Motorcycling17 Mar 2008 11:15 pm

(Archived – original posting 8/8/06)

“The Human Unicycle is my friend ”

In due time, the Subject header will make sense.  Until then….

August 7th and 8th I spent with doing one of their intermediate two-day schools, along with Aldo.  Boy did Irene make me pay for that one, but thats another story to be told……..ummm…never.  I feel like my riding has reached a plateau of sorts and so decided it was time for some more specific instruction.  This school took place at Thunderhill.  Timing and schedules between Aldo and I just didn’t work in the days leading up to the school so that Monday morning I ended up driving out to Dublin to pick Aldo and his bike up.  Problem.  Aldo lives in Danville.  ($(@#*$)(@(#@(  My error.  So I start the day with a big ol’ pre-dawn bay area loop, dragging a big white parachute (trailer) with my truck that thinks gas is still $0.98/gal.  Argh!!!

Loading Aldo up is uneventful, we grab some Threebucks (Starbucks overpriced coffee product, Aldo paid.  Thanks dude!) and hit the road.  We arrived with mostly-prepped bikes and just minutes before time for the class to gather in the classroom.  CRa1g is present so I’m happy that we’ll get to hang at least a little.  The class starts up and i’m happy that there are booklets with a specific agenda for each day and class topics.  Prior to this day I’d been worried that the weather this time of year at THill would send me straight to intensive care…or the morgue.  But just as strange as it was for Sears Point to be well over 100 degrees on our MotoGP track day, THill was strangely beautiful but “pretty warm” at worst.  I was SOOOOO happy.

The next two days held topics such as track breakdown (as in reviewing the track in sections, not as in how your bike can break down on the track and screw everyone else up), suspension setup and troubleshooting, body positioning, advanced braking, advanced passing, overcoming plateaus and more.  PLUS practice race starts and a real 3-lap race.  Ohhhhh boy.  There was an A group and a B group.  For each, 45 minutes would be alloted to classroom and 45 min to the track in rotation.  Reality – 30-35 min of each as you had to get into/out of gearing, onto/off of the track, and into/out of the classroom.  Aldo and I did group A on day one and I experienced again what I like about the A group – stability.  People there may be faster (maybe a LOT) but they are more skilled and stable.  No worries all day.

No time to go into the details of each topic and session, plus any minute now my machine will prob. blue screen and dump everything.  In fact lemme do a “save”….OK done.  But day one ended with everyone piling in various trucks for a trackwalk.  We went to turns 1, 5 and 9 and watched the Keigwin instructors come thru at speed after discussing specifics about the corner.  I’d done a trackwalk at Willow Springs once before and it was incredibly helpful to really seel things like elevation changes, camber, etc.  Things you don’t notice on a bike (or in a car I’d imagine) at speed.  But this was even better, having people demo for you.  One instructor kept coming into turn 1 seemingly 10-15 mph too fast, rear end chirping and jumping sideways like mad.  Everytime I swore the crash truck was going to get more business…..but it didn’t.  Turns out he was showboating – I overheard him the next day laughing with another instructor (who apparently wasn’t there on day one) that he was using the rear brake to intentionally get the rear squirrley.  Shame shame, scaring all of us like that.  ;-)  After the trackwalk, there was free pizza, beer/water/soda and a viewing of “The Doctor, the Tornado and the Kentucky Kid”.  I really want(ed) to see this but instead preferred to enjoy hanging with a table full of cool folks just chatting and such.

Aldo and I checked into the AmeriHost motel, paid $10 to watch M.I. III, drooled over his Powerbook and then fell asleep.  Next day we didn’t wake in time for more than gas and more threebucks and get to the track in time for school.  I’d paid Dave Moss to change the fluid in the 996’s forks after his lecturing on how rear shocks should be serviced every 2 years and fork oil changed once a year or every 3000 mi (my 996 has 9k+ miles).  Picked up the bike from him and immediately felt a positive difference.  In fact the rear then became a problem.  Dave helped me do the best I could with it for my level and the limited time available to us.  Overall the bike came thru once again with flying colors, being a joy to ride.  Aldo seemed to be getting on quite well with his 636, Dave having helped him out too.  In fact Dave’s advice and labor was free and unlimited the entire day 1 – Lance had compensated him for the day.  Day 2 students had to pay if they still wanted suspension work.

