This spring, Nancy plans to go to school. And she’s never felt smarter.
Let that be a lesson to me
It was the Motorcycle Show-Toronto, or what was once called the Toronto Motorcycle Show: the one that moved to the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place from the downtown Convention Centre. With parking a flat rate $14 and no other options, and ticket price $17 each, you’re expecting a good time once you get in. A showroom full of new models to set your eyes on and the fantasies unfold. A new bike this year? Perhaps.
What’s available on the market these days is truly impressive, when you consider a person can buy new with only $6,000 in their pocket, plus another grand for taxes, roll-off-the floor fees, etcetera—and there’s always plenty of that. The power-to-weight ratio is an incredible bargain, as is the ability to go and stop … fast.
For people who rode bikes way back when, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They now come in all colours and sizes. Race ready machines on the showroom floor that would have blown away even the best riders a few decades ago. You can buy these incredibly fast bikes and be on your way in no time.
But really, where can you ride them to their full potential—or yours? So many of these machines belong on the track, and require honed skill to ride them.
When it comes to developing skill, one thing required is time. You don’t improve without repetition. In the case of motorcycle riding, the pleasure is in the doing, and I assume anyone riding is doing so for pleasure. It feels that way to me. So if spend plenty of time riding, the end result is that you will become a more experienced and skilled rider. What’s not to like about that?
The track isn’t a place for beginners. When you’re still learning to shift, and thinking your way though the gears, in my opinion, you’re not ready for the track. But if you’re at the point where your actions are automatic, and your body responds to your brain while you think through your next move and act, (and you’re riding a race machine) the track is the ONLY place you can safely and legally ride your bike to its or your full potential. If you don’t go you won’t know!
Track days are popping up all over. Anywhere there’s a race track there’s bound to be a motorcycle riding school school. Some are better than others. They’re not regulated like the learn-to-ride programs. Do your research. Some are very competitive and the people riding there go often in a season. A beginner might feel out of place and unsupported.
Others really cater to the novice rider and are thrilled to help you get started. Sorry, but it’s not cheap.
At some you bring your own bike and leathers. Others rent a very fast 600cc machine and outfit for the day. When you ride the same corners again and again you learn them, and learn to take them faster. There’s no gravel, animals or traffic crossing into your lane. You learn to cut a line, when to break, when to lean (or slide a little off the seat) and when to crack the throttle. And you go FAST! It’s very exciting. I can tell you one thing: you will never be the same after a good day at the track. You can never, not have done it. These skills will help immensely when riding the Alps, the Rockies, the Dragon’s Tail, or to the corner store. Our skill increases over time, with practise. Then it decreases with age or lack of use (but enough about that).
I have had many experiences riding, on smooth paved roads and ones that only the most aggressive dirt tires would enjoy. Over 30 consecutive years of riding experience helps me when I get into trouble. I couldn’t stop the taxi that cut right across my path or the truck that backed into me at a light, but what you don’t hear about are the many near misses that I avoid on a given day. So many times I would have been nicked but for my developed skill. I highly recommend riding often to develop the most skill.
Dirt bike school is a blast. The cost is a relatively small amount of money to spend a day on the trails. Loose gravel roads are nothing compared to deep sand, soft dirt, rocks and tree roots (on slopes!). And look out for the trees! It’s so much fun it’s hard to believe you can write it off as a learning experience. But it is.
Dirt bike schools will outfit you and set you on a small bike with knobby tires for the adventure. It’s not like your street machine. Or maybe you’re riding an enduro, now called an adventure bike. This might be what you need to learn to really ride it.
If you could do just one day at the track and one in the dirt in a given year, you could not come away without greatly improved skills.
I plan to try something this year I’ve never done before: take an experienced rider training course. Total Control is a course that involves both classroom and parking lot and is open to all styles of motorcycles. They teach looking through your turns. They have a suspension adjustment component, something few riders know how to do. But what I’m really interested in is better cornering, because there’s nothing like a good fast curve.
Total Control was designed by AMA national roadrace champ Lee Parks, who trains a select few people to teach his course, which is available across the US and at two locations in Canada. Nancy Mayer and Donna Skinner are primary instructors at the Mississauga location. Their company, SharpRiderMotorcycleTraining.com, now in it’s third year, won the 2013 Training Site of the Year for Total Control—a real feather in their cap! Classes are six students per instructor and Parks launches the season every year. (See TNTMotorcycling.com riding school in Edmonton.)
Total Control is a motorcycle riding school that comes highly recommended by my best friend Cheryl Stewart, who is a part time track instructor. She says she learned something from Parks that improved her performance, and that’s endorsement enough for me.
But I realize one thing. By doing this I might look and feel like an amateur in class. Better not risk that, right? Or, perhaps by the time I’ve completed the Total Control Arc-Levels 1 & 2, I’ll be better than ever at line selection, body positioning for corners, decreasing radius turns, speed shifting and more. All this is for the street! You only need 5,000 kilometres of riding experience for this course. I’ve got that. You can be sure I’ll report back.
Modern motorcycles are incredibly fast. They help us produce adrenaline and endorphins, from both excitement and fear. There’s an old saying: Live to Ride, Ride to Live. When I’ve had a good day of riding, I feel. I live!