Longform

Crotch Rocketeers

It's zero to oblivion in a heartbeat for too many of the risk takers on the new supercharged bikes

Rex was going about a buck-ten when he entered a turn too fast and low-ended his bike, a new Kawasaki ZX-12R that slid away from him like a runaway bobsled. In shock, he screamed incoherently at a woman who stopped her car to see if he was all right. This all happened in the middle of the street, only about a block from his house. Eventually, he picked up his bike and limped home. Voice quavering, lean frame shaking off the decaying adrenaline, Rex assessed his injuries. He was lucky: a fierce case of road rash but nothing broken or dislocated. He called his girlfriend.

"Babe!" he panted into his cell phone, pacing in his kitchen. "I just had to lay the bike down!"

Outside, the bike doesn't look too bad -- just a busted foot peg and a scrape -- actually more of a cat-scratch gouge -- that mars its bright-green fairing. The left side of Rex's body took the same punishment as it skidded down the street. The palm of his hand is the color of smeared lipstick as he gingerly daubs a friction burn near his shoulder with a wet paper towel, removing bits of sand and grime from the wound.

It's Rex's left leg, from roughly his ass on down, that absorbed most of the bike's inertia and then released it in a long, hard, soul kiss against the asphalt. It looks as if he's spent his 22 years taking coarse-grade sandpaper to himself in his spare time. A throbbingly moist cauldron of red anguish, the road-inflicted "rash" is nastiest near his knee, where a particularly deep scrape reveals a gristly white piece of tendon, like a pearl poking through a steak tartar platter. Though he spent 14 months in Baghdad, he says, this is the most seriously he's ever been hurt.

"Camille, honey, can you bring over some Neosporin?" he asks his long-suffering beloved.

Quickly converting his combat bonus into a crotch rocket, Rex joined many military men who come home pumped on high-performance machinery and days of danger. Some motorcycle stores estimate half of their sales are to soldiers, a recent U.S. Defense Department report says.

Fortuitously, Rex lives in an older neighborhood west of I-95 in central Fort Lauderdale where a little-used park-and-ride ramp offers him instant access to the freeway. He usually takes a shortcut through a small, pedestrian-only sidewalk to get there; doing so, he can make it from his front porch to I-95 in about 90 seconds. Maybe you've seen him -- a green-and-black bullet in your rearview mirror, plowing through traffic like a bandsaw through a balsa-wood airplane. Maybe you've called him... asshole?

"See that house?" Rex points three houses away at the corner. "From here to there, I'm already doing a ton," he says (biker slang for 100 mph). So how fast does he ride on the highway? "I couldn't tell you," he says, demonstrating his tucked-in stance on his bike. "I'll just go -- and I don't look back. So I don't even really know. I don't even look at my speedometer, dude. I just know that when I go fast, I go fast." In bullet-time mode, Rex's nose is nearly glued to the tachometer, and all he can see, he says, is scenery whizzing past like those Speed Racer backgrounds set on high-speed fast-forward. He can't hear a thing, just the whoosh of the road.

"I can't explain it," he says, eyes twinkling with both pride and the sting of Bactine on his leg. "It's... exhilarating."


Law enforcement patrolling the roads where Rex and his ilk like to ride have had to adapt to the new breed of über-bikes, just as police in the 1940s and 1950s beefed up to chase hot rods. Most of the time, however, it's just too difficult and dangerous to mount pursuits at 100-plus mph. Police know every Fuddrucker's and Hooters where bikers congregate, and they attempt to rein in the more outlandish offenders before they hit the speedways. But they can't catch everybody.

Today's motorcycles are far from your father's Oldsmobile, or even Kawasaki dirt bike. Triple-digit speeds and ultralight weights distinguish today's sports bikes -- cat-like, aerodynamically superengineered machines -- from the old days. Most pack more of a wallop than the VW you drove in college, maybe twice as much, concentrated in a bullet-like bike. In the 1970s, a 750cc motorcycle was considered a beast. Some of the newest Japanese crotch rockets come with 1300cc engines and $15,000 price tags, combined with a lightweight chassis that gives riders a close approximation of a NASA launch sequence. Acceleration and torque, available with the slightest flick of a wrist, are as intoxicating and dangerous as a freebase binge. Riding one of these bikes is such a powerful thrill that the inherent hazard and responsibility of operating one soon disappears beneath the sheer sexualized pleasure. In less than an eighth of a mile -- in only second gear -- you're already doing between 80 and 100 mph.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton