Monday, August 24, 2020

Recapturing my youth? Mission failed!


Almost identical except I added frame sliders for track days, right!


It was the very year I married Margo that, together, we went for our motorcycle licenses. Somehow, with one weekend of training and a few dropped bikes, we managed to become licensed motorcyclists with that magic M endorsement affixed permanently to our regular Colorado driver’s license. At first, we didn’t pursue riding but in 2001, off to the show we went and bought a pair of bikes. In no time at all, we moved up the ranks to where we both were driving Yamaha V-Twin Cruisers – mine a 1600cc Roadstar and Margo’s, an 1100 V Star.

Pictures of these bikes have appeared in multiple posts through the years but as a reminder, you may want to check out the photo atop the post of September 2, 2018, The bikes are gone … However, these were relatively sane acquisitions and we both enjoyed Saturday afternoon rides around the front ranges. What could be clearly classified as being insane was the addition of a Yamaha one-liter superbike, Yamaha’s halo product, the R1. Pictured above is the identical model, color and all, of the R1 I purchased. But this is just the beginning of the story.

Adding my final conclusion to the beginning of this story may not be usual, but to set the record straight. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to allow these bikes on our roads! Having gotten this off my chest, what follows is coverage of one summer’s experience. Picking up the bike on a Friday afternoon, with spring’s gentle rains falling, riding it home was among the most nerve-racking experiences of my life. For the first 1,000 miles, the change gear “strobe light” blinded me whenever I reached 4,000 rpms. Mind you, this was a motorcycle with a tachometer that ran up and through 13,000 rpms. Get the picture? Even at this docile limit I was getting the sense of what I was riding.



See? That bright white strobe light? It’s all you CAN see …

 It was mid fall when the 1,000 mile mark was reached and the shop upped the change gear strobe to 10,000 rpms. Coming home from a ride with Margo and being on a backroad with no traffic, I decided to take off changing gears only when the strobe flashed.  Changing out of third gear, as the strobe flashed, I briefly saw 130 mph flash by on the digital speedometer.

For some, this might have been exciting news as there were still three more gears to go but for me, it was the beginning of the end. And I was only just then entering the bikes “power band!” Yikes … At speed, I no longer had the physique to embrace the ergonomics or adopt the riding position necessary to control this Yamaha. Why was that strobe light important? The acceleration drove my eyeballs to the back of my skull so that I couldn’t see anything at all other than that flashing light.

Talk about tunnel vision! Talk about straight roads being very short! I could only stay on the bike for 45 minutes or so before every muscle in my body told me to call it a day. It was only after a young girl pulled up next to me at the traffic lights, riding a similar superbike, who lifted her visor and turned to me to say, “Nice bike, mister!” that I quietly went about selling the bike. I had ridden sports bikes many decades ago but they were sports bikes with 250cc and 350cc displacement engines that did little to prepare anyone for the superbikes of today. As one journalist noted this month, when testing the latest Ferrari, that “it felt like a superbike; it’s a straight-cancelling machine!”



Parked at mall with nothing to look at

 Much more sensible to drive a car, you would think. This summer we have been putting a lot of miles on our BMW M4 Competition. Set up right, while not quite the oomph delivered by the R1, it’s still a reminder that there are plenty of highly capable vehicles out there that really are pushing the boundaries of normalcy. This is such a well-rounded vehicle that it’s easy to forget that, strobe light notwithstanding, it ensures that you really do pay attention to what’s happening around you.

The beauty of this car is that left standing in a car park it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. Every now and then, a stranger will stop and ask, “is that the competition version?” Apparently, to the keen eye, the front openings are a little larger to better feed more aggressive turbocharges of which the M4 Competition has two very large turbos. We have driven this vehicle across America and while it truly doesn’t qualify as a grand tourer, it can serve this purpose when called upon to do so. Up until a few days ago we have been so looking forward to driving this to Seattle, but that proved not to be an option in these times

The M4 Competition comes with a 7-speed double clutch automated manual which I absolutely love. Previously, we had purchased a couple of Nissan GT-Rs – a 2009 and a 2013 – and at the time, these were the affordable benchmark against which all performance cars were measured. Truly a super car according to the original presenters at Top Gear. Looking back at that 2009 model with only 480 hp and how much like the R1 it felt, having only 444 hp in the Bimmer seems rather pedestrian until you realize it’s only a tic slower that that mighty 2009 GT-R. But again, driving out onto the highway and heading for the supermarket to pick up a fresh head of lettuce, this M4 Competition certainly makes for a fun “quick trip to the store!”



Margo behind the wheel taming the Tail of the Dragon

All of which is to say that Margo and I have had opportunities to experience some wonderful vehicles over the years, two wheels and four. But for this weekend, we are putting to one side any thoughts about what might come next as it’s time for the Indy 500. The greatest spectacle in racing! A pageantry for truly "super" cars! Through the years, I have attended the “Great Race” atop Mount Panorama and watched GM and Ford battle it out over 1,000 kilometres. Margo and I have also attended the Monaco Grand Prix on the streets of Monte Carlo. We have watched Indy cars around the streets of Long Beach and on the Sonoma circuit.

