By Gerde Applethwaite
Balance is tricky and also quite basic. You’re weaving in and out of traffic on a downtown street and you have to work the bars. You’re out on the big open slab and the speed just wants to keep the bike upright. Easy.
I recently had a chance to ride two friend’s bikes. They were very different machines: one is a lightweight Honda 400 from the mid-eighties and the other is a CBR 600. My current bikes are 2 touring machines with relaxed riding positions. I have gotten used to relatively heavy bikes that are designed to be ridden all day long. Both of these other bikes were a surprise.
The 400 had loosely adjusted steering head bearing tension and I got into the first turn and the bike seemed too willing to launch into it. It felt squirrelly to me. I talked to my friend about it and he said “that’s funny, I thought your Guzzi felt leaden.” The bearing didn’t clunk but it just felt like it needed a bit more tension in order to give the bike some steering feel. I really didn’t like riding his bike in spite of the fact that tooling about on a lightweight bike was a treat.
The 600 had low clip-ons, as you would expect. I haven’t ridden a bike that made me straddle the gas tank in a while. The barking dog riding position isn’t for me. Nothing wrong with the bike – it’s me, I’m just not a sport bike type. There was something about it though. When you are tucked in like that the balance on the bike is different and after the first half hour of riding I noticed the speedo going higher and higher. Its hard not to go fast on a bike like that. Your balance is lower and your sense of the vagaries of the bike is enhanced. You get a lot of feedback from the bars and the seat. The engine is there howling and it constantly says …come onnnnn… just a little more.
I rode a touring bike through the Alps a while back. The weather was unpredictable. One day it was warm and sunny and later the same day I was in a soaking downpour. I had planned to camp out for the whole trip but on a couple of the rainy days I found indoor accommodations. On one of the outdoor camping days I woke up in the morning and my sleeping bag was wet, I was wet – the tent found itself in a small puddle. I packed up as fast as I could so that I could find a place to go for breakfast and sort myself out. Gear just got shoved into the two panniers willy nilly.
Out on the road the bike felt bizarre. It wanted to tuck into right-handers too quickly and it seemed to balk at left-handers. I assumed it was low tire pressure and I just slowed down. At a gas stop I got some snack food and checked the air. It was fine. Finally it was really bugging me and I looked over the bike when I stopped for food. It was then that I realized that I had overloaded the right hand pannier with all of my tools and the weight balance on the bike was all screwed up. I took twenty minutes to yank stuff out of the panniers, wet tent, wet sleeping bag, wet clothing and the two tool bags and rebalance the load.
Most of the stupid stuff that I have done while motorcycling has been because I was rushing for one reason or another. I was out of balance. That sense that you are behind time and you need to to rush to get back on the road or to get across that bridge or get to that hotel is the stuff that throws you off of your center. In hindsight what I should have done on that Alpen trip was just taken a day off and found a hotel. I was in the mountains above Nice when I woke up drenched that morning. If I had had my wits about me I would have slowed down and decided that this would be a good time to spend a day in Nice. I have stayed in Nice off and on over the years, I even have a couple of favorite little hotels that are out of the way of the tourist parade. It would have been nothing to assemble my gear and wander down out of the mountains and regroup for a day.
As I get a bit longer in the tooth I am getting better about this. I stop riding earlier in the day. I don’t sweat the miles. I loiter over lunch longer. It has become more important to be where I am rather than rush to where I am going. I am learning.