- Note To Self -
2009 Superduke season struggles revealed
It's been a long and bumpy road this year. At times I thought to quit. Recently I learned I wasn't alone back then. That's scary. My race career's been pronounced dead twice already, each time by people other than myself. But it's alright, I've lived most of my life with two strikes against me. And it only takes one pitch...
I used to be proud of scars. Sometimes still. But scars from crashing, the same way, over and over...? Not so much. I want to thank everyone who helped us figure our way out of the dark this year. Like I said, it's been a long road..
I'm an excitable guy. Pretty reserved most of the day, even when something's wrong, but don't let the classical music fool you. I do angry good too. Hell I swing a framing hammer for a living - you'd be angry too. Not because it's how you earn a living, but because hammers teach you to handle problems like cavemen did. Smash them.
I'm also an honest guy. Painfully even, or so I've been told. If I was being honest right now, which I am, I would tell you I am proud of my hammer. Proud of my honesty as well. But I am also scared. John Ulrich opened a door for me to write for him this year, about our team. At first I jumped at the chance. Ink ran from my pen like a twelve year old's nose on an ice cold sleigh ride. But as the yarn ran wild, slowly I began to realize where it was coming from - my sweater. And perhaps more importantly I realized what might be left of me once I set that story free - back to racing shopping carts at the local Safeway.
I've learned a lot about life from racing. Sometimes from people, other times from myself. I've even learned a few things from hay-bails. One lesson that's been on my mind recently I learned from Chris VanAndel, of MotionPro. "GoGo, you can't go through life swinging your framing hammer." Chris was talking about my struggles being a father, but I'm applying it here.
I was never taught to write. My mind is hardly a finely honed machine. But I do have a decent imagination. Often times when I write stories here, they are not actually about what they are about. Take my last one, "G-Spot". That was a fun racing story. But it wasn't just about racing. Hell it wasn't even just about learning to ring your girl's bell. It was about having all the right parts to something, but struggling to find a better way to arrange them.
For me, 2009's parts were Tri Valley Moto, KTM's 990 Superduke, Phil Douglas of Aftershocks, and my willingness to ride a bike fast anyway..
If you've read along this year you might remember me mentioning more than once, "It's not the bike that's our problem." That was honest, like a hammer, but it was actually more like holding one than swinging one. Trust me I know the difference. Truth is I never actually did tell all of our truth. Once this year I was even sat down in front of the AFM board by surprise one night. I was there to support Alex Florea, our Michelin Sponsor, but they had other ideas. I'll never forget it. They sat me down surrounded and proceeded to ask me questions you don't answer about a struggling race effort. And I didn't answer them, really. But if you asked me how I felt right then I would have answered you readily - Planet of the Apes.
Now don't go gettin your panties in a bunch, I'm not saying the AFM is run by apes. Hell every person behind that board is smarter than I am. It's just at that particular moment I felt like Charlton Heston is all. You remember that "man trial" scene? He wasn't getting out of there in one piece no matter what he said, and neither was I. They were worlds apart (literally), and so were the AFM and me that night. The only resolution to come from that meeting was one direct question from Jason Butler, followed by an equally direct answer from me. Something like "At what point do you feel a crash becomes more your fault than the bike's?" I said "It's all my fault." And that was it, we were suspended...
In my line of work life is very simple. You produce, you get paid. You sit on your ass, you better dig peanut butter and jelly cause that's what's for dinner. I held no grudges. They were spot on. We weren't producing. But the tricky thing was, I knew why we weren't. It was our parts. They were all mixed up. I was fighting the good fight to get them realigned, as were a lot of people. But nothing doing, we had squared-up to a wall no one knew how to tear down - or how to get over.
I have this theory about the relationship between suspension tuners, riders, and racers: Take one hundred riders. I think an experienced tuner can set up eighty percent of their bikes pretty dam well for them without ever listening to a word of their input or feedback. Just push on the bikes in the parking lot, spin in some spring, turn a few clickers - done. Basic math is the reason. At X mph or below, you're generating Y amount of force and below, which you have to manage with the right combination of Z - suspension/chassis/tires. The operative word here is "Below". In this case, as long as you stay "below" X mph, you are fine with your Z setup.
So from rider #1 to rider #80, your tuner is God. Listen to, and do, everything he says. Make sense so far?
Ok now for the second half of my theory - the next twenty riders: Rider #81, in my opinion, represents the beginning of somewhat of an apocalyptic shift - where the tuner begins to lose his grip on the all mighty throne of everlasting dictatorship. Where the warbled mumble of a rider's babbling feedback becomes more important to interpret and respond to than Charlie Brown's abstract sounding English teacher. But Rider #81 only represents the beginning of this shift. Those that eclipse his enthusiasm amplify that shift somewhat exponentially - not unlike the way earth quakes are measured. Increase your pace from 80mph to 81, not the beginning OR the end of the world in difference. Increase it from 90mph to 91, well now you're neck deep into one of the most vital relationships a racer can have at the race track (Second of course to the Monster energy girl).
