When I first got a motorbike, it was very much a utilitarian thing – simply a way to get from A to B (and generally commuting to and from work). I didn’t ride with others so I was pretty much free to just do as I please. That was basically the story until Andrea decided to get a bike.
Before long we started riding together, and it was suddenly a very different thing. As the more experienced rider I felt the responsibility of “leading” weighing quite heavily on my shoulders. This was especially so in the early days when we had no intercom, so I couldn’t let her know what I was planning to do and where I was heading! When Andrea bought us an intercom set (Sena SMH10 – we love it) it was a great help and really made riding together so much more fun – a true shared experience.
The good news is that we like riding the same kinds of terrain in the same kinds of places, but there’s something even more important than location when it comes to a shared experience: pace. Very quickly it became apparent that we actually liked to ride at roughly the same speed, but I didn’t realise just how important a fact that was until much later when we first started to ride with others.
People tend not to talk about the speed they ride at unless they are talking about how fast they are. The thing is we ride slow! Not quite “granny” slow, but certainly just under the speed limit on sealed roads. And when we get to dirt roads, we’ve found that sitting around 50-55km/h is our sweet spot – and definitely much slower than that when it gets rough or sandy or wet. To many that may seem like it’s crawling and a waste of time but that’s us.
Part of it is that we ride big bikes that we know we have to be careful with, and the fact our self-preservation mode kicks in pretty damn early. We’ve also got four teenage kids at home that we want to make sure we are around for. Our shared (thankfully) feeling is that we want to be at a speed where we are able to take in all that we see around us rather than needing to be white-knuckle, laser-focused on the road and keeping the bike in control. We’ve definitely got a little quicker than when we first started, but even as our experience grows we think we’ll stick to the same kind of pace.
On one of our first group rides we headed just north of Sydney to the Yengo National Park. The ride there was on tar and we were probably riding about 10-15km/h faster than we normally would have to stay with the group – not scary at all, but definitely a step up. When we got to the dirt the difference between the more experienced riders and us started to open up a bit more. We were probably a good 15-20km/h slower than the others, and while everyone was great about waiting for us we felt a lot of self-generated pressure to push a bit harder than we wanted. By the end of the 50km or so of dirt we were feeling pretty tired – mentally. We’d ridden as hard as we ever had and were happy to have survived okay, but we also realised that we hadn’t really taken in the scenery and sights of the ride because we’d had to focus so much on the riding itself. This was nothing to do with the others. As I said, they were great and really supportive, but we felt guilty that they were waiting for us and worried that our slower speed was potentially impacting their enjoyment of the ride.
The best thing about the group ride wasn’t the time we spent riding, it was the time we spent at the lunch stop chatting with everyone!
At our recent March Moto Madness event, people broke up into groups to go and ride each day. Knowing that everyone was much more experienced – and faster – than us, we did some great riding by ourselves. On one section, one of the other riders joined us and I was immediately worried that we would slow him down. As it turned out, we were riding just how he wanted to ride and the three of us had a great run.
On top of that we still had the group experience of sharing stories with the faster riders around the campfire and at lunch – but without the guilt of having maybe held them up.
It highlighted to me the challenge in finding people who want to ride not only the same kind of roads or terrain as you, but also at the same speed. Our activity is one where differing levels of ability and different “comfort zones” can make it hard to find riding companions. None of us (especially guys) want to be “slow” but in the end some of us just will be – and being comfortable with that (and embracing it) is really important.