challenging Infineon, which was the most fun-and terrifying-thing I've ever done. The hardest part was that none of my friends or family understood what I experienced in these four days. I tried to tell this story many times, explaining the exhilaration, the defeat, the regrouping and soldiering on, the ultimate rush. But no one cared. Mostly, they'd rather have heard what I had for dinner.

But that's okay. I know what it meant to me. I now know what's it's like to hammer out 500 miles in a day, and then do it again. I know what it's like to see Infineon from the racer's perspective, and to see the back of better riders whizzing past like you're standing still. And I know that it's okay if those close to you don't understand what that means. You probably know the same things.


Homebound on CA-25, (l to r) Barry Burke, Matt Samples, Aaron Frank, Brian Catterson and Ari Henning have enough time to contemplate the meaning of life and snap a candid photo while they wait for me to catch-up.