Monday, September 04, 2006

Finding the limits!

Yeah, I finally did it. After girding my loins I went out to the track to see just how far my marvelous Sophie could lean. For those of you not aware of who Sophie is, she's my Honda ST1100 sport-tourer. For most of her life she's been exposed to more "sport" than "tourer".

The evidence is in the photo. I always wondered if the tupperware or the hard parts would scrape first. I can now honestly tell you that the hard parts come first. This is an amazing bike if you have the nerve to explore!

Let me back up a step and fill in the rest of the story. This happened at a recent ART class. That's the acronym for Advanced Rider Training. ART is our flagship, or premiere offering. As one of our newer instructors put it,

"Ah, ART, the top of the food chain".

It really is, actually. The instructors are hand picked by our Director, Steve. I don't know how I got invited, but I'm privileged to be able to teach these classes. We rent a track on some Monday's. Anywhere from 14 to 18 students will be present. They'll wind up with somewhere around 40 miles worth of seat time. There's work on higher speed accident avoidance skills. We also spend a lot of time on cornering skills. Entry speeds and linking corners are two of the big things. It's always amazing how much is lacking in the average rider's cornering skills. If you commute, this type of class is extremely valuable. After all, how far wrong can you go practising accident avoidance skills at real world speeds? What commuter can resist the call of a great twisty road?

Here's an arial view of the track. One of the perks of teaching the class is that we get to play in the morning hours when the students are in the classroom! I know, tough duty, but somebody's got to do it. The track's about 60 miles from my house so I get a great ride commuting to work and hours of play time on the track.

There's usually one instructor in the classroom and three riding the track. We claim to be hard at work honing our skills but I admit that it's also a lot of play time. Getting paid to play on a track? Somebody wake me up.

One time I took the CBR 600f4i to play with. Coming off the last turn and onto the long straightaway, we were over a ton before we had to haul it down for the first turn. I've also had great fun with the VFR. As awesome as the track is on a sport bike, I usually take the bigger bike. There's a few students on sport bikes. Most are on some sort of other bike. We see dual-sports like the Suzuki V-strom's, cruisers, sport-tourers, and once in a while the big luxo-tourers. This time we had a gal on an FJR with an auxiliary fuel tank and an Ironbutt license plate frame. She's spent so much time covering great distances in a straight line she forgot how to corner!! I feel like I have a little more credibility riding a bike that's not a sport bike. You see, I pay a price for my fun!

One of the things we offer students is a chance to ride on the back of our bikes. This gives them a chance to see the correct lines and feel when the transitions happen. Once I gave a guy a ride on my sport bike and he nearly fell off the back of the bike in panic! I forget that not all riders are comfortable with large lean angles. Most are pretty secure on the back of Sophie with the nice passenger saddle and backrest.

Isn't it funny how play can so quickly turn into competition? Testosterone is a funny thing. I was riding behind Ray. He is one of the best overall riders I have ever seen. He also happens to be my boss in the motorcycle safety program as he's the Director of Training. Ray has an ST1300 but prefers to bring the '93 VFR to class. Well, one thing led to another and pretty soon both of us are doing some serious scraping. We're not hanging off the bikes. We ride like a normal rider would on a twisty road. Only, we're not so normal. More like wacko, actually. There's no windows on the track side of the classroom building so we're pretty sure none of the students can see us. Mustn't scare the kids, you know.

We both turn around and ride the track backwards, or clockwise. There's this hairpin that's both technical and satisfying at normal speeds and almost terrifying at higher speeds. I've even run Sophie off into the grass once when I totally tanked my approach. Hey, crap happens. You'll never improve your skills as a rider if you don't take calculated risks. This time I nail both the really high entry speed and the line. I never knew you could scrape the sidestand on an ST1100 but, as you can see, it's possible. It almost felt like I could turn my head and scrape my nose on the track. It was kind of itching and both hands were busy at the time.

This is not something I would ever purposely do on the street. When your sidestand or centerstand hits the asphalt, you are in real danger of lifting the rear tire off the road. Responsible riders will always maintain a useful traction and lean angle reserve.

On the track? Yee freakin' haw!!

Miles and smiles,


Gary said...

Oh man, I love the look of that track! I think I need to take a class...

Ride well,

irondad said...

And you thought my being an instructor was totally based on altruism!