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.