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Classic Velocity Blog

Breaking the Speed Limit

Classic Velocity

I have one of those signs in my garage that says "Speed limit 186,000 miles per second, it's not just a good idea, it's the law". Like most people, I am constantly breaking the speed limit. It is not necessarily a willful and conscious effort to disobey the law, rather it is an innate (some would say inmate) sense of the correct speed for any given road and set of conditions. Most of us are not even aware of it, and most of the time it does not represent an egregious excess. 45 mph in a 40 mph area, or 65 mph in a 55 mph area. This is hardly criminal behavior, and it often matches the speed of the other road users. With today's modern equipment and advances in technology, it is incredibly easy to break the law without even knowing it. Any modern bike for example, can probably exceed the speed limit in second gear (if not first).

When I wore a younger man's clothes (as Billy Joel put it), we had a game that we called doubles. Doing the "ton" was out of the question on the bikes we had, but doing the double was possible. The basic premise of the game was that we would look at the posted suggested speed signs for corners and then take that corner at double what was posted. At the time we were riding 90cc, 100cc, and maybe even 175cc motorcycles with well worn tires and brakes that had already sent more than one of us offroad unexpectedly. Nevertheless, this game was deemed to be great fun because of how far it exceeded what we were told was appropriate. It also tested your skills and your cojones. There were a couple of corners where none of us ever achieved the double. We tried them on our own without our friends, and lied about how close we actually came to getting it done, but we all knew that nobody was going to take those corners at twice the posted speed. One and a half times perhaps ! My friend Monk (so named because he was anything but..) suggested once that we try Triples. He low-sided at the first corner and that game was never spoken of again. To this day I am tempt....uuhmmm nostalgic whenever I see a ridiculously low posted speed for a corner.

Today, I was on country lanes and had a short stint on the two-lane highway. The speedometer on the BMW R50/2 actually goes up to 120 mph. I am not sure why. Brand-new in 1965, the top speed was rated at 87 mph. You can probably get into the 90s downhill (in the Alps) in a tuck. However, despite what today seems like golf cart speed, for the entire trip I was exceeding the speed limit. I was going 50 mph on 40 mph roads and the speed felt especially good on this first spring outing for the bike. The corners were swift and one straight had the throttle wide open. At 67 mph. Exhilarating stuff. I thought to myself, I can probably get over 70 there if I lose a few pounds. Or if I wear leathers, but then i would need to fit into my leathers which would mean losing weight again. But I digress. The speeds that I was travelling were technically illegal, but hardly dangerous. On the way back I was suddenly aware of how many roads that I routinely ride have 35 mile-per-hour speed limit. I was also aware of how fast it feels just to do 40 mph on those roads. The combination of a vintage bike with an Earl's fork, 50 year old braking technology,and gravel lurking in corners made that speed pretty challenging in areas. At least for my skills anyway. I saw the suggested speeds for corners and all of a sudden I was 17 again, contemplating how I might be able to double them. The vintage bike made that possible. As Dave Mathews put it, "Bring that beat back to me again".

I have to admit that I have actually doubled the speed limit on modern equipment on a deserted straight stretch of highway. Besides just the enjoyment of going fast on a motorcycle that was intended to go fast, there is a strange psychology to this breaking the law with speed thing. It doesn't matter on what equipment, but old stuff lets you do it at speeds that will not result in denial of bail. There is a sense of apprehension, and yet also a sense of focus. There is certainly the sense that you are "getting away with something", "Sticking it to the man", stepping out of our normal mostly compliant and heavily constrained lives. A certain freedom and a certain level of risk-taking as well. It gets the endorphins and the adrenalin out of winter hibernation. As James Brown puts it, "I feel good, like I knew that I would".