Monday, August 17, 2009

When different worlds meet.

Dean W and I taught an Advanced Rider Training class together last week. Joining us were Dave and Stan. Dean's on the left, Dave's in the middle, and Stan is on the right in the red shirt. As I mentioned before, Stan's the one responsible for me becoming an instructor. Thousands of riders are either blessing or cursing him!

During the class something happened that you'll probably never see in the real world. It involves a Harley, a Yamaha, and their respective riders. More in a bit.

After dropping Elvira in a parking lot, I installed a set of frame sliders. Dean actually pointed me towards them. They look pretty slick.

The sliders mount using some existing frame bolt holes. If you have a 2006-2008 model, the body work is open here. If it's an older model things are more difficult. Anyway, here's the link to Motorcycle Larry's if you want to take a look.

I know it's kind of like shutting the barn door after the horse has galloped away. Now that the sliders are installed, Murphy will decide it's not fun to tip my bike over anymore. At least that's the plan.

Some things on a bike can be customized by buying new parts. Other things you have to do yourself. Like peg feelers. They were just way too long on Elvira. So we've had to do our own modifications.

Our normal ART class involves a morning classroom session and a track session after lunch. Since we pay for the track for all day, why not use it? So, while I'm stuck in the classroom, Dean and company were conducting a cornering clinic. Instructors are invited to hone their cornering skills. Oregon's leading cause of motorcycle fatalities is riders getting corners wrong. Even instructors realize the need to constantly hone skills. The turnouts for the clinics are strong. The idea of free track time doesn't hurt, either!

When my group dismissed for lunch, the instructors were still riding. I took advantage of the opportunity to play some more with the Nikon. This is a totally manual photo. I was trying to capture some still life and action at the same time. Things coming at you are easier to stop while things going across your lense are harder. The combination shows both. I'm pleased with this photo, but your results may vary.

This is a photo of the bikes in our class just prior to starting the track session. Sometimes I just have to grab a shot without much time to mess with settings. Bright sunshine complicates things. I know the rule of F16 but I'm not quick at changing the camera settings, yet.

A couple of bikes back on the right is a blue full dress Harley. The rider is a man about my age. Where I'm shorter and a bit stockier, he's taller and thin. Say what you will about stereotypes, but it's true here. The man has a headband under his half shell helmet. He's got a leather jacket with a club patch on the back. There's other insignia scattered about. Talk about flying the colors! His hair's long, thinning, and scraggly. When he talks I can see he's even missing a few teeth. What looks like hard living is etched on his face. During the classroom session we spend a few minutes talking about how riding impaired from alcohol negatively affects a rider's ability to manage risk. I could see him at the back of the group staring up at the ceiling.

If you were to picture a "biker" in your mind, he'd be what you imagined.

This isn't meant to be at all insulting to the guy. He's attending training on his own initiative to improve his skills. I have nothing but respect for that. I'm merely showing the contrast between how he comes across and how I come across as it pertains to our approach to riding and gear. It's the contrast that makes the next part so humorous.

I could really care less if a student looks different than me. My job is to give the students what they need. In a smaller picture of how I feel the bigger world should work, we need to look past the surface and make a personal connection with people. That's what I try hard to do with my students. Everyone has different learning styles and I have to know how to best connect.

At ART, I draw pictures on a whiteboard during the classroom portion. We have discussions among the group. We go out and ride the track. Instructors stand at corners and coach. We ride among the students and have them follow us. Sometimes it's enough to enlighten a rider. Sometimes it's not. In that case, there's nothing like putting a student on the back of your bike and doing a couple of laps. The instructor gives a running commentary which explains what's going on. Students can see, feel, and hear the elements of good cornering technique. It's an extremely powerful tool that I encourage all students to avail themselves of.

So you can see where this is going, can't you?

