Monday, August 04, 2008

The Great Harley Track Adventure

A purposely vague picture of the students!

The hands on my wristwatch are racing towards late afternoon on a hundred degree day. Our students have gone their various ways. Four weary instructors are packing bikes for the long trip home. We're deep into Southern Oregon. Thirty miles South lies the California border. Two of us will have a nearly five hour trip. The other two are looking at closer to six as they live farther North. Of course, the trip could have been a little shorter. Three of us have elected to take a longer route home. Twisty roads through a national forest are calling to us like the Sirens of old. Unlike early sailors, though, we expect to experience the pleasure without meeting our doom!

Instructor's bikes waiting for the ride home.

Our day has been one of sensory overloads. My ears still ring with the sound of so many loud pipes. Twelve of the seventeen bikes were Harleys. I've spent hours among them and following them around the track. Just over a hill is a drag strip. Qualifying for the night's races has brought the sounds of motors at full fury, itching to be released. They're twitching in anticipation of being set free to hurtle car and rider down the track. On the other side is a rifle range. Gunshots have punched their own holes in the fabric of our surroundings all day. Once in a while there's a full-auto burst of sound. It brings back chilling memories.

I spent some time under these lines. Seriously, I could hear them sizzle. Just past them and over the hill is the drag strip. Look closely and you can see the track lights.

My eyes have been full of the track and the desert surroundings. These classes are like miniature bike shows. I never grow tired of looking at things two-wheeled. Between the rubber smoke drifting over from the drags and the smoke from locked up bike tires, my nose is begging for the fresh air to be found on a spirited ride. The exquisite rush from mastering this tight and technical track still has me smiling. Standing under high voltage power lines that crackle and sizzle still has the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Yes, it's been a day of supreme sensory input! The ride home will bring even more. Living is so much richer on a bike, don't you think?

As we pack up I ponder over the students I've worked with today.

My fervent prayer is that each and every one of these seventeen riders leave with better skills than they came with. Knowledge is said to be power. I hope we've given our students increased powers to keep themselves alive and well on the roads. May they find increased joy in their riding, as well.

What the students all have in common is that they're wanting training. The reasons for being here, on the other hand, are as diverse as snowflakes. Some I've seen several times over the years. You can tell why they're here. These riders are serious about improving their skills. As for a couple of others, though, I have to wonder why they bothered to show up at all.

I'd met one of my students for the first time earlier in the year. She'd shown up for a riding clinic on her pretty blue V-Strom 650. With a big pack strapped in behind her, and what has to be the tallest tankbag I've ever seen strapped on in front of her, my student looked like she was nestled in between two camel's humps. Sliding out from between the twin humps of nylon she started undoing the myriad of straps.

During the course of the class the woman confided to me that the only reason she was riding was that an earlier instructor had told her she shouldn't ride at all. Seems my student had taken a beginner's class in the last couple of years. Since then a quest to prove the pronouncement wrong has been under way. Watching her shaky riding I could see the wisdom in my anonymous colleague's admonition. Here we were again, a lot farther South and on a track.

I had to admit that this student was looking a little more comfortable on the bike than the last time I saw her. Following her around the track, though, I could see that the concept of lines and apexes was having a hard time moving from classroom to actuality. Our student was forever apexing early which threw her wide in the corner. Then she'd panic trying to get set up for the next corner. I spurred Sophie and cut in front of the student. Patting the back of the bike, I indicated she should follow me for a couple of laps. Then I turned her loose once more. My student could follow my lines if she was behind me but still hadn't grasped the concept on her own.

Time for a passenger, Sophie.

This time we did a few laps with the student sitting behind me. As we rode I would explain why I chose that line and apex for the corner. Without having to worry about actually piloting a bike, the woman could concentrate more on line selection. After dropping her off back at her bike, I went off in search of other prey. Excuse me, I meant to say "other students needing help". Checking back in on this gal I was amazed at the difference. It was clear that things had finally clicked for her. She was so excited during the next break she could hardly contain herself. Coming in with an open mind, she'd taken away something of great value.

Flip the coin. Instead of "heads" it now shows "tails". Represented by a guy on a dual sport. His day consisted of magnificent stoppies and arguing with us about our coaching. Some folks get just enough exposure to something to be dangerous. Picture a powerful sports car. Now think of a guy fixated on the "go-fast" pedal. He has no idea about the brakes and other things that control all that power. He only has eyes for one thing. This student had spent half a day at a track school somewhere. The single frame was burned into his brain but he was missing the rest of the movie.

