It was a gorgeous day to spend with a small group of motorcyclists. The class was small, six students (I can't remember if that includes me or not). In any case, the first thing I couldn't help notice is that the other bikes looked mean! They were bikes that made asking if they were fast, a ridiculous inquiry. They reeked speed. It showed in their hiked up tail and fierce headlights angles. For the first time, I felt my bike somewhat anemic. Jessie Owens looks downright docile standing next to those sportbikes. The riders of those aggressive looking bikes were all young men (emphasis on "young") dressed in varying styles of street bike riding jackets. One came in full leathers that reminded me of an astronaut ready to take off. One of my first thought was: I'm old enough to be the mother of every single rider here--and that includes the two instructors, Chris and Rocky! That I was the only female added to my initial sense of both bike and personal anemia.
I felt a tiny edge in that I've taken this course before and knew, more or less, what was in store. Everyone else was new to the course. The class was a half day rather than the full day program I've taken before. Still, I knew the course would be challenging, especially at first and would seem manageable at the half way point. I knew the skills that would be introduced and some are now second nature habits of my own. For example, braking. It is taught very differently than one encounters in a basic course. I can't remember the wrong way to brake anymore. In this course, braking is taught by leaving the clutch alone until the last minute. So imagine, you're riding along. You see the need to apply brakes, you do so. You apply the front and back brake in a progressive fashion. You apply pressure and then squeeze on greater presssure. Before you feel the bike chug, you then pull in the clutch. First, with this method, you're thinking of one less thing but more importantly you allow the bike to do its work easiest. It's also how racers brake and I can only say, it makes more sense and feels more logical to me.
The other huge thing one learns in this class has definitely changed my riding since first taking this class. That is, hugging/squeezing the tank as one rides and using the lower body to facilitate steering. The stress is on the lower body while the rider consciously keeps the upper body loose and light.
The course is a vast lot on the grounds of Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL where the Chicago Fire holds its soccer games. The course is set up with the expected challenges of weaving, emergency braking, curves that stress entry angle that demand you slow down, look where you want to go, lean and roll through. I especially liked working on this skill. There is a rhythmic beauty to these steps. Think about it: Ride at a brisk pace toward a curve. You slow down, which can almost look like stoppingl brake before entering the curve if you must. You turn your head in the direction you want to move in, lean and roll through the curve. It's that rolling through that I enjoy. Some curves were long sweeping, some were tight and sharp. The most challenging were the multiple curves (the back to back ones) that required you to make certain that the first curve you entered you did so with spot on entry angle (the old outside inside). If not, you could (and often did) conceivably throw off all the subsequent entries! This meant making sure that you not only looked at the curve right before you, but that you also were looking way ahead, far beyond curve #1 to make sure that you, your brain and your bike are also preparing for the next curve. It reinforced what we all know or should: don't allow a road situation to surprise you; to ride well requires technical skill; look far ahead too; and, practice makes improvement.
Our first taks is to learn the course. We rode around multiple times and still I would occasional space out. I'd be concentrating so hard on the skill that my brain would suddenly switch back to reality and I'd not know where I was. I counted. This happened four times. Once it happened during the time Rocky was taking pictures/video of the class. Fortunately, I stopped and was called over by the other instructor, with whom I chatted while the gang of guys sped around the course.
The half day flew by. One highlight for me was having both instructors try out my bike. Thumbs up from both of them. I was surprised at how undramatic my bike seem when standing next to a group of overtly fast bikes. I'm not a fast rider but I do believe that in the hands of either of my instructors, Jesse Owens, my bike, could run with the best of them.
Saturday wasn't about what kind of bike one has or how good a rider one already is. It was about taking one's riding to another level--no matter where it was currently. It was about developing mastery over machine and the many road situation that exist. It was about riding efficiently and effectively. It was also about getting a glimpse of two instructors riding with skills and talents most of us can only dream about. It was interesting to see the two instructors ride students' bikes--they could hop on and ride as it they knew the bike. In reality, they know how to ride and the bike doesn't matter in the end.
The class ends with each rider completing the course while riding with one hand. Not only is this possible, it is actually rather enjoyable once you get over the fact that you'll have to make all those curves and complete the weaving with one hand! Like nothing else, one hand riding forces one to use their lower body to steer the bike. If you hadn't gotten it before, you get at this point just how important using your lower body IS--a wonderful test of how much this lesson has been internalized in the class. To manage the curves, to complete the cone weaving, and ride around the course multiple times with only the throttle hand on the bike makes you feel in control of your machine!
I don't have a lot of pictures of the day--after all the time was spent riding. It has yet to fail that after this class I always ride home a little differently, more in control, more confident, more straight up in the saddle, so to speak. It was a day well spent--even if I am old enough to be every one's mother!