Riding a Slower and More Flexible Motorcycle | Lean Angle

Over my head

Golf is a sport not often associated with motorcycling. But there's actually quite a bit of overlap: precise physical movement, mental exactness, exhilaration, frustration, etc.

I played a lot of golf in high school and college. I never took lessons, but by watching my dad and using the skills I'd honed playing football, baseball and basketball, I became a decent player. But when I started at Motorcyclist in 1985, I ran out of time and energy and quit playing-for nearly 20 years.

I picked the game back up a few years ago when my son Alex became fascinated with it thanks to my brother-in-law Jerry, who lives on a golf course and loves spoiling him.

Playing golf with my son has turned out to be nearly as much fun as dirt biking with him. But as we began to play more often and Alex graduated to newer clubs, I began to view my old Dunlops as somehow not good enough. Surely I needed the latest and greatest hardware, right?

My PGA Pro buddy Jim West said he'd fix me up, and he did, with a set of forged Titleist irons a lot like the PGA Pros use. They looked beautiful in my bag, all chrome and shiny, and I loved 'em-right up until I played with them.

Turned out they're way better than I am. I had to hit the ball almost perfectly; there was little room for error. And I wasn't good enough to put any English on the ball (like the Pros do), at least not intentionally. For a while I lied to myself: "Hey, I used to be decent; surely I can hit these." But it was ugly. My hardware vastly outperformed my humble skills. I was way over my head.

So I went back to my Dunlops and began to hit the ball solidly again. Lesson learned.

This sort of thing-folks using equipment better than they are-has been part and parcel of motorcycling since Honda CB750s and Kawasaki Z1s rolled out of showrooms-and probably earlier than that. But somehow it's worse now. Back then, bikes were such sleds, handling-wise, that riders got massive warnings-sliding tires, slewing chassis, flapping handlebars, etc.-when they neared the limit.

These days, bikes handle so impeccably and run so smoothly they'll deal with just about any type of wonky rider input, right up to the point the rider's skill-or the laws of physics-run out. Then things turn ugly, and with all the horsepower on tap-three times the power '70s riders had to deal with-sometimes very ugly. The stories are in the paper-and, increasingly, on the TV news-more than ever these days.

You've heard them: Some 20-year-old buys XYZ-R sportbike on day one and ends up dying via massive trauma on day two. Ego or machismo or whatever trumps common sense. I saw a slice of this at the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School I attended last year. Several of the students were green and would have been much better off riding the torquey and flexible SV650S twins the school offers. But nearly all of them rode GSX-R600s, which, along with their higher performance, offer a higher possibility of crashing. And several of them did.

The irony here is riders occupying the lower third of the skill/experience curve would be much better off-and have a lot more fun-if they rode bikes that meshed a bit better with their personal skills. But as always, ego and a form of personal dishonesty have a way of getting in the way, just as it did with me and my shiny new Titleist clubs.

Decisions are personal, and we're free to make them at our advantage or peril. What I'm hoping, however, is that you experts out there will continue to spread the good word: that riding a slower and more flexible motorcycle isn't a bad thing, and that being smart about what you ride and how you ride it will pave the way for many, many years of two-wheeled enjoyment.

Having ridden for 35 years, I can certainly vouch for the goodness of that.