When I look back at our 2009 season, I do it with great enthusiasm. Never have I been involved in such a fascinating effort. Of course some parts of 09 were so fascinating I wanted to bite my steering wheel while jamming a screwdriver through the radio, but overall I wouldn't change a thing. After all it's important to learn how to make things work with the tools you have at hand. Marriage is a bit like that. Anyone can throw something away...
About two weeks ago I made an executive decision with a friend of mine, Jason Hauns. Jason works with Phil at the racetrack. Coincidentally, Jason and I also work together during the week - swinging hammers.. It's been like this a while now. You should hear the crap we come up with during the week. He gets Phil's back better than some of the ballers I used to watch playing in NY's Washington Square. I'm on a ladder inside a skylight, he's got a torch burning it's way to installing a water heater - "Hey fruitcake! You wanna put money on the forks still being so hard I can stand on the triple clamps without the thing moving again this Friday?" Jason's typical response, shouted sarcastically from a distance, "How are you gonna know? The AFM won't let you in the parking lot.."
Like I said, it's been a fascinating year..
So we had this meeting a few weeks ago, the four of us - Jason, Phil, Mike and myself. Our focus was to implant some new ideas into our setup. Jason and I had recently brought the Superduke down to Doug Chandler's new bicycle shop the week before. Doug sat on it, pressed forward, up and down, and then simply sat there. "It feels real tall." Quickly I responded, "Yeah we raised the whole bike up because stock it's got like six degrees of swingarm angle." Doug is a man of few words, and he talks so quiet. "So why'd you raise it up?" Being quiet is one thing, but no one ever told me he was deaf. "Because we needed swingarm angle. It's this theory about not letting the swingarm rotate past horizontal on compression. Keeps the energy absorbed in the rear from transferring to the front. Also helps rear traction. Our chassis guy measured it, said we needed more angle, so we raised it." He never took his eyes off mine, "Yeah but why did YOU raise it?" At this point I almost had to excuse myself to go bite the steering wheel again.... "Because, Batman, we kept losing the front!" And there he sat. Looked down for a second, then came back up and asked if the bike was unstable at speed. "Like it's possessed" I quickly responded, "We even crashed once from it. Why?" Doug took his hands off the bars like he was about to get philosophical, "Wayne used to experiment all the time with swingarm angle. Lots of times he'd ride up into the negative. And lots of times he'd win."
You ever have one of those moments you just know you'll always remember? This was one of those for me - Note to self: "You're an idiot."
Then Doug began to open up, "Next time wait to make changes, till you really need to. Don't worry so much about what's on paper. Go by your feel. If you don't have rear traction problems, lower the bike. You're not losing the front because of your swingarm angle." Now I'm blankly staring back, "OK why are we losing the front?" "It's your setup. Too stiff. Bike won't absorb the bumps or the energy, you'll wash out with no warning." Only thing Doug got wrong was he didn't say you'll wash out the front "four times".
Jason and I left with smiles abound, yet we were not undaunted. Now we had to get these new ideas accepted. Our meeting was classically heated. Any time you put four adults with differing opinions, all involved in the same public project, which isn't going very well, into the same room together... Well let's just say it was a balancing act. Sometimes I would get defensive, other times you could see Mike struggling to keep our moods managed, and at least three times I saw Phil turn four different shades of steaming red. But instead of these particular moments suddenly sending the meeting to hell in a hand basket - I would poke Phil's shoulder like a nine year old and tell him I love him. A couple of times I even leaned over to grab at his attention, "You hate me right now don't you? Come on.... You hate me...." To Phil's credit he always denied it. But I know he was full of shit.
At meeting's end we all decided to start over. Go back to ground zero. Oddly enough, we had never been there before. For the next four nights, one piece at a time, I got a first hand look at what exactly has been going on inside our forks and shock. Again, I have to give Phil credit. He basically hand made our internals. This disc is for this, that port was brazed for that, the mid valve moves next to this thing I made, and so on, and so on. What a creative guy. Problem was we had the whole process, and the pieces, upside down and out of order. We never should have rushed that R project. Big part of that was my mistake. I couldn't help feeling like we could win on our Superduke. We just needed more power, and the R had just enough...
Friday night the bike rolled off the shop stand at Tri Valley Moto. It hit the floor while I was pushing it, and when it landed the forks did something they had never done all year - they absorbed the impact.
Saturday morning I wheeled that Superduke out of my van full of carpentry tools, for what will be the last time this year. We ran all day long at Infineon with Zoom Zoom. I never put a wheel wrong, the bike never bucked or wallowed, we used all but half an inch of our fork's travel (previously we've never gotten closer to 1 3/4" from bottoming), and the bike tracked like a champ through the very same turns that put us on our head so many times this season. Very same set of Michelins we crashed on at summers end, only older now, and way colder. Finally we have a bike we can interact with, rather than one we are forced only to react to.
All just in time for Christmas...
Happy Holidays brothers and sisters!