It became clear that "biker" was afraid to trust leaning the bike. More specifically, he wasn't making the connection on how applying the throttle BEFORE he leaned the bike would help him feel more confident in the turn. So his turns were pretty choppy. He'd gingerly lean the bike with no throttle applied. The floorboards would scrape the pavement near the apex. "Biker" would react by suddenly grabbing a handful of throttle which would pick the bike up. However, he'd then be out of shape for the next corner. We needed to help this guy out.

Stan was standing near the paddock. I pulled Elvira to the side and waited. Stan stopped "Biker" and strongly suggested he go for a ride with me. "Biker" slowly dismounted while staring at me on Elvira. I could see several expressions cross his face.

One was distaste. Clearly, he wasn't thrilled to be riding pillion in the first place. I'm sure he didn't like the idea of being so close to another man. Perhaps I imagined it, but it also looked like he didn't really want to be on a Yamaha, or any other "rice burner". After all, he was flying just about every Harley related color possible. His progress to the bike was painfully slow. I patiently waited, my flip up helmet raised. I tried to keep an encouraging look on my face.

At the same time, "Biker" was clearly there to learn. He knew his technique was poor and that he wasn't getting it from our other coaching. As if pulled by a rope in his jaw, "Biker" finally stood beside Elvira. He eyed the rear seat somewhat apprehensively.

"That seat looks small", he said. "It looks like my ass is going to be hanging out in mid-air".

For the class I take the saddlebags and trunk off of the bike. Elvira looks a lot like a sportbike like that. The seat's bigger than it looks. Much better than the back of Stan's Interceptor, for example. There's no backrest, though, since the trunk is off. It would look much smaller than the rider's seat on a full dress Harley. "Biker" would have been a lot more apprehensive if he'd known ahead of time that I was going to take advantage of that vulnerable feeling to drive home a point.

Finally, "Biker" settled in behind me. I give the man every credit in the world for doing that. I know how hard it was for him. After a couple of quick instructions for being a passenger we were off. I had told him to expect some leaning and to just look over my inside shoulder. Down the straight we went. God, I wish I'd have given Stan the camera!

Picture it. A black Yamaha sporting bike with the rider in a white helmet and Hi-Viz 'Stich. Remember, that means it's a bright yellowish green. Underneath the road grime, of course. My passenger is in a black Harley leather jacket with a big patch and several smaller ones. He's wearing black chaps on the bottom and a half shell black helmet. Two worlds uniting for a ride.

I took it easy for the first couple of corners. Until we got to the hairpin. I took it at a good pace. All the while talking to him. I kept stressing how the early throttle held us BOTH up, even in the tightest corners. I explained that he needed to do the same thing on his Harley. Why not roll on the throttle and get maximum ground clearance BEFORE he leaned? Why wait until he heard the boards grinding on the road? Chances were that the floorboards wouldn't scrape in the first place. "Biker" was so tense he felt like a piece of lumber back there. I know he wanted to hang on tighter. Fear and phobia conflicted. I didn't want to scare him, but I also needed him to see how he could actually trust the bike to stand up with proper technique. It was a careful game of "scare and rescue".

By the time we finished a couple of laps "Biker" had relaxed. I knew the point was getting through to him. We also talked about being smooth with inputs and rolling the bike around the axis instead of throwing it down. There were no surprises since we were in total control.

Shaky, but impressed, he dismounted Elvira and re-mounted the Harley. I swear he was going to kiss the fairing of his bike, so relieved was he to be back!

Was it worth it?

After watching "Biker" on the next few laps, Stan commented how the student was a hundred percent improved. As it turned out, I followed "Biker" for his evaluation laps. He'd smoothed out considerably. Not perfect, by any means, but much better off than when he arrived.

How did he feel about me at the end of the class?

We give the students a chance to provide written feedback when the course is completed. The form asks if the student took a passenger ride and what part of the ride helped them the most?

"Biker" said the most helpful part was the instructor's knowledge and explanations during the ride.


I just wonder if he's going to tell his riding buddies about being on the back of Elvira?

Miles and smiles,



Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad:

I started reading this expecting some kind of a punchline... And it started to hit home about halfway through. You see, when I started as a re-entry rider back in 2005, it was widely acknowledged that I had a leaning disability.

