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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Motorcycle riders actually fall into two very distinct categories

I am going to make an observation which, quite normally for observations I make, will cause an enormous outpouring of outrage, ad hominem attacks upon my ancestry, and a somewhat general discomfort.

 

And this will happen because what I am going to tell you is largely true, and you kinda know it, and it kinda burns a bit, so you’re gonna feel that butt-hurt maybe a bit deeper than my usual alien-like probing.

 

After decades of observation, and quality time spent on both sides of this particular fence, I have come to the conclusion there are only two types of riders – those for whom corners are the ultimate motorcycling truth, and those for whom corners are just things that need to be endured in order to arrive at the destination.

 

One side has embraced the entire gamut of the motorcycle paradigm, ie. Breath-taking acceleration and that sublime dance of cornering physics, and the other side has just checked the acceleration box. As if that’s enough.

 

The unassailable veracity of this statement is backed up by the motorcycle manufacturers themselves. They build bikes that are specifically designed to maximise corner enjoyment, and they also build bikes for whom corners are an exercise in grinding terror for the rider.

 

The manufacturers are thus fully aware of the great divide within the motorcycle-riding mass, and build bikes to address this split.

 

I can tell some of you are not entirely convinced. But I would ask that you look at what is the largest-selling road bike in Australia (leaving aside the Australia Post-driven success of the Honda NBC 110). You’ll find it’s the Harley-Davidson Breakout. And while the Breakout is a lot of things to a lot of people, not one of those people bought that bike because it corners magnificently.

 

It thus stands to reason, not a single person on this great green earth has ever acquired a Harley-Davidson (or any other cruiser-type bike) because they can slay twisties. They bought a Harley for other reasons – for different motorcycle truths, as it were.

 

And their motorcycle truths do not include hammering into a corner at speed, then braking and downshifting, setting up both body and bike for the coming attraction, and subsequently engaging, wholeheartedly, in the unique motorcycling ecstasy that is hard-cornering.

 

You wanna do that, then there are a whole lot of other bikes designed specifically for that special thrill. But since those bikes don’t sell as well as bikes that aren’t designed to carve corners, it’s fair to say the majority of riders do not wish to experience such a thing.

 

The obvious extension of this is that they simply do not wish to fill their very core with such a thrill. It’s a bridge too far for them.

 

You see, in order to carve corners with aplomb and elan, one must be possessed of some riding skill. One cannot be a lazy rider, or an indifferent rider, or a rider who simply likes to dress up in various outfits that enable his or her cosplay pretensions.

 

To see the truth of this, one only has to come upon a group of HOGolians on one of their staid perambulations. No-one in that group is even remotely interested in stringing together a series of dry-mouthed bends at speed. They are having a parade instead.

 

And that’s a matter for them. Their motorcycling truth is different. And before you accuse me of putting the boot into HOG again, let me self-accuse and spare you your worthless mewling. I point and laugh at HOG because they are hugely ridiculous by any definition of motorcycling that has any meaning. They are, and will always be, nothing but the creation of a brilliant marketing department.

 

“Bit what about the booming adventure bike market, dickhead!?” comes a cry from the ‘I bought a bike that’s what too big and heavy for any serious dirt action, but I sure do look the part, huh?’ section.

 

What about them, champion? All the so-called adventure bikes are all kinds of brilliant and savage corner-carvers. They are road-bikes first, and if you’ve ever chased a well-ridden BMW GS through the twisties, you’ll know this to be true.

 

But let’s go back to what drives people to choose which side of the divide they wish to sit on. This has always intrigued me, because I have (and still do to a very large degree) spend time in both camps.

 

I love cruisers. Especially Harleys. I get them on a level people who’ve never been members of outlaw clubs will never get. This is because outlaws ride Harleys very differently to how non-outlaws ride them. I wish you could see this for yourself, but the chances of you ever going on such a ride are slim to none – especially these days.

