Wednesday, October 25

"Look Ma, NO HANDS!"

The motorcyclist in the first pic is Don H., creator, instructor of the Street Riding & Technical Training (SRTT) course I took in early October. I am thrilled I did not miss this opportunity, which I seriously might have were it not for Chris and others at Ride-Chicago, who “adjusted” my cock-eyed handlebars that were bent from the failed attempt to pilfer my motorcycle.

This is not the SRTT report I’ve been promising to post but another mini-look at some things about it. Yesterday I sent an email to a motorcyclist friend and shared with him two things we learned in the course that I’m retelling here. I’ve already written about the transforming new braking technique we learned—I swear it has made a major difference in my braking confidence. That alone is worth the course fee! But first, lest someone thinks the course was about stunt riding I need to re-emphasis that the course was foremost about safety, advanced riding skills, machine control, rider control, whole-body riding (not just riding “on” the motorcycle but “with” it), all of which leads directly to riding with more confidence.

Now that I’ve finally written the SRTT report, I realize it is far too lengthy to post and expect anyone to read and absorb. Thus, I will edit it down to more bite size morsels and post mini doses on occasion. This time, the length is not due entirely to my normal long-windedness; this time it is because I’d like the report to do justice to the fabulous things we learned over the more than six hours of instruction. But I digress…

One truly amazing thing I learned in the class was one-handed riding. Don introduced this late in the course, after we had practiced many advanced skill challenges. When I saw Don do this, I thought, I like a challenge, but this guy is finally trying to kill off the class. He expected us to do the entire range with our hand on the throttle ONLY—without using the clutch. So this is how it’s gonna end.

We mounted our bikes—a bit more tentatively than before, I must confess. With our left hand down at our side or on the tank, and keeping the bike in first gear, we rode. Straight-line riding didn’t seem difficult at all. Hmmm….But the course range is huge, really huge and marked off with miniature orange cones so that u-turns, cornering entry, figure 8s, wide sweeping curves, and sharp turns could be practiced. The course was arranged to approximate real-road situations. And this guy wanted us to do the entire range with one hand? Didn’t matter how slow we rode (thank goodness for the "Ride Like a Pro” video, where slow maneuvers are stressed). Only rule: one hand, no clutch.

Although there were eight bikes in the class, I don’t remember observing even one of them during this exercise. Mind you, they were there. I just never removed eyes from the task at hand to see how anyone else was managing. One-hand riding took ever bit of my attention and centered it entirely on riding with control. At all times, I had to think ahead. To execute the second curve correctly, I had to enter the first one on target. See, with two hands we can cheat a little, compensate for our entry errors. Come to rely on bad entry technique and cheating will catches up with you and take a chunk out of your butt! You can’t cheat with one hand.

With one hand, my head turns were earlier and precise--on point! To compensate for one hand riding, I was forced to call upon my lower half, to squeeze that tank harder than I’m accustomed to. Using my legs and thighs to move and shift my weight in the seat helps steer the bike. I know this, but do I consciously always apply it? I do now! Most important of all, one hand riding can correct bad or weak throttle control use. Think about it. There are times, rarer for me now, that I’d apply a bit too much throttle. We know what happens: you’re unprepared for the forward lurch, which on an unforgiving bike, say a Hayabusa, will kill you. Apply even a little too much and you can go zooming into outer space--or worst, into busy traffic. One hand riding demands absolute attention to smooth throttle use. I got the point, Don!

After riding around and around, the muscles in my throttle arm were crying for rest. Following hours of whole-body riding, the only part of my body that wasn’t aching was my nose. Yet, Don was no way near finished with us. I thought the one hand riding was a stunt Don was pulling on us. Turned out not to be. Don said we would now do “no-hand” riding. Ok, the one hand riding didn’t kill us; this must be his next attempt. Don, what are you, nuts? Joke’s over! What besides sure death can be gained from riding with no hands?!

Don did a no hands demonstration for us. He’s a charming fellow, very clear in his instruction, exuberant, but clearly on the nutty side if he expects us to do what we are witnessing him do. Don’s Yami FZ1 is appropriately black and yellow. As I’ve said before, he buzzes and flies around on that thing as if he’s riding a bumblebee on speed! On his bike, he reminds me of the Centaur, the half man, half horse from Greek mythology, only the motorcycle is the horse part in this case. It’s unmistakably evident that he is one with his bike. I plan to ride like that one day—assuming I survive this class.

Don rides the bike in a circle for a bit. He is talking to himself and us quietly, concentrating mostly on his bike. He’s is repeating something, almost mantra-like. It’s quiet but I think he is saying, “find you spot,” “find your spot,” all the while turning the bike in tighter and tighter circles. We focus. We watch. Eventually, the bike looks as if it is slowly spinning on an imaginary string from above. Now Don is quiet. He finds his spot and he removes both hands from the bike. I gasp. He continues his 360-degree turns with no hands; they are hanging relaxed at his sides. He just keeps going and going like a slow motion Energizer bunny. As if hypnotized, the bike spins smoothly. Then Don takes hold of the handle bars, flashes a giant grin and says something like, “that’s it, that’s what I want you to do.” Yeah, right.

Until this point, I thought Don was mostly sane, now I’m thinking he definitely inhales! The one thing I am certain about: I trust him. Everything he’s taught thus far has made an immediate improvement. Even when I haven’t fully mastered the skill, the logic and potential for improvement is unequivocal. So I cast aside suspicions of drug use and try to apply Don’s lesson. We spread out on the range so that we can “find our spot” without distraction. I head for the farthest corner possible. Again, I am not cognizant of the others in the class.
All the slow speed practice I’ve done helps in doing the slow circles—that part didn’t pose a problem. My circles got small enough to “find my spot.” But there is a great deal of psychology to riding a motorcycle. I circled, and circled, and circled. On several occasions, I lifted both hands but blink and you’d miss it. So I tried some more. Again and again and again. I will call my inability to remove my hands but for more than two seconds a minor success. I thought of one of my favorite heroes from the children’s book classic, The Little Engine that could, where the train’s lesson is to never give up. I will practice this and by next spring when I re-take the SRTT class to jumpstart the new season, I will, have found my spot, thanks to the expert tutelage of Don H.