Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shannonville, ON

Shannonville, ON

Have you ever taken a rider course at a Race Track?

I am not a racer, in fact I do not see the sense in racing around a track trying to be faster than the next participant but I do admire the way people practicing this sport can ride. I am in awe as to what those folks can do with their motorcycles and how those corners are managed. This kind of riding could be helpful on twisty roads in the real world and not only during race days. So, once in a while I do like to refresh cornering techniques and this year I did this at Shannonville in Ontario, Canada.

Serpa, the BMW dealership in Newmarket ON, sponsored the 2-day event. One of the pre-requisites is that you must attend day one before you can take day two of the instructions. Never having been here before, I opted to just see what day one is like before committing to day two. Would I really like this course? Being on a race track of all things? I took the safe side and just booked one day!

The course started on a Monday early at 8 AM. The weather forecast called for 60% chance of rain but the riding goes on, rain or shine. The night before, staying at a hotel in Belleville, ON, I met some of the participants over dinner at a nearby pub. Paul R from Serpa had ordered appetizers for the group to share and we soon shared more details on our bikes, riding experiences etc.
The talk quickly turned to details regarding the course, what will be taught and how to set up the bike, what air pressure to have in the tires, and specifics about when and how to brake on the track, etc. The night flew by and this was not even part of the course.

Monday morning arrived and the weather started off great. Cool but sunny and the ride from Belleville to the race track in Shannonville was a delight and took about 20 minutes.

Serpa was extremely well organized and after signing the usual wavers and getting wrist bands to identify us as belonging to the group, we started with an inspection of each motorcycle. I had to remove my side bags, remove my tie down straps and my wrist-rest gizmo. Otherwise my bike was fine as it was. Others had more to remove from their bikes but most knew not to come with attachments that could fall off while negotiating the, sometimes, very tight curves.

This Serpa course is set up not as a racing course but to teach riders confidence in cornering. So to tape up headlights, remove mirrors and turn signals, take off the windshield, and use ties for screws was not needed. We are not racing.  We only use a race course to allow for maximum safety and provide us with corners with varying degrees of difficulty.

We are being taught how to use corners and speed with smoothness and confidence. So to make sure we have a safe environment, we use a race track. There are no cars to worry about; no center lines, no oncoming traffic, no animals or items on the road, etc., etc. Yet we do learn how to ride our bikes just like racers would ride their bikes during a motorcycle race.

This place, this race track, was an ideal environment to just ride. Ride with confidence that all will be well as far as the physical road would allow.

Three people stood out among the participants. Naturally, Paul R. of Serpa, who ran the event, took charge and ran a very friendly but also informative day. His two track coaches, Steve and Steve, were very good guys who handled their charges well. They gave lots of praise and also specific pointers to improve our riding.

We started off, after the bikes were approved, with braking exercises. We built up speed and confidence, stopping between the cones and braking with just the front brake while still being able to apply throttle with the same hand if needed. Steve is convinced that the 2 fingers for the front brake and 2 fingers for the throttle is the ideal way to manage curves. What can I say? I have been riding like this for ages now; I do it all the time. So no, I did not learn much during this segment but I had a good time anyhow. It was plain fun to start and run up to speed, then hit the front brake. I had to concentrate because normally I would have used the rear brake too during this kind of stop. Here, I was asked to just do it with the front brake and bring the front end down and keep it down at the stop. The whole of it should be smooth and effortless. No jerky moves, nice and easy, yet come to a stop within the measured off cones and have the front end compressed when stopped.

It worked on my end; I do not know what other people did or how well they did.

But this is not about other people anyhow, this is all about the way I ride and what I can learn from it all.

The whole group was now divided into an A and B sections, not because of ratings, but just to have 2 manageable groups to be coached by the Steve’s.

Follow the leader!

Yet for the learning of the day, I did try to adapt to this way. Like the ducks in a row, follow the leader or the person riding in front of you. Do not pass. Ride the whole circuit, a total of 10 well laid-out corners of different complexity and difficulty. Ride them over and over, always following the leader or the person in front of you. The ride started with Group A. After each round, the rider behind the leader drops back to last place and the whole chain moves up one rider at a time until each rider has truly ridden behind the coaches and seen how it is done correctly. After a few circuits around the track, everybody takes a water brake and a rest period. Then group B gets a chance to ride behind one of the Steve’s. And the same scenario is played out again with Group B. This goes on for round after round of riding. On the second start I picked the other Steve to see how he rides around this track. Yes, there is a noticeable personal style of riding. One coach emphasizes more of the ‘move your body off the bike’ into the curve than the other man. This was just a demonstration for those who wanted to hang off the side of the bike – it was not suggested that we adopt this technique unless we were racing. Yet both methods get the job done on the street and does it really matter to me?  No! I do not need to be able to ‘race’ but to learn how to manage corners best or better. I have been riding corners as taught by Susan Galpin for years now and I am pleased to say I could hold my own very well using her technique. I had no difficulty on the track.
Yet for the learning of the day, I did try to adapt to the way the coaches showed me how to ride and I tried to keep an open mind when it comes to techniques. I am sure that for a racer, a true racing fan, this body movement, this hanging off the side of the bike, is a very good way to manage corners. I understand it, can even do it yet..... Susan, you taught me well, when it comes to street riding. I could keep up with those boys quite well, thank you!

After a short lunch, sandwiches and cold cuts and salads, we started the afternoon, but by this time it had started to rain. Riding in rain is a different matter. Concrete is slippery. Compared to asphalt concrete is slick. Now we had to avoid some patches of concrete in order to be safer on this race track.

Lucky for us, the concrete patches were not too big nor in areas that would have caused hazardous conditions. Yet rain made us extra careful and some riders reported sliding out slightly and therefore slowed down. I must be blessed with good tires. I noticed nothing. I rode exactly like before, keeping the lines, sweeping wide when needed, being close to the apex and rolling on the throttle smoothly when in the best position to do so. I rode through the course rain or shine the same way.

Yes, some riders in front of me, that suddenly used their brakes or lost their confidence, created feelings in me of “what are you doing?” I had to step on the brakes a few time in the rainy hours but only because I did not want to kiss their fenders.

Again, we rode hour after hour, following the coaches, in groups of A and B then took a break and then rode again. We rode over and over and over again. Repetition builds confidence. While it sounds boring, it was not. Each round of the circuit is really different than the previous round because of increased confidence and speed. Yes, one gets to know the curves after a while but that can be good. I could concentrate more on my body positioning by knowing what to expect in and on the way out of each curve.

This is something no road riding will ever let you do. On the road, expect the unexpected.

On this race course, knowing the course well will help you concentrate on the way you enter the curve, on the way you are in it and on the way you get out of it.

Confidence when it all comes together at the end helps tremendously.

Next year, I think I need to take 2 full days, doing the same curves over and over to really KNOW. The second day allows the coaches to critique the riders individually and familiarity with the course increases confidence and smoothness.

Carol and I rode back starting at 4.15 PM and ran smack into Toronto rush hour. Yuk!  Stop and go for at least an hour. There is no other road to circumvent this traffic pile up. Literally stop and go for hours. I do not wish it on anybody to ride in pouring rain on the 401 like we had yesterday. Is there a worse highway to be on during rush hours?  We got to the house at 7.30 PM. Normally a 2 hour ride turned into 3 plus hours of misery. Well, all is well that ends well. We are safe and sound and a bit smarter thanks to the Serpa Course. If you can, take a similar course, it only helps you.

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