Do the Yo-Yo

When passing or riding slowly doesn’t work

naked bikes
It's all fun and games until you hit traffic.Jeff Allen

Do you know Murphy’s Traffic Law? The one that says, “You will encounter no traffic until you finally reach the fun corners.”

You’re nodding your head.

You’ve been zipping along the boring roads salivating over the upcoming turns, only to find a string of cars just as you come in sight of the first fun bend. You can start to pass through the string of cars, often over the double-yellow line and sacrificing a few corners in the process, or you can fall into line and wobble through the bends at the pace of our skilled and highly-trained fellow-American drivers.

Passing over the double-yellow line has many drawbacks:

1. It's dangerous if you can imagine another fast-moving vehicle coming the other way, like a fellow motorcycle enthusiast out "enjoying the corners." A rider covers 88 feet per second at 60 mph, so two vehicles approaching each other can meet in a few blinks of the eye.

2. You might pick a "relatively safe" area to cross the double-yellow and make a pass, but your riding partners might try to extend that opportunity and follow you, especially if they are new, overly-competitive, careless, or poorly skilled.

3. It's illegal and an immediate ticket.

4. It's often upsetting to the drivers you pass. This might not mean anything to you, but it does to me. This is my chosen industry and illegal/unsafe passing tarnishes it in the eyes of the driving public. You can imagine that the Sheriff's wife, who is getting illegally passed by five bikes on her way up the canyon, is going to say something to her husband. Her comment will be remembered by him the next time he sees a sportbike and suddenly we're all guilty by association. No, that's not fair but that's how it works and veteran riders know it.

naked bikes
Stuck behind slow moving cars just as the road turns twisty? Try pulling off to the side of the road and letting a gap open up, rather than following those cars or passing over the double-yellow line.Jeff Allen

Slowing down and following traffic has a few drawbacks too. Well, one drawback: Riding slowly behind dawdling, unskilled drivers is not why most of us ride. It will happen, and depression soon follows. Fuel and tires are saved. Yuk. All we can hear inside our helmet is what the teenager said to Terry in American Graffiti, "Geez, what a waste of machinery!"

So here’s a solution I have used for the last three decades, including last week on Angeles Crest Highway with YCRS’s Keith Culver: the yo-yo. It solves the passing and slow-riding problems noted above, giving maximum enjoyment of the best part of riding, the corners.

The basic idea behind the yo-yo is that you ride with joy until you're slowed by traffic. You then find a safe spot to pull over, a spot that doesn't have you parked right on the edge of the road but also provides a good view behind you, such as the end of a straight. You sit with your engine idling, or with your engine off but your body poised to start your bike and resume riding the moment you see traffic catching you. (Like a professional, you sit with your engine off and in first gear. You start your bike and release the clutch lever to move. You don't sit in neutral, start your bike, and put it in gear.)

You then ride with a little fervor again, enjoying the corners that are now free of traffic. When you catch the dawdlers, you pull over and wait. You jump out again when you spot the chasing traffic and yo-yo between the two for as long as the road lasts, or until the space between dawdlers closes. At that point, you pull well off the road and hang out until you find another big space to yo-yo into.

KTM 1290 Super Duke R
Is the gap between drivers closing up? Go ahead and take a long stop, get off the bike, and take some photos. Your phone's photo gallery will be better for it, and you'll get to enjoy some open roads once you get back on the bike.Jeff Allen

The yo-yo gets tough with big groups, and it gets tough with inattentive riders. It gets tough with riders who can’t start their bikes and go, and tougher if you pick the wrong spot to stop, because you won’t have time to jump out in front of the traffic that finally catches you. It gets tough if your bike is hard to start, too.

But it's always worth trying.

The yo-yo is best on roads that have a single destination, such as canyons, or roads with few to zero intersecting roads, such as roads through national forests or parks. When you have a lot of intersecting roads, your yo-yo plans can be thwarted by cars entering your playground between the groups you’re "yo-yoing." If you catch a single car, passing is the best option, but use the yo-yo method when you have a string of cars ahead and corners to enjoy.

I yo-yo a lot, on bikes and in cars. It allows me to never miss a fun corner, which often happens while you’re idling along looking for a passing opportunity. I’d rather throw on my turn signal, pull to the right, wait a few minutes, and then ride all by myself through the corners in a way that brings joy and meaning to my life while skipping the risks and problems of passing.

Do you remember my articles The Pace and The Pace 2.0? The group I rode with in those days played yo-yo every weekend. We all worked in the industry, we all raced at Willow Springs, and we were trying to balance the pure enjoyment of street riding on sportbikes with our impact on traffic along fantastic California canyons. It worked, and I think it will work for you, too.

More Next Tuesday!