Top 10 Hooligan Motorcycle Techniques | Commentary
In this day of modern hyperbikes with enough power to achieve orbital velocity, enough braking power to stop the rotation of the earth, enough cornering clearance to let you drag your left ear on the pavement, and enough electronic stability/traction control to not even require inputs to lap Laguna Seca, you may wonder why a rider wouldn’t occasionally indulge in some of the more spectacular aspects of motorcycle riding.
You know what I’m talking about; those riding techniques that make onlookers go “Ooh!” and “Aah!” and point, reach for their camera phone, and say, “did you see the monster crash that moron on the motorcycle just had tryin’ to show off?” Followed by admiring comments like, “That’s gotta hurt!” and “Somebody better call an ambulance.”
I’ve seen them all and even done a few, though I must admit, usually not on purpose. I have thought long and hard about attempting some of these techniques.
Then I think about the half dozen or so times I’ve crashed on motorcycles, the numerous times I crashed my mini-bike and the litany of crashes I’ve had on snowmobiles. The memory of those events makes me cringe and I decide, “Nah.”
Even though I’ve been riding said snowmobiles, mini-bikes and motorcycles for over 40 years, after careful analysis, I’ve decided that I’m just not that much of an expert. I’m an average type rider. I do fine on routine road rides and such.
I admire guys like Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez, but I realize I am not them and I can’t ride like them, so I don’t pretend. Besides, I don’t do track days and public roads aren’t race tracks. My nearly 10 years of EMT/Paramedic work on ambulances informed my views on the consequences of indiscretions with motorcycles and snowmobiles.
That said, here are the top 10 hooligan motorcycle techniques I won’t be attempting any time soon—for the reasons just stated. Plus, Online Editor Ron Lieback and Associate Editor Jess McKinley has most of these covered.
1. Seat Standing:
In the November 1970 issue of Cycle magazine, the road test of the new Harley-Davidson Super Glide included this image of the test rider (could that be Cook Neilson?) standing on the saddle.
While this is one of my favorite motorcycle action images, to this day, I can’t figure out what it had to do with a road test, unless it had been captioned, “how to get your motorcycle and major medical insurance canceled.”
No matter; after considering this as a rider skill demonstration option since 1970, I have concluded that this is the top motorcycle technique I won’t be attempting any time soon.
There was a time when I considered the possibility of standing a motorcycle on its front wheel without doing an endo the stuff of science fiction. Then I saw somebody do it. At the time, I assumed it was the product of alteration in the space-time continuum and we were under attack by aliens from space.
After studying the laws of physics that apply, forces of gravity, friction, momentum, relativity and so on, I remain convinced it is impossible using the skills of normal earthlings. My slide rule assures me that the numbers just don’t work. I don’t know what planet riders who can do stoppies learned to ride on, but when you see them, you can bet there are Men In Black not far away, keeping watch. For that reason, a stoppie is near the top of my list.
3. Giant Wheelie:
I have done a few wheelies in my day. They were little, incidental wheelies; the kind that are exciting, unintended and brief. One of my best was with my Honda V30 Magna soon after I got it running in its restoration phase.
It introduced me to its amazing high-rev V4 muscle on a lonely straight stretch of back road. “Hmm,” I thought as I backed off the throttle and the front wheel came back down, “pretty good giddy-up-go for a little 500.”
Giant wheelies carried for miles, not so much. Seeing those You-tube videos of yo-yos in flip-flops and t-shirts on Hyabusas flipping them backwards on top of themselves or veering off course into parked cars has been educational for me.
I have let their painful teachable moments save me the pain and repair bills. Not even gonna try. No, that’s not me on the cover of Kevin Cameron’s Sportbike Performance Handbook; it is Rich Chent’s image of a Kawasaki ZX-11 showing how it’s done.
4. Power slide:
It is so cool to see the masters of the flat track and speedway racing crossed up in full throttle power slides in the corners. It’s even wilder to see somebody doing it with a superbike on pavement. I did it a lot with snowmobiles, but that’s a different story. I did it a few times with my brother’s RT-2 Yamaha Enduro when I was a teenager and on occasion ended up down on the gravel, but what the heck, it wasn’t my bike. These, days I regard any break in traction as undesirable. How stodgy is that?
I again defer to the power of learning from the catastrophes of others via You Tube and other video resources.
