Jon with Nancy's EX250
at the Keith Code Superbike School
Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, June 2002
I've been riding motorcycles since 1975 - when there wasn't much training available. In fact - I borrowed a fellow's bike in the summer of '75 and told him that no, I don't know how to ride, but I'd like to learn on your bike so I can get my motorcycle driver license endorsement. He lent me his scooter -- a Kawasaki 400 cc "commuter" bike -- big enough to go speed limits, small enough to learn on without too much danger. And learn I did, well enough to pass the test. And later that summer I got my first bike - a '74 Honda CB750, a sort of customized chopper with pretty loud exhaust. I rode it for a few years, and then threw it (and me, and my then-wife) into a guardrail. End of that bike. A few years later I got my first Gold Wing, and I've been riding ever since.
But I never took any training. In the mid-90s I got my first FAST bike -- a Honda CBR1100XX -- the Blackbird, the first of the superfast bikes. It was said to go about 170 mph or so. Soon after getting it I signed up for a riding school at Grattan race track near Grand Rapids, Michigan. The school was conducted by Reg Pridmore, a retired-from-racing fellow that now spent his time offering schools at tracks around the country. It was a good school -- not to teach racing, so to speak, but more to teach riders about their bikes. The day that I was there it was raining - but we went on anyway, because learning to ride in the rain is important, just like riding when it's warm and dry. More difficult, too -- slippery conditions, poor visibility -- real world stuff. I crashed one time -- a left-turn, and I "low-sided" -- the bike slid out to the right, out from under me, and broke a mirror and turn signal. No biggie (except that I was dumbstruck by how quickly I had done it!), and after taking off the broken stuff, I was back on the course.
Over the next few years I took four more schools -- all four of the Keith Code California Superbike Schools, and all four at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. We'd learn basic stuff -- where the rider's eyes should be focused during a turn (where you're going, not where you are), how to stop, how to turn, and on and on. We learned about countersteering -- that is, that to turn a bike to the right the rider must push (are your listening carefully here?) the right handlebar FORWARD. Think about that -- you'd think that the right handlebar should go back, which would turn the front wheel to the right. NO -- try it on a coasting bicycle and you'll see that what I've said is correct.
We learned more things than I thought I'd ever need. We learned things that are useful on the racetrack, and we learned things that are useful whenever I'm riding on a bike. Here's my favorite story about something I learned:
One day a few weeks after I had taken one of the schools, I was riding along near Marquette on the Gold Wing. Fine day, nice weather, clear and dry, no traffic, legal speed -- and a deer jumped out from the left side of the road and ran across in front of me. Before I had time to think I pushed hard on the LEFT handlebar. So hard did I push, that the front tire broke loose and squealed the rubber for a second, then the bike went left - and around behind the deer. Whew -- missed it!
A few moments later I slowed down and stopped, both to get my wits back and to change my underpants. When I replayed the incident in my mind - with plenty of time to think about everything -- when I thought about it, I did it WRONG! I pushed the right handlebar forward. If I had done that in real time, I'd have collected a deer. But the training from the school had given me a skill that was well-ingrained and I didn't have to think -- that's how valuable is the training one can get at a riding school.
So -- these days it's very common for someone who knows I spend lots of time on bikes -- to say something like "Hey, Jon, I just got a brand new KawaYamaBMHonSuz bike, and I'd like to be able to ride around my buddies on their bikes. What's the best thing I should buy -- a new exhaust system, or maybe racing tires, or what?" They are almost always disappointed when I tell them to take the money and spend it by attending a good riding school. "But sounds so dull", they'll say. "Yup, but if you take a school, the chances are good you'll be able to ride circles around them afterwards. And it's pretty cool to show pictures of you wearing full leathers and in the company of a bunch of other riders on a famous race track. There's some more cool for you."
Okay, there's that story. Want to benefit yourself and everyone that rides with you? Take some professional training.