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Hang Loose


Relaxing your grip is like singing in tune. It should be simple, but it’s not


This should not be possible. I should not be able to slide a rubber handgrip, mounted on a knurled handlebar, restrained by four lengths of safety wire, a full half-inch in one evening’s riding. And yet the proof is indisputable.


At one-eighth of a mile, our Tuesday night practice track in Paris, Ontario, is tiny, not much bigger than the perimeter of a hockey rink. As flat tracks shrink, they become increasingly technical to ride. Semi-regular American Flat Track (and X-Games) rider Doug Lawrence told me Paris is the most difficult track he’s ridden. “Difficult” means the three stages of cornering—getting in, getting turned, getting out—are geographically confined. Imagine exiting your car with its door against a concrete pillar in an underground parking garage. Rotating hips, squeezing legs out, and ducking the head—while not bashing the door on the concrete—make a straightforward task daunting.

What makes motorcycling beguiling and bewildering are the extreme demands made of the rider. With the front wheel of my CRF450R pawing the air at corner exit, I am to remain relaxed and supple as I slide forward and up onto the outside edge of the seat. Now push down on the left end of the handlebar to initiate a two-wheel drift to scrub speed. Near the apex, turn the handlebar sharply to the left. Now add throttle while elevating the bike onto the meaty part of the tire, and power out. And because the track is dirt, it is susceptible to wet spots (very slippery), dry spots (ditto), ruts, and, at Paris, an entry to corner three as wavy as a rippled potato chip. And to keep you honest, a wall rims the track. 


My body screams “Hang on!” My mind coos “Chill out.” The handgrip shows which side is winning. But I’m working on it. My vice-like grip on the handlebar lessens my ability to react to the bike’s movement. And it’s as exhausting as two-fisted arm wrestling. To diffuse my tendency to over-grip, I tried talking to myself while on the track. But I yelled RELAX in my helmet with such fury I gripped harder out of fear. 


I do not have the natural grace of a gifted rider. This is not false modesty. I’ve ridden with World Superbike riders and American Flat Track regulars. We are not of the same ilk. But I’m tenacious. I do not get discouraged. I go to the gym. I eat well. And, should you doubt my sincerity, single malt and I are currently on the outs. But I see light. Now, at the wrap of Tuesday night practice, the handgrip is but a quarter-inch off its stop. Let’s call that progress.     

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