I just refused to lean the bike.

My turns weren't choppy; they were right angle. The guys used to say that I would stop, put the bike on the center stand, and pivot in the direction I wanted it to go. I got better at leaning after taking the Harley Rider's Edge course, where I got my license. But I still was pretty poor at this.

The guys in my club, the Mac Pac, took me in hand. We rode thousands of miles with guys showing me exactly what to do. One day, I got in trouble. It was hot. I was tired. My hips hurt. My knees throbbed. I hadn't been laid. I wasn't paying attention. I got distracted. All of the above... And I entered a curve really smoking.

And there he was, the grim reaper, waving to me in a curve that was the prototype for a corkscrew. There was no room. I was out of road and out of luck. Trying to hit the brakes would have been an invitation to the morgue.

I leaned into that turn and and gave that bike the gas. It was like it was on rails at an amusement park. The bike leaned way over, anchored in its line by gravity and centrifical force, and never came close to hitting anything nor running off the road.

That changed everything.

I still have bad days when my gimpy left hip prevents me from making a nice tight left turns. But I honestly think the effort my friends -- and several instructors -- put ito showing me what was required prevented a catastrophe. Snd the thrill of riding was so much better for me.

What I don't understand is how this grizzled Harley rider, who I am assuming had a big, heavy bike, managed to ride so long with his friends without wrecking.

The hardest thing I ever had to do was look in the direction I wanted the bike to go in (follow though on a curve) as opposed to looking straight ahead. It took forever for me to be able to do that.

And now, I try to lean the Suburban in turns. That doesn't work at all.

Great post.

Fondest Regards,
Jack • reep • Twisted Roads


Stacy said...

I really REALLY wish I could have made this class, Dan. More than you probably realize.

Alas, I was all set to take the day off from work when my co-worker called in a favor I owed him... and so I was stuck at work instead of learning from you that day. My schedule won't allow for next week's class either. gggrrrrrrr!!!

Joe said...

It was a little ironic that you commented at my blog today because I was thinking about you earlier. I fired up the computer in my classroom for the first time since early June and there on the screen as part of my background was the quote I put there from one of your posts in April.

"Too many people make too much noise and flap their mouths way too often. They're full of themselves and their own ideas. Often times wrong ideas. They miss so much because they just won't shut up and be quiet."

I put that on my monitor at school to remind ME to shut up more often and to listen to what the kids have to say. I'll keep those words of yours with me for the rest of my life as one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten.

- Joe at Scootin' da Valley

Lucky said...

That guy gets major props from me for getting on the back of your bike. I bet I'd be even slower to get on - riding pillion freaks me the hell out.

Great post and a good reminder that appearances can deceive.

Lance said...

Dan, I like the way you were able to bridge the "motorcycle lifestyle" gap with Biker. I too respect anyone that wants to improve their skills, so my hat is off to him as well. I will read and re-read your comments on cornering, to help me in this skill.

bobskoot said...


As Lucky said, I don't think I have the guts to ride pillion either. Trust goes both ways. You have to trust the experience of the rider, and the rider has to trust their passenger. If it goes right, it's a symphony

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Allen Madding said...

I'd love to jump on the back of Elvira and get an education, personally. I have a feeling that I'd learn more in 3 or 4 laps riding beotch behind you than I'll ever learn reading and listening.

As I have become older, I have come to understand what teaching/learning situations work for me.

With 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest, reading would get a 4, lectures would be a 7, and demonstrations where I am involved seem to always hit a 10. That's just me. Other's mileage may vary.

I think Biker was pretty lucky to have the opportunity.


Dean W said...

Stacy- for next week's schedule, just call in a favor... ;-)

There's always next spring.

Charlie6 said...


good posting on how to get a point across to a student.

the feeling of hitting a curve right and executing the rolling on of the throttle correctly and leaning just right is one of the pleasures of Jack, it took me some miles to look further into the curve but once I got it, it was intoxicating to get it right.

there's rides when I am so much part of the bike, it's zen-like...then there's the other days when I can't even shift gears correctly....

oh well, more miles must be ridden....