Invariably as we peer into our computer screen (or tablet, smart phone, etc.) we see some doofus equipped for a day at the beach, not the drag strip trying to impress onlookers on the street, revving up his liter bike, dropping the hammer and immediately losing control and about a pound of flesh on the black top.
This not to say there aren’t skilled riders who can pull off a monster burn out and make it fairly cool as well as not crashing into something.
Still, I favor such techniques being done on a closed course or actual drag strip, not a public street.
This image is of former Top Fuel Motorcycle Drag Racing World Champion, Steve Suter showing how it’s done by a pro, lighting up the rear tire of his Kawasaki Nitro Express drag bike.
6. Knee Dragging:
These days, being able to drag your knee on the pavement on a road course is pretty much old hat. Not for me; not for the donkeys I ride.
I still glory in being able to drag the footpegs occasionally, but drag my knees in the turns? Not.
Indeed, the old AGVSport full leathers I have for my occasional forays into motorcycle land speed racing came with brand new nylon knee sliders attached. I have taken them off and they will, I am fairly certain, remain unblemished as long as I have them.
7. Elbow Dragging:
Say what? They can do that? Oh—yeah, Marquez and those guys again. Mere mortals who spend most of their riding life on cupped, dry-cracked, half-spent, under-inflated off-brand tires need not apply.
8. Rock Climbing/Observed Trials:
Having seen only snippets of European Observed Trials on TV years ago, and Malcolm Smith doing some magic in “On Any Sunday” when it came out, I was aware that some folks can do amazing maneuvers with a motorcycle.
They all made it look so easy, when our next door neighbors got a Honda XL125, I decided to show the neighbor kids what an expert I was on a bike in my dad’s sand pit. After telling them all about observed trials, I confidently rode their Honda along the top edge of the pit with a 20 foot near-vertical wall dropping to the bottom of the pit.
“They can ride right down a vertical wall—watch this,” I called to them as I cut the bars and let the front wheel drop off the edge. On TV, this maneuver resulted in an orderly, impressive descent to the bottom. Not so now.
“Instead, the neighbor kids watched in horror as I ended their brand new Honda down into the pit, with the thing landing squarely on my groin. That was a teachable moment. I have never forgotten that particular event and I have never attempted to repeat it.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the Aerostich Very Boring Rally II up at Spirit Mountain near Duluth, Minn. That event included AMA Observed Trials competition.
The expert class riders defied the laws of physics and human capabilities in much the same way the riders who can do stoppies do.
They rode their mysterious seatless bikes up and over boulders that stood taller than me. They went from boulder to boulder, up and down vertical walls and stood their bikes stationery on one wheel.
I can only explain these things by recalling a line from a Bugs Bunny Looney Tune, where Bugs walks up a vertical wall and says, “I know this defies the law of gravity, but then, I never studied law.”
9. Rooster Tails on Ice:
This is a very rarely seen technique and is one of the very few that us “up-nort” riders can claim exclusively over the So-Cal riders who bask in the sun year-round and pretty much never get much riding in on ice or a frozen lake. Indeed the only rider I know to ever have achieved the “rooster tail on ice” maneuver is Steve Suter (same as above, see “burn-outs”), proprietor of Suter’s Speed Shop here in Wisconsin.
Suter took his Kawasaki drag bike up to 131 mph in a quarter mile on a frozen lake. Studded tires and truck load of intestinal fortitude made it possible.
10. Jump with Backflip—or without for that matter:
Evel Knievel wowed a generation by jumping Triumphs and later, Harleys over giant water fountains and long lines of school buses.
These days, there are riders who not only do a back flip or two while sailing over amazing distances in mid-air, the do other stuff like letting go of the bike altogether, turning around, gyrating, kicking, you name it.
I have attempted jumping something with two wheels only a few times in my life and that was with an ancient, balloon tired bicycle when I was a kid.
Several of my buddies joined in a competition that involved a 2 x 6 plank with one end set up on a concrete block as our ramp to see who could jump their bicycle the farthest.
I had pretty good form with each landing actually being accomplished with the rear wheel landing first and a nice finish to each attempt. Then my front axle broke landing my best jump of the day and I did a face plant on that old dirt road.
So endeth my bicycle jumping days and I have regarded the notion of jumping a motorcycle as equally absurd ever since. I have, however, done a lot of snowmobile jumping—but that’s another story.
There are probably other techniques that I would now consider ill-advised, which I failed to list. If some come to mind, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll happily cruise with both wheels on the road well within my skill level. After all, as Dirty Harry once said, “A man has got to know his limitations.”