He'd tell us that he'd do what we told him to but that we were telling him to do it wrong. If he wasn't open to coaching, why was he here? A race track is a still photo. Riding in the real world is the movie. We don't always get to write our own scripts so we have to be ready to improvise. I can't resist the bad pun. Riding in the real world is a "moving picture". There's no room for fixating on only one view. I hope this guy's movie has a happy ending.

In between the two extremes were the Harley riders. Yes, they were loud. Yes, they scraped a lot. Yes, there were a lot of skidding tires in the braking exercises. Yes, most were slow and cumbersome as they navigated the corners. Just as importantly, though, there was a lot of improvement. I have the utmost respect for riders who are willing to risk looking a little less than cool in front of their peers in the name of better skills.

One guy in particular made me scratch my head.

We do an exercise involving stopping quickly in a corner. I've written about the technique in previous posts. It's the "straighten, then brake" method. Riders are instructed to commit to their lean and then do a quick stop on the instructor's signal. It's something that few riders will ever practice on their own. Things are pretty awkward at first. I've seen some strange things happen over the years.

In this case, the rider came into the corner at a good speed and full lean. The straighten part went well. The braking part involved a big front wheel skid. Just as I started to think the bike might be going down, the rider let go of the front brake. He and I had a small chat about front brake application. I commended him on his correct response of releasing the front brake. He looked at me with a very serious expression on his face.

"I'm used to it", he says. "Happens to me all the time!"

Say what? Oh my goodness. I hope he was only pulling my leg! Yikes!

Almost all of the Harley riders knew each other. At the end of the day there was a lot of ribbing and friendly jabs going on. They were razzing each other about their goofs and errors. At the same time I could see the sense of accomplishment in their faces. I always feel like I did my job when I see that. All in all it had been a great day. There was still the ride home to look forward to. Three of us would enjoy a very spirited ride along some twisty mountain roads. That's all I'm going to say about that. Isn't there something in the constitution that protects me from self incrimination?

Miles and smiles,



Dean W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacy said...

Is that the go-kart track out near White City? Once, when I was a wee lass, I drove a go-kart (styled to look like a mini Indy car) around that track.

I'm not sure my heart could handle a habit of making spectacular stoppies.

Dean W said...

I think I had your front wheel skid guy in my IRT last weekend...

I was chatting with my optometerist today. Returning rider on an HD Springer; previously used to ride when he flew F-8 Crusaders for the Navy.

Anyway, he was telling me that he's been meaning to take a class, but in the meanwhile he's gotten much better at coordinating brakes & clutch while turning. While, not before.

Thus ensued a five minute discourse on "Slow Look Roll Press", and why, which left him thoughtful, and (I hope) more motivated to get into a class, if only to see what else we might have to say.

EvolutioN said...

I agree completely with commuting being in a motion picture. Even on maddening traffic like the one we have here in India, good riding skills ensure you do not end up in a heap, but the gods of riding ensure you do not end up in a heap AND the riders and other commuters are safe as well...

The straighten and brake technique is admittedly, a little tough to master, but once you get the hang of just how much you allow the front brakes to bleed after you jam them hard is even tougher! Am a decent rider myself, though nowhere close to some of the gods I know! :)

As for the people with their wrists on the accelerator all the time, without understanding how to control the horses, they should be taken off the road and committed to prison, not only do they put themselves at risk, they put all the others, including innocent bystanders at risk too :X

Love, laughter n keep the Faith,


Conchscooter said...

Seeing a Honda and expecting to see a Yamaha. Not many people buy a delicious new bike and leave it at home. Must be heat stroke. One hundred degrees? Come to the relatively cool Florida keys for summer.

Macavite said...

I like your comment about Sofie. I find it very satisfying when you find the effective way to explain a concept to a student and then get to watch them apply it.

I love the swerving exercise for just that. There's a some nice opportunitues to catch the people who didn't get countersteering back at exersize 12. I am so happy when I can pull someone aside who is clearly trying to steer the bike, take 30 second to show them what they need to be doing, then watch their next four runs when they get better and better as their body learns how countersteering works.

The reason to do the job, for me anyhow, watching that learning happen is just so very cool.

Bryce said...

"The reasons for being here, on the other hand, are as diverse as snowflakes."

Snowflakes? On a 38 C day?
You must be mad! and no doubt
was also very humid; talk about a
gut-wrenching day!

