The Speed Reader
📷 Banner: photodromo.com
It's time for a change. "Starting a motorcycle site" sounds fun and it probably is. There's a lot of cool things going on in the industry and writing about it is exciting. But its also a chicken and egg situation: writers need access to generate timely, relevant content and to get access, people want to see that they're distributing it responsibly to people that will help them on their mission. Standing outside the figurative press pool looking in, dear reader, is where I find myself. More often than not, it does not make for writing worth reading. And so I find myself at a junction, deciding to try a different road.
The Speed Reader was conceived as a way I could get in to the habit of writing down motorcycle news. I could practice my professional craft in an environment where I felt very comfortable and learn some stuff at the same time. Win, win, win. Or not. If you read the posts before this, you'll probably feel like they came from a content farm. That's not what I'm about and I've been twiddling my thumbs and trying to figure out what to do about it.
Here's what I came up with. Going forward, this site is going to be where I tell the Allison Street Industries motorcycle racing story as it happens. That's it. I don't want to give this site a focus that's too confining, but visitors should have a good idea of what to expect when they get here. So if safety wire and tire pressure get you going, there's probably going to be something here for you. But this is a pretty meta mid-life existential crisis journey, so don't be surprised to a missive about how motorcycle racing is actually just a metaphor for life and we should all be riding bicycles to stay fit. Or whatever.
In my world, compelling content needs to have rules, so this is what I've settled on/
Everything needs to have something to do with my motorcycling. In 2023, that means my first year of novice racing. 2024 might be dominated by fitness content if I can ever make bicycles enjoyable training for myself enjoyable again, or I might go to Sturgis and find out I was born for slow races and pushrods. We'll see. You're on the ride with me, to make a bad pun of it.
This is a first-person publication. Think blog with YouTube influences. Sorry, there's no "we." This is just a dude writing stuff in a basement. It's easier to explain things that I find compelling from my own perspective than some silly subterfuge about this being a proper industry gatekeeper and why you should care.
There's only going to be new posts when there's a reason for new posts. Writing when nothing has actually happened is dull and produces dull things to read. If you're going to waste your precious workday with me, it should be as worth it as I can make it.
If I'm trying to sell you stuff because there's something in it for me, I'll tell you. Corollary: I'm never going to try and sell you stuff that I don't think is worth it. Through Allison Street, I'll be selling handmade things like custom rings. I don't have any plans to drop ship or carry inventory on behalf of other people, but if that does happen I'll be forthright about it.
Merch? Maybe. Later.
That's it. I'm sure there will be reasons to add more rules later on and I'll update this post when I do. I'll leave the older content online for the sake of posterity. But honestly, I feel a little embarrassed about it and I'm not going to commit to leaving it up indefinitely.
For now, thanks for being here. I hope this produces some interesting content. If it doesn't, expect another screed like this one in a few months.
Hump Day: Commercials From The Archives
Motorcycles are cool. Motorcycle ads usually are not. Every once in a while, somebody manages to sneak something rad through. Watch them. Share them. Don't let them be lost to history.
These all left lasting impressions on us. Buell's Oddity commercial epitomized what a 20-something editor thought was cool about motorcycles and is responsible for a lasting obsession with the bar & shield-owned chapter of Erik's storied history.
When the 990 Super Duke came out, it was pretty instantly branded as The motorcycle for the worst-behaved of us. It got terrible gas mileage and had all the reliability of.... a KTM. But, in a time when nobody was releasing the unmodified (or, as the manufacturers claimed "re-tuned for low-end torque"), fire-breathing naked literbikes everybody wanted, it was the street fighter everybody was begging for. To get the shots for the commercial, two stunt riders rode Super Dukes through the streets of Japan. The rider in front carried a camera operator with a full-size rig, since action cams weren't exactly on the shelves of Best Buy yet. That brave man rode pillion backwards, strapped to the rider. There's a rumor that KTM was never able to secure filming permission from the Japanese authorities but they went ahead and did it anyway. On open roads. Let's just choose to believe its true.*
These sockets are SAE. That means they come in a set of about a dozen other paperweights and do a very good rock garden cosplay.* These two happen to be perfect matches for metric fasteners that don't come in most kits. Not wanting to split up the shiny happy family of European sockets, they were pressed in to service for the mobile toolbox. They've been given new identities as "DRZ Top Triple Clamp" and "DRZ Axle Nuts" and torque values. This isn't witness protection so their original names sizes are written on them, too.
* If you own heavy machinery made in places like South Bend back before Pangea broke in to continents and still use your SAE tools on a daily basis, please accept this humble apology for not recognizing you. You are seen. You may wish to also want to consider retiring your Packard. There have been some amazing advancements in automobiles over the last hundred years and you'll probably like some of them.
