Taking it on the road, though, was a genuinely terrifying experience. I had
no sense of speed until I was going 90 and coming up fast on a bunch of pickup
trucks going into a wet curve along the river. I went for both brakes, but only
the front one worked, and I almost went end over end. I was out of control
staring at the tailpipe of a U.S. Mail truck, still stabbing frantically at my
rear brake pedal, which I just couldn't find... I am too tall for these new-age
roadracers; they are not built for any rider taller than five-nine, and the
rearset brake pedal was not where I thought it would be. Mid-size Italian pimps
who like to race from one cafe to another on the boulevards of Rome in a
flat-line prone position might like this, but I do not.
I was hunched over the tank like a person diving into a pool that got emptied
yesterday. Whacko! Bashed on the concrete bottom, flesh ripped off, a Sausage
Creature with no teeth, fucked-up for the rest of its life.
We all love Torque, and some of us have taken it straight over the high side
from time to time - and there is always Pain in that... But there is also Fun,
the deadly element, and Fun is what you get when you screw this monster on.
BOOM! Instant take-off, no screeching or squawking around like a fool with your
teeth clamping down on our tongue and your mind completely empty of everything
No. This bugger digs right in and shoots you straight down the pipe, for good
On my first take-off, I hit second gear and went through the speed limit on a
two-lane blacktop highway full of ranch traffic. By the time I went up to third,
I was going 75 and the tach was barely above 4000 rpm....
And that's when it got its second wind. From 4000 to 6000 in third will take
you from 75 mph to 95 in two seconds - and after that, Bubba, you still have
fourth, fifth, and sixth. Ho, ho.
I never got to sixth gear, and I didn't get deep into fifth. This is a
shameful admission for a full-bore Cafe Racer, but let me tell you something,
old sport: This motorcycle is simply too goddamn fast to ride at speed in any
kind of normal road traffic unless you're ready to go straight down the
centerline with your nuts on fire and a silent scream in your throat.
When aimed in the right direction at high speed, though, it has unnatural
capabilities. This I unwittingly discovered as I made my approach to a sharp
turn across some railroad tracks, saw that I was going way too fast and that my
only chance was to veer right and screw it on totally, in a desperate attempt to
leapfrog the curve by going airborne.
It was a bold and reckless move, but it was necessary. And it worked: I felt
like Evel Knievel as I soared across the tracks with the rain in my eyes and my
jaws clamped together in fear. I tried to spit down on the tracks as I passed
them, but my mouth was too dry... I landed hard on the edge of the road and lost
my grip for a moment as the Ducati began fishtailing crazily into oncoming
traffic. For two or three seconds I came face to face with the Sausage
But somehow the brute straightened out. I passed a schoolbus on the right and
got the bike under control long enough to gear down and pull off into an
abandoned gravel driveway where I stopped and turned off the engine. My hands
had seized up like claws and the rest of my body was numb. I felt nauseous and I
cried for my mama, but nobody heard, then I went into a trance for 30 or 40
seconds until I was finally able to light a cigarette and calm down enough to
ride home. I was too hysterical to shift gears, so I went the whole way in first
at 40 miles an hour.
Whoops! What am I saying? Tall stories, ho, ho... We are motorcycle people;
we walk tall and we laugh at whatever's funny. We shit on the chests of the
But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity. We
might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it's right. The final
measure of any rider's skill is the inverse ratio of his preferred Traveling
Speed to the number of bad scars on his body. It is that simple: If you ride
fast and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not
The emergence of the superbike has heightened this equation drastically.
Motorcycle technology has made such a great leap forward. Take the Ducati. You
want optimum cruising speed on this bugger? Try 90mph in fifth at 5500 rpm - and
just then, you see a bull moose in the middle of the road. WHACKO. Meet the
Or maybe not: The Ducati 900 is so finely engineered and balanced and torqued
that you *can* do 90 mph in fifth through a 35-mph zone and get away with it.
The bike is not just fast - it is *extremely* quick and responsive, and it
*will* do amazing things... It is like riding a Vincent Black Shadow, which
would outrun an F-86 jet fighter on the take-off runway, but at the end, the
F-86 would go airborne and the Vincent would not, and there was no point in
trying to turn it. WHAMO! The Sausage Creature strikes again.
There is a fundamental difference, however, between the old Vincents and the
new breed of superbikes. If you rode the Black Shadow at top speed for any
length of time, you would almost certainly die. That is why there are not many
life members of the Vincent Black Shadow Society. The Vincent was like a bullet
that went straight; the Ducati is like the magic bullet in Dallas that went
sideways and hit JFK and the Governor of Texas at the same time.
It was impossible. But so was my terrifying sideways leap across the railroad
tracks on the 900sp. The bike did it easily with the grace of a fleeing tomcat.
The landing was so easy I remember thinking, goddamnit, if I had screwed it on a
little more I could have gone a lot farther.
Maybe this is the new Cafe Racer macho. My bike is so much faster than yours
that I dare you to ride it, you lame little turd. Do you have the balls to ride
this BOTTOMLESS PIT OF TORQUE?
That is the attitude of the new-age superbike freak, and I am one of them. On
some days they are about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. The
Vincent just killed you a lot faster than a superbike will. A fool couldn't ride
the Vincent Black Shadow more than once, but a fool can ride a Ducati 900 many
times, and it will always be a bloodcurdling kind of fun. That is the Curse of
Speed which has plagued me all my life. I am a slave to it. On my tombstone they
will carve, "IT NEVER GOT FAST ENOUGH FOR ME."