And you had Sophie? Does this mean
you're not quite used to your new
set of wheels? And much prefer that with which you are comfortable?

As to the slip and slid guy.
Slipping when skidding IMO is a result of tyres far too warm for the conditions, the pavement itself may well be turning to mush (due to excessive heat) and not proper
application of the brakes, both of them!

And suspect you've been busy with work and instruction; no updates for a period can cause vexation
for some!

Anonymous said...

As mentioned in my sharing the road post, I'm on the "precipice" of taking the plunge into the instructing side of Team Oregon rather than just being a regular student.
I thought about what it was that would make the instructors approach me, and I believe it was not so much my riding ability, but more my coachability. I think I am a potential candidate for instructor training because I am a good student.

Most people focus on the "instructor" part and less on the "training" part.

I am so thankful that I learned to ride from qualified experts rather than a friend or trying to figure it out by myself.

I know that it's easier to learn a good habit when you have no bad habits to break first.

You have to wonder why some riders attend the courses when they aren't willing to change their riding practicves to become safer and better riders.

-Tim said...

Nice post...I wish I could get into a track class here. I have requested info at least 3 or 4 times. Never even a returned email.
It is sad, I think the state of rider training here in UT is not great. Not enough people doing to even schedule a more advanced class.
Even the ERT courses are rare, I got one call on that class, but it was last minute, so no go.
Can't wait to be back in OR.

irondad said...

Right. It's located at Jackson County Sports Park. Did you happen to run over any rattlesnakes with your go-cart? They've been known to sunbathe on the blacktop around there, you know.

Maybe you should try explaining the cornering sequence to your optometrist in aviation terms. Decrease air speed. Acquire a visual target. Pull the throttle levers back to steady speed. Press the stick and rudder in the direction you want to go.

Well said. I won't dilute it by adding anything to it. I'm thinking I should pay more attention to the riding gods, though.

Enjoy it while you can. Soon enough you will be sick of seeing the Yamaha. I'm itching to get it onto a track but wanted to make sure it was good and broken in before I flogged it. We'll get there.

The oxen are slow but the earth is patient.

Come to the Florida Keys? Not with all those nasty blood sucking bugs you posted about the other day!

Another TEAM OREGON colleague slumming here? I'm just trying to figure out if you're North or South of me. Your old blog profile is pretty sparse. By the way, what happened with the blog? It looked to have some surreal possibilities.

Heat stroke makes me hallucinate about all kinds of things. Even snow flakes on a hundred degree day.

Sorry to vex you by not posting. This is the peak of the training season and work's been hectic, too.

You're right in that we look at personalities first. We want you to have a certain level of riding proficiency for your safety and credibility. That's something we can teach you. Can't do anything about it, though, if the personality's not there in the first place.

I'm looking forward to having you take the plunge when you're ready. I also happen to be one of the instructor prep trainers. Who knows? It could just be your bad luck to be in one of my groups!

As to the trainer versus instructor thing, we like to think of ourselves as facilitators. We help the students with their own self discovery as opposed to a "top down" approach.

P.S. I'll be at Lane Community College at 6 PM Saturday helping with an instructor demo practice session. You're welcome to stop and mingle.

I think you'll find the training atmosphere here in Oregon quite refreshing. Where's the moving countdown at these days? Somewhere around 250?

Take care,


Anonymous said...

Dan I wish I could be there Saturday. but I'm on vacation with the family near Coeur D'Alene Idaho (unfortunately bikeless).

I look forward to taking the plunge.

Macavite said...

Yep, another TO team member. I'm North of you, my preferred range is Swan Island. Although they did have me down in Roseburg a few weeks ago. I just can't say no to Talley.

Wow, I completely forgot I had a blog here, it was a project for school. We were required to do a series of podcasts to demonstrate our familiarity with FTP and audio editing software. My current blog is gets you the motorcycling specific posts.

Steve Williams said...

I couldn't get past your description of the noise, rumble and thunder of machines. Even with earplugs I would have gone home. Add the heat to it and well, I'm just an intolerant sissy I guess.

Give me the biting cold any day...

I usually only hear gunshots on the first couple days of deer season as the mountains surrounding us are alive with the sounds of hunting. And of course the reenactors celebrating the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, and recently even some Gulf War stuff. The sounds of 50 caliber machine guns and canons fill the air on some weekends.

The dog is old now and deaf so no longer tormented by the noise.

Rambling now but I am looking forward to lots more pictures of your new bike in the world...

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks