Hanging up the Helmet

It’s a dangerous thing we do, this motorcycle riding. And sometimes, with some people…well, it gets to you. Today, while perusing the FJR forum, I saw this post. It’s from a guy whose ridden for years, and has had enough.

At almost 50 years old and after 37 years of motorcycling on almost as many bikes, I have decided enough is enough.

Not long ago I mentioned on here, that we had traveled the length of the country and back to watch some racing through slete, snow and hail. I lost count of how many times I asked myself ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’

On the UK’s crowded roads it’s getting more and more dangerous and the pleasures of motorcycling are far from what they were when I started out. For mainly that reason our rides have become fewer and further between. When I get home I find myself relieved to a degree that we made it in one piece.

Today we went across country to a 70’s bike show. It was a great event and one we shared with an old biking buddy of mine from the very early days. On the way home, he pulled out a lead on me after I got stuck in traffic. I nailed the FJR to catch him up. As I aproached him and slowed to his pace, an Audi sports car pulled out from behind me and flew past at about 70-80mph. This was in a 40. He thought I was racing with him. He then continued to overtake a line of traffic and almost tee boned a car turning across the traffic (who was doing nothing wrong). This would have been a multiple fatal accident if they had connected.

I have seen enough and have arrived home feeling relieved once too often. This combined with a very recent experience that illustrated how quickly a happy life can be ruined. (A close friend was diagnosed with cancer and died 5 weeks later). I have had plenty of near misses and escapes over the years and feel that now is a good time to park the bike and hang up my lid.

We (my Mrs. & me) will still have a great interest in racing, and I will still attend this forum as long as I am welcome. I hope you guys don’t think any less of me for ‘chickening out’ but when the worry of what might be, overcomes the pleasure it really is time to stop.

It’s simultaneously sad to hear this, and to feel a sense of relief at his departure from riding. It’s sad to see someone leave the sport ofter so many years, yet, without the proper mental attitude, you’re endangering yourself when you climb on.

At the best of times, even when the weather is perfect, and there’s no other traffic on the road, you really don’t know if you’re going to survive your ride. A tire blowout at 70 miles per hour, a handful of gravel in the apex of a turn, a rivulet of sand from a drainage runoff, a dog coming out of nowhere, and you may not be going home that day.

But the best conditions are rare in most places. On most days, you have to face the soccer mom in her SUV, talking on her cell phone, who changes lanes right into you. Or the teenager who misjudges your speed and pulls out in front of you at an intersection. Or the older gentleman who looks right at you, and doesn’t see you. or the young guy in a sports car who gets right on your tail.

All of us who’ve ridden on the street have faced those hazards–and more–every day.

There’s a old biker saying, to the effect that, “If you ever throw a leg over your bike, and you aren’t just a little bit afraid, it’s time to hang it up.” That’s good advice, really, because if you are riding on the street, and don’t still feel the incentive to ride as if you were invisible to everyone else on the street, you’ll get overconfident, and bad things will inevitably happen.

But, the opposite is also true. When you throw a leg over, and your first thought is, “I hope I get out of this alive,” then you should probably stop riding, too.

Last year, about 2 months after starting to ride again, I dumped my Harley in a left turn, about 100 feet in front of my house. I dunno how it happened really. I guess I was looking at the turn, instead of where I was supposed to be going, and started to go wide. I hit the rear brake a little too hard, locked it, and low sided. I got back up and rode on in to work. But I noticed I was starting to freak out in left turns. I was refusing turns, and walking through them. Turns that I had made every day for two months. My mental attitude had been shaken. as a result, I became overly tentative and cautious.

If your head isn’t in the game, and you feel a little too much fear, then you really can’t ride safely. You’ll over-react to minor situations, or under-react to major problems, and you’ll go down. Physical skills are only about 70% of riding. It’s the mental skills that make up the remaining 30%, and if you don’t have them, through fear, fatigue, alcohol, or whatever, then you will go down, sooner or later, most likely in a situations that you should have the ability to handle, but don’t, because of your mental attitude.

In my case, I confronted my fear, went back to the parking lot, and undeveloped residential construction areas with roads, but no houses, and I practiced, and practiced. I did nothing but turns, circles, and U-turns. And I kept doing it faster and faster, day after day, until I got my confidence back.

But, sometimes, you simply can’t do that. The weight of experience, seeing others go down, wondering when your number’s up; they all combine sometimes to make you hang it up, at least for a while.

I hope I never find myself in the same position. If I do, I hope I’m smart enough or brave enough to make the same decision the poster above did, and walk away. Because if that’s where your head is, then walking away is the best decision to make. Dragging it out through pride or stubbornness is just an invitation to disaster.

