Flat Track Motorcycle Ride-Alongs Are Terrifying

In which our author is a very uneasy rider.

byNeal Pollack|
Motorcycles photo

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Since I started writing about cars five years ago, I’ve done some dangerous and ostensibly fun stuff. I rode shotgun in a three-passenger Formula 1 car, clung to the back of an America’s Cup catamaran in full sail on San Francisco Bay, raced a speedboat into Monaco Harbor, desperately heaved in the back of a two-seater racing plane as it did loops over Las Vegas, went 150 MPH on the Autobahn, and probably a bunch of other things that I’ve forgotten about because I blacked out while I was in process. That doesn’t even take into account the innumerable times I’ve raced high-powered sports cars, at impossible speeds, around professional circuits.

Yet, with the possible exception of the America’s Cup deal—which was undeniably awesome—I haven’t taken pleasure in any of it, especially not the time Sebastian Vettel drove me around too fast in an Infiniti SUV. I’m not a thrill-seeker, and I don’t crave the adrenaline rush. My favorite hobbies are yoga, answering trivia questions, eating cheese, getting stoned, and watching the Dodgers. So, for years, I’ve been checking items off someone else’s bucket list. Mostly, I think cars are dumb.

Am I supposed to lie about this? I don’t know, but I can’t do it anymore. But I do know that I enjoy writing. Even more, I enjoy getting paid. So if Red Bull decides to allow journalists to re-enact the space jump, and I get a guaranteed assignment, then off I’ll go, into the wild black yonder.

Somehow, though, throughout all this nonsense I’ve managed to avoid motorcycles. They terrify me more than anything else on Earth except for knives and werewolves. There’s no chance, even in an extreme zombie emergency, that I would ever pilot a motorbike. It would fall over and crush me within seconds. I didn’t even learn how to ride a bicycle until I was 16 years old.

And yet—I bet you can see where this is going—in came the assignment. The AMA Pro Flat Track was in Austin, part of a big motorcycle weekend that included MotoGP and a bunch of idiots doing loops around some ridiculous stunt dome. Naturally, I got invited to do a ride-along on a high-powered dirt bike with a professional driver. Wear tight jeans, they told me, and a sweatshirt, and closed-toe shoes. You’re going to get dirty.

I’m going to get dead, I thought.

On Sunday morning, I walked into the custom mobile home of 25-year-old Shayna Texter of Pennsylvania, who in 2011 became the first woman ever to win an AMA Pro Flat Track race, becoming one of the most famous people in the sport’s history. I gleaned that she was famous when I saw that her face was on the mobile home, spreading from the rear wheel well all the way up to the roof. She was inside, wearing a kick-ass leather racing suit, holding court with her brother Cory, also a racer, talking about danger.

“Two years ago my boyfriend Briar got hurt,” she said. “I ended up chipping Briar’s bars at Springfield going 150 and I took him out, destroyed his bike, destroyed his leather. He had a concussion. People were coming to the hospital. In other sports, they say, ‘Oh, that’s one less person we have to worry about.' But not us. We all go down together.”

Great, I thought. This was her boyfriend. What chance did an average person have on a motorcycle like this? However, I wouldn’t be riding with the obviously deadly Shayna. I would be riding with Cory, who was about two-thirds my size but was twice the man.

“I am so scared,” I said to him.

Not to worry, he said, he does this all the time. He’d been riding motorcycles since he was three. “I literally go in circles all the time,” he said. “I could honestly do this naked, standing up, with my eyes closed.”

Of course, he also said: “I have a metal plate in my wrist. I have metal screws in my ankle. I broke my collarbone. Almost every crash is because of another rider. I rarely ever go down by myself.”

Completely lacking in reassurance, I went outside to get on Cory’s bike. This was no child’s first ride. It was a Kawasaki Vulcan S, with a number 65 on the front. It looked like something a ninja would ride to get away from Wolverine.

They gave me a helmet that was too small. Shayna took out the cheek pads, which I didn’t want her to do because I have decent cheekbones and I didn’t want them shattered. Even then, though, the helmet didn’t get below my eyes. It looked for a second like I was going to get away with not riding on a motorcycle because I have a large head. But then, at the last second, a PR person emerged out of the dust with a helmet in a box. It might as well have been Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in the box, given the amount of terror I felt. I put the helmet on. I looked like The Stig on Shabbat.

We launched. To quote Tom Wolfe, the bike went “Ggghhzzzzzzzhhhhhhggggggzzzzzzzeeeong!—gawdamn!” We were going fast. I’ve gone faster, but never on a motorcycle. Texter leaned into the turn like a boss. Dirt flew everywhere, especially into my teeth. I tried to use my strong yoga powers. “Activate your mulabandha,” I thought. The mula, the root chakra, helps keep the whole corpus stable. If you clench your perineum, the rest of your body stays loose. I clutched Cory around his waist. Like Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2, I needed a Cool Rider. He kept me safe.

But then, on the third turn, I felt my foot drag.

He stopped.

“Did your foot touch down?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“You don’t want that,” he said.

There followed a minute of him telling me where to put my foot. I understood him about as well as I understand instructions to put together Ikea furniture. But eventually I got the foot where it wouldn’t immediately immolate.

“Do you want to go a few more laps?” he said.

My brain said no, but my mouth said, “Hell yeah, man, let’s do it!”

“Three more,” he said.

They went fast. I breathed evenly, living in the moment while sucking fumes. And then it was over. We pulled in, and I dismounted.

“You did good,” Cory said. “A lot of times my passengers are so nervous, they crush my ribs.”

“Yeah, I’m a pretty chill guy,” I lied.

He removed his leather, and then, underneath that, his two-piece Impact Safe Armor. Why hadn’t they given me some of that? I was only wearing a T-shirt that read “Cheese Is For Lovers.” Underneath that was his bare back, across the top of which was a tattoo that read, “You Never Give Up…Neither Will I.”

“So,” he said. “You think you’d do this again?”

“Maybe,” I said. “I’ll try anything for money.”