Tiny Contact Patches, Absurd Lean Angles
Crazy is difficult to quantify, but we all know it when we see it. It may manifest itself differently, some might be more afflicted than others, but when it happens we all know full throttle schizo.
You likely have that friend. You know that one, who thinks nothing of running down the street naked, pursuing an accelerating volleyball that he has no chance of catching. Turns out he simply likes to run naked. He was just looking for the right excuse. Or maybe he needs no excuse. He would probably run naked down the street chasing a duck. And while not all of us have the pair of round objects to chase a third round object down the street in broad daylight, fully peeled, in the cold, we all have some sliver of crazy somewhere inside of us.
Then there’s the “who dares eat this unidentified spicy pepper that the neighborhood kid brought over” kind of crazy. Took that dare. I instantly felt like I was dying. The second hour was worse than the first. I may have had an out-of-body experience as I was running into the backyard to drink from the hose and drained the local water tank in the process. No one was there to prove me wrong. I won the dare but in that case, winning was also losing.
Then crazy takes a quantum leap into oblivion, a Warp Factor 10 shot that separates the mildly crazy from “I have zero interest in my long-term wellbeing.” It’s called bolting a massive, fire belching engine to a frame draped in carbon fiber with two skinny wheels and tossing it around a racetrack at triple digit speeds, fully leaned over with nothing between your skin and the asphalt but dead cowhide. Who thought trying to contain all that power with two contact patches the size of credit cards while dangling at absurd angles fully on the gas was a fine idea?
Tiny contact patches, absurd lean angles, heart pumping thrills. Photo by 360 Photography.
What a brilliant idea. Brilliant because its ridiculously heart pumping, absurdly difficult and occasionally deadly. Remove all the obstacles from a normal life: deer, police, traffic, speed limits, school crossings, intersections, bad pavement, phone addicted teenage drivers and the like and the freedom to explore the limits of motorcycle performance is as addictive as the glance from a pair of blue eyes. However, don’t confuse simply riding a motorcycle with high performance riding.
Making a motorcycle move is simple. Anyone can get a bike to move forward, turn and stop. Kids do it in backyards on mini bikes all the time. Newbies learn to ride at classes every day. Old people ride plodding cruisers at parade speeds well into their 80s.
But to ride, to truly master the laws governing bike control, takes a lifetime to perfect. Laws like radius equals miles per hour, lean angle equals risk and more speed equals more brakes can be tested, but those riders end up buying motorcycle parts or cutting off their own casts.
Every subtle twitch matters.
Obeying these laws while pushing a motorcycle to its limit is arguably among life’s most difficult and rewarding skills. Just a slight curl of a right index finger makes the difference between hitting your braking marker and hitting the wall. A minute turn of the wrist, the difference between powerful corner drive and clavicle snapping highside. A pivot of the head means running to the edge of pavement or running wide into the grass for a terrifying airborne bike ballet. How difficult it is to pilot a sport bike around a racetrack when every subtle twitch matters.
But get it right, get it oh-so-perfect and the rewards are tremendous. Speed stirs air, pistons pulse through our seats, vibrations excite our senses, exhaust sounds bring goosebumps and the rear of the bike leaves massive black streaks on corner exits like Bob Ross painting glorious greasy curves with a Dunlop paintbrush. Motorcycling punishes the unskilled in deadly ways. Get it wrong and the beatings shall commence. But as one of my friends is fond of saying, it’s worth the beating.
Oh yes, it is so worth the beating.
Dark days. Longer nights.
Then winter hits. Temperatures drop until the digits on the bank readerboard are so small they have no meaning anymore. Grey clouds hover constantly overhead like someone is giving the whole world a grey Dutch Oven. The lack of daylight plummets us into dour moods and the never ending darkness gives you way too much time to find out who you truly are, the ugly you hiding behind the mirrored Arai faceshield that runs from life with a spin of the throttle.
And it’s not pretty. You begin to dread the holidays. You can only watch so many sappy Lifetime Channel romance stories with your wife before your left eye begins to twitch. Stir crazy is not far behind. Your chocolate lab starts howling Third Eye Blind and asks you to “step back from the ledge, my friend.” You feel yourself flying over the cuckoo’s nest. The Shining feels like your life’s documentary. God help us all.
Switch modes, my friend. That is the cure.
Go from one flavor of crazy ass to another before winter’s evil tosses you an axe and turns you into Jack Nicholson. Exchange two points of contact for two different, yet similar points of contact. Trade two highly engineered wheels for two highly engineered sticks, bolt them to your feet and hurl your idiotic self down a frozen mountain.
People call it skiing, and it makes about as much sense as riding a motorcycle. Who thought that putting a couple of two-by-fours on your feet and sliding down an icy slope was a good idea? Aren’t there trees, rocks and cliffs everywhere? Don’t those things maim and kill people? Unlike deer, the rocks, trees and cliffs don’t even have the possibility of jumping out of the way. Skiers must be lunatics.
The author on winter ski patrol. Another type of contact patch and lean angle. Photo by Paul T. Erickson.
Or brilliant. Like motorcycling, skiing’s magnificence is that, when pushed to the limit, it’s crazy fast and absurdly difficult. Anyone can slide down a slippery slope. People do it all the time shoveling a steep driveway. We used to do it on our lunch trays in elementary school. But to really ski, to master the laws of gravity and traction that govern the sport, is stupid hard.
In skiing as with motorcycling, miles per hour equals radius, lean angle equals risk and more speed means more brakes. Not sure? Test these limits to their bitter conclusion and a ski patroller like me will soon be plucking your broken body off a frozen mountain. Your foolhardiness is my job security.
A ski patroller’s work. Sometimes we beat the mountain, sometimes the mountain beats us. Photo by Paul T. Erickson.
Keeping these laws in check while toying with gravity’s pull is maddeningly difficult. Just a tiny bit more boot pressure here, less there, more lean angle here or less there means the difference between a perfect turn or quickly meeting ground with nothing between your skin and the mountain but a very expensive layer of Gore-Tex.
The reward is snow flying everywhere as you punch a hole through the powder with aggression and speed, gliding silently through the trees like you are obliterating nature’s creation is a rare feeling. No one can adequately describe what it’s like to ski deep powder, just like no one can fully describe what it’s like to pilot a sport bike through cambered curves, but we know it when we are experiencing it.
Filling a pack with explosives, hiking up a mountain with them in your backpack, sticking the charge between your legs and pulling the ignitor cap. Crazy? Sounds like fun.
Like motorcycling, skiing of course has painful and deadly lessons to teach the unaware. But getting it all right means flying downhill, one with nature, digging wide, sexy arcs in the snow like a sport bike at full lean. All is right with the world. Winter demons are exorcised. You can put away the axe now. Getting it wrong brings a cold beating. Trees don’t jump out of the way.
But just like motorcycling, it is worth the beating. So worth the beating.
Doing both at the same time makes perfect sense to me. Not crazy at all. Some have suggested that I must have a wiring harness disconnected somewhere in my pre frontal cortex, that I am that crazy friend.
Do both. At the same time. Really just the same thing. No experience necessary. Right.
I disagree. Both motorcycling and skiing are about managing two finicky points of contact with bravery and skill. The rush of wind and speed is the same with both. Lean angle with either always equals risk, speed will always equal radius and more speed will always equal more brakes. The sublime joy of two points of contact means you have to lean, you have to carve, you have to trust your traction, and yes, you have to be just a little bit crazy.
Who cares? Strap skis on your sport bike and take to the hills and marry two equally stupid and similar things that no one ever thought about joining and combine them into one thing of idiotic, ironic beauty.
Makes perfect sense to me. Or it did at the time.
Skis mounted to a sport bike is absolutely a traffic stopper. Guaranteed it gets crazy looks at the café. Bystanders absolutely stop and stare. Kids point fingers and ask questions their parents can’t answer. By luck one day I happened upon a conversation in a parking lot where someone said, “Did you see that guy at the café with the skis strapped to his motorcycle? He must be schizo.”
Strange. It makes perfect sense to me.