Monday, August 11, 2014

Do You Believe in Tar Snakes?

Sung to the tune of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Do You Believe in Magic?"

Sunday I was out for a ride, and when passing over a mid-turn tar snake, the bike got a little wiggle on.  Woke me up a bit.  Then it reminded me of the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford, "Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can't - you're right."

Say what?  Everybody hates tar snakes, right?  That's what I believed until I met someone who didn't, someone who seemed completely unperturbed by the presence of tar snakes.  How could that be?  They're slippery.  They're bad when they're hot.  They're worse when they're cold and wet.  They make your bike slide, your elbows stiff, your breathing stop, and other things pucker.  How could anyone not hate tar snakes? 

This guy didn't love tar snakes, he just didn't care.  Wasn't he afraid that tar snakes would put him on the ground?  That's what I asked him.  His response was to shrug his shoulders and say, "They just make the bike wiggle a bit." Wait!  These things put my heart in my throat every time the bike steps out over them, and he says it's just a "wiggle".  Does this guy have ice water in his veins?  If not, what explains his insouciance in the face of imminent disaster?

When I pressed him, he said it was pretty straightforward.  If it's just a snake or three that he's going to be crossing when leaned over, that he gets his braking done so that he can get smoothly back on to a positive throttle, keeping his eyes up and looking for the exit, and stay loose on the bike.  That way, when the bike moves it will only step out a couple of inches, then sort itself out.  On the other hand, if he stiffened up, looked at the front wheel, slammed the throttle shut, and grabbed some brakes, there would be a little more drama. 

The key insight that unlocked it all for me was the realization that most tar snakes are only a few inches wide, and this if your tire slips off of one that its next contact point will be asphalt, and grip will be restored.  Brilliant insight, huh?  The other stuff listed above is just good motorcycle fundamentals that I know I should be doing anyway.  The breakthrough was the belief that traction would be restored in a split second.  Just a wiggle.  On the other hand, if I believed that the tar snake would put me on the ground, I might still stiffen up, close the throttle, look at the ground, and have quite a moment. 

The usual caveats apply; if there is a whole nest of tar vipers, or a large tar patch, you will quite likely have a bigger slide, or even ruin your day, so deal with that situation accordingly.  If you're just dealing with the usual confederation of disorganized tar snakes, get your braking done before tipping in, get your eyes up and toward the exit, and smoothly apply a light throttle, and your belief will pay off. When it comes to tar snakes, do you believe you can, or do you believe you can't?  Henry Ford, nailed it - either way, you're right. 

Oh, and all you dirt riders in the back of the room, you can quit snickering now. 

1 comment:

  1. I encountered a whole mess of tar snakes on a hot day in July when I was riding 96. While I didn't love them, they weren't terrible, either. I did notice that I found myself riding a little slower because of them so I will try your friend's technique next time I encounter some. Relaxing and letting the bike do its thing has helped me a time or two. :)