Strangely day 2 I seemed slower than day 1, lap timer usually doesn’t lie.  Though Aldo and I got more than a few completely missed laps.  Anyhow day 2 progressed well and as the race starts/race approached I got big butterflies reminiscent of Willow Springs.  Aldo didn’t initially want to do it, which would have been fine as this was completely optional.  But I wanted him to try it. Other instructors and even Dave Moss were telling students that if afraid then just grid up on the back and let everyone else bomb into turn 1 first.  Sounded like good advice.  Another friend, Mike on an Infostrada replica 748 was also leery of participating, but eventually decided to do it, so did Aldo.

Since grid positions were chosen by you yourself, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be up front, or start mid-pack.  But before that we got to watch the A group do their thing.  A group?  Yep, I’d chickened out and switched to the B group for day 2.  So as group A goes out and starts their warm-up lap, Aldo and Mike and and bunch of others and I who’d gathered at the fence to watch climbed over or walked around the fence and went right out to the front straight K wall under the starter tower to watch up close.  Quite impressive to be that close as 40+ bike (students with instructors sprinkled within for “monitoring thing”) blasted off the grid for both practice starts.  We’d been firmly instructed to treat this as a race only until turn 2, then raise a hand and slow down for a shortcut exit from turn 5 back to the front straight.  The 3 lap race would be the entire track though.  Everyone in A group behaved well.  Cool to watch some instructors power-wheelie’g down the front straight on the starts at arm’s distance.

A group starts their 3 lap race and a student CBR1000RR literally ROCKETS into a big lead.  A fairly hefty Samoan or Polynesian guy had a baby-blue custom painted Jordan replica GSXR1000 and matching Jumpman 23 black/blue leathers – quite the getup, but honestly I kept wondering “Squid?”.  Well before long he was in 3rd and impressive.  In the course of the 3 laps a 2nd student CBR1000RR chased down the leader and parked on his tail and then passed toward the end of the race and won by a small margin.  It was quite fun to watch.  Michael Jordan dude?  He ran off the track top of turn 5 for a mild fall but his race was over.

As the checkered flag flew, I suddenly realized we (B) were next and so took off back toward my bike.  I swore I was gonna pee my leathers I was so nervous.  How do you balance “I want to get with the program” with “this really means nothing and so don’t push any limits”?  I guess due to the proximity of our viewing spot to our pit spot and our pit spot to the track entrance, and needing only to grab helmet/earplugs/gloves, I found myself one of the 1st 2-3 bikes out into pit lane.  Ohhh boy, decision’s been made and the decision is I don’t want to be on row 1.  But I am.  However this is just the warm-up lap.  So when they release us I let a couple other bikes go first.

Man-o-man there is something to be said for the adrenaline associated with lining up on the grid on the front straight.  As we come around to line up for the 1st practice start my stomach is all over the place.  Are the tires in good shape?  I should have gassed up.  Uhh, what rpm did they recommend launching a twin at?  Am I going to fry my dry clutch doing this?  And myriad other thoughts/doubts/distractions.  1st practice start goes well, I gridded myself on row 2, a little front wheel air and into turn 1 3rd or 4th.  Come around for practice start 2 and same thing with a little better launch.  Then we line up for the race.  Oh boy, whats gonna happen?  Whats gonna happen is……Aldo is gonna line up on row 2 also, next to me.  YEAH DUDE, WAY TO GO!!!!!!  This should be fun.

At this point let me regress a little bit.  Prior to all this, in the “intro to racing” class session, they showed the following video clip to emphasize that even small bikes make power.  Watch clip now. 