Could I drive like that? Could I stay focused that long and be able to concentrate in such a hostile environment? The lessons learned on the R1 motorcycle kept coming back to haunt me – OK, I was able to “hang on” to the R1 but could I ride it? Back in my youth, when I was a fearless rider, perhaps! The stories I could tell you of the number of times I crashed my Honda café racer have become legendary (to those who have sat through my story telling).  Unfortunately, when it came to that Yamaha R1 I failed miserably to resurrect any signs of my youthfulness and as I write this post, I have become a little gloomy as I know those days are long gone.

Behind me, on the top shelf in my office, are the helmets Margo and I had custom painted for our motorcycle adventures. I find it increasingly more difficult these days to look at them without shaking my head and wondering, what were we thinking? So, it is with total awe that I sit fixated on the television watching the boys of summer hurtle into corners carrying speeds close to 240 mph. For 200 laps the four turns on the Indy track will challenge their youthful exuberance where one microsecond of distraction can prove disastrous.



All revved up and nowhere to go … at least, for the moment!

Put it down to Indy Week, but for the past couple of weeks the stories coming from Indianapolis have helped build on previous years legendary tales. Who knew that it would be another Andretti on pole to start the race? Seated to the left of the famous Borg Warner trophy, the third-generation Marco Andretti was all smiles. To his right and only two seats away, sits Colton Herta. As previously noted, Marco Andretti drives for the Andretti / Herta team part owned by former two-time team owner Bryan Herta, while Colton drives for a different team albeit still associated with Andretti, the Andretti-Harding-Steinbrenner Autosport team.

In short, the above picture really did sow the seeds for what was to come in that any smiles that were visible would soon be replaced by lines bordering grim determination. These youthful faces, full of anticipation, would soon turn serious in ways few others will ever experience. When asked what his goal for the race was, Colton responded, “to win, of course and to become the youngest ever Indy 500 winner at 20.” He took a deep breath and then did the calculation – “I think I am still young enough to make two attempts as next year, if the race is held in May, I will still be younger that that previous youngest winner who was slightly more than 21 years of age when he won.”

There will be no failed missions this time around. Youth will dominate even if the likes of Sato and Dixon push the boundaries just a tad. You may argue that it’s only numbers but as you creep past 40 years of age, the edge you may have once had loses a little of its sharpness. I have lapped enough tracks over the course of a decade to know that I do really miss being 40 even as I barely remember anything at all of when I was 20.

We all know that it was Mark Twain who remarked, “Youth is wasted on the young,” but it’s not till you are well past any possible association with youthfulness that the message really sinks in. So much of your youth is wasted. But then again, when it comes to strategy, wiser heads prevail and in this case it’s the likes of Roger Penske, Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta that typically shine on occasions like this.



Hard to argue with the team of Marco-Pole-Oh! and Bryan Herta

I cannot wrap this post up without adding something about the just-completed running of the Indy 500. In some ways it didn’t so much end with a bang – and there were plenty of bangs this year – but with a whimper as the race ended under a full course yellow. All drivers involved in incidents appear to have been able to walk away with no serious injuries although the last incident involving Spencer Pigot was a huge endorsement of all the steps Indy has taken to improve safety through the years.

As for team Andretti it really wasn’t their day. With all the hopes for Marco to do well it kind of ended with the first lap when he was passed by Kiwi, Scott Dixon who then battled with Japan’s Takuma Sato for the rest of the afternoon as they did indeed pushed the boundaries. As for Colton he turned in the second best drive for Andretti finishing eighth just one place behind fellow Andretti driver, James Hinchcliffe. This being Colton’s second Indy 500, it was a tremendous improvement for him as he finished last year in last place following a very early retirement. 

Youth may indeed be wasted on the young but then again, not all youngsters rise to the top as these Indy drivers have done – proof certain that it is very much a young person’s sport. Off the track it’s so important for them to perform as well as tapping sponsors’ support has become a lot harder to do. Knowing the value of winning and knowing the relative short-lived time in the spotlight is a reminder that time isn’t your friend. It was left to soccer player George Best to tell it frankly when he stated, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” 

It was a hectic start for Colton and #88

For Margo and me, it would be easy for us to admit that throughout our time together we have treated our cars just as we would have treated our children. In reality, this isn’t a fair or true observation but on occasion it kind of rings true. We have cars coming off lease in 2022 and already I want to take Margo on a tour of showrooms but for now, no matter what I spin on the day, there have been no visits to any dealerships. Even when I argue that the lead time for some cars is as much as eighteen months, there’s not a shred of excitement in any response she provides. Truth be told, we are toying with the idea of enjoying just a tad more comfort and ease of ingress and egress even at the expense of performance. Who would have thought?

One other sign that times are changing is that after decades of having more cars than garages, we are looking to downsize to just three vehicles. But for more on that you will have to wait for the post of winter 2021 where I take a look at the cars that would make sense for Margo and me to consider. For now, enough said. However, it does have me scratching my head and wondering what really will come next. One thing for certain is that any thought of throwing a leg over a superbike is definitely off the table.

And you don’t have to direct a strobe light my way for me to confess; it’s not that I am out of shape, mind you, but then again, yes it is! You don’t have to remind me either that turning more laps on circuits and looking for podium finishes isn’t going to happen as best as I can tell; concentration these days isn’t what it should be. On the other hand, in shape or not, for me the best person I know to earn a podium has to be Margo.









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