Tech Thursday: Fast Access
If you spend half an hour a day looking for things, that adds up to more than a week a year. If this were a fancy site with a big budget and corporate overlords, a fancy infographic would tell you that's more than 200 days by the time you turn 40 even if you discount the time before you knew the apple sauce was missing. Looking for things is not fun. Don't be an old person that says "I wish I hadn't lost my keys so much... I'd have been able to love my kids" while they're with their families in the Bahamas and you're stuck behind because you never found your Passport and that not having time to love them thing.
Tim Taylor knows a thing or two about tools and he'd tell you that buying one for a single job is a worthwhile investment. [I asked when I bought some Peruvian snow from him back in his salad days so you can spare yourself the postage. -Ed] Sometimes those tools never find another purpose in life and that's OK. But when you need them, you need them.
"What's that 46mm socket for?"
"Holding snacks, I think."
Don't let this be you.
If you go to the track it's extra important to know which tools to grab. If you have to work at the track, there's no possibility you will ever grab the correct tool until you've tried the wrong one at least three times. If your pit crew - sorry, "spouse" - comes to the track you will definitely spend more time explaining why the tool you were just handed was not the correct one than it would take to explain why you have been asked not to return to the county where "the incident" took place to a marriage counselor.
Spare yourself these pesky hurdles and label your stuff. You don't need a fancy label maker, but it does make people think you might actually be an adult after all. Just grab some painter's tape, a marker, and go to town. Purpose and torque value, if applicable, are the minimum amount of information that should be included. If you want to put your phone number on them and leave them in random places to make new friends, that's cool too.
Technique Tuesday: Notes from USBA NRC School
Never go out on track without a plan: the best racers and riders don't go out on track and circulate for the sake of it, hoping they'll improve. They pick something to focus on and do it until it's not practical. Riding motorcycles and driving cars on track is expensive and dangerous. Get the most out of that time by working to improve. The practical benefit is that it helps focus the brain and avoid sensory overload. The brain is incredibly good at processing information.... as long as it's given information to process. Use that to your advantage and don't just hope for the best.
Prepare: that's it. Just prepare everything as best as possible. Determine which tools fit which machines and pack them in ways that make sense. Look at the tech requirements as soon as they're available and get them handled as quickly as possible. Read the track map and watch video. Get the truck or trailer packed as soon as it's practical and make a checklist. Update the list after every event. Develop routines and stick to them to leave mental bandwidth for the things that can't be done anywhere except the track. Be a good Scout.
Eat, hydrate, and listen to your body: Some professional motorcycle racers have never finished a practice session over the course of their entire careers. They make a plan, follow it, and when it's no longer beneficial, whether because they're tired and lost focus or the equipment wasn't working the way they needed, they go back to the pits to download, refresh, reboot, and pick a new objective or see how any adjustments worked. Consider a mental checklist: energy / focus / objective / equipment. If something isn't right, exit the track until it is. It might feel like a waste of money to not use a full session, but going to the hospital and replacing broken parts costs a lot more.
Eyes up, clear minds, can't lose: The equipment was a lot of money. The track time was a lot of money. The preparation time and energy was substantial. Going out and practicing bad habits because of a lack of focus will mean that's all wasted. Worse, it can be, well, a lot worse. Leave life at the track gate and focus on the task at hand. If a significant other or a job can't be without you for the day, in the interest of your own damn safety, you have much more significant problems to fix that being distracted at the track is going to resolve. Leave it behind and focus. Do what you're doing... (see next tip)
The way you do anything is the way you do everything: do it on purpose.
This comes from Alex Hatfield, Champ U instructor and guy-that-did-most-of-the-classroom-instructing at NRC. Alternatively: "quit crashing your coffee."
The reality of this simple piece of advice is significantly more profound than it seems. Everything we do creates neural pathways and trains grey matter to make the body do better. Do things haphazardly and without focus and that is how you will become accustomed to doing things. Turned to 11, the longer things are done incorrectly, the thicker the myelin sheath around your activated nerves become. This forms the basis of "muscle memory" and is a significant part of the reason "practice makes perfect." The longer you do something badly, the harder it will be to break that pathway. It's difficult to practice racing anywhere but the track, but you can do this.
More on acting with intent: this note is that important. Nobody successful stumbles on it... in motorsports, anyhow. The brain-body connection is effectively a muscular group. The brain must send motor function signals to make the body work correctly, and anybody that has tried a new sport or activity can attest to the idea that that all the book learnin' in the world is not the same as doing. Just as weightlifters use free weights to get stabilizing muscles to fire and Malcom Gladwell promoted the idea of 10,000-hour mastery, riding a motorcycle fast is a full-body activity that requires precision.
Multitasking, it turns out, doesn't exist. Instead, the brain task switches. Slowing from triple-digit speeds to reach the same two-foot box for turn-in every lap, obviously, requires doing a lot of different things. By practicing focusing on everything you do, you'll be helping your brain learn to process information quickly and accurately.
DBAA: Everybody has something to do on Monday morning and nobody wants it to be waking up in a hospital bed.
Repeat after me: nothing that has, could, or will happen on track is worth anybody going to the hospital for. Ever.
