by Gary Charpentier
Why do I DO that? One moment, I’m purring along, enjoying the road and the beautiful blue sky. Then it happens&emdash;two closely spaced headlights grow larger in my mirror, and a young road warrior on his Ninja approaches swiftly to assume formation off my left rear corner. We remain like that for a mile or so, grudgingly observing the speed limit, but you KNOW what comes next. Like two gunfighters of the old west, we watch each other with steely eyes, waiting for the other guy to make the first move.
I can’t discern which gear he’s in over the silky growl of my desmo v-twin, only that he’s turning lots more revs than I am. Do I downshift and lose that split second advantage afforded me by my position, one bike length ahead, or do I depend on that prodigious Ducati torque to pull me up to a speed where this fellow will back off and admit defeat? All thoughts of just letting this guy howl off into the distance are absent from my mind. Somehow this bogey has put me on red alert. Aw, maybe he’s just checking out my ride. Maybe he likes Ducatis and is admiring Gogo’s sexy lines. Yeah, right. And maybe at the next rest stop he will try to sell me Avon.
I downshift to fourth, twist the grip to the stop, watch the tach needle climb and wait until we get into a section where his eventual top end rush will be stymied by curves or traffic, lest I am left in his wake like a bag of trash thrown overboard. Gogo is strong down low, but she runs out of breath at eight grand. Ninja-boy just enters his power band about there. Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese strategist, counseled that one should choose one’s battles wisely to take advantage of one’s strengths and to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses. I scan the road ahead: sparse traffic and hills that hide unforeseen menaces. I know the twisties are coming up, so I bide my time…
Mr. Ninja is getting impatient with me. He draws even then falls back. He glares at me through his tinted visor. I smile and maddeningly continue on at the speed limit. Over the next hill the road begins to wind in a series of 30-45 mph sweepers. Does he know this? As we approach the bottom of the hill, I make my move. Clutch in, down two gears, match revs as I release the lever (Here he comes!) and I am catapulted about four bike lengths ahead. Cresting the hill, my front tire leaves the tarmac and claws for the sky. Preloading the shift lever, I blip the throttle and snick fifth without disturbing the clutch and interrupting my momentum. That’s worth another bike length.
Well over “The Ton” now, we approach the first right hand sweeper. Weighting the outside peg, I shift my butt over to the right and hang off a bit to maintain traction through the turn. Clipping the apex, I snap sixth gear briefly down the straight. Down shifting again, I take the next series of left, right, left sweepers, still in front and gaining. Back up through the gears, we enter a medium straight-away, and here he comes again! Things could unravel, if I don’t do something quick. I back off the throttle, and, as he draws even, I give him the “slow down” hand signal.
I am not psychic, but once in awhile I get lucky. Over the next rise, a highway patrol cruiser is shooting radar. We are just a tad above the 65 mph limit, but he lets us go by without lighting us up. At the next turnoff, we stop. Both of us have this goofy grin on our mugs, and he says, “Kick- ass bike, man! That thing is FAST! “Thanks,” I say, “but I think you might’ve had me if we hadn’t slowed down for that cop.” We shake hands and continue on our separate journeys.
What I did was wrong. It was immature, irresponsible, and potentially fatal. But then again, so is crossing the street against the traffic light, and how many of us do that from time to time?