"I see the flag waving waaaay down there. That's my signal to go. Time to snick the bike into first gear. Ease out the clutch, roll on the throttle, and smoothly get underway. I'm nervous enough as it is, wouldn't want to embarrass myself in front of my fellow instructors by stalling the bike. Up through the gears. Accelerate quickly..... I've gotta' get up to 70 mph pretty soon. So this is what it's like to go charging down the blacktop on a dragstrip! This is way cool. Crap! There comes the pair of cue cones. How did I get to them so quickly? I'm nowhere near ready.
All right, time for a quick stop using maximum braking. Eyes up, eyes up! Don't look at the trainer. Knees against the tank. Smooth on the front brake. Remember to ease the pressure on the rear brake pedal as the front end dives. What's the front tire doing? Do I hear a squeal? Is it sliding? Dang, I wish I had ABS. Calm down, remember what the instructors told you. The bars are starting to wriggle side to side. Light hands, light hands! Use my knees to take the weight off my upper body. I glance at the trainer that's coaching my braking. What's that look on his face? It's not a smile. Is he looking worried? Should I be worried? That concrete barrier to my right is looking pretty close. Don't look at the wall!!!! This is way too long to have to think about things.
Whew! I'm stopped and the bike is still upright. I don't smell tire smoke. What was my distance? Did I do better this time? I look to the trainer. Finally, he smiles and gives me the thumbs up but tells me I forgot to do something. With an evil grin Irondad tells me I'll find out soon enough when I try to take off. I look down at the gear indicator on the instrument cluster. Still in 5th gear? I'd slap my forehead if my hands weren't so tightly clenched on the grips. All FOUR paws! Front brake, rear brake, clutch, light hands, AND tap dance on the shift lever. Ok. On the next run I'm going to get it ALL right!"
One of the things I deeply appreciate about this job is that I have the opportunity to help people to grow in various ways. That's also the culture of our organization. As part of that effort we conducted high speed braking and swerving clinics earlier this year for our instructors. It's the first time we've ever done that. We felt it would be a chance for the instructors to experience something that most of them probably haven't before. The feel of braking and swerving at high speeds is a unique dynamic. The other thing the clinics would do is remind the instructors of the nervousness and fear our students feel.
We arranged to get the use of the dragstrip for a couple of sessions. We scheduled our police trainers to provide coaching and instruction. Dean W, who often uses this forum to harass me, is one of those trainers. Then I sent the invitation out to the instructors. It was gratifying to see the number who signed up. And actually showed up. Not the number I hoped for but more than I expected. Most were quite nervous, but excited to participate. That nervousness was what we wanted them to feel and remember. New riders are nervous. The instructors at the braking clinics were nervous. Nervouse is nervous no matter what level of new skils we're working on. Remember what it feels like and be suitably empathetic.
I'd like to share a few photos from one of the two days.
We were supposed to be able to use the cones that the State Police use. They were locked in the back of a mean looking black Chevy Tahoe. Somebody was supposed to leave a key out for us. That link in the chain broke. So we improvised. One of our "fast guys" grabbed a golf cart and we all scrounged for cones. This dude looks fast on anything, doesn't he?
The rider of this Ducati is good! There's no ABS on the bike. His right hand seems to be in perfect communication with what the front tire is doing. I could literally see his hand flexing on the brake lever as he stopped by me. His stops were comparable to ABS on the dry pavement. Here's a photo of the bike at nearly full fork compression. I tried to still show a little bit of motion in the front wheel so the bike isn't quite fully squatted.
Have you ever heard of the color "Write me a ticket Red"? Here's Mark passing by The Director. ST1300, meet ST1100.
I was fooling around with putting borders around photos. It can be useful to have a thin black border on a photo presented on a white background. Sort of keeps the eye from wandering off the photo. I caught the "red" bug as you can see by this border. It would be easy for the big red border to overwhelm the subject of the photo. Not in this case!
To his immense credit, who should show up for the clinic but our very own Troubadour! Check out that great stopping form. Eyes up looking well ahead. Knees firmly against the tank. Please notice that there is no smoke coming from either tire.
Our instructors execute a great stop. What do the trainers tell them? "Good job, do it again." Never happy are we? So back to the start point for another nerve wracking run. It DOES get easier with repetitions.
Check out that great head turn! Not to brag, but "That's my boy!"
Like I mentioned above, the drag strip is in a canyon between two concrete barriers. It can look pretty darn close ( not to mention scary ) at speed. Especially when you're SWERVING towards it at 60 mph!
As I said, the turnout was a bit lower than we'd hoped for. I think that the instructors who participated this year will spread the word about their experience. The fear factor holding people back should hopefully be a bit lower for future sessions. We did maximum braking at 45, 60, and 70 mph. We did swerving at 45 and 60 mph. I required full riding gear, just in case. Fortunately, nobody "splashed". We were a little bit worried about that. We did have a couple of close calls. A couple of riders got reminded that you have to be fully upright and out of the swerve BEFORE you apply the brakes. Some of the instructors riding ABS bikes found out that you can still slide the front tire. When you're braking that hard and putting extra weight on the bars the front tire will tend to move side to side. ABS works in a straight line. Once the tire gets turned a bit, it WILL slide. That's one of the reasons for using your knees to take the weight off your upper body, especially your hands. Remember: LIGHT hands!
We're offering the clinics again this year. Here's looking forward to some more fun!
Miles and smiles,