Saturday, March 15, 2008

Riding Workshop

As an avid rider and motorcycle coach I'm always looking for ways to become better, faster and smoother. The better I get on a bike, the more fun I have, the lower the "pucker" factor is when the road gets zesty and the better I can coach my students. While searching for better winter gloves earlier in the year I came across Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic. The only problem I had was they didn't offer classes in Texas much less Houston. So I signed up for his mailing list in hopes that maybe he'd offer a class in Texas someday. A week later I received his newsletter showing 3 classes in Texas with the last one in Dallas. Wooohooo! I've got friends in Dallas so I'd have a place to sleep.

I spoke to Lee about the curriculum and then went out and bought the book. It was an easy read and after finishing it I started seeing things I was doing wrong. Such as my suspension which had way too much preload dialed in. I knew my cornering needed help and started trying to implement the techniques in the book but without supervision I wasn't making drastic improvements. The class would change that...

The class started at 8am in a parking lot at the Texas Motor Speedway. Looking around I noticed the markings of an MSF BRC and ERC range. So I can only assume someone holds classes there at some time. The temp was just below 50 degrees and the wind was blowing thus creating a nice wind chill. I regretted leaving my liner back in Colleyville. We all did introductions and it was interesting to see the range and experience of riders in the class between the 10 students. Our instructors were Dace and Pilot. Dace was into LD riding, track days and teaching. She had ridden in from Daytona on her ST1300. Pilot was in charge of a WERA race team that was up for rookie of the year and had that military feel about him. Once the house keeping stuff was out of the way, we got started.

For the first part we did classroom, the only problem was they had not been able to secure an actual indoor space so our room was the wide open space of the parking lot. It actually made things pretty easy I thought. Dace pulls out a large set of bound laminated pages and begins with the low tech slide show. I immediately started hearing stuff out of the book. We talked about traction and safety gear and how our minds work. I liked her soft but firm sell on wearing gear. While I wear all my gear I'm always looking for ways to help encourage others. Then it was time to get on the bikes and scrub in the tires to get them up to temp...

This is where it felt a little different from MSF classes because Pilot didn't seem like he was reading from a set of range cards. He simply told us what we were about to do and then had Dace ride a "bad" demo where he pointed out all the incorrect things followed by a "good" demo which clearly showed what we were to emulate. Before we got on the bikes Dace had a little bit to tell us and then we were split up, 5 on each "pad". We'd stay on our side of the range for the duration with the same 5 students.

I could describe each exercise and what it was like but I'm not going to. Because if I did you might form an opinion about the course without seeing the whole picture. Or by telling you step by step what I learned it might take some of the surprise and fun out of it for you as a student.

My goal for the class was to improve my cornering skills. Before the class it was some what easy for me to drag my pegs on the GS, especially when practicing techniques in parking lots. What I wanted out of the class though was to get smoother in the corners which would build my confidence and improve my riding enjoyment in the twisties. This class allowed me to learn the techniques to accomplish that goal. Now lots of practice will make it the norm.

I had 2 great moments in the class toward the end. We had been putting together the 10 steps to the cornering technique and this final exercise sort of put it all together. We had 2 40 foot circles spaced 20 feet apart. The path of travel basically created a figure 8. Look on page 85 of the book under "Transitions" for the layout.

I entered into the right hand circle and the peg began to drag but it was steady and I was hanging off the bike on the inside. As I came around to the transition cones I felt the back tire begin to spin, I could hear Pilot saying something like "pin it! pin in!" and I just stayed on the throttle. I didn't even have the desire to roll off. A fraction of a second later the bike hooked up as I was bringing the bike up right before letting it "flop" into the left corner. The rear wheel spun a few more times while going through the exercise and not once did I have the desire to roll off the throttle.

The second great moment also happened in that same exercise. The last time through Pilot had us raise our left hand and wave at him while we going around the right corner. I was the last one in line and had time to think about it, and let my creative mind figure out all the ways I could go to the hospital. It was then that I thought back to the beginning of the class and told myself "I can handle this". Once in the corner and leaned over, I raised my left hand and started waving. I figured I'd wave with authority and let things fall where they would. Well nothing fell and I was able to transition to the left turn easily once getting my hand back on the grip. The second lap around I started laughing and messed up the corner but I did it one handed.

At the beginning of the day if someone had told me I'd be spinning the rear tire in a corner under control or hanging off the bike with one hand in the air I definitely would have stressed over the course. But the curriculum takes a building block approach so while my moments were special to me, they were actually things I had been prepared for during the class.

Bottom line, take the class. That twitchy feeling you get from the front end of the bike in a corner... you'll figure out why it's happening while you are in the class.

No comments: