Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Like The Man Said, You Gotta Dance With Who You Came With

Confidence is a funny thing, according to most football commentators (and who better to offer wry observations on the subtle pathways of the human psyche then they?).
When you know you've stepped up a level or two, and you're constantly being tested as a result, how do you balance the inevitable moments when you're not up to scratch with a belief that you can be? Mix into that equation doing this on a bike, which can kill you if your metaphorical maths isn't good, and that's pretty intense.
My confidence on bikes has been fine, generally, but as regular readers of this blog know that's not been true of my new 178bhp K1200S.
I simply didn't realise just how quick the bike was going to be. It is, after all, one of the fastest motorcycles on the planet.
I know, of course, that it's only as quick as you ride it but in those split-second moments when you decide to overtake or have a play, the world suddenly turns into a blur (literally), accompanied by a Biblical howl of fury from the Remus full system which might have been the inspiration for Tolkien's Balrog, your whole body is massively shunted backwards and as you struggle to physically hang on you realise that you're not half way up the revs and the throttle's nowhere near the stops. It's just started to think about doing a fraction of what it can do. It's that quick.
So it's scared me since I got it, or perhaps more accurately my respect for it is so major that it borders on fear. It's not that I don't like it, I love it, but the sheer scale of the power on tap and the sheer ability of the thing, despite its size, in corners is vastly beyond my capabilities. Consequently I've either let myself get into situations I can't deal with or, more often, just gone far too slowly for fear of that and not really had as much fun as I could.
But things are changing, and I find the reasons why quite instructive.
The first major change happened a little while ago, on a gloriously sunny day. I had a free few hours ahead of me so I decided to go for a ride. It's not something I do often as I ride to work and back every day and weekends are predominantly for the family, so I rarely get the chance to just go and explore, or ride out with friends or go to meets (yes, I know, you're welling up).
For no reason I can, or could, think of, I decided to go and have lunch in Watchet, on the north Somerset coast. It's about 130 miles from where I live.
From here it's a varied mix of fast A-roads, bundles of motorway, and then miles of increasingly narrow twisties down to the sea. Bit of everything.
I hit the M5 and before very long my hands were getting so numb with pins and needles I couldn't indicate or even feel the front brake (a problem I have, to a usually lesser degree, most rides). Then my back started to ache and ache. It was miserable, really.
When it was actually getting dangerous the Gods smiled and provided a service station and I pulled in gratefully. At which point two things occurred to me: first that this was the furthest I'd ridden the bike since I got it in one go and, second, that whilst I do lots and lots of miles every week they're pretty much the same miles, literally - one of two or three commuting routes to work and back, none of more than 13 miles.
Or put another way: I ride a lot, but I don't do much riding.
The rest of the journey down was better, lunch was dreadful (Watchet, if you're thinking of going, should be regarded as on the way to somewhere else), but the ride back was a total revelation.
The aches and pains didn't really return, as I got used to a long time in the riding position, I went faster than I've been before and ate mile upon mile cruising happily at a steady 100/110mph. It was joyous. By the time I hit West Oxfordshire, sweeping through bends with real determination and taking the bike over further and further, it was only a desperate need for a cold beer which stopped me heading off somewhere else.
In the days since this ride my confidence has rocketed. I'm vastly more comfortable with the turbine-like acceleration of the bike, with trusting myself to lean it into bends properly, with hard braking, with not fretting so much about every bit of the road surface and so on. I enjoy riding more. Vastly more.
Today was a good example - I had a meeting in a town about 35 miles north east of here, which turned out to be at the end of some of the best roads I've ever ridden, and I blatted the bike more than ever before. The journey back was better still. Thanks to MCN's fabulous Ride Logger (available from the iTunes app store at £4.99 if you have an iPhone - brilliant thing) I was able to check my data and it was pretty solid.
After work I then headed down to my local bike cafe to meet and old friend. I didn't meet him through biking, but he happens to be a bike journo for one of the glossies and he'd been on a job up this way today. We'll call him Tom.
It was great to catch up with him after a few months, and to hear his news (all good). He's one of life's good guys and I owe him a huge amount. But the thing that I also always get from Tom is a confidence boost, and today was no exception.
Tom wouldn't call himself fast and, compared to club racers and so on, he probably isn't, but he's quicker than most and hugely capable on a bike. But it's not this which gives him this strange aura of confidence which seems catching, nor is some stream of cheap fortune cookie biking wisdom - it's just that he loves riding, he loves bikes, he loves enjoying them, and he has a totally unflustered, unconcerned attitude to danger. Not stupidity, he's not a nutter, quite the opposite, but he makes an assessment of the threat and than mitigates it as much as possible before saying: "Right - done that, now it's time to crack on and enjoy this" and just ceases to worry about it any more. Having done the worrying and acted upon it he doesn't let it ruin the actual event. Or at least that's my take.
It's a calmness, I think, mixed with an undiluted love of riding.
So having soaked up a few of Tom's rays of sunshine confidence, my ride home was even better. If the bike skittered under acceleration, I just thought I'd deal with it. Retrospectively, I'm not sure what I'd have done, but the consequence was that I relaxed, didn't react badly and therefore the issue didn't arise.
So miles under the belt, new roads, and the company of those who inspire confidence, and things are feeling really pretty good.
I know just how quick this bike is now - something I hadn't appreciated until recently - but that's fine. It's one of the quickest bikes out there, so I'm learning to ride and enjoy one of the quickest bikes out there.
I haven't morphed into Jorge Lorenzo, but I'm a better rider than I was a month ago and a vastly happier one.

1 comment:

  1. You said it - confidence is a funny thing. Without it, you're nothing, and with it you can do anything you choose. Your post reminds me very much of a ride I took on my Ducati. I had owned the bike for several months, and loved its power and agility, but I was also ever so slightly intimidated by it. One day, I took off for a short run round the county, and when I got to my furthest point decided to carry on up to Aberystwyth. On the way there, with nothing to think about but the bike and what I was doing with it, I got faster and faster. On the way home, I caned the pants off it like I have never ridden a bike before. I was in 'the zone' - riding like a demon but totally safe and every move considered. By the time I got home, we had bonded big-time, and from that moment on the bike and I were one.

    Once you have had that experience, you know the bike won't let you down, and every ride is better because of it. Of course, the bike hasn't changed - it wasn't going to let you down in any case - but now you know it.

    Interesting read, thanks. And now I see you have commented over at mine ...