Can’t get enough of watching that one.  Also can’t manage to save it to my HD, but…..  Anyhow that was a Ninja 250, just for the record.  Now, back to real-time.  The starter shows us the 2-board (a 3″x8″ or so piece of white board with a “2” on it), engines all around me start revving, people are starting to hunch over the tank and settle their feet and make sure of things like helmet visor is closed, etc.  Starter rotates the board to show us a “1” and then engine noises increase.  At this point time seems to go slo-mo.  Starter turns the 1-board sideways (once that happens the green flag will be waved at any second), engine rev noises steady out to a solid roar.  I’m holding the clutch just on the edge of gripping, revs ~5.5k rpms.  GREEN FLAG!!!!   What tha…..?!?!?!?!……  Out of my left peripheral vision I see a front wheel and forks eye-level with me.  Gasp, that was Aldo, henceforth known as the Human Unicycle.  If a 10k rpm launch on a 600cc bike isnt gonna getcha, feathering out a little too much clutch IS gonna getcha.  Thankfully he had presence of mind to clutch-in so the front could come down and then proceed, unlike the video.  My compliments to the pilot on this one, great save Aldo.  And lots of other spectators and racers told him the same thing later.  I have to admit, I was laughing in my helmet.  Only because the turn 2 corner worker didn’t throw a yellow (or worse red) so I concluded Aldo wasn’t in danger.  Hence I had to laugh at the irony of it all.  First Aldo doesn’t want to even try this, but he goes ahead anyway, gets two clean practice starts, and then this.
Meanwhile I hit turn 1 in 2nd place with an orange 636 just ahead.  Wow, 2nd place.  I like this.  And the red mist decends.  I decided to maintain position and see what the 636 has.  For the first lap he didn’t do anything I wasn’t comfortable emulating and I thought “unless he has some reserve, maybe I can put a little sumthin on him”.  Instead somebody put a little sumthin on me on lap two.  I recognize the leathers of the guy that passes me – heyyyyyy thats the same guy that won the A group race.  Whats he doing out here and why didn’t someone catch him?  He pulls a little gap on the 636 and me and that makes the decision for me.  Let’s get past the 636 and see what happens.  Turn 2 seemed like a possibility based on the previous times through there but better to try to use hp on the straight.  I strive for a better exit out of turn 15 and it works as I’m closing on his tail right away.  I fade right for a pass and the starter tower’s red light is on and red flag is waving.  Takes a second to register that this means something bad has happened and you are to SAFELY stop right away so the matter can be dealt with.  The leader, 636 and I pull over and an instructor joins us.  He says we were riding well.  Eventually starter tower waves us to backtrack up te front straight and exit the track.
The incident took place on the backside of turn 9, one of the worst places something could happen.  Apparently a cbr1000rr rider was cresting the turn and highsided himself down the backside.  His bike was in the middle of the track and he was off to the left of it.  Some say the cornerworker there was slow waving the red flag.  Whether true or not, rider after rider came over the hill only to plow into the carnage. 5-6 bikes and riders down, incl one instructor who was the first to plow into the fallen bike dead-center.  If the carnage didn’t get some, the spilled fork oil and synthetic engine oil got them.  Thankfully there was no serious injury.  Ambulance did roll for one person but they turned out battered a bit but released.  Broken bikes but no broken people.  And therein lies the joy of riding on a track.  All this might sound terrible (and it is), but all things are relative.  Imagine had this happened up on Grizzley Peak or Hwy 9 or Mines Rd or on the freeway or…..  At the track, everyone is of a similar mind when it comes to “why am I in this location at this time?”.  Everyone is properly geared and doing their thing in the proper environment.  There are to cell-phone weilding SUVs acting erraticly, no road rage, no people drifiting their car/truck/van/rv over the double-yellow into your lane, no one turning left in front of you because “I didn’t think he was that close”, etc.  Wheelies on the freeway (stunting), racing cars or other bikes on the freeway or streets, or trying to be Ricky Racer on some mountainous backroads plus riding in jeans and tennis shoes WILL turn out much much worse.  Sadly, thats what lots of motorcycle riders choose.  Showboat around in less-than-ideal gear and utilise the machine’s capacities in the wrong environment.
Anyhow, off the soapbox.  The track was cleaned up and the day continued.  At the end of the day we filled out reviews of the event and had a raffle for stuff, some cool (like free track days) and some “ehhh” (like tshirts).  I skipped the last track session cause I knew a long drive was ahead and I wanted to be home asap.  But even with packing everything away early, I still didn’t get home till after 9pm.  Worn out, but happy and with good suggestions and such to ponder and work on in the future.  Thanks to Aldo for chipping in on the eats, covering the room entirely, and being really cool about everything.