Part-time Passions: Born to Ride

A tale of two motorcycle enthusiasts

9 September 2011

Kristi Brooks

One of Senior Member Kristi Brooks’s favorite childhood memories is riding with her dad on his motorcycle as they tooled around the southwestern Minnesota countryside. One day, she thought, she’d get a bike of her own.

Four years ago, she had her chance. Her three children were getting older, and she’d just completed her motorcycle safety course and passed the written test for the motorcycle endorsement on her driver’s license. “If I didn’t get a bike then, it would have been one of those things I just kept putting off,” she says.

kristi Profession:

She started with a small, relatively inexpensive Yamaha 650, then two years ago stepped up to a more stylish and powerful Harley-Davidson Softail Classic [left]—complete with fringed saddlebags and a rhinestone-studded gas cap. She uses the bike for long weekend trips as well as to commute to her engineering job at Ideal Aerosmith, an aerospace systems test facility in Grand Forks, N.D. “I call it my chick bike,” she says.

Her weekend rides are usually hundreds of kilometers, scenic jaunts around the back roads and lakeshores of nearby northwestern Minnesota. “I’ll go with a group of riders, grab a burger, and take in the scenery,” she says. “It brings back memories of riding with my dad. And it’s a chance to take a break from the ‘to do’ list. You can’t text or talk on the phone while you ride. You’re just out there with your thoughts.”

In August 2010, Brooks was among the half million bike enthusiasts at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. “I love to see how riders customize their bikes with paint jobs,” she says.

“People have this funny perception of bikers,” she adds. “Some look grizzled and nasty, but they’re the sweetest people. I was in a convenience store in my leather riding gear once, and a mother grabbed her son and pulled him toward her. I have kids of my own—I’m not that scary!”

Brooks’s engineering background has facilitated her riding. “At first I was a little afraid of the bike tipping over, and my innate desire to keep the bike upright impeded me,” she says. “But knowing how the physics of forces works along curves helped me relax and lean into them.” Her engineering job also helps her keep pace when the guys talk bike tech. “I worked for General Motors for a few years, which exposed me to the workings of internal combustion engines,” she says. “Plus, I have a natural curiosity and ask a lot of questions.”

Her riding came full circle in July, when she and her father journeyed together through South Dakota’s Black Hills on separate bikes for the first time since she began riding.

“My youngest child rides with me, but the teenagers don’t think it’s cool to ride with their mom,” she says, laughing. “Luckily, their friends think it’s really cool, which makes up for my dorkiness!”

kluge Profession:

Kenyon Kluge

IEEE Member Kenyon Kluge was 11 when he first tried his cousin’s dirt bike and got hooked. At age 16, Kluge tried to persuade his parents to let him get a motorcycle license, but they put the brakes on that idea. He didn’t buy his first motorcycle, a Kawasaki EX500, until he was 21.

He made up for lost time. Within a year, he traded in the Kawasaki for the faster, more powerful Suzuki GSX-R750, and he began racing in 1998, the year he graduated college.

“I tend to have a competitive edge in everything else I do, so it makes sense I would turn to racing,” he says. He subsidized his passion with Silicon Valley electrical engineering jobs until three years ago, when he melded the two by becoming director of electrical engineering at Zero Motorcycles, an electric motorcycle manufacturer in Santa Cruz.

Over the years, he has collected nearly 20 gas and electric motorcycles for dirt and road racing. He competes with them for his advanced amateur team, K Squared Racing of Santa Cruz. He even took a year off work to spend all of 2002 racing professionally on the American Motorcyclist Association circuit, finishing 15th in the Formula Xtreme series (motorcycles with 1000-cc engines).

Racing motorcycles hasn’t been easy for Kluge. He has suffered several concussions and more than half a dozen broken bones from accidents. “My parents have still never come to a race,” he says, laughing. “Racing motorcycles is very physical. You use your body to shift this 180-kilogram machine while pulling multiple G-forces going around corners. You’re traveling so fast, you have to react very quickly, which requires sharp reflexes and agility.

“But,” he adds, “there’s nothing like getting in the zone, when everything is happening in a split second.”

Today, Kluge limits himself to racing two weekends a month. He also began experimenting with electric motorcycle racing, thanks to his job at Zero.

“A gas-powered motorcycle can go much faster, up to 260 kilometers per hour during a race, but it’s harder to control,” he says. “My electric bike can go up to 160 km per hour, and a lot of race-ready parts need to be made from scratch, so it’s more about the technology than pushing the speed limits.” He favors a Suzuki GSX-R600 for gas-bike racing and recently raced an electric bike that he reconfigured on his own from a Yamaha YZF-R1.

His passion doesn’t come cheap. “It’s immensely expensive,” he says. “Bikes start at US $10 000 and need another $5000 to $10 000 to make them race-ready.” It’s worth it, he says, because his hobby fits nicely alongside his career: “Both racing and engineering decisions focus on the goal at hand. In racing, it’s to win. I’ve learned to think about the result I need to achieve at work and then focus my decisions toward meeting that goal.”

If you have an interesting hobby you would like to share, e-mail the editors:

Top: Steve Holzer; Bottom: Gary Rather

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