Feb 1, 2007

The Theory of Natural Speed

2007 Yamaha R1 speedometerThis thought occurred to me years ago and has slowly been solidifying in my head. Now, I'm convinced that it applies on the street, although it may not apply on track. And you'll see why shortly.

My first bike had a top speed in the lower eighties. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about that was, er... actually two things. First, when I'd drag it kicking and screaming to its top speed on the top lane, it'd feel good in a frenetic sort of way. I'd come up on a Maruti 800 and flash him. He'd gently depress his pedal and raise his speed by 3 kph. And slowly leave me in his wake. Aaargh.

The other thing was that it was very tiring. The first time my dad let me drive his Maruti 800 out on the highway alone, I settled into a 110 kph cruise. My first highway drive was fast by dad's standards, but I never felt rushed, or like I was speeding. It was a comfortable place to be. On the bike, everything was slower than I wanted. It didn't gain speed as quickly as I wanted it to, and it was slow whacked wide open as well. Longer trips – I once rode it to Ghaziabad from Kalkaji and back, and another time, I logged 75 km in Gurgaon itself – turned out to be extremely tiring. Simply because I was mentally dragging the bike around. We weren't in sync.

My second bike was faster. 100 kph top whack fast. This turned out to be less tiring. Which is how my theory began. My third bike was an RD and the longest I ever went on it was a night blast around Delhi that burned a full tank of gas. I got off the bike feeling fresh as the proverbial daisy. I didn't even notice it.

Now, you could say that perhaps the first two bikes had poorer ergos or whatever, but it goes beyond that. Good ergonomics, well designed seats and all only prevent backache, numb bum/fingers etc. You'll still get tired if you're mentally not taking the same steps as your bike.

Which brings me to natural speed. Or as I pompously call it, rearset's Theory of Natural Speed. I'm beginning to believe that all of us have a 'natural speed.' It's a bit hard to define but stay with me. All of us have a speed at which our brain is most comfortable. At this speed, it all just falls into place. Your mind isn't being rushed into decisions, it isn't lazing around either. While this speed varies with the conditions, we're going to focus on the open road.

A friend rode his Yamaha FJR1300 to his hometown about 350 km from Bombay. I asked him what speeds he went at and he said, 'about 130-140 kph.' Now, this chap owns a sport touring motorcycle and the road is a fairly clear one. As in, in his place, you could be going 180-200 kph in places without breaking a sweat. But our man didn't. Then I asked him about his other trips, and again he said, 'I go up to 160-170 now and then, but usually, I find myself chugging along at 130-140 kph only.' The legality of this is not the point here. The point is, the cruise speed is fairly constant. Across bikes. He told me that he'd toured on a Yamaha Road Star (1400cc V-Four cruiser), a Honda Fireblade (1000cc sportsbike) among others, and on all, he did more or less that pace. I think he's found his natural speed.

I believe my natural speed is actually a bit higher, but I'm yet to put in a sustained stint on a bike that will do that kind of pace. But whenever I was open-roading the RD, I'd gust up to 155 kph (my highest on it) and then back off and rumble along at a steady 120 kph. No stress, no worries. Just a pocket of calm, authoritative speed.

Now, why is this important? I think you can't hold on to a bike whose natural speed (or sweet spot as the journos like to call it) doesn't include your natural speed in it. If my natural speed is 150 kph, I won't be happy with an RD. Not for long at any rate. If my natural speed is 120 kph, and my spanking new R6 sits at say, 7500 rpm when doing that in top gear (slightly below the actual powerband), the R6 isn't going to remain with me for long either. The rest (and I think this part is secondary to natural speed) is about the actual personality. If both a cruiser and a sportsbike matched your natural speed, the one you picked would be based on your kind of riding. As in there is a sporty, aggressive 120 kph, and there is a sedate, chilled out 120 kph as well.

Unfortunately, most of the time we have with a bike before buying it is spent in front of a desk, haggling. Which makes it rather difficult to find out if the bike matches your stride until much later. And for the life of me, I can't think of a way to change that. Which isn't good, until you realise that buying and selling seventeen motorcycles to find the perfect one is quite an entertaining way to find it. If not the perfect way to find your perfect motorcycle.

Do you think I'm on to something here, then?


Nyctophobia said...

yup right u are... especially true about the sporty aggressive speed and the sedate, chilled out speed. Thankfully in my case, I discovered my ‘calling’ back in my cycle days. I had an Impact back then, and this was just around the time that Hercules launched their MTB with tyres so fat that my dad and grand-dad could not figure out how the bike would move. The cycle was perfect for blasting away the ‘competition’ even a few cars (my lane had a lot of speed-breakers ;-) but that was just for the bit of rush. More often then not I found myself idly cruising around the lanes.

As for the comfort speed thing, I'd just like to add a few points from my experience...

Right after I bought the Blaze, I was most comfortable in traffic. Why? Because then, u don’t have to ride fast. Add to that the restraint of the less than 50 kmph and revs etc. meant I was probably riding around at the same speed at which I use to ride my cycle around.

But as soon as I hit the highway, 50 was not enough and I found 60 to my liking. Then it bumped up to 70. I’ve taken the blaze at a max of 90 ( I dared a peek at the speedo) but I find that I invariably settle in the 70-80 mark. Since I don’t do the zip between traffic that much, that speed is ok for the highways in Mumbai. Or at least from my POV. Maybe the 70-80 is just a phase until I find my comfort in the 80-90 bit :-)

GR said...


7 times married and 7 times divorced

(doodhwala atlas >>> Machismo 5S)

If life were an open, smooth, cow and cattle free road, I guess I need to see speedo read 100.

no chilled out, relaxed, sedate endless, easy to attain, bike ko kuch ho na jaaye, type number so far

will cite blog to get wife to let me get sthg else a p220 mebbe ...

/or will it just be ride # 9 till # 10 comes along ???

Onahigh said...

That was a cool analysis.. I have always felt so too. Good to hear a theory on this
Try so hrad explainin people riding pillion with me, when they point out the speedo, that speedo is just a mathematical reading of speed. It doesn't quantify.... what i Feel.. rather my natural speed!

Onahigh said...

That was a cool analysis.. I have always felt so too. Good to hear a theory on this
Try so hrad explainin people riding pillion with me, when they point out the speedo, that speedo is just a mathematical reading of speed. It doesn't quantify.... what i Feel.. rather my natural speed!

Kautilya said...

<<<... was an RD and the longest I ever went on it was... around Delhi that burned a full tank of gas. >>>

So what was that - like 10 clicks?


Archis said...

Nice concept. Although I wonder how 'environmental' factors affect the 'natural' speed. I think the feeling of speed is relative. On a real smooth surface, one can go faster without 'feeling' the extra speed, whereas, you think you are going a tad too fast if the ride is bumpy. I know certain stretches where I am unwilling to cross 80 while on certain roads, i'm going 110 and searching for the 6th gear on my Pulsar.