The Need For Speed
One of the most enjoyable things about being part of Socially Fit is that we get to meet great people. One of these people happens to be Alicia Sullivan aka Miss Busa. She’s very funny, friendly, has an amazing blog, and offers advice whenever she can. She also happens to ride motorcycles, very fast! In fact she races them. We were very excited when she gave us the opportunity to share her story. For your reading pleasure, we give you Miss Busa.
I’m not really sure how my need for speed started. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that my motorcycle felt like the only place where I was truly in control of my destiny. The woman and the machine, nothing else. First it was a way for me to relax. Riding took all of my mental capacity; problems, worries and life’s stressors couldn’t follow me on the ride. As my skill progressed and mental resources were freed up, the therapeutic “mind blanking” effect diminished. I had to ride harder and go faster to reboot my system and arrive at my destination with a smile and ready to take life by the horns. Speed is a by-product of what we call “throttle therapy”, rather than a goal. I had to take it to the race track because that is the only place where I can occupy my brain enough to give it a break from everyday life. Leave all the stress at the gate, it’ll be there for me Monday morning. But for now I have not a care in the world, other than maybe wrecking myself, and that’s ok. And thus, the addiction began.
Racing has given my life a narrow, intense focus. I used to have lots of hobbies and frequently enjoy the indulgence that is retail therapy. I used to buy lots of girly things. Now everything I do (or decide not to do) is centered on racing. I became thrifty in all other areas in my life in order to get to the track faster or take one more class come race day. I never understood how some people would pour all their energy and money into one thing only. I found this to be dreadfully boring. Now I am one of those people, and it’s not boring at all. I don’t miss the things I’ve given up in the name of going fast. I’m living it, breathing it, everything I do is centered on it and I’m a much happier, passionate individual overall. I am actually more balanced, if that makes sense. I want to go fast, extremely fast. I want to be the best I can be, and that gives me the energy, motivation, and will to push on, especially when life gets a little complicated. There is nothing quite like hauling triple digits speeds in a straight line, just to slam on the brakes, throw the bike into a turn, and hope you don’t wipe out as you pass some guy on the outside of a turn, dragging your knee all the way around, going faster than you’ve ever dared before, grinning like the Cheshire Cat as you exit the turn and think: “Yeah, you just got passed by a girl.”
When racing, you want to be in the best physical and mental shape. Making sure you are as prepared as your machine. For me, the single most important aspect of my training is probably visualization. Visualizing and rehearsing mentally how you will navigate the race track. Obviously, if you’ve never been to the track in question this is difficult to do. I often watch countless hot lap videos repeatedly. Even if they don’t seem to make sense when I watch them, since a lot of important visual clues are missing in POV cam recordings. However, I seem to do better on an unknown track if I have watched videos and studied the track geometry on paper before I got there than I did when I was lazy and decided to just wing it. If I can I follow that up by shadowing someone who knows the race line and is kind enough to take the time to turn a few laps with me in tow at an easy pace, I will. The best (and fastest) way to learn a new track is by following someone and having them point out key points along the route.
My least favorite thing to do before a race is prepping the bike for the track, which is a lot less hassle now that I have a dedicated race bike, and loading all of my junk in the pickup truck. Then getting there and having to unload all the junk yet again, set up the pit, get the bike on the stands and the tire warmers on. A lot of the stuff is heavy and it wears me out just thinking about it. The generator alone weighs like 80 pounds. Then at the end of the day you get to pack it all back up and go home, just to unload it all again. Luckily, most racing events for me are two-day affairs and I try to do back-to-back track days to make the road trip and loading/unloading hassle worth it. A friend of mine said it perfectly: “Getting to the track sucks, but being at the track is awesome!”
