June 2, 2017

Motorcycle Skills

Kern River Brewing is one of our favorite destinations in this part of California. There's great ride to reach it from any direction, along with rapidly crisp craft beer and satisfying grub waiting to be devoured, this rustic brewery has it all. 

The Kern River is overflowing it's banks this summer due to the heavy rainfall and deep snowpack in the Sierras. The water rages white over hidden obstacles drowning on the banks. The dramatic scene consists of towering cliffs carved over the years, the furious river, and the narrow road the winds beside it.CA 178 takes travelers from the Bakersfield basin up to Lake Isabella, a favorite destination for outdoorsy types.

Steve and I decided to take a ride to scout out dry camping locations for our new RV. The ATC toy hauler is 32' long and 8.5' wide, so it's important to be certain of the roads we choose to take before we get stuck somewhere. The motorcycles are the perfect scouting vehicles, not only because riding is more fuel efficient, but because it's far more fun than driving a cage, even Steve's new Chevy Silverado.

As we rode through the bright green groves flourishing in the 95 degrees outside of Bakersfield, we hoped to reach cooler temperatures at the higher elevations, but unfortunately, we did not. The ride through the canyon was not unbearably hot, but it would have been nice if it were cooler.

Nearing the end of the canyon the twisties turned tight, with a number of 15 mph signs among the curves. Back and forth, back and forth, weaving through blind corners on tilted asphalt, my V Star labored.

"The guardrails along the highway are sporadic, so losing one's focus could result not only in flying over a cliff onto rocks that will assuredly break bones, but landing in the rapids to drown in a matter of moments."

When we reached the Kern River Brewing Company for lunch, Steve carried himself with ease, wearing a bright smile.

"Did you enjoy riding?" I asked him.

It has been quite awhile since Steve had done much riding.

"Yeah, it was great. How about you?"

"I struggled. I had become so accustomed to riding the Victory Octane for the past year it seems I've forgotten how awkward my V Star can feel. I was fighting with the motorcycle, struggling to find the sweet spot in the balance, and couldn't let myself to trust her in the turns."

"I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it."

I felt bad as I could see the disappointment come over his face.

"I wasn't bad. It was just hard. I'll get used to it again. It's just going to take me some time."

He smiled and we ordered some food.

When we headed back down the canyon I was determined to diagnose my problem and fix it. I was frustrated with myself. On the ride up the canyon I had just surpassed my 60,000 lifetime mile mark, which may not seem like much to some riders, but it's quite an achievement to me for only 4 years of riding.

I changed my posture on the bike, relaxed my arms and wrists, consciously breathed deeper (I tend to hold my breath when I'm stressed), and loosened my grip on the handlebars. Right away I found my groove and relaxed into the familiar rhythm of my bike. Before I knew it I was flying through the twisties with confidence and control, as I've done hundreds of times before.

I took a deep sigh and smiled in my helmet.

"There it is! That's it!"

Even though the beauty of the canyon was stunning, I focused on the road ahead. I kept Steve far enough ahead of me to see him in my peripheral vision and still look through the turns. I don't like to follow too closely because I may come around a blind corner into a surprise.

As I rolled down the canyon, I was wondering why it seems that the decreasing radius turns are always hidden behind the blind corners and if you're going to run into gravel, it's always right after the apex of the turn.

The road straightened and I took a few glances over at the statuesque canyon walls shading the turbulent, white water. The guardrails along the highway are sporadic, so losing one's focus could result not only in flying over a cliff onto rocks that will assuredly break bones, but landing in the rapids to drown in a matter of moments. I turned my attention back to the road ahead and kept my focus on the road and my partner ahead of me.

Just as Steve glided into a shaded "S" turn I noticed beyond him an SUV speeding towards us in the oncoming lane. As I came into the turn and leaned to the right my back tire jumped up out from under me and skipped. I had hit either a bump or a pothole. I don't know which because I didn't see it in the changing light. I corrected myself as I changed the turn to the left, but instantly realized I had over-corrected. My front tire skimmed the double yellow and I knew that speeding SUV was just around the bend.


I corrected again, leaning hard to the right towards the center of my lane, throttling hard so as to keep myself from low-siding, squeezing the clutch slightly. (I've learned that covering and/or squeezing my clutch slightly in a troubled turn I have more control of the speed and throttle. I'm not certain that this is "proper" riding technique but it works for me.)

By the time the SUV appeared I was entirely back in my lane and had control again. When I caught my breath I considered what had just happened.

There are times we simply can't see what's coming. It's just part of life. When we're stressed, losing our confidence, and holding on too tightly, we become dangerous, to ourselves and others. But when we relax, find the groove, and focus on the task at hand, we can deal the bumps in the road. Had I been manhandling the bike and hit that bump, someone might be fishing my mangled body out of the Kern River today.

I believe my riding experience helped me greatly today, although I'm not so arrogant to think I had it all under control. Control is really an illusion. Experience has taught me that as well.

We're on another Road Pickle! We hope to find great breweries, tacos, steak and biscuits with gravy, as well as some roadside oddities along the way. If you don't want to miss a thing, join us by subscribing to our vlog on YouTube. I PROMISE you'll see some cool stuff!

And don't forget about my book, Rude Biker Chick, Lessons From My Daddy. Click below for more information.



  1. "On the ride up the canyon I had just surpassed my 60,000 lifetime mile mark, which may not seem like much to some riders, but it's quite an achievement to me for only 4 years of riding."

    Sash, you're making the mistake of trying to compare yourself to the people you know, which will skew the results.

    Yes, hardcore Iron Butt riders would think nothing of 60K miles. But in your four years, you have ridden more than the VAST majority of motorcycle owners will ride in their ENTIRE LIVES. No lie.

    There's always going to be someone better than you, and someone worse than you. So just concentrate on being a little better than you were yesterday. You had a situation go sideways on you, and you handled it perfectly. Well done, and may God bless you both! :)

  2. Ridden that road many times. I don't like the canyon highway in a car or on a bike. Not because of me, but because of the others on the road. Nasty wrecks up there. I don't like to ride it, will,again of course. I have ridden more technical roads, but that highway comes with many ugly stories.

  3. Well said Sash. Glad instinct and muscle memory skills took over when needed.

    It is funny how some rides just flow and others are a struggle. I think that happens to us all.

  4. Speaking of the motorcycle skills, here in Ukraine we have a rise of popularity of bike driving schools for women. Do you have something similar in the US? I've read somewhere about girls-only biker clubs in the US, but I wonder if you have schools to teach girls how to ride and if yes, how popular they are.

    It's pretty interesting to compare how the motorcycling culture develops in different countries and spot possible differences.

    Alex White


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