Automotive superiority is what I like to call it. It happens every time you get behind the wheel of a car you know and trust for a long, hard drive to anywhere or nowhere. It happens when you don't have to slow down for the outside world, when a great road, a fast car and the right driver fall into an uninterrupted rhythm. I find it relaxing. Therapeutic even.
I experience automotive superiority darned near every time I take a road trip. The most recent was just last week. I drove Project WRX from L.A. to Northern California to visit a friend and do some work on the car.
As always, before I hit the freeway I secured all my crap, making sure anything heavy enough to crush my skull in an accident was tied down. My mountain bike was anchored in the back seat and my 30-pound camera bag was belted into the seat next to me like a silent passenger waiting for the stupidity to begin. The CD changer was loaded with everything from Pearl Jam's latest, "Riot Act," to some far more mellow Don Ross folk guitar music. I was ready-and nobody was going to slow me down.
Speed is the true essence of automotive superiority and for the enlightenment to be complete, one must choose a route that includes miles of empty, flowing tarmac. California's central valleys were just the ticket and the trip up north went smoothly. For more than 500 miles, I bothered no one and no one bothered me.
Then, on the way back several days later, things got interesting. The incident can only be described as refreshing. Well, educational and refreshing. And the result will eternally skew my view of automotive superiority.
There's a group out there wondering what the hell I'm talking about. They ride motorcycles. Fast motorcycles. Superbikes. These guys know nothing faster than a motorcycle over the open road. They see cars as obstacles. Big, heavy, slow-moving roadblocks. They live in a two-wheel world ruled by power-to-weight ratios we car guys can only drool over. And I ran into them that sunny afternoon on California's Highway 25 just south of Hollister. And, at least one of them knew how to ride.
I've encountered these two-wheeled bastions of momentum before and the results have always been less than impressive. Every time they've been written off as poseurs as I blow by in a grand display of automotive superiority proving that four wheels are universally better than two when it comes to covering twisty tarmac at speed.
So I have a few prejudices. In fact, I've got a long history of prejudice against damned near anyone who's going slow and refuses to get the hell out of the way. Usually it's indifferent deadbeats in colossal American iron, not Colin Edwards disciples wearing full leathers on the street.
Nevertheless, these guys were about to join that list. They plugged along for the first 15 or so miles at a respectable velocity that kept my temper in check and allowed me to push the Suby to six- and sometimes even seven-tenths. But I wanted to go quicker.
Then they stopped in the middle of a long straight and began to swap bikes. I saw my chance and crept respectfully past ever so slowly. But, before I was out of helmet-covered earshot, I laid down a crescendo of wide-open EJ20 engine notes just to let them know I was in front and intended to stay there. In 20 seconds I was going 130 mph. They instantly disappeared from sight. I turned off the radio. Time to get serious.
My pace increased in direct proportion to the swelling of my head as I symbolically passed the leather-clad sport bike brigade. And I maintained the same intensity level I always do when on a hard-driving binge. The pace was somewhere between light pucker factor and mild nervousness. Good soul-cleansing stuff, which kept my heart pumping but left a respectable safety margin. Ten minutes passed. And then, on a whimsical glance in the rearview mirror, I saw a tiny light. A single, solitary headlight. The kind that can only belong on a motorcycle. A fast motorcycle. With a capable rider.
This can't be, I thought. Motorcycles can't maintain consistent corner velocity on real-world roads. Bikes can't charge into corners with reckless abandon, I kept telling myself. But deep down, on a level I'd never admit, I knew physics weren't on my side. The road wasn't twisty enough. Or uneven enough. The straight sections were too long for my grip advantage to be played out in full. Still, I drove harder.
The pace went from light pucker factor to wholesale fear for my life. I dropped wheels. I committed fully to blind corners. I killed several of San Benito County's wildly suicidal squirrels. I went faster than I had any business going on any public road. And eventually, after what seemed like hours of mechanical chest pounding, I looked in the rearview mirror again. The bike was yellow.
But I did so with great respect. On a straight section of road, my two-wheeled foe became my motorcycle-riding friend. As he casually crept up for the pass, I backed off and raised my thumb in a salute to speed, machinery and a true love of driving (or riding) hard. He returned the salute with huge enthusiasm as he surged past me, thumb in the air, fist pumping wildly. We smiled. And we found mutual respect, mutual passion and common ground.