Baron's Life said...

It took me the longest time to trust leaning the bike...I was terrified and still am to some extent...I slow down on curves or exits and take it very easy and that after some 20+ years of riding.
I believe you to be a very good and qualified instructor with the right stuff to teach...from what I read on your previous posts.
Thanks for sharing these stories with us.
ps: riding pillion is not for me either

irondad said...


Feeling is believing, isn't it? I still laugh about a comment one of your cronies made on a post you did. Something about getting a parking ticket in the sweet spot of your apex, I believe.

Part of the reason for exploring limits is to know what the bike will actually do if we need it to. As you found, the bikes are usually better than us.

Some riders spend a lot of time in a straight line, if you know what I mean.

Take care,


irondad said...


As it turns out, Dean and I are teaching the next class as well. If we don't see you in person, we'll imagine your bike swooping corners!

Take care,


irondad said...


I'm flattered and honored that you found the words worthy of keeping. Thank you for sharing that. I've received similar gifts from others, too, so it works both ways.

Of course, if I had really taken my Grandma's counsel to heart, I would have made a shorter statement. To quote her:

"Two eyes, two ears, only one mouth!"


Of course appearances can be deceiving. Have you seen you and me?


We might get on a bike for a different reason than someone else. Yet, we all have pretty much the same needs. That's the part I try to see.

There are some older posts of mine dealing with cornering in more detail. Makes me wish I had used tags for everything now that I'm trying to go back and find stuff.

Take care,


irondad said...


I have had some passengers on the track that weren't too trustworthy. Some have been really freaked out by the leaning part. On the track is one thing. At least it's more or less a controlled environment.

I'm extremely choosy about who I invite to ride pillion on the street.

For what it's worth, I've ridden pillion with a more experienced instructor as part of my training. Otherwise, I don't ride pillion, either!


Thank you for the compliment! Coincidentally, we have a mantra about our teaching. It's:

Students learn by doing!!!!

They will learn more from the wind past their ears than from the wind past our lips.

Take care,


irondad said...


I have hundreds of thousands of miles on two wheels. I hate to tell you this, but I still have off days.

There's no feeling quite like getting a corner exactly right, is there? It's almost intoxicating, as you say. Not to mention addictive. You get one right and then want to go do another one!

Baron's Life,

Once again, thank you for the kind words. Rule number one: Ride your own ride.

If riding more slowly through curves isn't putting you in danger with other traffic, then stay with it. What is there to prove?

Take care,


Bryce said...

I have seen other photographs of that same corner however with you rounding the corner, taken by your son.

I always had problems doing tight corners. Imagine an extremly very tall husky person on a very tall 28 year old Honda Goldwing, set up for the straight and narrow. I tried under controlled conditions with an ERC some years ago. The instructor did it on my bike, he was a short as person yet when I did it, over I fell. I picked up the bike easily which really shocked the bystanders. The instructor who also rode a Wing suggested I try his year old 1996 Wing. I couldn't even fit on it, not even the pillion! No bloody room!

He then watched me ride my bike around the curves and realized I towered over him by almost two feet when riding my own bike. No wonder I was having problems, the centre of gravity was way too high to allow the machine to tilt. I did well on most other aspects/ One of the other instructors riding a BMW watched me try the lean in the corner and commented that even if I moved by butt over to assist would've made no difference. he had the biggest top of the ine BMW made, then. he suggested I try and sit on it. Yep, it disappeared under my massive body. Not fat, just big.

So maybe in retrospect I am not riding any more, there are no motorcycles out there that fit both my height and my leg length.

I really don't understand how these
obese riders on Harley-Davidson motorcycles fit, the motorcycle itself is much smaller than any
Honda Goldwing. Size of the machine does matter when you are performing specialty manouvers.

Maybe that's police services like them, they are small and they do fit into small spaces.

My sername "tallnbig68" sort of tells all.