Riding pillion with an Isle of Man TT winner

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I felt guilty for playing hooky from work. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going, all the while thinking they may very well find out where I’d wound up. I was a nervous wreck on the ride up to meet him at his home in Calabasas. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. Why did he even agree to it? At the time, I only asked for my own selfish thrill-seeking pleasure. I hadn’t planned to write about our ride. We didn’t even film it because the last thing he needs is some squid going out to Malibu thinking they can be like Mark Miller.

When I arrived, he explained exactly why my tires were useless. He explained precisely how small the contact patch would be in turns now that I’d squared them off so badly. Sadly, I commute far more than I play on my bike. I still didn’t believe they were that bad, but was perfectly happy to get on the back of his R6. Later we rode my R1 too. So now I have to get my suspension properly sorted because it wallowed like a pig (which I’m used to) after being on his R6. I now know what they mean by “corners like it’s on rails.”

Initially, I was terrified. Especially when I felt the rear wheel skidding and sliding to a stop heading down to the first stop sign. Then the first few turns taken at speeds I’ve never done on my R1 were almost too much for me. I wanted to tell him to stop. I started wishing we’d agreed a safe word (well, gesture). I clutched his chest, the primal fear overriding my knowledge that pushing the gas tank was actually a better position.

But we didn’t stop. We kept riding through canyons Mark has been playing around in for the past couple decades, when he’s not off winning races at the Isle of Man or landing on the podium at the Macau GP. Faster than I had ever imagined possible. Lower than I’d ever dared lean. Soon enough the fear lifted and I became comfortable with the speed. I even giggled with joy when he backed it into a corner getting the bike completely sideways. I no longer feared the squirming tires. At one point, Mark asked if I could unclench my legs enough to enable him to get his knee down, as it would be safer. I simply couldn’t, mainly because the R6′s passenger ergonomics are not designed for Amazons like me. 

Lean inside the rider Pinky! — Ed.

We did a short loop through the canyons and when he stopped to ask me if that was enough, I knew it was. Not because of fear, the fear had long since left me. I really enjoyed the ride, even on the turns where I couldn’t look up (looking where you need to go is as important for a passenger as it is for a rider). But I knew it couldn’t be fun schlepping a six foot, 140lbs passenger around. And my arms couldn’t take much more. Riding with Mark is like doing pushups while the floor gyrates beneath you. Yet he told me that was only about 35 percent of what he’s capable of. Which means my fantasies of one day qualifying for a race at the Isle of Man will likely always remain just that. When enough people tell you you’re fast or bad-ass or whatever, eventually you start to believe it. Until you ride with the Thriller.

But the feeling I had in that moment was what made it truly special. Exhilaration is too weak a word to describe it. As an adrenaline junkie, I always need a bigger fix, but the older I get, the more cautiously I ride. Especially on shagged tires. This ride left me sated like no other ride has. I got my fix. The next morning I jumped out of bed ready to start the day, despite the pain in my arms reminding me I’d had the most intense upper-body workout of my life the day before. I only hope it’s also left me with the courage to step up my game a little. After I buy new tires, of course. 

If you want to be like Mark, you don’t get there by playing on the Snake every Sunday. Mark can back a bike into a corner because of countless hours spent at Kenny Roberts Sr.’s ranch, backing it in with the best of them. You can do the same at Colin Edwards’ Texas Tornado Boot Camp, one of many schools for developing the skills we all need to become great riders. Later he showed me this video from his very first AMA race. It also happened to be Colin Edwards’ first AMA race.

As a professional racer, Mark Miller has had thousands of hours of practice on race tracks and closed roads courses. Most professional racers won’t even ride on the street, but then, most professional racers are scared of the Isle of Man, too.

Susanna writes about bikes, culture and the future of transportation for Pinkyracer and Gas 2.0.

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    Awesome stuff. I would love to ride those roads, and to do it with a top-notch racer like that must have been great.

  • Rick

    Good work if you can get it, pinkyracer’s cool!

  • smoke4ndmears

    nice read. now that you know what fast feels like… hit the track!

  • John

    A fine write-up. You can, and should, learn to back it in at American Supercamp (http://www.americansupercamp.com)
    …and Rich Oliver’s Mystery School (http://www.richoliver.net)

  • JTourismo

    Very Insightful! You can always fool yourself into thinking you have what it takes (or that’s just me) when riding with friends or watching the races on television. It’s polarizing when you actually experience a professional riders skills in person. Riding pillion with one takes it to another level!

  • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

    Totally! I didn’t want the article to be too long, so I left out the other life-changing passenger rides I’ve been on. Like the one on an R1 at a 2001 Laguna track day that completely corrupted me. I sold my Ducati monster asap and have been an R1 girl ever since. I’ve been practicing backing it in on my 10-speed cuz I hated the bike I bought for that purpose (Husqvarna smr450). Once I can properly square off a corner on the bicycle, I’ll move up to an XR100. But at Colin’s camp, of course. The others don’t include shootin’ guns & hanging out in a saloon with Ben Spies.

    • Sean Smith

      You don’t wanna learn on my XR100 in the big, open parking lot across the street from our place?

      • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

        ooooh, ok. :-) I had fun on an XR100 once with Chuck Sorenson at the TT track at Hollister. He said I braked so late it even scared him. Once.

        • Sean Smith

          Ha, you should watch me go into turn 1 at the Willow Springs kart track. I go right past all the braking markers before grabbing the lever with all four fingers as hard as possible. Even 13 years of playing guitar and drums hasn’t given me enough grip strength to make that brake work. All I do is stretch the cable.

          • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

            come out and do the M1GP endurance race on that thing and I’ll gladly watch as you pass me on the brakes. you can’t join our team unless you get a sex change, but other teams are looking for riders.

  • http://www.brammofan.com Brammofan

    Not going to lie. When I read, “I clutched his chest, the primal fear overriding my knowledge that pushing the gas tank was actually a better position” I got a bit excited.

    Damn you, Brammo, for not making a two-seater.

    • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

      all in good time, my friend. first we need batteries that can handle ONE passenger at 100mph for longer than 5 minutes, eh?

  • Gene

    So is your next goal to chase down Randy Mamola for a ride on his two-seat MotoGP bike?

    • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

      Gene, that has been my goal for YEARS. I intend to do whatever.it.takes. to get Dorna and Ducati to recognize that I’m the caliber of VIP they need on one of Randy’s joyrides. I really wish they’d let him do it as a Riders for Health FUNdraiser the way they do at Silverstone. I’m sure it’s fun and worth every penny, but it’s not Laguna. Because they’re limited on time, the rides he does at Laguna go to people who’ve done something very, very special. I’m prepared to do that. Whatever it is.

  • Liquidogged

    I love that this badass racer rides an R6 on the street. And slays with it. With a passenger. Literbikes be damned.

    • Sean Smith

      You should see Max Biaggi in traffic on his Silverwing on PCH. Turns out the reigning WSBK champ splits lanes like a pro.

      • dux

        Yeah, and Casey Stoner is hella fast on his fixie bike in city traffic.

        • Sean Smith

          Casey Stoner rides a fixie?

          • Tony T.

            No better way to keep your quads in shape.

          • smoke4ndmears

            fewer parts to moan about.

        • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

          Source???

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Chickonabike!!

    • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

      usually on my own bike, at that.