Grasping at Straws

by bj max

Sugar Booger and I, as well as a few of my ex-friends, were on one of our many trips out west. I say ex-friends because of the ridicule I have suffered at their hands over an experiment (a successful experiment I might add) that I conducted on one of those trips a couple years back. I have since demoted them to simple acquaintances.

While we love riding out west, we don’t love the wind generated by all those silly windmills out there. It would be nice if the ranchers would turn a few of ‘em off now and then and give us motorcyclists a break. Riding all day in crosswinds, or x-winds as the pilots say, can really shatter your nerves and makes one grasp at straws for even the tiniest bit of relief.

Several members of the Happy Bottom Riding, Yachting and Snipe Huntin’ Club had been white-knuckling the handlebars from one end of Kansas to the other and my nerves, as well as my shoulder and neck muscles, were stretched to the breaking point. On a most welcome break I sat under a gas station awning sipping bottled water and staring at our 1500 Gold Wing pondering possible ways to ease the pressure those powerful x-winds created. I needed help of some sort, but I had no idea where that help would come from. The others in the group seemed to do just fine and didn’t complain about the winds and I wondered why. It’s no secret; the 1500 Gold Wing is infamous for its sail-like attributes in high winds. Its “BDE” (barn door effect) is significantly higher than most touring rigs and, in the theater of aerodynamics, I was definitely at a disadvantage. A good example of AD (aerodynamic disadvantage) is the high BDE of tractor-trailer trucks. At thirteen feet, six inches tall and sixty feet long, gusting x-winds make driving these things unwieldy at best. The weather guys always warn truck drivers when winds are a threat to high profile vehicles. Their warnings do not apply to flat bed trailers that have a very low BDE. Same thing for Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings. Look at the Harley’s profile. You can see through it in a dozen places. And if you can see daylight, the wind, like sand in the desert, will find a way through. The Gold Wing, on the other hand, has panels covering every last square inch of its profile. There are no gaps or openings for the wind to flow through and this creates a higher BDE. And, like the semi mentioned above, riding a Gold Wing in x-winds can be a tricky business.

Another example of high BDE is sailing ships. Their high BDE is obviously engineered. Imagine a sloop sailing close to the wind and heeled over at a forty-five degree angle. If a three foot tear suddenly rips through the mainsail for whatever reason, the force of the wind against that sail is lessened, and the ship will most certainly try to right itself and move back towards the center. So, I asked myself: if a sailing ship will right itself when you trim the sails, then why wouldn’t a motorcycle follow suit if you trim its sails or open up its profile? Interesting. I continued to stare at the bike and think; something my simple acquaintances never seem to do. According to my old friend Buck Flameout, pilot, aeronautical engineer, motorcyclist extraordinaire and all around ne’er-do-well, x-wind stability can be adversely affected by reductions in both vehicle mass and drag coefficient and it is possible that various vehicle configurations could induce bi-stable flow. Uh-huh. Just what ah’ thought. All I gotta’ do is re-configure the GL1500’s profile. But how?

After crossing my eyes, beatin’ my head against an aluminum pole and pulling most of my hair out, my brain finally squeezed out an idea. There are six panels on a GL1500; three on the starboard side and three on the port side. These six panels make up about a third of the motorcycle’s profile. All I gotta’ do is pop those panels off and bingo; instant re-configuration. That should open up the bike a bit and let at least a part of those pesky x-winds flow through the thing instead of hammering against it.

Would it work? I didn’t know, but it didn’t cost nothin’ so why not give it a try? My simple acquaintances watched curiously as I bent over in the triple digit temperatures popping off panels and throwing them in the trailer. Finally, curiosity got the best of them and they slowly sauntered out into the blazing sun to see what crazy old Bill was up to now. When I explained my theory, they started laughing like a pack of dope-smoking hyenas. Questions began to fly, and my friends and even my wife thought I had been smitten by the heat. Said I should maybe lie down and rest for a while. Take an aspirin, a nap or maybe see a shrink.

I explained my sailing ship analogy mentioned above, but they didn’t get it so I dumbed it down a little. “Stick your hand out of a car window at sixty mph” I suggested “and turn your palm toward the slipstream. Note the force of the wind as it pushes against your hand. Now spread you fingers. See? The pressure is immediately reduced. By removing these panels I’m creating the same effect that occurs when you spread your fingers and hopefully it will reduce the pressure against the side of the motorcycle.” They stared at me for a minute then busted out laughing. Educating fools, much like fertilizing a gravel road, is a complete waste of time.

My theory worked, of course. I knew it would, just didn’t know how much. The 1500 still got blown around, but it handled a whole lot better and the stress and strain was almost eliminated. I was told that it was all in my mind; a fig newton of my imagination. Could be, but even if it was the end result was the same. In my mind, the bike handled better and I was more comfortable. So, as far as I was concerned, it worked.

I left those panels in the trailer for the next seventeen hundred miles and my detractors continued to laugh. Not only that, they spread the word and told everybody that would listen. They conspired with total strangers and all of them, including the stranger, would point and heckle and have a high old time at my expense. If my skin had been thinner I might have developed some kind of complex but, bathed in the sunshine of my superior intellect, I just smiled and let ‘em have their fun. Grasping at straws? Maybe I was, but x-winds are a force to be reckoned with and as far as I was concerned, I reckoned with ‘em.

There’s nothing so rare as a motorcyclist with an inferiority complex.


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