Friday 16 November 2007

You want me to do WHAT now?

For four years I traveled from a not-so-leafy suberb in south Dublin, to DCU. In order to make 9am classes I had to be out of the house by 7am to get the bus to Westmoreland St and then on to Glasnevin. In my final year, while my classmates were planning to buy their first car, I was planning to buy a motorbike. It wasn't through any great love of motorbikes, it was purely a practical decision - 4 years of sitting in traffic for 4 hours each day was about as much as I could tolerate.

So in March 2001, I shelled out a little over 4,000 units of whatever the currency at the time was and bought a Yamaha SR 125. I won't post a picture of one as I have no desire to lower the tone of this post - suffice to say it was like a push bike with the engine from a small petrol lawnmower.

In much the same was as it is no time to go to Heathrow (is there ever a good time) March is no time to learn how to ride a motorbike. Attempting to master the mechanics of driving a motorbike should be relatively easy if you can drive a car.... in theory. That's the problem with theory and practice though - in theory they are the same, in practice they are different.

Although the basic process is the same, you use different limbs to activate the controls - which can take some time getting used to. Accelerate by twisting the throttle with your right hand, activate the clutch to with your left hand and change gears with your left foot! Couple that with the wet and cold March weather we know and love so well and within 2 weeks your intrepid hero was starting to plan how the buy and sell ad would run.

Thankfully I stuck it out - summer came and I learned to love the freedom and the fresh air. I especially learned to love how it gave me my evenings back and an extra hour in the scratcher in the morning. I could leave work in the city centre at 5 and be home in the not so leafy suburbs of south Dublin by half past. Fed and watered by 6 and my evening was my own. Rain ceased to bother me - strip off the outer layer of waterproofs and you are good to go. I've changed bikes since then - buying a 2003 Suzuki Bandit and then a 2007 Honda VFR (both of which are infinitely more respectable that the old SR).

I wouldn't be so dumb as to suggest its not without its drawback. For a start it can be a struggle to get the week's shopping home and it is a rather inelegant way to arrive at the golf course. More important though is the inherent danger. Lady luck takes your life into her petite hands on a daily basis and you just have to hope she has a good grasp on it before you lift the side stand and move away.

Ultimately everybody crashes at some stage. Some get back on... Some don’t... Some can’t. I've had some minor spills in the past and hopefully that will be my lot. In the meantime, I do everything I can to make sure that, should I ever find myself in a position where i am no longer riding rubber-side-down, I can stand up and walk away. To that end I've done a number of training courses and have read all the material I can get my hands on about safe biking and advanced riding/observation skills. Which brought me onto the topic of countersteering some time ago.

Countersteering is a technique used to ensure smooth, efficient cornering. It is very simple to execute and works as follows - to turn to the left you push the left handle bar forwards (i.e. away from you). Stop and think about this for a moment - picture yourself riding a push bike. Handle bars in front of you. In order to turn left, you push the left side of the handle bar forward so the right side of the handle bar moves towards you.

It is 100% counter intuitive and goes against everything you think you know about the laws of physics (unless you are a physics student obviously). It is impossible to picture how this could ever work - more so when traveling at 60kmh in heavy traffic. Trying to will your body to ignore its natural instincts (particularly those of the self preservation variety) and command your left arm to perform an action that is completely unnatural to your brain is a bewildering sensation. You feel insane but eventually you win the battle of wills with yourself and find that it works - and strangely when you've witnessed it working, the science behind it seems to make sense.

In fact, they say some people do it instinctively, even when cycling... and I hate to admit it, given the little internal power struggle it caused, but I think I am one of those people. I just didn't know the finer points of the process or the correct term for it. Its strange howit boggles the mind when forced to stop and think about it on a step-by-step basis.

The fact remains though, only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of a car window.

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