I thought about making the title of this post: “The more you know, the better it gets.” or “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”
Both are bit cheesy, but true for me when it comes to riding motorcycles.
Kevin and I went to the Cornerspin motorcycle riding school/workshop this last weekend, where we learned and worked on motorcycle riding techniques, and generally had SO MUCH FUN. The class is taught by road racing champion Aaron Stevenson, and is geared toward street riders and aspiring racers looking to improve their riding skills.
Why take this class?
Because riding is a fun hobby for me, and the better I am at it, the more fun I have. It’s not very hard to learn to ride a motorcycle well enough to ride safely on the street. It’s very hard to really learn to ride a motorcycle well. Riding is far more challenging than driving a car, because the rider is part of the vehicle dynamics. In a car, if you move around in the seat, the car and its movement remain unaffected. On a bike, all of your limbs are engaged (right hand controls the front brake and throttle, left hand controls the clutch, left foot shifts, and right foot controls the rear brake), even the most minute body movement has an effect on the movement of the bike. Lean forward, lean back, and shifting your weight side to side, how much pressure you place on the handle bars, and where your center of gravity is relative to the bike all change how the bike moves, and change depending on how you want to accelerate, brake, or turn. The very best riders in the world get paid a lot of money because they are able to ride with a level of skill that most people simply can’t achieve.
The class is billed as “road racing in the dirt.” So if I want better street riding skills, why did I spend all weekend riding around in the dirt on 7 hp Honda XR100s? Basically, because the consequences for hitting the steep side of the learning curve are a lot lower. Everyone, including me, wrecked at least a half a dozen times this weekend, with no serious injuries. (I have a couple of small bruises, and I’m sore from so much intense activity, but that’s it.)
Learning on small bikes on the dirt with low traction is the way to go. I wish I would have started that way years ago. The bikes are so small, that every input is magnified, which really teaches you how you are affecting the dynamics of the motorcycle. Low traction means you can learn at the edge of traction without having to go very fast. Before this class, on my street bike, it was a pretty terrifying experience to lose traction, especially on the front. It’s hard to practice dealing with slippery surfaces on a big, heavy street bike. Trying to develop those skills that way almost guarantees an expensive and probably painful crash. However, by the second day of this class, I had both wheels of that little bike sliding around , and I could slide the rear tire and back it to turns. That’s just crazy! I’ve seen other people do it, but it pretty awesome to do it myself. I never knew how before, and now I want my own dirt bike so I can keep practicing. Really, riding a little un-intimidating dirtbike is how I would recommend everyone learn to ride a motorcycle, regardless of how far you want to take it.
The class itself was structured into various cleverly designed drills that taught us, and then let us practice, various techniques. We learned about throttle control, the importance of finesse with throttle application, and how keeping tension on the chain allows you to keep control of the bike. The importance of body position is the concept that stuck out to me and that I struggled with the most. Sit too far back, even by just a couple of inches, and you’ll lose the front and crash. (Which is great feedback that lets you know you did it wrong.) After so many years on the street, learning to sit upright and keep a neutral body position through the turns was a challenge. But it was rewarding because it works. I also really liked the drills where we practiced using the breaks to the limits of traction. That’s something I should do on my street bike by practicing in a parking lot, but I don’t.
Two days of this stuff was very physically demanding. Even with all of the excellent instruction, we easily rode 6-8 hours both days. I’m amazed at what I was able to learn in just two days (I’m not sure I could have survived more:). Aaron and his instructors were all fantastic, patient, and encouraging. As I mentioned, Aaron Stevenson is a former pro street rider and national champion, and it was very apparent in this class that we only scratched the surface of what he knows about riding and racing motorcycles. Not only that, but he’s an excellent teacher, which really makes the class worth it. Not everyone who can perform at the top of their field has the ability to break it down to explain and effectively communicate what they are doing to the less talented. To be able to buy a little of his time and the time of his excellent instructors for personal instruction on how to be a better rider was definitely worth the price of admission. I can see myself going again sometime, because I don’t see my love of riding going away any time soon.
Edit 6/13/2012: Woot! Pictures!
(The worst part is, I am not even doing it right in this picture. ELBOWS UP! They’ve been screaming it all weekend. Just after this picture is a turn where my left elbow should be higher… I have excuses for this, of course. In my defense, this pic was taken at the end of the second day of riding. I was TIRED. You try riding hard all day for two days straight, and see of your elbows are up. Harumph. …I guess I’ll have to do it better next time.)