Confidence is the fulcrum that turns a sketchy situation to a great, enjoyable one. I’m not speaking about having confidence in ourselves, but having confidence in our equipment. It’s why we do shakedown rides before bike trips. It’s why we do preventive maintenance, or have a mechanic do a ‘once over’ on our bikes. Confidence in our equipment – hitting the starter and it starts; knowing our battery is going to charge; knowing our bike is going to run correctly – lets us forget our gear and focus on the experience, our friends, and the memories we create. Lacking confidence in our bike turns any trip, long or short, into an exercise of walking on eggs shells of constant doubt.
Story time – stick with me here.
This story begins back on September 19, 2016, just two days after this picture was taken. I took a picture to commemorate an odometer hit, and made a snarky comment about people who say Ducati aren’t durable. Monday I try to start my bike to go to work and it’s FUBAR.
The story begins the way a lot of motorcycle stories being as “Everything was fine the other day, but now…” After months of dicking around with the bike, tearing apart wire harnesses, poking around in the dash, replacing connectors, I finally had to surrender it to Nick at Valley Desmo. That was around Christmas of 2016 – Yeah, I know; three months of sitting in my garage. Nick knocks it out like any professional would, waited longer to get all the parts I needed than the work actually took, but I had my bike back. I was feeling confident on the road again, and all was right in the world.
But then things weren’t right.
The bike ran funny. At first I put it off to bad gas. Or a bad rectifier connector. A dying LiFePO battery. I replaced the ignition coils, hoping they were dying, but no luck. I checked the sparkplugs all the time. My confidence is eroding this whole time. Every morning I wonder “Is it going to start?” Every afternoon, lane sharing to get home “Is it going to die in traffic?” I’d been in contact with Nick but he was waiting for some equipment before he could effectively look at it.
Every day I’m feeling less and less confident in my bike. To the point that I didn’t trust it, that I started to despise it. We knew the problem was likely the fuel mix – it was running super lean due to the new ECU and the Leo Vince cans. But as the weeks went on, it seemed to get worse. How can an ECU get worse? It started to get really hard to start this past week. I had to open the fast idle all the way and even then it would hunt for idle while it was warming up. I started questioning myself: “Did I waste money resurrecting it back in December?” “Should I have just sold it as a project?” “Should I just part it out?”
I wasn’t riding as much because I had no confidence in the bike. Would it refuse to start at the top of GMR or at Crystal Lake? Would it strand me on ACH again? Will it cut out in the middle of a turn out in Joshua Tree? I didn’t want to go on even small group rides because I didn’t want to ruin everyone else’s day. I didn’t want to take people out because I didn’t want to lead rides and have the bike that died.
No confidence vote.
I had no confidence in my bike, and it turned my bike into an appliance. It was like having a big expensive blender. “Yeah, it made my smoothie just fine, but it’s starting to make a funny noise” kind of thing. A bike should always be more than an appliance. Motorcycles are very visceral, emotional experiences already. At least in the US, there’s no good logical reason to use a motorcycle as a daily vehicle: the roads are crowded, drivers are shit, and they’re expensive and inconvenient.
If you can’t have confidence in your bike, that emotional experience is gone. It becomes a sterile exercise is risk tolerance, instead of a memory machine. With no confidence in the bike, I started looking around for new bikes, and weekend rides evaporated. I crossed my fingers every time I put the key in my bike hoping it would start. Praying it would get me home. Backfiring and running choppy while lane sharing, I had to use extra caution because the throttle was completely unpredictable. If the traffic was too bad I’d take surface streets home to avoid it crapping out while in traffic.
A couple weeks ago I heard back from Nick – he had the tool he needed to check the fuel settings. Hallelujah. I found a break in our family weekend schedule and I got up there on a Saturday morning.
Nick and I talked for a while about what was happening, he adjusted the fast idle throw and took it for a ride. His first words on returning were “well, that’s not good enough yet.” He plugged in the official Ducati Diagnostic Tool and then started pushing a bunch of buttons. I kept quiet because I didn’t want to interrupt anything. I always laugh when I see these things – my phone does more than this thing, and it looks like a calculator I used in 80’s high school math. Nick buttoned it back up, took it for a spin, and then it was my turn.
It was glorious.
It was like riding a new bike. It was the bike I remembered from last summer, a little over a year ago. I had confidence in my bike again, and it completely transformed the riding experience. Even just buzzing around Reseda on unfamiliar streets, I was on a freedom machine again not an appliance. Riding home the hour from Reseda, fast traffic, slow traffic, stopped traffic, lane sharing – all was right in my two-wheel-world again. I was confident I could chop the throttle and the bike wouldn’t shut off. I was confident I could lane share at 30mph without the engine bucking and missing.
Reflecting during the ride home is when I realized how confidence (or lack of) in equipment can transform the ride. I’ve said it before but a motorcycle is more than just wheels and tires and controls, and all that crap we buy and throw on it. To borrow a phrase, these are the things that make a motorcycle work, but they’re not what a motorcycle is – a motorcycle is freedom. A bike that gives you confidence lets you turn it on and go: no overthinking, no doubt, and no self-doubt. One of the first things I did when I got home was connect with Robert about going on a weekend ride soon. I haven’t had that conversation with anyone for 6 months, since I took Robert up to Crystal Lake.
Confidence makes or breaks a ride. Even more so when you’re on the open road. When Jon’s bike was being stupid on the Yellowstone ride, he had no confidence and the first half of this epic trip was garbage because he could never be sure if his bike would start, if it would shut off mid turn, or if it would backfire loudly through the tranquility of Yellowstone. Confidence in your bike makes the ride an experience, and not a chore. Confidence in your bike opens the world and expands the range of what’s possible on two wheels.
Now that I’ve got confidence in my bike back, you should start seeing more activity here as well. Thanks for sticking with me – stay tuned for more bike content.