Six Ways to Sunday: Worn Out

Stephanie Vetterly Photography

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. The Six Ways to Sunday project has been truly awesome. That said, the whole thing has put me in a mental state that’s taken weeks to figure out. The plan for 2021 was to take my humble 1989 Honda XR250R racing—six different kinds of racing, different prep for each, the same bike. I aimed to handle everything, from building the Honda to driving the truck and riding. A grand plan, with expected struggle, but also a year of surprises.

Cross country, motocross, trials, flat track, road racing, ice. The first five of those disciplines have been crossed off. More than twelve months ago, I set up this whole project partly as an excuse to race on ice. So why has the Honda been shoved in a corner, untouched for weeks?

Kyle's garage motorcycles
Lots of cool bikes, but when it comes down to it there are a couple that could leave and I wouldn’t miss them. Kyle Smith

Striving to get better at things is human nature. More efficient. Faster. More graceful. And now I think that natural desire has created a kind of funk.

A while back, I had a chat over coffee with Hagerty editor-at-large and fellow motorcycle addict Sam Smith. Even though we live states apart and digital meetings take their own awkward form, we landed on the same wavelength: Doing new things constantly is great. It’s also incredibly tiring.

Time in the garage has far outweighed time on the bike. Despite my not going crazy on discipline-specific setup and tuning, the XR’s transformation between racing forays gobbled up countless hours. Parts had to be sourced, legality and compatibility had to be ensured, and then the wrenches had to be turned to make it all play nice. I love project time in the garage, but each trip home from the track brought a feeling of “back to work.” Each of those transformations somehow became a slog. The excitement of the next new thing grew smaller with each event, and now, I find myself needing a focused push to get this ice-racing setup done, when all I want is to side-track to other shiny objects.

XR250 with front end ready to pull
Kyle Smith

A couple factors might be contributing. The first is that, for the first time in this project, I’ve had to wait on something outside my control. You can’t go out on the ice until the weather lets you. Fall was late last year, and that allowed me to push the XR aside, thinking, “When winter starts, I’ll get ready.” It also allowed me to take the bike on a few lazy trail rides with friends and do something other than look at the poor thing on the lift. 

The second factor was how I thought the bike wouldn’t need much work to be ice-ready. I was wrong on both fronts, and I’ll explain how in the next update, sharing how I built up the bike.

I’ve learned so much over the past year, spent so much time acclimating to everything, from new tasks in the garage to body position on-track, only to drop it all five minutes later and move on. Early on, the excitement of the next new thing seemed tied to the thought that each of those things would be a chance to learn and get better. I was half right. Each racing discipline was instead a brief introduction to something I had never tried, and to exactly how much I didn’t know. Then, before I could take the time to actually get better, it was time to move on. 

Those introductions weren’t nearly as harsh as they could have been, but they were still very humbling. Driving home from each track, I would coagulate mental notes about what I did right and where I could improve. I took feedback from anyone with more experience than me. Then I stuffed all those notes in a notebook labeled “Next Time” and started over somewhere else. 

six ways to sunday driving in van
This was where I spent most of Six Ways to Sunday. Bellied up to the work bench or in the drivers seat of the van. Kyle Smith

In other words, everything was a taste, never a meal, and now I’m hungry. An entire year merely learning how bad you are at a series of tasks? Who wouldn’t get frustrated? If I wanted to be told just how bad I am at things, without a chance to really use that information, I’d go back to high-school chemistry class. (I still don’t understand what a mole is. Why do I remember 6.02214076×10²³ anyway? Can I please flush that from my memory?)

Not that the hook hasn’t been set in a few of those disciplines. I bought a prepped road-race Suzuki SV650 last fall, and I’ve already registered for some track time this spring. There are also dates penciled on the calendar for off-road weekends too. I might be a bit worn out on new things for the moment, but the thought of riding is still exciting. 

Kyle Smith TT outside turn
Stephanie Vetterly

This feeling is an odd one to be frustrated with, and I’m still hugely grateful. Six Ways has produced so many awesome opportunities and situations to take advantage of. At the same time, this project wasn’t so much an experiment into whether one bike could work in many environments, more a look to see if that idea made any sense. We aren’t done yet, but initial indications point decidedly in one direction.

The good news is, the ice has settled. After sorting a few mechanical roadblocks, it’s time to put on a lot of insulation and turn tires on a frozen oval. The XR is now on the lift, getting the attention it needs for hot laps on a cold surface.

I’ll talk about that prep process in the next Six Ways to Sunday installment, but that’s nothing new—and I guess that’s a good thing. At least for now. Doing the same ol’ thing has its place.

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