Nothing’s Wrong, Apparently

The FJR is back in the garage. Apparently, it’s fine. The noise I’m hearing is the air injection into the exhaust system to ignite any remaining unburned fuel. The 2007 and 2008 FJR on their showroom makes the same noise on deceleration.

Part of the problem is that the bike is still stock, so is running lean. To really get that smooth roar, I’d need to do a complete Stage I exhaust and add a Power Commander III.

Maybe I just expected the engine to be a little smoother, soundwise, than it actually is.

Back to the Shop

So, the guys at House of Motorcycles tell me I have to bring the bike back in during the week. they want to hook it up to the computer, then call Yamaha, to see if they can diagnose and apply a fix.

Of course, since it’s during the week, I have to drop it off, and have my chick drive over to NCHM to pick me up. Right in the middle of evening traffic. And, do the reverse when they tell me I can pick the bike up.


Fast Motorcycles

The FJR isn’t a superbike. Well, not by today’s standards anyway. Back in the mid 80s, it would’ve been a frightening monster, but the V-Max, then the Hayabusa, and the literbikes took care of that.

Now, it’s just a really fast bike. Faster than most on the road, actually. The FJR will do a quarter mile in some time between 10 and 11 seconds, somewhere between 123 and 130 MPH. Depends on who’s riding it, of course. By comparison, Harley-Davidson only makes one bike, the V-Rod, that even comes close to matching that performance, and even the V-Rod does the quarter mile about one full second slower than the FJR.

As an aside, I’ve had a couple of the Harley cruiser boys meet me at lights, and give me the revs, like they wanted to see what we could do against each other stoplight to stoplight. I just smile, and wave when they take off.

Before I bought it, I was actually a bit scared of it. With 146HP and 99 ft/lbs at the crank (which comes out to around 125 HP and 90ft/lbs at the rear wheel), it is, by any standard a powerful motorcycle. My Sportster–after I did the Stage I, probably pushed out about 70HP and maybe 5ft/lbs of torque. Maybe a bit less.

So, I was wondering if the FJR’s performance would be frightening. For instance, I wondered if I’d be doing unintended wheelies coming away from a light. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that it isn’t frightening at all.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It can be. On a couple of occasions, I’ve twisted the throttle a bit too much, and thought, “Well, that was a bad idea,” and backed off. It’s never resulted in a dangerous situation, but things started happening faster than I thought they would, causing me to reconsider.

But, for the most part, the speed is…deceptive. You twist the throttle a bit to pass, and suddenly you’re bouncing off triple digits. But the air management is so good, and the bike is so stable, you simply don’t feel the speed. the environmental inputs you receive from a bike like the Sportster just aren’t there. And that’s a good thing–or a bad thing, if a cop happens to be lighting up the road with his KR-12.

The thingis, it doesn’t force the performance on you. It’ll certainly give it to you, willingly, if you ask for it, but it can also be as sedate as you want it to be.

This really has me wondering what it’s like to ride a real superbike, like a ‘Busa or ZX-14 Ninja. I wonder if they give you the sense of control that the FJR does, or if they have a more untamed feel.

I don’t think I could ever actually own one, of course. They don’t fit my needs at all. The riding position would get me cramped up pretty quick. And I hate the idea of having to go back to doing chain maintenance. No bags, and no two-up riding make them pretty impractical for my needs, too.

I bet it’d be fun to try one out, though.

Another bright spot for the FJR, by the way, has been the slow-speed handling. The lack of a clutch doesn’t worry me at all now. I know where the YCC-S releases the clutch on the tachometer, and a little trail braking is all you need. You can do a full-lock turn from a standing start on the FJR. That saves a lot of parking lot paddling, because you can really twist your way out of tight spaces at very low speeds. Of course, replacing the stock throttle tube with the G2 Ergo tube/cam has helped immensely there, too, by taming the throttle response into something more predictable and linear.

I’ve really been impressed by this motorcycle. It has great comfort, great–and useable–power, great maneuverability, and gives you loads of fun.

My only regret is that with the SO, and two big dogs, I’ll probably never get to take it on the road for a real touring ride.

Into the Shop

Tomorrow, the FJR goes into the shop for some work.

I’m having an annoying little problem of misfiring and occasional popping on deceleration.

I’m taking it back to North County house of Motorcycles for this one, since it’s been doing it since I got it. when I first got it, the indicated that the bike had been sitting for about a month, so the injectors probably needed to be cleaned out.

Well, I’ve run a whole bottle of injector cleaner through it (1/3 bottle for three tanks) and it’s still doing it. So, since I’ve got two years unlimited warranty for free–as well as prepaid maintenance–tomorrow is the day for fixing it.

I’m hoping it’s just a faulty O2 sensor, throttle position sensor, or exhaust leak. Maybe a bad injector, and not something more serious.

So, I’ll be spending my morning hanging around the dealership.