 

But even those outlaws acknowledge Harleys were not designed for, and are not very good at, carving corners. They can, with the aid of money, determination, and nous, be made to handle far better than they do in stock trim, but they’re never gonna be a Ducati Panigale or a BMW S1000RR, are they?

 

I also have a big, hard fat for bikes specifically designed to make corners your special bitch. How could I not? Cornering at speed is one of the main appeals of motorcycling. And yes, I was terribly conflicted when all I was allowed to ride was a Harley-Davidson. This conflict was what caused me to grind bits of it off whenever I engaged with corners, and it terrified and exalted me in equal measure.

 

But cornering hard and well means you have to upskill yourself. You have to learn how to do this. Riding courses, track-days, and very fast mates you try and chase, all contribute to your skill set, and it’s a skill set that needs constant and dedicated honing.

 

And while I shall never be a super-fast and super-skilled rider on a level that invites me to race ASBK, I will always endeavour to maintain a state of competence that permits me to enjoy corners as they are meant to be enjoyed.

 

And yes, I am at an age and in enough physical disrepair, to clearly know what my limitations are, and I ride accordingly – as we all need to do.

 

So I am thinking the people who only ride cruisers have a whole bunch of limitations as well. They have to. Why else would they limit themselves to such a small corner of motorcycling joy?

 

These limitations are physical as well as mental. For example, you can’t be a gigantic land-whale of a man (or woman), wedge yourself onto an R1, and think you’re going to have a good time. You’re not. You can’t.

 

It’s also possible, and indeed probable, that going fast on a bike terrifies you, and so you choose the parade option instead. You will never choose to upskill yourself because you tell yourself you never ride fast enough to ever need anything other than the somewhat meagre skills you possess and have acquired in your 30-plus years of trundling your Road Glide along the freeways.

 

You might even tell yourself – and you do, I know you do, because I have had very strained conversations with many grey-bearded fat bastards – that cruisers are more comfortable than other bikes, and that’s why you ride them.

 

Bitch, please. If your feet are facing forward when you’re riding, then your spine is your shock absorber. Sure, the seat may be soft – and it’s only soft because the suspension is pretty woeful – but you’re delusional to imagine your Ultra King Glide is more comfortable than a GS, or an MT, or a VStrom.

 

Even hard-edged sportsbikes are more comfy in relative terms because of their superb suspension and speed-designed ergos. The possible exceptions to this are the MV Augusta F4 and that Austrian spanking paddle KTM has now, sadly, stopped building, the RC8.  They were just cruel.

 

And then there’s the whole fact that while you may have ridden a billion cruiser kilometres, you’re still basically a lazy fat shit who can’t ride very well, and has chosen a bike on which one does not have to ride well, primarily because it’s not designed to go around corners very well, and will make no demands on you in that regard.

 

Ouch, huh?

 

Look, of course there are always exceptions to the rule. There are certainly Harley riders out there who can make those Milwaukee Freedom Eagles do all sorts of supernatural stuff. I am in awe of them, as anyone should be.

 

There is also a whole bunch of race-leather-wearing mugwumps slouching around various coffee stops looking like they just stepped off a race-grid, and own high-end sportsbikes whose tyre-edges will remain as untouched as the surface of Pluto.

 

But by and large, the great divide I speak of is right there in front of us all.

 

On one side are the folks who have embraced motorcycle-riding in its entirety, and on the other, are those who are eating only the chips and leaving the steak.

 

Of course, large segments of both sides still refuse to accept total responsibility for what happens to them on the roads, and will state idiocy about having to “lay it down”, complain their tyres were somehow “off” after they’ve boinked themselves into a tree, or try and blame the road/car-drivers/karma or whatever when they trowel it, rather than accept they are responsible for their actions and subsequent results. That’s just human nature.

 

The great divide, however…well, that’s always going to be there. And maybe that’s because it should always be there. For there must always be hewers of wood and drawers of water in a society, right? The strong will always do what they can, and the weak will always do what they must.

 

It’s natural selection at its very finest.

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Boris Mihailovic

Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.

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