So, What Do You Need Improvement On?

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JT-ST1100It’s a question that we frequently ask ourselves, perhaps professionally, perhaps personally. As a motorcyclist, it is particularly true when someone raises the topic of motorcycle training. So it is, with the arrival of the latest California Superbike School newsletter and Spring around the corner, that these questions came forward in my mind yet again.

This isn’t the first time I’ve stopped to think about where I might improve my skills. After enough years of riding the various pieces, the individual skills, begin to run together on you; and you don’t even realize it. A few years ago, as I spent time helping my wife enter the sport as a new rider I was very surprised to find how difficult it was. What surprised me was the serious effort it took to break what had become a singular flow of conscious thought, back into the elementary pieces.

Think about it. We all remember learning to drive. I remember going around a corner and Dad telling me to start getting on the gas sooner so I didn’t get rear ended (I tended to wait till the car was straightened again before hitting the gas). Now, I do it fluidly and don’t even think about the discrete components we all had to learn before riding smoothly. (Now, it’s my turn to give the same advice to my own daughter<g>.)

So, the general topic of training as raised by the latest CSBS newsletter struck me as quite appropriate. For those of you who haven’t seen this latest newsletter/marketing piece, Keith takes the rider through a series of questions designed to make you stop and think. What is it you want precisely from riding?

The part of this that makes it a ‘trick’ question is the word: precisely. Keith points out that to say you want to be faster, or some such, is uselessly vague. I agree. But he helps the rider by suggesting how to refine the response, might it be: smoothness? Faster cornering? Braking? What about tire adhesion, throttle control, or riding in traffic? The same sort of question was asked when signing up for the CSBS School: What do you want help with?

When I filled out the response for the school registration I found it difficult. After all, I know how to ride corners pretty effectively, my braking abilities are about where they need to be (at least for street application), and countersteering’s never been an issue. Saying, “I want to be a better rider,” wouldn’t be a good answer. (I can see their staff chuckling over the latest batch of response even now.) But what would be a better answer, for me if not the instructors?

Having been to a couple CSBS classes now and experienced just how fundamentally they compartmentalize the topics; thinking about just how I had to break things up for Kim last year; and, having read his article, I was ready. For myself, I started with the simple question: When I’m riding in the mountains more aggressively than usual, what is it I’m most concerned about?

Imagine, you’re going down Hwy-28, heading north from Franklin toward Fontana Dam or the Dragon. Nice road, well banked, tight curves, beautiful surface that tires love to grip. Not a problem, I can’t go fast enough there. Contrast that with Hwy-215 last year. Another beautiful road with one exception. They had freshly tar and graveled it and done the initial sweeping. But there was still a lot of lose stone. I didn’t realize it right away as I came off of the Blue Ridge, heading north. Sure, I noticed it was fresh compared to last year. But the surface was a pleasing grey—and so were the lose stones in the corner.

At one point I flew down a quarter-mile straight, probably a 10% grade, with a quick left-hander at the bottom. Not a problem. Strange thing started happening. Where it looked clear and clean I was starting to hear the ting-ting of stones bouncing off my headers (down-swept exhaust pipes). The realization that there was probably loose stone I wasn’t seeing dawned on me about the same time I realized braking was sub-standard—there were loose stones here. Then an even bigger realization dawned on me that there was no way (now visibly seeing stone throughout the curve) I was going to be staying on the road.

Images of our fearless leader, the day before, stuffing his bike under a guard rail came flashed through my mind. Well, sure enough, I started into a two wheel slide onto the shoulder. God was looking down upon me this day. The shoulder was huge. There was actually a large plateau in front of me covered in grass. Imagine a 200 square foot box, cut in half diagonally, and then gluing it onto the curve with the large side facing the curve. The guard rail lined the far side of the box and curved to follow the road. So, from the road into this large plateau I arced doing JT’s first ever dirt-rider impression while straddling a 500lb 1200cc sport bike. And, that guard rail was getting closer… Well, I executed a clean arc, spinning the rear wheel all the way (keep the throttle on), and clearing the guard rail by a good 5-6’. If it hadn’t been for God’s plateau I’d have done a ‘fearless leader.’

Ok, so much for the sojourn. Coming back to today, reflections upon events like these that let me really decide what it is I need improvement on. Ultimately, my personal fear is managing the transition between a solid tire-pavement connection and a slide. Building upon that, once I’ve broken traction, just what can I do with it?

So this year, do you need help exploring the limits of traction, a transition, or something else? Have you broken the pieces down enough to be precise, to be useful?