Global Skywatch

Ted’s essays

chicken strips

chicken stripsMotorcycle tire technology has come a long ways from those state-of-the-art Dunlop K81 tires I put on my cafe’ racer BSA 40 years ago. This is a good thing. The K81s had a distinctly wedge shape to the sides forming a very wide traction patch at what the engineers felt was the optimum cornering angle. Kind-of like this: \_/

I became pretty good at hard-charging corners along the hills, rivers and rugged Pacific coasline in my neighborhood. Until the day my lean angle exceeded that designed into the tire. Going off the broad part in a full-G turn had the bike disappear out from under me and my blue jeans disappear from my knee area before my body stopped sliding on the asphalt. Ouch!

People with a little more knowledge and experience wear racing leathers when driving near, at, and past the limits of their equipment.

Fast forward 40 years, advancing the rider’s age at the same time, my BMW R1150RS is a sport touring compromise with gobs of power, braking, fine cornering capability, and modern tires that do not have a sharp dropoff point at any angle above metal-grinding-on-pavement.

chicken strip close upAs always, racing is where the technology envelopes are pushed and advanced. Much of that went into rubber compounds that are dramatically stickier. There is no single ‘sweet spot’, but a continuum of traction wherever the rider takes ’em.

The young, bold riders now compare the wear patterns on their tires with bragging rights favoring those who have worn the nubs from molds the tires came out of, way down on the edges. Unworn edges are called “chicken strips”.

I am reminded from a phrase that airplane pilots use:
There are old pilots
and there are bold pilots
but there are no old, bold pilots

A contemporary of mine was there when his 30-something son introduced me to the phrase “chicken strips”.

His ready reply was: “We call them Wisdom Strips”.

when life throws you a curve, lean in and add throttleWhile my cornering competence and confidence is rising, I am nowhere near the racing form I once had. I suspect I not only will approach greater lean angles very slowly, but I think it most likely I will never erase those wisdom strips off the edges of my tires.

As it turns out, I can thoroughly enjoy the delights of cornering while remaining a long ways off from my equipment’s limits.

But the skills have their place. When conditions arrive other than as expected upon entering a turn, the operator either leans in and adds throttle or fails to negotiate the turn. Having a reserve is nice.