I’ve been on a few group rides at this point, but those have always been with older men, all on cruisers or trikes, while I was on the only bike that could be confused with being sporty. But on this day I finally got a decent group of riders, a mix of abilities and time in the saddle, and it was quite entertaining. There were three guys who have put in time at the local lot with their stunt bikes, and it showed with the way they ride. These are the kinds of guys who will pop it up on the back wheel at any moment and carry a wheelie as far as the road will allow, but seeing as how this Kentucky the roads we ride don’t allow for miles long stints kissing the sky. In fact, the straights we see might allow for one mile at best, and those are few and far between.
This didn’t stop those guys from playing, and I found myself looking in my mirrors more than I faced fully forward so I could watch the fun. Leading the group has some very distinct disadvantages, but once we got to turns I had no worries about someone preventing me from the greatest joy I find on two wheels.
The ride ended up only being about 80 miles, but 60 of those miles were spent watching the fun behind, while only a small amount, maybe 10 miles total, were focused fully on the road ahead and the flow of the turns. We rode out with my camera mounted on my helmet, but after stopping to eat I had a revelation: why not mount the camera on the back of the bike so I could at least watch the shenanigans when I got home. And there were extensive amounts of shenanigans to behold. It was as if once the stunt guys knew they were on camera they cranked it up a notch and spent even more time playing for the camera than they had previously. There were wheelies (of course), but along with that came drag races between the liter bikes, jumps, drifting, and one person in particular spent time hamming it up for the video.
Then there was kill switch roulette. Ah, the fun those guys had behind me. Apparently being in the lead makes you immune to such activities while on the road, though there were a few opportunities for me to have been drawn into the game (nearly all at lights), but no one seemed willing to include me.
And came the stretch of road I had been looking forward to all day. It’s a little 5 mile crossover road full of sweepers and a couple technical turns, and that is what I waited for to have my fun. We took off from the pack, only two of us after one rather nice wheelie that stretched over half a mile, then we never looked back.
The little vtwin of the SV chugged along happily, finally able to breathe, to stretch her legs. The melding of man and machine complete as in each turn we pulled away from the GSXR 1000 giving chase. It was playtime, and we were wholly in our element. Straight stretches aren’t fun, any idiot can pin the throttle and go fast, but the 650 shined, just like always, when we were leaned over into turns, boot scuffing the road, RPMs steadily climbing as we accelerated through each apex, the Pirelli Angel ST tires doing their job perfectly. At each brief straight I let out if the throttle giving the bigger bike a chance to catch up, providing the slim hope it may keep up this time (he had just replaced his rear tire for a phenomenal Dunlop Qualifier), then in each subsequent set if turns those hopes were dashed like a ship against rocks as the smaller bike did its thing and walked away.
Then near disaster struck.
As I started into a turn I checked my mirror, saw the gixxer had gained more ground than normal on the straight, and dropped a gear. As the SV began pulling away the rear end wobbled, then stepped to the right, followed by another step, and another. Precariously we balanced on the white line, just barely to the apex, and once more the rear tire stepped to the right. In a moment of luck the tire caught the edge of a driveway climbing the hill, giving just enough push to pull back into the lane, throttle hand still twitching as I tried to keep the bike off the shoulder.
The entire time I cussed at the bike, yelling and fighting to stay upright. My initial thought was the wheel had come loose, maybe the chain broke, the swing arm, then the realization came that it was a blown tire. Confident I wasn’t going to see my wheel go rolling off into the trees I rolled on the throttle again, more evenly this time, and the rear end drifted, but under control now, and finally we exited the turn. I turned, flying my rear wheel the bird, then looked back at my only playmate whose eyes were literally the size of baseballs. He motioned frantically for me to pull over, something I already knew was necessary, and found a drive in which to park so we could inspect the damage.
In the video he can be seen stopped in the lane as flagged down the group who was creeping up on us, then he pulled in as I climbed off. In his words, “The video doesn’t do it it justice. It was violent.”
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. The SV limped back almost 3 miles to the nearest service station on a flat where we patched the pinky-sized hole. Then after that it was almost business as usual.
I say almost because the SV didn’t behave normally. The tire was damaged, not beyond use as was feared, but damage enough to take any semblance of aggressive riding out of the equation. Leaning to the right wasn’t bad, but going left was sketchy to say the least. The rear end wasn’t planted, leaving the SV to almost feel like it was drifting. My initial thought had been to simply lean farther than the plug, but that idea was quickly shot down by the bike as such action was almost as hair-raising as trying to ride on a flat. The remainder of the day was spent basically riding like everyone else, letting them stay with me through turns, which was terrible as there many turns left in which to play. The only consolation was a comment made later when I talked about wanting a “real” (600cc or bigger inline sport) bike. At which point one of the guys said “it was sketchy trying to keep up with me on the SV,” little does he know he had missed his chance to really try to keep up and I was having to ride as conservatively as I could stand.
I still haven’t told him how easy I was having to ride through those turns. I likely never will.
And on that note I should clarify: I don’t think of myself as a great rider, far from it, actually. I know my bike has more left to give. I know my shortcomings, where the bike exceeds my willingness to push, but aside from two people I ride with there simply isn’t anyone willing to push it through turns. I wish there were more who would push it, but I understand their riding style. It’s their ride. They have nothing to prove to anyone, nothing to gain from pushing the envelope. Me on the other hand, I have nothing to lose from pushing myself, trying to reach the limits of the SV on every turn should the urge arise. And the urge arises often.
I must say a more conservative riding style has been on my mind more often lately. It’s not because of my safety, but for those who ride with me. So many people see the SV, hear me call it “slow”, and automatically assume it can’t hang with the big boys. They would be correct were all riders equal, but since we aren’t I have found that despite others being on more capable bikes they get themselves into situations they should never be in. Though I know it’s not my fault, it’s not my responsibility to worry about them, it is their ride, they’re in control of what they do, but I can’t help but worry after them. They are my friends, after all.
The spirited riding will simply need to be saved for solo rides or those few times I get to play with those who are like-minded.
The ride from the next weekend resulted in one situation in particular that never should have happened, though it did anyway… but that is a tale for another time.