By Jim Ford
Published in BMWMOA Owner’s News
Downloadable PDF

Over the past several months, I have (for once) gotten into the good habit of waking each morning, stumbling to the basement and mounting my treadmill. I’ve been consistent too. What’s helped is being plugged into my iPod. I’m getting in shape for the 2006 riding season.

Recently, I have been listening to the Frank Sinatra Songbook. Whether you like his music or not is not my point. Personally, I came up listening to 1960’s and ‘70’s pop/rock from the Beatles, Bruce, to Bon Jovi. Then Sinatra, a vocalist from my parent’s generation (b. 1915), blasts on my scene. What a discovery! Early in his career he was nicknamed “The Voice” and clearly, what distinguishes Sinatra was how tightly he controlled a song. In this, he was a master—the Chairman of the Board.

Sinatra’s mastery is showcased through his vocal phrasing. Whether it be on a drumbeat, a bass beat, or an abrupt note change, his voice, as they say, turns on a dime.

Anyway, as the sweat started pouring, I came up with this analogy: Let’s ride our motorcycles like Sinatra sang a song.

First, choose a road like Sinatra chose a song. Choose quality roads. Frank Sinatra didn’t sing just any song. He sang The Great American Songbook. Songs written by Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and the Gershwin brothers have stood the test of time

The top big bands of the day put these songs to music as well. Frank fronted the likes of the Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Billy May, and Nelson Riddle orchestras. Sinatra admired and respected these guys (no synthesizers here.) Their music has power and inspiration. So develop your own “road book.” Read maps or fire up your GPS and choose roads of equivalent power and inspiration for you.

Frank sang a wide variety of music. Most of it swung. Seek out the same. Seek out roads with speed changes and concentrated curves, both sweeping and tight. Seek out roads with elevation change. They’re out there.

Then set about learning a road like Frank Sinatra learned a song. Often the song would become his own. Who else sings “Strangers in the Night”?

He came to own a song by learning its musical score cold. As such, learn to see a road cold. Ride it repeatedly, focusing deeply on its details. Figure out what makes a road distinctive. Know what’s beyond the next curve—and the next—before you get there. Soon you’ll be seeing roads like never before.

Once Sinatra perfectly understood where a song was going, he’d drive his voice down it like never before. Here’s a key: by first timing his breath, he could then control his voice to precisely match or play off the music as the song swung and swerved along.

Once we’ve seen a road to perfection, let’s ride our motorcycles down it like never before. After all, we know where we’re going too.

Here’s another key: learn to control your speed like Sinatra controlled his voice. The secret is in watching your tachometer and by controlling your engine. Control your engine by selecting the right gear to continuously keep your motorcycle in the middle to top half of the powerband. (High RPMs are better than low RPMs.) Develop the habit of shifting gears often. You can then precisely control speed with the slight twists of your throttle wrist. (Throttle movement of a eighth of an inch is common.) Learn this skill.

Now, as Chairman of Your Road, your motorcycle will sing beautifully from hill to valley and around every curve. Soon you’ll be, as they say, turning on a dime.