So we're riding along on the Blaze, when suddenly, I feel The Wife stiffen in her seat slightly. Very unlike her to do something like that. 'My stomach's beginning to hurt. Ditto the back. Avoid bumps, please?'
Sounded simple enough. After confirming that she didn't want to switch to a cab, we rode on.
At first it seemed simple enough. Cut pace by about 30 per cent, raise attention to the road surface 10 per cent, focus on smoother on-off throttle transitions (very easy on variomatics with lots of slack – like the Blaze) and Uncle Bob's a chocolate smoothie.
How wrong was I!
It was horrible. At my usual pace, my concentration is nearly absolute. Nothing will distract me. No numb bum, rudimentary suspension setup, throttle grip that actually rotates around the throttle... nothing gets in the way. Work around the problems, maximise opportunities and safety. Blow'em away and get home in a stonkingly fast time. And The Wife loves this mode of commuting. Hell, just that morning we took one right hand corner allowing the center stand to scrape firmly all the way around, two up. No sweat. She didn't even blink. When I asked her later if she felt and heard it, she said, 'Yeah, so?'
Just fourteen hours later, I was nearly screwed. One overbridge, where the expansion joints are particularly painful, I was down to 6 kph, leftmost lane, indicator going (no hazards available), hand up in warning to traffic buzzing past at at least ten times that speed. I was four-inches from the edge of the road. And I was scared shitless. This kind of speed differential will give me instant diarrhoea. One of the primary reasons I am scared slightly, by the idea of riding electric two-wheelers on big, public roads in their current (ahem) state.
About halfway down the other side, she spoke again. 'You're freaking me out. Speed up please, and never mind the bumps.' I didn't, of course, but it was clear that I wasn't the only one filled with unease. In any case, she's a bit speed-mad. When she rode a moped back in college, she says, she was not the lady-rider-hanging-around type. She couldn't hack riding like that. Not much has changed, then.
Out the other side, worst of the road behind us, I sped up to within 70 per cent of normal pace. But man, it still sucked. One of the safest things you can do in traffic is ride about ten-fifteen per cent faster. I was about that much slower. Getting overtaken sucks. Not for ego reasons, but because it requires you to relinquish control over the situation. To a complete stranger of unknown attitude, taste and skill. I shudder just thinking about that.
When we parked, The Wife was relieved more than anything else. It was over.
On a cool night, I was sweating more or less like I would on one of my harder rides. The amount of concentration and effort it took to maintain an unnatural pace on a familiar road was a huge big surprise. As was the realisation that car drivers won't hesitate to tailgate or cut you off, especially if you're scooter-mounted. Phew! That was a scare.
What I learnt about going slower than normal
- Avoid it like the plague. It is a huge hazard
- Head for the lane that offers the least speed differential between you and the rest
- If that's the left-most lane, ride in the left tyre track of the car ahead. The chap behind should see this tail lamp, and yours. Check the left side mirror often and try, somehow, to not leave enough space for annoyed motorcyclists to squeeze ahead from the left. Force them to use the space on your right. Gives you more control over the situation
- Aggressive looking motorcyclists who are getting held up will sometimes retaliate, be prepared. If you're the aggressive sort, brake hard when you're cut off. Aggression at that moment will cause an impact. If you hit his rear wheel – he will usually lose most of his gyroscopic stability, you will usually only lose directional control momentarily – he is far more likely to fall than you. Which is gratifying, but you will be singled out later as the cause of the fracas, because you will still be on your bike, rubber side down. That's my theory of it. Haven't tried it. Don't intend to
- Focus. Everytime you stop, remember to tell yourself to focus, that helps
- Use your hands. The slower you go, the more people will accede to your hand gestures rather than a blinking indicator
- Think about whether an alternate route will allow you to go slower but will not have as much traffic, that might be the solution to all of the above problems
- Check you mirrors twice as often. Things appear in them at a phenomenal pace when you're slow