This is a question that gets asked of every motorcyclist at some point. How fast have you had it? or What’s the top speed? or some variation thereof.
In physics they say that one can never reach the speed of light because with an increase in velocity there’s a corresponding increase in mass. Your spaceship would just become so massive that it would slow itself down, acting as a self limiting governor. On a motorcycle, that shift in mass/velocity applies only to the testicles. In other words: the faster you went, the bigger your balls were. If you want people to think you had massive gonads, just increase the speed that you supposedly went.
I just don’t answer this question anymore. I don’t like this question because it’s someone trying to open the door for testosterone fueled ego stroking. When someone asks this, they’re doing the verbal equivalent of picking up a branch and puffing their chest out. I might toss out a nonchalant, “Oh gee… I don’t even know” or if I want to be a dick, “Hmm… about ten miles per hour faster than you”.
This question usually comes from one of two people: Someone new, or someone who quit.
The New Guy
The new guy is most likely a 22 year old wearing a gilded shirt with tribal designs or skulls, they like brand logos on their gear, and might even go out of their way to give free advertising to companies that are associated with speed. He’s still full of spit and vinegar and wants to be respected by the peers of his new hobby. The pimple faced kid with his first GSXR is still learning how to ride, still gets an adrenaline hit when he pegs the throttle, and hasn’t even experienced his first high-side yet. These are the noobs that don’t know what it’s like to go into a death wobble or watch helplessly as a car pulls out in front of them knowing that there’s nothing they can do to prevent slamming into their Buick and turning into superman. He’s young and still fueled by hormones and ego, comparing themselves to every other biker by a simple benchmark: top speed. They haven’t ridden to Canada, done the entire Blue Ridge parkway, or disappeared for an entire week with nothing more than what fits in their tank bag. All they know is that they can go faster on a bike than they could in their Camaro, and it’s a competition.
The new guy wants to impress you because he wants the approval of his peers, and he thinks bragging about speed is the way to do it. It’s very similar to the amateur comic trying to impress the veteran comedians by saying things like, “Oh, I’ve got at least an hour of solid “A” material”, or “I’ve never bombed”. Really? If you’ve never bombed then you haven’t been doing it long enough, and if you’ve got an hour of killer jokes how come you struggled doing an eight minute guest spot? You’re so inexperienced that you actually think someone with experience is going to fall for your bullshit. It’s like someone who’s been riding motorcycles for six months thinking a veteran motorcyclist is going to believe that you did 190 mph on one wheel with your supermodel girlfriend on the back. Even if I did believe you, I’d then just think you’re an idiot.
The other type I encounter is the “I used to ride” guy. He’ll tell you what bike he had, how may cc’s the engine was, the horsepower and weight, why he sold it and stopped riding (kids, wife, lack of self control, etc.) and most importantly, how fast he went one time. He’ll open with, “Yeah, I used to ride…” before he gets to the predictable, “… I had my KawaDuca-Yama-Saki up to blah-blah-blah…”
This top speed was most likely on his way back from a bike week on a long, straight, wide open stretch of country highway, when he was trying to impress somebody (and probably scared the shit out of him). He’s trying to relive the glory days when he felt like he was cool, and when bragging about such things actually did impress the other idiots he hung around with.
The retired squid is usually over 35, dyed hair, divorced 3 times (because he’s a hard-headed tool), but still hasn’t let go of the competitive compulsion that drives him to show off even when he’s no longer in the game.
I can sometimes predict that the question is coming. If they’ve been hanging around staring at your bike for the last 15 minutes, they want to brag. If they’ve already gotten their frappucino but seem to be dragging their feet leaving Starbucks, they want to brag. They want to impress you. They don’t even know you, but for some reason they need you to think they’re a badass. They have to let you know how cool they are. Watch the cocky strut they get if you throw out a “Gosh! that’s fast!”
They don’t ride anymore, which makes them less cool in their own mind. They used to be cool, when they went 10 mph faster than you. But now they’re sitting in a minivan in the Royal Farms parking lot, not going 160 mph. They’re waiting for their daughter to get the milk and western fries, and they don’t think that’s cool… because they’re stupid. They don’t think having a Honda Odyssey is cool (but I think that van is the bees knees, seriously). They’re stuck in that 17 year old mentality of needing the approval and adulation of other people. I’m more forgiving when it comes from an actual teenager, his hormones are still raging and he wants to fuck or fight every other thing that comes his way. When it comes from a grown adult however, that’s when it just gets sad.
Here’s the real rub: They don’t really care how fast you’ve gone. They’re only asking so that they can then brag about how fast they’ve gone. Rest assured, whatever number they throw out is probably a lie, and guaranteed to be at least 10 mph more than your top speed. Guaranteed. They want to brag, even if it means they have to lie.
I’m not impressed with speed. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was about 11 or 12, raced different genres, crashed more times than I can remember (which might only be once, but it wiped my memory clean), and put in quite a bit of seat time. Top speed does nothing for me. If someone tells me that they completed an I.S.D.E. I’ll be impressed. Note: completed. They didn’t have to win, or trophy, or even finish in the top 50. Just being able to finish is a big deal. Google it. If someone tells me that they don’t own a car because they only ride I might be impressed. If someone eats a motorcycle bolt by bolt, I’ll be impressed. You tucked down and twisted the throttle on an open highway? Nope. Whooptie-frakkiin-doo.
Top speed is easier to use as a benchmark than “How far have you leaned it over in a decreasing radius, off camber, uphill crest, with loose gravel at the apex?” Top speed is the motorcycle equivalent of “What’s the most you’ve ever bench pressed?”
What does impress me? The motorcyclist that keeps riding. The biker that continues to ride despite all the reasons not to. There’s a lot of valid excuses to quit: accidents, kids, mortgage payments, arthritis, missing a leg, texting teenage drivers, deer, insurance premiums, death, etc. If someone is a dyed in the wool motorcyclist, they won’t stop. They can’t stop. The new rider hasn’t been doing it long enough to know whether he’s really in for the long haul. He hasn’t crashed yet, married a overbearing nurse, had kids, or almost died riding. Yet. Give him a few years and a crash or two and he’ll either invest for life, or quit. The quitter gave it up because he was able to give it up. He might have enjoyed riding, but he wasn’t committed to it the way life-long motorcyclists are. That’s why I give props to the old guys on Gold Wings or BMW touring bikes; they can’t give up riding, all they can do is make it more comfortable.
Instead of trying to impress us with your top speed, impress us by throwing your leg over a bike after ten years of riding, multiple crashes, complaining girlfriends, and all the other crap life throws at us to get us to quit riding.