I started this journey with a Basic Rider Course (Harley’s “Rider’s Edge”) in Fall of 2006; my first attempts at street riding made me realize that, however good that course was, I needed much more practice before I’d be comfortable in traffic. Between tentative runs on back roads and some patient dirtbike instruction from a friend, I got better.
In the Fall of 2009, I took the “Dirt ‘n the Skirt” class at the Honda Rider Training Center in Alpharetta, GA. Even though I don’t ride off-road at this point, it filled in some blanks for me, and taught me some useful techniques, such as using my weight on the pegs to steer the bike, and shifting my weight on the seat to stabilize the bike in slow turns.
This year, I took the Advanced Rider Course at the Honda center. It’s a one-day course, and you ride your own bike. I assumed I’d be the oldest person there, but I was pleasantly surprised that there were three other, ah, old farts in the group — all of them Rider Coaches. Even though the course is labeled “Sportbike Techniques,” the content applies to any type of bike: In the group, there was a BMW F800GS, a Honda Gold Wing, a Harley Ultra Classic, a Honda dual sport of some sort, a Hayabusa, and my SV650.
By the way, all of these courses are sanctioned by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation so, wherever you take a course, you’re assured of being taught by an experienced Rider Coach, and the course content is standardized.
As we were filling out the “I won’t sue you for my own clumsiness” forms, we old farts joked about riding our bikes to the Wednesday Senior Discount Days at Kroger, to the chagrin of the two young’uns in the class. But there was no division; we were all there to improve our riding, and conversation was easy.
Funny thing about seminars and classes: sometimes you discover that you know more than you think you know — sometimes, class is confirmation. The first exercise comprised a pair of offset-weave runs; one mild, one more pronounced (wider offset). I thought, well, here you go. I’ll get around the first cone, then make about every other one. But to my relief (and surprise), I easily ran the course — the “weight the pegs” approach I’d learned in the dirtbike class did the trick. My confidence went up, and I relaxed a bit.
The instructors (a married couple riding matching Honda Nighthawks) were great — knowledgeable, clear, and patient. Joy took the role of main instructor, while Jerome performed the demo runs to show us what we’d be doing. To help us corner more tightly without losing traction, Joy taught us an “up and in” maneuver: you shift your weight forward in the seat, then move your upper body toward the inside of the curve, leading with your elbow. It seemed unnatural when she had us practice on our parked bikes with the stands down (I am so gonna fall right over.) But once I tried it, I loved it. This isn’t a knee-dragging stance; instead, the upper-body shift moves the center of gravity, allowing the bike to turn with less lean angle. I actually squealed “Whee!” as I wheeled around the small circle of cones.
In the Basic Rider Course, I was so tentative on the throttle that the bike was unstable; I wobbled through curves as I varied on the throttle. Funny: in a car, I had never had any trouble feathering the clutch at low speeds, but I just didn’t apply that to the motorcycle. In the Advanced class, I didn’t wobble any more; my speed was smooth, and I could put the bike where I wanted it to go. Sounds simple. But until you stop thinking and your body takes over, it isn’t. I realize now how clumsy I was in my first weeks, and I’m gratified to discover that my over-analysis has given way to intuition.
Now I see the benefit of continuing to take courses, to refine my skills, to learn from different instructors, and to pick up tips from classmates. I’d strongly encourage you to do the same!