Getting the Hang of Hanging On!

(Ed. Note: Several Red River BMW members have recently taken 'track day' courses to learn more about the fine art of riding fast. Along the way, there is also good instruction on cornering, a key component of injury-free riding.  Drew recently completed a track day of a slightly different sort, one that focused on advanced riding skills with a special emphasis on the keys to successful cornering. The information he learned can be of benefit to us all.)

By Drew Newcomer
Even though I have well over 100,000 “motorcycle” miles, I realize I am still a beginning rider in so many ways. When given the opportunity to experience a riding class or track day, I try to do so. So it was on April 17, when I attended Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic in Elgin, Texas.

Riding into Texas on Friday I was quite concerned as the predicted weather  was not optimal. A call to Moto Fun informed me the class was still on and would be conducted in a light rainfall and that the weather, to that point, had not been as bad as initially thought. So, riding on familiar Highway 79 to the southwest, I enjoyed a nice ride until a little rain when I was 15 miles outside of my destination of Elgin. Checking into the Holiday Inn Express (I felt smarter already!) I hoped the weather would cooperate having covered 418 miles to simply arrive.

Saturday morning was cloudy as predicted and eight riders on various bikes (six were BMWs) arrived to improve our riding --- specifically cornering ---technique(s). The Total Control clinic is conducted in the classroom and on a range. The morning started, naturally enough, in the classroom where the first topic of conversation was traction followed by throttle control. Now it was time to practice what we discussed. The first exercise dealt with rolling off the throttle followed by trail braking.

The idea was to roll off, then back on the throttle without noticeably affecting the suspension. Guess what – this is not as easy as one may suspect. I did pretty well on this exercise and my trail braking technique was not bad with both the front and front/rear brake combined.

Back in the classroom  the topics of fear, concentration, attitude, and vision were discussed. This was a very interesting session as in all of the riding clinics I have participated in I don’t recall fear being covered. Our motorcycles are generally more capable than we are in ability and the instructors informed us that “if you think you can - or can’t - you are right.” How many times have you entered a corner too hot, or found yourself in a decreasing radius and came close to “losing it” even though the motorcycle was quite capable of the speed or angle? It was you as a rider that had the problem. With this in mind it was time to return to the range.   A 40 foot circle awaited us. The idea was to ride your motorcycle in a circle while looking through the entire circle. Guess what again? This sounds much easier than putting it into practice, especially if one has developed “bad” cornering habits over the years.
This exercise pretty much humbled the class but as we begin to use the techniques demonstrated for us by Lonnie Milligan and Jude Schexnayder, our instructors, we all made improvements. After lunch we covered the topics of line selection, body position, and the “10 steps to Proper Cornering.” Most motorcyclists are familiar with line selection and understand the importance of choosing a path that will allow us to make our turn while leaving room for “unexpected” occurrences including pot holes, gravel, scurrying animals, etc. However, how many of us break cornering down into a series of steps to be done simultaneously? Before returning to the range, Lonnie and Jude took each rider and placed them on their bike.

With help from the other students we practiced cornering in a static position. (The rider was coached through the 10 steps while the instructors and students leaned the bike over with the rider on board – fortunately for us, we had no Goldwing riders!)

It was time to attempt the 10 steps on the range. Once again, another humbling experience as we “leaned” off our motorcycles. As we slowly got more comfortable with actually moving our center of gravity to the inside of our motorcycles, our technique, naturally, improved. Having “mastered” each direction it was time to transition from left to right, then right to left. This exercise certainly increased our appreciation for those folks that accomplish this at 160 mph, as we struggled to find the “zone” in second gear!

The final topic discussed was suspension. How many of us just jump on our motorcycles and simply ride away without paying any thought to the bike’s suspension? Lonnie and Jude informed us that proper suspension set-up is very vital for optimum performance for the bike itself, and us as riders. The simple steps for measuring sag were discussed and several of the group had their motorcycles “set-up.”

After an informative 10-hour day, the class concluded. I did benefit from this class and would recommend it to anyone interested in improving their cornering ability. I felt the tuition of $295 was reasonable and the class was conducted in a relaxed environment. Practice of the provided exercises was emphasized and encouraged.

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