~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Speed On Two Wheels

"Speed On Two Wheels," a TV program about sport bikes and how they go fast, appeared not long ago on The Science Channel. The program, with some extra footage added will be out on DVD shortly and the guys at Cry Havoc Productions who made the show were kind enough to send me an advance copy. I had seen a bit of the "Speed On Two Wheels" previously but not the whole show and my first impression was that it had some interesting footage and some nice explanations of how bikes worked, more educational in nature than enthusiast oriented. That fits, I'm sure, with the show's Science Channel audience. Watching the entire show on DVD turned out to be a pleasant hour well spent, far more so than most anything motorcycle and non-racing that you are likely to find on "Speed TV" or whatever they are calling it this year.

"Speed On Two Wheels" is a good program with some interesting info and footage, especially for the non-rider or new rider. One of the best things about the show is the merciful lack of Harley-Davidson or biker clich├ęs, lack of gratuitous scantily clad women, and lack of loud, cheesy, hard rock music for a sound track. Thank you, Cry Havoc Productions, for breaking free of the current fashions in motorcycle videos.

The show gives and inside look at AMA road racing and sport bike riding in general with some emphasis on the exploits of the Kawasaki road racing team. Suzuki gets a bit of coverage too with some excellent comments by Matt Mladin and there may have been a Honda around somewhere. Since the cameraman for Cry Havoc Productions is the redoubtable Dylan from over at the Twisting Asphalt blog there are a few Ducati's to be seen and they even manage to include a visit to the Ducati factory and museum in Italy. Side note: The museum guy's Italian accented English was sufficiently unintelligible that subtitles would have been handy.

I found the inside look at Kawasaki's race team to be interesting, much more so than the usual "up close and personal" scripted stuff one usually sees about pro racers. The racers, primarily the Hayden brothers Roger and Tommy, looked and sounded a bit awkward and you know what...I was ok with that because pro racers are racers, not pitchmen or motorsports presenters. I'd rather hear Roger Hayden ramble a bit about what he does than some PR flack recite boiler plate statements on what Roger does. The scenes of Roger, brother Tommy, and assorted others talking about their work had a definite unrehearsed quality to them and it gave a much more authentic feel to the information.

The show is fairly free of crash scenes (only two that I can recall) and overtly scary things that distract from the real story. This is a big plus when communicating the fun and science of motorcycling to the uninitiated without overwhelming the facts with far more eye catching crash scenes.

People who ride a lot know about crashing, we don't like the fact that crashes happen but we accept that they happen and do not get fixated on the painful fact. When an experienced motorcycle rider watches footage of a crash we usually slip right into the mode of "What went wrong? How did that happen? And what can I learn from this?" The non-rider only sees a human tumbling like a rag doll and a machine being destroyed. Watching crashes can be educational for a rider, it's just scary and mind jarring for the non-rider. Limiting footage of crashes in "Speed On Two Wheels" is a big plus in getting the public (or my wife) to focus on the facts and science of riding and competing on two wheels rather than the obvious drama of a crash. Riding and racing motorcycles isn't about crashing, it's about riding well, sometimes riding fast, and NOT crashing in the process.

As you'd expect, the show isn't perfect. The story line seemed to wander a bit and the reason for the jump from one scene to another wasn't always clear. The vintage black and white footage of motorcycle racing could have been left out entirely; perhaps the thought was to provide some juxtaposition to modern racing but the footage is so ancient as to be nearly irrelevant. It's like showing pictures of the Wright Brothers and the Space Shuttle in the same story. It's been done too much already and casts the net of information a little too wide.

Some explanations in the program, such as Nick Ienatsch's explanation and example of traction using a small Honda dirt bike were pretty obscure. I found myself re-explaining to the Mrs. exactly why it was that over-use of brakes and throttle cause a bike to do things like wheelies, stoppies, slides and high sides. On the other hand, the example of how brakes - front, rear, and combination of both - effect braking distance, was excellent.

"Speed On Two Wheels" is a program that is worth adding to your motorcycle video library, first because the inside tidbits about the race teams are interesting, and second because it is a program you can show the non-riders in your family to help them understand a little about what motorcycling is and why you're hooked on it. You can pre-order the DVD of "Speed On Two Wheels" here.

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