Don't ever think about doing something that will put someone else at risk. If the pass isn't safe, the equipment isn't working the way it should, or the red mist takes over, exit the track. It's that simple. If somebody else doesn't follow the same code of conduct, go politely introduce yourself after the session and courteously explain your issue, like an evolved human being. This isn't a "say it to my face" bro toilet philosophy reader. It's a a life lesson. The hallmark of a wise man, woman, or other is their willingness to stand up and solve problems like adults. Violence and outright aggression are not acceptable at the track, and they should not be part of your life.
Taken a step farther, if your author sees that at the track and cooler heads cannot prevail, he will do everything within his power to have the person removed. Every single life has incalculable value and should be treated as such.
Fútbol Racing is life: being a better rider or driver can be an excellent metaphor for how we live our lives if we let it. The same seven pieces of advice that made up this article can be transferred to anything. Go to work with a plan; don't just react in a relationship, think about what you're doing and why; take care of your body to be your best, and on. Racing is the start of a journey that won't just make you a better athlete, but a better person if you work at it.
If you want to be part of the fun and you're near Utah, check out Utah Sport Bike Association. They're inviting, kind, and knowledgeable community that wants all comers. Special thanks to Alex Hatfield, Donald Rothfuss, AZ Riding Academy, Joshua Fisher, Robert Jojola, Alex Zinaich and everybody else at USBA that didn't have a name stitched in to their leathers for donating their time and expertise to the class. They truly want everybody to have a positive experience, to challenge one another to be better on and off the track, and, most importantly, to create safe racers.
Go make some smoke!*
* Responsibly, safely, and obeying all applicable laws and regulations, of course.
Fun With AI
Here's how ChatGPT describes the Yamaha FJ-09... er Tracer:
You guys should polish your resumes.
Tuesday Tech Tips: Tight Spaces
After riding a CBR600 F4 as my primary mode of transportation for a few years, I vowed never to buy a fully-faired motorcycle again. Working on it felt like the antithesis of of a pure, simple two wheel experience. Every job, without fail, started by removing 1,300 fasteners holding the plastics in place. That was almost 20 years ago and the situation has not really improved. Engineers pursue mass centralization and compact profiles at the mechanic's expense, making oil changes feel more like intake manifold work on B-series Honda than a Robert Pirsig fantasy.
Fast forward to the the first service on my FJ-09 and learning in a cold, dim garage that I had broken my promise. While silently cursing the task ahead, I found myself visiting YouTube University because none of it made sense. Two dozen dzus, threaded, and velcro connections later, the guts of the machine were at least visible, if not accessible. I thought this was a semi-naked bike. Never again. Maybe.
Recently, the Yamaha's cam chain tensioner started sounding like it was tired and needed a break, so APE Race Parts got called up for the swap. Plastics off? Nope! But don't be silly and assume that means the job is a breeze.
Apparently the cam chain tensioner had to go right there. And where there is where no normal wrench fits. The first time that part had to come out, I trimmed a regular allen wrench. You know, like the forums tell you. Even though those professional keyboard engineers insist it's the best solution short of buying some nonsense special tool Yamaha makes, there's a better way. You don't have to visit the Snap-on truck, either.
Low profile tools are more common than they were 20 years ago, but they still don't usually work great in truly confined conditions. Some tool people figured that out and now some do. For the cam chain tensioner, the black ANEX Ultra Low Profile set worked a treat. There are a few other options like Nordwolf's Stubby Allen Wrench Set , one from Powerbuilt, Park Tool, and even driver specialists Vessel. The space limitations of the FJ-09 meant one of the two mounting bolts came out a quarter turn at a time but it wasn't damaged and it never once needed to be cursed at.
Don't skimp on your wrenches. Use the right tool for the right job and you'll be a happier person. Probably. Maybe. This site is not an Amazon affiliate, so buy your tools wherever you want. I'll be over here listening to my sewing machine idle in the garage and trying not to buy nicer versions of tools I already own.
MotoGP: I'll Eat My Hat
World Endurance Championship: 6 Hours of Portimao Photo Dump
Porsches and Ferraris and Peugeots, oh my.
And MotoGP left their trucks there, too.
MotoGP: The Honda is That Bad
Motorsport doesn't do parity. That's kind of the point. Spend money, keep secrets, break rules, go faster. Even spec series' devolve into blueprinting and marginal gains that would make Dave Brailsford blush. So it's not often something resembling an apples-to-apples comparison comes around.
Alex Marquez left LCR Honda for brighter, redder pastures at the end of 2022. Taakaki Nakagami did not. The results couldn't speak better for themselves if Aaron Sorkin gave them lines:
Portugal 2022: 7 (+ 16.183s)
Portugal 2023: 5 (+ 8.125s)
Argentina 2022: 15 (+ 23.472s)
Argentina 2023: 3 (+ 4.681s)
Portugal 2022: 16 (+ 49.569s)
Portugal 2023: 12 (+ 17.448s)
Argentina 2022: 12 (+ 14.002s)
Argentina 2023: 13 (+ 28.394s)