Fall MotoGiro 2012: Perfection Isn't Perfect
In this world, the rider smiles when he confronts the fatal incident or drama, that is the beautiful thing, because life has meaning when he stares death in the face – Doctor Costa, MotoGP doctor in the movie Fastest
Vintage motorcycle enthusiasts are often a meticulous lot: preening pedigrees of pristine pureness. It would be easy to assume that the riders of the US Classic Racing Association’s MotoGiro are in that group -- an assumption that would be completely wrong.
I got a chance to see this year’s MotoGiro USA in Cavendish Vermont, September 22-23rd. The event combines skills competitions with timed rides on public roads. The focus is more on precision than speed, but to win you need to be precise at a relatively high speed. Many of the competitors are former racers and know how to ride motorcycles fast.
The event begins with a skills test. Riders are released onto the skills course in 30-second intervals. They must navigate a series of cones in a specified time. Competitors are assessed a penalty for hitting a cone or putting a foot down. Riding too fast is penalized the same as riding too slowly. The objective is to navigate the course cleanly in exactly the required time.
They then head to the open road for a 170-mile ride. It is here that the real purpose of Giro reveals itself. The riders charge the course. While the bikes are impeccably maintained, these are fifty year-old motorcycles. They are mostly two strokes that like to be revved. Braking comes from front and rear drum brakes, not disks. Engine braking is non-existent. Slowing these bikes is far more of a challenge than making them go fast.
Most of the riders prefer not to slow their bikes at all, opting instead for maintaining a constant speed. Cornering requires forethought. Riders choose their line and commit to it. Because the bikes are small – the rules require that they be no larger than 305cc – they turn quickly. Riders use arching lines that allow them to apply nearly constant throttle through the entire corner. Using the fast entry, late brake, quick turn and hard gas style of riding, popular with modern sport bikes, is simply not possible.
Navigating the course is a challenge. The route is secret until the night before the competition. Route sheets – a set of turn-by-turn instructions with mileage and landmarks– tell the riders where to go and riders must follow the route exactly. The route includes tar and dirt, but favors roads that might have existed fifty years ago, with bumps, cracks, and loose gravel.
While the route sheets are precise and accurate, there are many turns and there is little time to stop and read directions. The bikes lack directionals, so riders use hand signals to indicate changes in direction. Keeping the pace is an important part of not getting lost.
Like the skills test, riders must complete road sections in a specified time. Riders must arrive at checkpoints within 60 seconds of their mark. Arriving early or late yields a sixty-point penalty: a penalty large enough to rule out winning the event.
Babying your bike is not allowed. On the contrary, you must ride it hard. Speed is not the point, but you need to ride a brisk pace. The focus is on control. There is little time for wavering thoughts: you must be engaged while riding, which brings us to the point of the ride itself.
During the MotoGiro, the MotoGiro is life. You cannot be too sure what will happen. You must pay attention. You should enjoy the company of your friends, seize the day, and take advantage of it, because it can all be gone quickly.
Life is uncertain and so are the bikes. In the pre-ride meeting, the Race Director, Shane Rivet reads off the cell phone number for the chase truck and reminds riders that he has a welder, should anyone need it.
The bikes reflect their riders. Both have scars from years of service. When the inevitable occurs, and a bike breaks down, passing riders stop to help. The competitors become a team, working together to get the failed bike running. I saw a roadside exploration of a carburetor that made me queasy. One competitor installed a new head gasket in the hotel parking lot between rides end on Saturday and dinner Saturday night, so he could be ready for the Sunday morning ride.
Vintage motorcycling can be hard to understand. Why ride small, old, under-sprung, underpowered, poor braking motorcycles? And why ride them so hard? Isn’t it dangerous?
It is dangerous, but all motorcycling is dangerous. These are not foolish youngsters, riding with more testosterone than brains. These are experienced riders who have chosen vintage bikes for a reason.
I asked one of my dinner companions why he does this and he said, “We can have as much fun at forty miles per hour on these roads as a rider on sport bike can have at eighty.” It’s the ultimate test of the adage, it is better to ride a slow bike fast, than a fast bike slow.
These motorcycles can be ridden just fast enough to realize that there is an edge -- that your mistakes have consequences -- without breaking the law or risking your life. The MotoGiro enables these riders to relive why they became motorcyclists in the first place, on the bikes they rode when they fell in love with motorcycling, and share to it with friends who understand.
Few people truly like perfection and the MotoGiro isn’t about being perfect. It is about accepting what life gives you and making the best of it. The good, the bad, the scars and all.