Mendocino Soft Science

Story by Lesley Gering//
November 1 2008

“This is your journey
This is your story
Ride hard my friend
And be safe
Every corner has a lesson for you
Every weather system
Will peel away a layer
that is no longer needed
Ride with it
Not against it…
You know so much
Yet nothing
The forest will show you
And so will the ocean
Every turn will be your victory…”

And so it seems…

My eyes on dim, squinting over the flashing smile of sunset white light, the black oaks heavy shadows against this wet orange paint…

I ask myself with a squint, “Is this Heaven?”

It must be.

The road turns here, there and everywhere like some weird Dr. Seuss highway.

Where is everyone?

It’s dinnertime. The tourists are feeding their faces.

Perfect—no cars or trailers. No waiting for the next corner.

The Mendocino Highway here in Northern California appears like a ghost road, so I grab a handful of throttle and go… I’m hesitant. It’s surreal to see the roads barren like this but I’m going with it. This is a gift, accept it and move forward.

Me and a thousand twisties on this road through the Californian Redwoods to the Pacific Ocean.

Me and my bike.

Me and the mist.

Me and the medicine of the road.

Just go.

The first thing I encounter is a warning sign…warning?

Sign states: Next 25 Miles and there is a snake like drawing underneath representing a curving highway.



My mouth sparks a smile that radiates across my controls.

The sign should say, “you lucky mother!” because for us motorcyclists, that little snake equates BLISS.

The first corner hits me fast and I’m forced to realize the intensity of the upcoming journey. There are thousands of these bends on this highway from the 101 to Highway 1, and then onwards to the oceanside town of Fort Bragg. It’s like being on a racetrack, a hundred miles of racetrack and each turn as unique as the next. I start to laugh.

This is going to be fun.

Time to breathe, darlin’.

I realize I have to be more focused because my giddiness over this last leg of highway is getting the better of me. Obviously, it will be amazing but concentration needs to be in full effect. Earlier in the season, I started reading “The Soft Science of Road Racing Motorcycles” by Keith Code. Most people are familiar with his original book “The Twist of a Wrist”.

I read that book years ago but this season I wanted to learn more about the science behind riding, especially with all the high performance motorcycles I was test riding lately.

Time to educate.

The school of riding never stops and I was hungry.

Twist of the wrist.

With this gorgeous highway tucked in the Northern California coastline, I was thrilled to apply some of Keith Code’s words. The first principle: THE PLAN. Well, I’m not on the track and I’m not racing – so, the plan was to ride the Mendocino Highway from the forest to the ocean with turn after turn after turn – a thousand for sure. Hence, understand and apply the five senses of racing:

1) Speed

2) Traction

3) Location

4) Timing

5) Lean Angle

6) Body position and control operation

I’m taking each corner with these principles in mind. Each time I feel the flow come and then it goes—not unrealistic to lose your concentration after an encounter with a Sequoia Cedar the size of a small building. Sigh…I reel myself back into the message of the book…I remember a chapter about the complexity and simplicity behind the philosophy of riding and in some ways, one could use this in everyday life, but here I am, and it’s not everyday you’re racing the wind, so I dictate the text back to myself like some leather-geared secretary:

“Riding a motorcycle can be broken down into two simple things: Thought and motion. How you ride (motion) is determined by your ideas (thoughts) of how the riding should be done. When you come to a turn in the road, you size it up from your experience (motion you have experienced), you formulate an idea (thought) of how to take the turn this time (motion/thought), then you go through the turn (motion again). Your idea of how the turn should be ridden determines how well it all works out. You turned your thoughts and ideas into motion.”

So, true. And here I was, a living example of this. Using my years of experience to guide me through hairpin corners and deep twisties giving it my best to stay centered even though my artist brain wanted to stop and take photos of the ancient Redwoods. Next lesson – having a PLAN to take corners:

An individual’s riding style or his plan to handle a turn is based on his/her knowledge of location in the turn. These three factors are 1) current location 2) the direction of travel 3) future location. The three factors of location are each important to you while riding. However, problems can and do occur if your attention becomes stuck on any one of them. Ignoring one or more of them can give you the feeling of being “lost”.

Well, I wasn’t lost but there were moments where my mind engaged in the environment around me and then as quickly as it did jerking it forward—reminding myself of the next turn ahead and then throwing my focus

into a not-so-natural-gonna-take-this-corner-and-look-waaaaaaay-over-there-cuz-that’s-what-you-do-in-finding-your-apex! Yup…these corners were tight. I was in school here on this beaten path and every twist of the wrist, every finger on the brake line—it all represented a new day.

A new brain cell.

A new degree in the art of riding.


“Your sense of speed needs to be developed in both acceleration and deceleration situations. Sense of speed is the most important ability a rider has. It allows you to change speed and gives you confidence. While experimenting with speed, it’s important to keep careful track of your location. While adding speed to some part of a turn, your attention can be diverted from location; poor timing is often the result.”

This is where I struggled. I found that with every turn I wanted to gear down deep and low and watched my RPM get nailed high and it just felt wrong. My weight almost thrown over the handle bar, but then I realized that was JUST what was RIGHT and WRONG—these were some serious corners and I was taking them aggressively, not unlike riding a bucking bronco. I was getting tossed around and that was OKAY. However disconcerting as it was, it was also thrilling—so I focused more, pulled my core in tighter and wrapped my energy around my bike like it was some force to be reckoned with…and it was.

(Insert music here…)

I emerged into the angel light of dusk.

Here I was on the coast of Northern California only twenty miles from my destination.

I had made it to the ocean.

“Good girl…”

Each finger of sunset touching my face and stroking me—a reward or maybe just a reminder of how much more I need to learn.

Over a thousand corners, over a thousand lessons and the school of Keith Code came into play at the most bizarre time of my “little Motorgirl life”. I thought about his words. My arms trembling as I picked up my camera to shoot the setting sun on the Pacific Ocean,

“Each rider including myself has his own way of fitting all the thoughts and ideas about road racing into his riding. How you DO IT is very personal. But WHAT you are dealing with is the same for everyone.”

It didn’t matter—I did it. I conquered this Mendocino Highway.

Well, at least until tomorrow morning. Thanx Keith. MMM


Lesley Gering is an award winning artist and photographer. Her art and words can be found on her website: www.motorgirl.com.

Her latest 20-day journey in August from Vancouver to The Burning Man Art Festival will be documented in future columns. Stay tuned!

Lesley would like to give a giant thank you to BMW Canada for their amazing support and also her good friend, Chuck Cox who reminded her of the magic of certain highways—the Mendocino for one. They remind us WHY we are motorcyclists. Thanx Chuck and thanx Norm. Be full of gratitude fellow riders.

Keith Code’s “The Soft Science of Road Racing Motorcycles” Acrobat Books Copyright 1986


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