I never performed mechanical work on my bike until I started racing. I can’t really say that I like it, but learning to be a motorcycle mechanic came out of necessity. I have to pinch pennies to be able to race. I am not sponsored and racing is expensive. Tires, entry fees, gas money, lodging, etc. And the faster you get the more expensive it gets. I always joke around and say I can’t afford to get much faster than this, I won’t be able to afford the rubber. And it all becomes exponentially more expensive when you crash and have to fix your bike. I can’t afford to pay anybody to change my oil or fix my busted clip-on or engine case. In addition to that, I’ve learned how to repair and paint fiberglass, do routine maintenance, change my own tires, and diagnose electrical problems. I also learned how to solder, read wiring diagrams, and all sorts of other skills I didn’t think had anything to do with racing or motorcycle riding in general. Unfortunately, I wrench more than I ride. I am a self-pitting, self-rescuing princess with grease under her broken fingernails. Pretty went out the window a long time ago, only to be replaced by practicality. I try to hang on to a semblance of “girliness”, but it isn’t easy. The pretty girls at the track don’t pit themselves; they have an entourage of male friends to do their dirty work for them. Sometimes I envy them, but most of the time I take pride in my ability to do it all myself. Not that you really have to, since racers (or true bikers, for that matter) are the most awesome people you’ll ever meet. Most of the time, you don’t even have to ask, they’ll just show up and ask, “mind if I give you a hand?” and that’s that.
I never thought that you had to exercise or be in shape for motorsports. After all, they call them MOTOR sports for a reason, right? Wrong. The faster you go the harder it is to steer. Moving side to side on a bike at speed is quite the workout too. It’s a lot more physical than one would think. It requires lower body strength to sit on the bike properly, because you can’t (or shouldn’t) put weight on the handlebars. During hard acceleration you have to fight from sliding too far backwards, during hard braking you have to keep from sliding forward into the tank because you need the weight to stay to the rear. You’re constantly moving on the bike shifting your weight around to help the motorcycle do “its thing” and to manage your available traction. I’m anemic. I’m always tired, I really couldn’t run any kind of distance without having to stop and catch my breath because my lungs were on fire. I’m not really all that strong either. Knowing that being in shape would enhance my skill as a rider/racer is one thing, actually making it important enough is quite another. My epiphany came in the form of two racers eventually leaving me to smell their exhausts after trading positions back and forth with them for numerous laps during a 16-lap race. I ended up running off track after one hell of a fight in a short straight where I managed to barely pass them both, because I was mentally and physically exhausted. I managed to save it and get back on the track only to get a calf cramp in the next turn which caused my inside foot to slip off the peg. I almost fell off the bike right there. I am still amazed how I managed to get back on in time and without losing control. After all that excitement, Lap 9 saw me shifted into survival mode. I just needed to finish this thing. I was no longer racing; I was just trying to make it to the checkered flag without wrecking my bike. Every time I passed pit-in, I wanted to quit but I told myself no. I had two more cramps during the remainder of the race and almost passed out while I was trying to push my bike back into its spot in the pits. I would have dropped it, had my friend not come to my rescue and pushed me in while holding the bike until I could slide off to the ground and beg for mercy and an oxygen tank. Yes, physical fitness is important. It enhances your endurance mentally and physically, and gives you the needed strength to throw a liter bike around turn after turn. You have to be fit if you want to go fast. No way around it. And seeing those two racers (they were both female, I later found out) pull away from me in the middle of the eighth lap, really brought that fact home. Hammered it in and gave me the motivation needed to finally get off my exercise-resistant bum and start doing what I knew I should have been doing the first time I ever rode a motorcycle on a racetrack. Every time I want to give up during an especially hard run or set of strength training exercises, I visualize those two girls pulling away from me. This will not happen again.
