by Victor Wanchena
Over the past 30 years, motorcycles have become increasingly specialized; each model designed to fill the niche of its intended customer. When you want to travel, you buy a touring bike. Want fast? There are many sport bikes to choose from; each in their own sub-category. Dual sports, sport touring, cruisers, super motos; the list is almost endless. My head swims just thinking of all the categories. If there is a certain style of riding you like, there’s probably a motorcycle made specifically for it.
All this specialization has led to one downside; we’ve started to think that you can only use a motorcycle for the niche it was marketed for. Hey guys, we’re headed out to burn up some twisties. Don’t invite Vic. He’s too slow on that piggy-touring bike. That dirt road looks interesting. Better skip it, I’m on a cruiser and it’s not made for those. Hey we’re taking a road trip. You can come, but I don’t know if you’ll make it on that sport bike. This conventional wisdom limits a rider’s thinking. Why can’t you ride your touring bike over a gravel mountain pass or take a trip on your dual sport?
This was illustrated last year when I was on a ride in the Southwestern part of the country. A friend and I were trying to navigate from one side of a mountain range to the other. Easy enough. The line on the map looked fairly straight and the famous last words uttered were, “ it’s only about 2 inches on the map, how hard could it be?’ Well, the quaint mountain road quickly turned from winding blacktop to a 10-foot wide corkscrew of fist-sized rocks. While I white knuckled my way to the top of the now infamous Onion Saddle, my riding partner was having the time of his life. The difference between our bikes; nothing. A pair of overloaded touring rigs, street tires, and a need to get to the other side. When we reached the top, I stopped for a break and literally peeled my gloves off the grips. My partner, on the other hand, was simply giddy and declared that we had just ridden “the greatest motorcycling road, ever”. This skewed perspective on our little adventure was his far superior ability in handling his bike.
The bottom line is that regardless of what you ride, it’s all about the skill you have, and not the bike you ride. Observed trials are a prime example of this. In trials, the riders are split into classes by riding ability. Size, weight, power of the motorcycles is irrelevant. The past couple of years I have tried riding observed trials. It is a fantastic sport that combines finesse and control of your motorcycle, with the mental challenges of conquering obstacles. That, and the humiliation of 12-year old kids riding machines with a fraction of the power I have consistently beat the pants off of me. It’s not the bike they ride. It’s simply the skill they possess.