Thursday, June 2, 2016

Riding slow bikes on the super slab

5 tips for riding slowly on the 4 lane super slab

Sometimes you just can’t avoid the freeways and bypasses that dominate urban infrastructure. They are often the  only means of traversing a major metropolitan area, or in the case of Minneapolis/ Saint Paul, two. This, more so than our wide open landscapes, is why Americans love big motorcycles. It's a survival tactic. We need to cruise at 75 miles an hour and have enough left in the tank to accelerate out of harm’s way. (not the best technique, but it’s always good to have options)




What if you’re not the proud owner of a big-bore, bread for the American West, road burning machine. How do you safely navigate the distracted driving, boy racer, fun fest that is our highway system? This was the question I faced if I wanted to arrive safely, on two wheels, at a Memorial Day BBQ. I’m currently rebuilding (insert anything you can think of with 20 year old rubber components here) on the Trophy so my 38 year old, 500 cc Yamaha was to be the beast of burden.

The little bike will do 60 mph all day in comfort thanks to its counter balanced engine. It will even hammer down the road at 70 when asked. I just didn’t want join the race for pole position on this beautiful day. A nice relaxed cruise was called for, and the challenge of doing so safely sounds like fun to me. Below is a list of things I put together to help me stay safe at slow speed.

Good mirrors. One of the biggest hazards any slower-than-traffic vehicle faces is the rubbibn’ is racin’ amateur sprint cup driver. Know your enemy. Anyone who is overtaking you at a faster-than-traffic speed is not your friend. They will have a difficult time judging distance and the rate that they are overtaking you, they’re probably pre-disposed to tailgating as it is.

Choose your roads and times carefully. My go-to route for this particular trip it the interstate, 6-8 lane freeway. I just couldn’t bring myself to deal with that level of crazy. A quick look at Google Maps revealed that I could link up some secondary roads on the front and back ends of the trip and take the 4 lane, 55 mph Crosstown bypass instead. This road is almost always less crowded than the interstate.

Don’t push it. Your bike should be comfortable at 5 under and capable of 10 over when needed. Most freeways have a minimum speed limit for good reason. If your bike tops out at 50 mph don’t go bombing down a 65 mph road. The difference in speed between you and the truck fast approaching behind you is just too great.

Take advantage of other slow moving vehicles. (and even moderate traffic.) I worked this one out on the fly. Don't ride behind them, speed up and jump in front of them. Then settle into their pace after building up a cushion. Don’t tail gate! You stand a good chance of an approaching driver looking right through you and only seeing the car that you’re following.

Lane position. This is a tip I picked up from a commuter friend of mine. When riding in the right-hand lane, position yourself just right of center. It puts more room between you and the tailgating over-taker (if they are passing you on the left). I move around a lot in my lane, as the situation calls for it, but this took some getting used to for me. My default position is usually left of center, the idea being that I’m more visible. (If you're worried about visibility, I can't recommend high-vis yellow enough, or anything other than black.) 

I put these strategies into full effect and arrived to a nice, relaxing cook out at a nice relaxing pace. I don’t do a ton of this kind of riding but it’s good to have some of these tools in my toolbox when the situation presents itself. One of the funny things I found myself thinking is, “Wow, I’ve got this road all to myself, now I can ride slow!”

-          Ride North