by Paul Berglund
I guess I have a bad attitude. Whenever someone tries to teach me something, it makes me crabby. I’m not a great rider, but I thought I had the basics down. I’ve been riding a motorcycle for over thirty years. I have seen people involved in all kinds of sports going to clinics to improve their skills. Not knowing that there are better ways to do things is a big hurdle. Most guys don’t ask for riding tips from their friends, and telling your friend that he could use some improvement can cause hurt feelings.
I know what I’m doing when I’m on a bike. But like everyone, I could get better. Having a passion about riding and a hunger to get better at riding is all it really takes. By better, I don’t mean faster, I mean smoother. You just need some tools to work on your skills. Riding clinics can give you those tools. That’s how it was explained to me when I was called before the editor’s desk. “Berglund, stop being a tool. We’re sending you to school.” That’s how I found myself attending the Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic.
You can find more information on line at: www.totalcontroltraining.net or by calling 800-943-5638. It all started when a guy named Lee Parks wrote the best selling book Total Control (See MMM #89). The book covers the facts, but people wanted a more hands-on way to learn the right way to use these skills out on the street. That led to the Advanced Riding Clinic. Mr. Parks can’t be everywhere, so he trained several people to set up clinics in different regions of our great country. We lucked out and got Jed Duncan here in Minnesota. Jed runs Rider Academy, which offers the full Total Control course. More on that later.
I took Level One of the Advanced Riding Clinic. I needed a valid motorcycle license, my full riding gear and my motorcycle. The clinic takes place in a classroom and on a riding range. Cost for Level One is $299 and lasts 8 hours plus time out for a catered lunch. My class was run by Jed himself and Ian Ellis, one of several certified instructors with the program. We started in the classroom; Jed and Ian went over what they were going to cover in Level One. At first is sounded like it would be a light day. I hadn’t read the book the clinic was based on, but I had heard of most of the topics to be covered. First up was throttle control. Right away I was skeptical, who can’t twist a throttle? That’s one of the fun parts of motorcycling, been doing that for years. Then we went out to the riding course set up in a large parking lot.
Turns out I was half right. When it comes to rolling the throttle on, I’m a natural. It’s rolling the throttle off where you can improve your riding. Smooth is the key to good riding and chopping the throttle upsets the handling of your motorcycle. Ian demonstrated the wrong way and the right way to roll off the throttle when coming to a corner. By slowing down the roll off, the motorcycle remains composed going into the corner. No more bobbing or weaving. We students then tried the exercise and the effect was immediate. A simple change in how I use the throttle stabilized the motorcycle and made my cornering smoother and more fun. It wasn’t that I was doing it wrong, but I could be doing it better. I was truly surprised such a simple change could have such a noticeable effect.
In fact, poor throttle control was having the largest negative effect on my going around corners smoothly. If I chopped the throttle mid-corner, the bike didn’t like it and would behave badly. It’s a vicious cycle, more ways then one. If you lose focus or get spooked in a corner, the natural response is to back off the throttle. From the motorcycle’s point of view, that’s the worst thing you can do. It just upsets the bike’s suspension and makes for one ugly corner. Ideally you set the perfect speed for each corner before you enter it, than roll on the throttle as you progress through it. If you did make a miscalculation it’s far better to push harder on the handle bar (push the right bar to go right, push the left bar to go left). Jed and Ian demonstrated it, and then we tried it. It makes sense and I understand it, but making the right input is going to take some practice.
Most riders underestimate what their bikes are capable of. We reach what we think are our limits long before the bike’s. Part of the Total Control clinic is about your attitude. Panicking or thinking your going to crash is going to make you crash. Thinking you can go around the corner is a big part of the equation. Could Valentino Rossi ride your bike around this corner? Absolutely. So don’t give up. Never stop riding the bike. That mindset and some simple skills can get you around any corner. It’s been two weeks since I took the class and that’s the skill I’m working on the most. I tell myself not to back off the throttle mid-corner. I understand what will happen if I do and I find myself time and time again doing just that. While smooth riding looks easy, it takes serious skill.
