Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It's Not About The Bike

In the not so distant past I was an avid long-distance bicyclist. Not ultra-long distance, but training rides of 90 miles on a given Saturday weren't outside the norm. At my peak Lance Armstrong was still a force to be reckoned with and was busy convincing people that beating cancer is as much about attitude as it is about drugs (and winning the Tour de France seven times wasn't about the bike, but, as it transpired, about attitude and drugs). Once I graduated to motorcycles I discovered many of the things that I learned bicycling were the applicable to both sports. Motorcycling, like cycling, is a community. We may come from different tribes, but we share a common passion and a common enemy. Cars were still out to kill me and I was still invisible to the idiots behind the steering wheel. 

In bicycling the weight of the bike is inversely proportional to its cost. The less it weighs, the more expensive it is. Exotic materials, exhaustively detailed design and careful manufacturing all play a role in driving up the price. In fact, the cost of high-end bicycles is often as much as motorcycles in their equivalent market segment. Several years ago, my cycling buddy Matt proudly bought a new Specialized that weighed a full 30 ounces less than my beater Fuji. On our next ride I reached down and handed him my water bottle. "Ok, now we're even!" I said. If there was one thing I learned bicycling it was that going fast is about how fit you are, how much fat you replace with muscle, how many hills you climb and how low your resting heart rate is. It was not about the bike, it was about experience and training.

Jim, a mate who motorcycled across Europe and Asia in June this year, told me that out of the group of 20 guys he rode with, he had the slowest, oldest machine among them. Nonetheless Jim was the quickest rider. It is not about the bike, it is about experience and training. To hammer this point further, Sledge and I ride very similar motorcycles from two storied manufacturers. Sledge's bike, Verity, is a BMW f800GS Adventure and mine is Lily, a Triumph Tiger 800XC. Is one motorcycle significantly better than the other? They both weigh about the same, Lily has three cylinders and 10 more horsepower than Verity, but as Sledge pointed out, he's never seen me use the extra power, so who knows if it's actually there? Verity we discovered, is about 10% more fuel efficient, probably due to the lack of a third cylinder. Plus she has a 6.3 gallon tank, while Lily has only five, so I was having to stop for gas more frequently. Yet, apart from the moral advantage of mine being British while his is German, both are reliable, well built, well designed vehicles.

All that meant was I had no excuse other than my relative lack of experience for not keeping up with Sledge, and I was determined that was not going to be a factor. My pulse quickened, and sometimes raced as I pushed myself to test Lily's limits. Lily, however, was so composed, that after our first few days I realized that even though I was riding faster and more confidently, I still wasn't coming anywhere near what she was capable of. Our affair began in earnest. 

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