23rd March 2008 (Easter Sunday) I thought my poor Spada was well and truly beyond these insults. In the year or so she's been mine, she's been dropped practicing full-lock U-turns; slid into the ground practicing an emergency stop in the wet, and simply fallen on me because I misjudged the slope of a parking space. I've found neutral instead of 2nd in the middle of a slow turn, revved the tits off the engine, and fallen over. It's been backed over by an SUV, because I failed to anticipate the driver's failings. I've had to straighen the clutch lever with a rubber mallet and a log. I replaced the mirrors (and the new ones are looking pretty scruffy). I've bent both the foot levers back into shape on numerous occasions. The handlebar ends have twinkling grazes through the paint I hid the last grazes with. Accounting for all the damage makes me fell kind of guilty, actually. And on one hand I'd hope the willingness to push it a little in 'practice' has made me a better rider - but each time I've lost control of the machine is a stark reminder: consistency and reliability take time to develop. I'm still new to this. Today I added a shattered brake lever and a more visibly grazed muffler to the bike's traumas. I got off with some torn jeans, and two circular patches of raw meat on my right knee - just weepy and painful enough to spell out how nasty it could have been at a higher speed. I was following a 4WD along McCarr's Creek Rd for the first time (inland of Newport, Sydney), at what I hoped was a reasonable distance. It's a 50 zoned stretch of undulating road with some beautiful tight corners, and though I stayed to the limit, I was steering very aggressively; I made a game of carrying most of those 50 clicks through each corner as I swerved around bumps and potholes; I'd enter each turn wide and snap the bike over as quickly as I dared, exiting tight. Pushing it a bit much for an unfamiliar road, you might say. A particularly tight right came along (with some tricky camber and a little loose gravel) and the bike just seemed to run out of lean angle. I'm not sure if the back stepped out or the exhaust pipe touched down first. There were loud scraping noises for a few seconds as hard parts of the bike (and my right knee and forearm) did the work the tyres usually do, and then the bike was on its side a few metres away from me. I was on my feet pretty quickly and spent a few moments just being confused, before walking over to hit the kill switch. The couple in the car behind pulled over and made sure I was ok, and were friendly and helpful. I wheeled it out of the corner and surveyed the damage. I need the machine to get to work, so I decided to drive it back home without a working front brake. It was a public holiday after all, and I couldn't see too many other options. The whole trip back was a study in heightened paranoia: doing whatever I could to get clear space ahead; and popping in between bus lanes and parked cars to try to let others by at a reasonable speed; and all the while trying to navigate by the best possible route for such limping progress. Double demerits probably helped keep everyone civil, but there was precious little of that relaxed, carefree quality of the morning ride out of the city. On the balance, this was both another "practice failure" in that it happened while I was intentionally "pushing things a bit" to hone my skills - but it was also out on public roads, with cars around and - let's be entirely honest - going fast enough to die if I was particularly unlucky. Say I'd come off on a left-hander, and slid into the path of an oncoming 4WD ... It's also worth mentioning that just a few corners before I came off, I noticed a green subaru come up a little too close behind; I pulled back a bit and rode much less aggressively until I'd communicated that "Hey, it'd be ace if you could give me some room here, thanks". This was the nice couple who pulled over and made sure I was ok ... but if I'd failed to account for their following distance when I did, they'd probably have spent that time looking under their Subaru with a flashlight and throwing up. So, some lessons to be learnt: 1. Being followed Always "deal with" tailgating as a matter of priority, as soon as a situation develops - even if this just means slowing down and being on gaurd. What I perhaps should have done, given what I was up to, is pull over and wait for all traffic to pass, but I did enough to avoid being a hood ornament. 2. Pants. Road rash is potentially really fuccking nasty. If I'm going to be travelling at speed, or pursue a greater than usual risk of coming off, I should be wearing proper riding pants with some abrasion and impact resistance. It's a lot less convenient to wear most riding pants than jeans for a variety of reasons: they look dumb, it's a lot easier and more socially acceptable to take off a jacket than the pair of pants you're wearing, etc. But, given the distance, speed and type of riding I expected to encounter when I left the house I'm an idiot for not wearing my textile pants. Buy another garment or two? Maybe. Change habits? Definitely. 3. The nice man in the bike shop When the nice man in Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket warned me to take it easy on the new rear tyre, he knew what he was fuccking well talking about. When I thought "So, it's only a rear tyre. The bald piece of shit I've had on there has been stepping out for months in the wet," I was just being a proper moron. Also, it would seem that travelling for a few hundred km through gentle curves and straights doesn't scrub in the sides of a tyre well enough to go bananas. As an aside, I recommend Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket, especially for Honda owners. They do a decent job for a good price, and I've never had the suspicion they're spoon-feeding me bullshit. They also have most parts on hand, or can get them in quickly. 4. Motorcycling is a performance art I've invested a lot of time and effort in becoming as proficient a motorcyclist as possible in the last year. I've read a pile of books, taken two courses, and spent a lot of time practicing. I've racked up around 16,000 km, and the vast majority of that has been in the inner city. I've been somewhat obsessed, and I like to think it's all helped to make me pretty handy on a bike. I'm far more confident at tight, low-speed manouvers (aka the Carpark Gymkhana ) than most fully licensed riders; my emergency stops have been among the best in the group in both training sessions I've been to. I can stop at a stop sign, look around and take off without putting a foot down. I can change my own oil. In short, my ego is always ready to get me into trouble, and from what I can tell so far it's going to be a constant tension for the rest of my riding career. And just as with learning to play an instrument, you can learn quite quickly, if you push yourself, to do some impressive and complicated things. With some more practice, you might be able to perform within a certain comfort threshold pretty solidly and with reliable competence. But as motorcyclists, we're like performing musicians: we can't just get it right most of the time. It has to be good, and hopefully great, every time we perform. Like a performing musician, you can't be straining just to play the song. For a start it'll sound like shit, and as soon as anything happens to push you out of your comfort zone - say the light show has you playing in the dark, so you can't see what you're playing - it'll all come apart. We need to be like an old jazz bassist, swaying gently with his eyes closed as he grooves with the drummer. He's not thinking about the notes he's playing; he's practiced the piece until that's automatic. He's not worried about playing in time, because he knows he can tap out a counter-melody in 5/24 time over what he's doing - without breaking a sweat - if he wanted to show off. If something unexpected happens, the guy's got so much in reserve you just know it'll get dealt with. Today's fucckup, mild as the results were, was a handy reminder: as far as I've come, I'm still the kid in his bedroom who can play Stairway to Heaven four times out of five without it coming apart.