In the classroom, Jed broke cornering down into a ten-step process. Looking through the turn was Step 5. Humans, like most creatures, go where they look. That’s true if you are walking, driving or riding a motorcycle. I already knew I should be looking through the corner. I was about to check number five off my list, when Ian asked me what I was looking at when I was looking through the turn. I had been focusing on points of the corner. Doing that makes for a corner made up of strait segments patched together, not one smooth arc. He suggested that I think of my vision as being a spot light or a floodlight. I had been seeing the turn in spot light mode. By switching to flood light mode I would see the whole corner. One turn per corner works better.
I went from skepticism to enthusiasm, and then I went to lunch. Jed and Ian ate with us, and we kept asking questions all through lunch. All the other students were as surprised as I was with what we were learning. Editor Pearman arrived to take pictures. He was the most surprised of all that I was learning. I was past that; I was having fun.
Towards the end of the day, Ian asked us if anyone knew what trail braking was. Here was something that I had heard of, but never understood. He explained it using a chart, but all I have is my interpretation, so bear with me. When you are approaching a corner on your motorcycle and you want to slow down, most people roll off the throttle and then ease on the brakes. Trail braking merges the two. Let’s say you are going down the road at 60 mph. We’ll call that throttle setting 100%. You haven’t touched the brakes yet so they are at 0%. As you approach the corner you will roll off the throttle and at the same time apply the brakes. If you roll the throttle off to 80% your braking should be at 20%. At 40% throttle your braking will be at 60%. You should balance your throttle and brake out to 100%. Less throttle = more brake. As you enter the turn you will reverse the process and add in more throttle as you trail off the brake. If you’re like me, you’re thinking, “Why on earth would you do that?” It keeps the bike stable.
Out on the riding range we watched Jed demonstrate the technique on his bike as Ian talked us through it. Then we got on our bikes and tried it. By this time we weren’t surprised when it worked. As Ian explained it, the bike wants to go around the corner. It’s fully capable of going around the corner. It’s the rider that fouls things up. If the rider doesn’t upset the suspension, the bike will smoothly arc around the corner.
We covered many more techniques than I’ve touched on here. The last thing we did was to go over each student’s bike and talk about the best suspension settings. Again simplifying a black art into some easy steps you can take to tune your bike to fit you.
I took the class in St. Paul not far from where I live. One student rode down from St. Cloud to take it. He felt the class was well worth the time and money. Some of the bikes that were out on the course with us were an inline four, inline triple, V-four and V-twin. All the riders taking the class shared a desire to be a better rider. I feel like I came away with some great tools to work on my skills. In the weeks since the class I have had to work to implement them. It’s not like bolting a part on your bike, adding three horsepower and forgetting about it. The real work is changing how you do things out on the road. You are out riding a motorcycle the whole time, so that’s my kind of a work environment.
I’ve seen brains in jars. They look squishy, but mine sure seems hard to change. Taking a class like the Advanced Riding Clinic was fun. I learned I was influencing how my motorcycle handles in ways that I wasn’t even aware of. I was a few steps away from cornering bliss. I just need to slightly retrain myself and I’ll be a better, safer and smoother motorcycle rider. I guess that’s where the Total Control comes from. I thought I was, more or less. I’m the only one on the motorcycle so I assumed I was in control. That was covered in the class too. There are different parts to my brain and I need to move my thinking to the higher parts. (My wife has been saying that for years.) If my brain can do it, that bodes well for you.
If this sounds like something you are interested in you can sign up at www.rideracademy.com or by calling 612-424-1595. You can join one of the scheduled classes or Jed can put together a class for groups of 4 – 12 people. He covers Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Iowa. Rider Academy also offers the MSF Basic RiderCourse, Experienced RiderCourse or private lessons for those looking to polish their skills. Lee Park’s book Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques can be found locally at Barns & Noble for $26.95 or at many stores online.
I thought the value of the Total Control Riding Clinic was well worth the $300. Keep in mind that you get discount coupons for completing the class, but most importantly, many insurance companies will give you a discount for your efforts. A better rider is a safer rider and that’s just more fun for everybody.