Sezi Toprakci writes to Paolo Volpara on motorcycle weight and on the role of balance. May 2020
Motorcycles are always in a slimming diet. A diet imposed by the manufacturer to keep pace with the absurd search for more horsepower or made by the rider for the same reason.
Despite the call for a fitter and slimmer rider (see EAT LESS PIE..) optimising power to weight ratio remain an expensive and never satisfied search. Every new model claims to have reduced the weigh and the results of the diet are always listed among the top improvements.
As a lover (and rider) of single cylinder I like light bikes; I also recognize that a lighter bike demands a different style of piloting and it offer less protection (or forgiveness) in case of riding errors. Although less fatiguing and more reactive, light bikes tend to be more nervous, more skittish, more uncomfortable.
Additionally, since traction is a factor of weight, on paved slippery road (rain, mud etc.) light bikes become unstable and more prone to slide.
Weight appreciation varies according to the use: to take an heavy bike on unpaved road is an art or a call for help.
But here you have it, a paean for “heavy bikes” written by a person that declares “Every motorbike was heavy for me at the beginning of my riding life. I’m short and have light muscles…”
I met Sezi Toprakçı many years ago within the OMM riders group when she was actively supporting the Advanced Riding Academy and offering practical help to my theory lessons. She had and still has a flamboyant red coiffure and, as old traditional Italian, I named her “Cappucceto Rosso (Little Red Riding Hood).
From Sezi I received at the beginning of May a message that, after enquiring kindly about heath, sparkled what is for me a very debatable subject in riding techniques: the role and importance of weight of the bike.
More than this, I decided to publish the letter since it introduces a Sense/Skill/Virtue that it is rarely mentioned in training manuals or courses: BALANCE.
Weight per se is not an important factor in selecting a bike: how the weight is balanced on the chassis is crucial. Using a “heavy bike” without muscles and height is a pleasure if one has an efficient sense of balance: or if a rider wants to exercise one.
“(in this lockdown period) I’m fine as much as possible – Sezi writes – reading, learning, sharing and riding: trying to improve myself and my life. I wrote the attached piece to share it with you and to clear my mind: I’m sorry about being in Turkish but, even in my mother language I sometime cannot explain how I feel and think. Something inside me says that if you really want to read something or someone; nothing can stop you”
While smiling at Sezi’s compliment, I kept the message for few days on the back burner although I knew that the subject was an interesting one.
“Everyone says that Pan European is heavy bike and hard to ride – continued the mail message – and I always try to explain that weight is nothing if one can feel the balance. True? Debatable? Anyway I want to share it with you”
After this closing of the email, there was no way to avoid a rough translation, an approved (by Sezi) editing and the opening of a debate among the few readers.
“How important is the weight of the bike for competent road riding?” or “It is better to use a light bike or an heavy one when riding on public roads” or “is the search for lighter bikes safe and justified?” or “how to balance weight, agility and manoeuvrability?” or” does a light bike tarnish your image?”
Here is Sezi’s first stone on water:
“ John Lock searched for the answer of how people’s thoughts and concepts are formed, whether we can trust our senses. He divided the data into two categories: primary properties that can be measured such as the substance, weight, shape, movement, and relative properties perceived by senses such as colour, smell, taste or sound.
I find it easier to separate them as objective and subjective, and when it comes to motorcycles I believe that an objective measurable property such as weight is , in effect, a subjective one.
Stating that a motorcycle is heavy is not, in my book, an objective statement, but a subjective concept. Balance on two wheels plays such an important role that weight becomes a “secondary-subjective” concept..
Balance in motorcycle is a concept that can be learned. It is an intellectual skill since I think that it’s not the muscles that hold the motorcycle upright, it’s the mind.
It’s the mind that control the motorcycle as the mind controls the movement of the body.
I can fall because I am a human and when I fall is because my mind was distracted or misguided: I did not see in time what I should have seen, I did not reduced my speed of movement well in advance, I put my body into the wrong place. And I fall. Not for failure of muscle but for failure of mind. With training and dedication I try to develop an “unconscious competence”, a trained instinct that takes over when riding”
Sezi continues with some lyric expression feeling what Nick Ienatsch would call “riding the Pace”.
“I search for the balance between body and the bike, as well as the balance between mind and body. I feel the force of gravity and my mind does everything else. Scanning the situation, getting information, using knowledge, experience and intuition to anticipate. My body is a tool, an instrument like the bike. My mind controls all of them. I don’t use my body to hold the motorbike. I use motorbike to hold my body. I don’t carry an heavy motorbike. My Gentle Giant is carrying me at my commands.
I am a short and weak person and I must constantly find the skills and the system to ride the moto bike that I want. My limits are my teachers: pushing me to search for balance of earth, motorbike, body and finally balance of life”