Before a race, my mind is in overdrive. I’m usually quite nervous, to the point of being nauseous. I can’t concentrate and am over-thinking everything. This heightened state usually begins the day before I have to hit the road to drive to the track and it gradually builds in intensity. I’m excited, am looking forward to it, can’t wait to get there, but at the same time I feel like I’m about to go to my own funeral. When I meet up with friends it’s usually not that bad, because we drink a few beers, catch up and have a good time. However, I usually pay for that the next morning, because all those things that I planned on doing at the track before technical inspection usually don’t get done. I usually roll into tech late and miss first practice. Its rush, rush, rush in the mornings. I hate that, I’m not a morning person; optimally I drink my coffee sitting around slowly waking up. I’m usually too busy prepping to be anxious, however, come first call you can find me pacing in my pit. That’s usually when I realize that I’m still pre-coffee and haven’t eaten. When they announce final call, the rush starts all over again. Tire warmers off, crank the engine, take the bike off its stands, gloves on, and roll out. The nerves return on my way to hot pit lane to get on the track to do the warm-up lap to grid up. I usually feel like puking at this point, my hands feel jittery and weak manipulating the controls. Once I find my spot on the grid and line up, waiting for the green flag, watching the number boards count down, my focus narrows to a kind of tunnel vision and that “pukey” feeling mercifully subsides. My muscles become taught, I can barely hear the engines idling all around me, all attention focused on the board. I can feel my heart pounding when the Number 1 board goes up, and then is turned sideways. I rev up the engine holding at around 9,000RPM, now the formerly perceived quiet is replaced by the screaming of race engines. When the green flag appears and not a second later, with the hopefully smooth release of the clutch lever, my anxiety is replaced by a widened focus and extreme purpose as I feel the rear tire hook up and the bike barrels down the front straight and carries me, hanging on for dear life, into the mayhem that is Turn 1 after the start. After the checkered flag there’s really only one thing that goes through my mind: “Weeeeeeee, that was freakin’ awesome. Can I do it again?!?” followed by the animated and colorful recounting of all sorts of detailed short stories in the pits.
I used to race my street bike, a 2010 BMW S1000RR. I now also have a dedicated race bike, a 2007 Yamaha R1 with all the performance upgrades this girl can dream of. I have ridden a Honda CBR600RR and a Suzuki GSX-R600 on the track, and I’m faster on the 600s, especially the Gixxer. However I am a literbike girl at heart, and although it retards the learning curve in becoming a faster racer, I refuse to “step down” to a 600. It’s a personal thing, not necessarily a smart one.
I wish more women would get into riding motorcycles, move from the backseat to the front. More women need to get involved in the motorcycle industry as a whole, not just racing. We bring a unique viewpoint to the table, we think differently and approach racing (or riding) from a slightly different angle. Our learning curves are slightly different from those of the men. Our approach to riding is, too. We have different obstacles to deal with in motorcycling. Gear fit, machine fit, etc. We can do it, Elena Myers is proof positive. And there are lots of other very fast girls out there mixing up with the men and holding their own. I just wish the industry would sponsor more talented girls and women, even if they aren’t the fastest. We are a growing demographic and we love to shop. They just have to figure out how to get into our wallets, and it’s really not all that hard. And why is Nike not sponsoring an all-female motorcycle road racing team? We make it count even when we’re not on the track. We have to.
If I could go back in time and tell the 13 year-old version of myself something, I probably would tell her not to take no for an answer in five years when she gets in trouble for practicing figure eights on her boyfriend’s GPZ900R first generation Ninja, and tries to get a motorcycle license behind her father’s back. I probably would have killed myself in the meantime, so it’s best to leave it alone. The only thing I really regret is not starting to ride motorcycles until I was 37. But life happens and the motorcycle thing was all but a forgotten dream, killed in its infancy, not to be rediscovered and revived until almost 20 years later.
You can’t wait for something to happen, so your life will get better on its own. If you have a dream, or even just a little something that you wish was different about yourself or your life, you have to get off your tush and work for it. Nobody is going to throw it in your lap because you think you’re deserving. We are all deserving of happiness and peace. We are all deserving of living the life that we want to live. It’s only easy in the movies. That’s the only place where it’s glamorous, too. The reality is quite a bit dirtier and full of more tears than you shed watching that last emotional drama that really got to you. Work towards your goals. Too afraid? Too embarrassed? Don’t have enough money or enough time? Other people have told you you’re off your rocker, to grow up and be responsible? Or have given you the “that ain’t gonna happen for you” realist speech? Blow it off. Even if you end up “failing” by societal standards, the journey is promised to be one hell of a freakin’ ride. If it were easy everyone would do it and everyone would be it. Focus on the journey, not the destination. And celebrate every small little triumph in your life, no matter how it “stacks up” against others. Don’t compare. You are unique. If you find yourself comparing, you’ve lost the true reason of embarking on your journey. In racing, there is always someone faster than you. In fitness there will always be someone stronger, healthier (and faster) than you. Comparison and inappropriate competition leads to disappointment and discouragement. And most importantly, don’t EVER GIVE UP. Especially when it seems that everyone and everything is against you, be true to your journey.