A novel rider training course has Nancy pumped and merrily taking on new habits.
Plan to take Total Control
Total Control is like a gift that keeps on giving—and that’s saying a lot for a parking lot course. I was intrigued by what I heard from converts who now present the course, then encouraged by my track riding friend whose endorsement moved me. I signed up for rider training this spring, which is a very good time to upgrade skills. Now lessons I learned pop into my head every corner I take.
What a course. Created by former AMA 125GP champ Lee Parks who felt he had knowledge to share, it’s now taught by a select few who he personally trains. And he opens every spring course himself. A teacher since 1999, I felt privileged to meet him.
I took the Advanced Rider Clinics offered by Sharp Rider in Mississauga and joined a group of Budd’s BMW riders for my first day. That alone was interesting, being in a group of all BMW riders, who I learned are notorious for wanting to improve skills. There was certainly variety among the bikes people brought that day, but I was extra thrilled to see a number of different enduro models. My 1987 R 80 G/S was the oldest, and in that group was revered.
I was overjoyed by the attitude of the instructors and how much fun learning was. “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s there are few.” The course felt like a skills pleasure class, a kind of vacation training in something I love. My fears of stressful boot camp intimidation dissolved during the introduction.
The day began gently in a classroom with tea and coffee. The students and instructors met formally and discussed why we were there, what we hoped to gain from the course or what the instructors had gained why they ended up teaching. We discussed why we ride, that the element of uncertainty or risk does make it exciting. We moved from the class to the parking lot, and most of us dropped air from our tires. Lower pressures give greater traction. Then we started doing something so simple that after a while I wondered if people were going to feel they got their money’s worth. All we did was ride back and forth with an instructor watching each of us as we gave gas, sped up and then rolled back on the throttle gently enough as to keep the suspension level, then gas on again without making the front end rise. Sound simple? It is, after a few tries.
Then it was back to the classroom, back to the parking lot, back to the classroom.
The heated room made me sleepy, but not the course material. The instructors included owners Nancy Mayer and Donna Skinner (of GTA Motorcycle) whose local school was awarded top training site in their second year. We also had instructors being trained. All this made the lessons even more interesting, and the usual student to instructor ratio was lower than their maximum six to one, with 16 in my class. Training was high caliber and all gender inclusive. And there was something distinctly Zen about the way we were told to relax, to agree to make mistakes, and to know that spending the day learning is better than not, without too much focus on the outcome. We were told that the Danes are the happiest of people, not because they have the richest lives but because they’re not as focused on the outcome as on the process. I thought to myself, “What kind of a course is this?”
We went on our merry way throughout the day, with numerous instructors helping a group of keen riders learn all sorts of skills, like holding tight circles around a wheel of little cones with one big one at the centre, watching the horizon, learning trail braking. What was clear is that all this instruction would make for much better cornering on mountain roads. What I didn’t know at the time was how much it would help me to corner at city intersections. I witnessed pure joy as riders’ skills improved and we were leaning further. One touched his knee to the pavement on a big BMW! I’m sure everyone felt some envy witnessing that one. I know I did.
Being conscious was stressed throughout the course. I know what I do when I’m riding well in good twisties. But I also know what happens when I’m zoning out and become surprised by something that makes me brake in the middle of a curve, or I suddenly realize that the curve is getting tighter than I expected.
Lee and his cohorts guided us through routines like decreasing radius turns that helped instill new habits that will hopefully come naturally when we corner into our future. And riders corner a lot, even if only city riding.
We even had a suspension clinic, where we learned how preload determines what percentage of travel is available for compression versus extension—too much makes for a harsh ride, and too little is mushy. We learned to make adjustments.
At the end of the day we all added a few pounds to our tires, left the Hershey Centre and took to the road. Right then I knew there was something different about the way I was cornering, and it felt good. I was surprised at how incredibly tired I was the morning after. It was doubly surprising since I ended the all-day course feeling full of energy the night before.
Level Two was a new mix of people, most returning from the year before. Casper (my ’87 Beemer) remained the oldest, the only vintage in the group of 12. There were more expensive rides in the lot: European, British, Japanese and North American models, and even one cruiser. I met some brilliant people taking these courses. There’s something to be said for a course that teaches responsible riding with techniques that greatly improve cornering—which is everything—to experienced riders. Two got their knees down.
In Level Two we didn’t have to go over all the things that got us to relax in the first class and got us believing that we could lean a whole lot further than we had been before. Most riders in Level Two had been practicing for a year and were keen to further upgrade their skills, which is another testament to the long-term value of the course.
Total Control costs $395 plus HST per course. Graduates can hone with an additional Skills Day for $175, created because people wanted more. That course, which I’ve not yet taken, involves a skills review, then a mini road course. There’s a general or a Level Two graduate-only day. Courses run throughout the riding season.
Visit Sharp Rider online, Budd’s BMW, or TNTMotorcycling.com in Edmonton, the other Canadian location. I am considering a Skills Day for next spring.
All of this training left me with a new awareness of street riding. There’s commuting, weekend or holiday riding, and then there’s focused skill development, which pushes the limits away.