The Rider’s Workshop or Paul B. Learns to Love the Lean
by Paul Berglund
From time-to-time, MMM sends me out to “do things.” Sometimes they are things best not spoken of. This time they wanted me to go forth and learn something. I’m not sure what they were thinking, but I agreed to go along with the process. I’m quite docile if unprovoked. My assignment was to take The Rider’s Workshop It’s like a school for riding your motorcycle on the road. There isn’t a classroom. Jim Ford, the one-man teaching machine, takes you on one of the best field trips you will ever have. Do you remember your field trip to the ice cream factory in grade school? This is better.
Here’s how it works. You sign up for one of Jim’s workshops. They are held in some of the best riding areas in North America and last from two to four days. You show up on your motorcycle and there’s a meet-and-greet with Jim and the other students, maximum six per class. Jim goes over the rules and the goals, he hands out walkie-talkies with headsets, and off you go. The workshop takes place while you are riding. You only stop for restroom breaks and lunch. Each day you cover 150 to 300 miles while Jim talks you through his philosophy and techniques for better motorcycle riding.
I took the Upper Mississippi Valley Workshop ($525). It consisted of two days of riding around on two lane roads in the hills and bluffs of Minnesota and Wisconsin. That in itself was great. While you’re zooming along, Jim is teaching you how to read the road and where to place your bike for maximum visibility, safety and effectiveness. He stresses precision and smoothness. I found Jim to be a very pleasant teacher and he has excellent riding skills. I was familiar with most of his techniques, but I was shocked at how lazy I had become in implementing them. I wasn’t fully using the skills I did have and bad habits had crept in to fill the gaps.
One example of Jim’s techniques is his “mini- lanes”. He divides your lane of the road into three mini-lanes: left, middle and right. While you are riding along through the beautiful (in my case) Wisconsin countryside, he explains when and why you should be in each mini-lane. He demonstrates precision in placement and execution. The students follow along and can instantly apply the technique. Most everything he was saying rang true to me and watching the other riders form into a thoughtful and disciplined formation was fun.
It became clear to me I had lost my concentration about a few things, not just lane discipline. I wasn’t paying close attention to lane position, and the “technique” I was using was a sorry mix of staggered group riding style and half-remembered track day learnings. It was neither pretty, nor conducive to safe road riding. By the end of the second day I was a much better road rider than I had been.
What I learned wasn’t revolutionary. It was more of looking at road riding in a focused and disciplined way. It’s Jim Ford’s take on how to ride your motorcycle down the road safely using precision. Don’t confuse this with boring. The pace was “spirited,” and the roads were very curvy. So is this the kind of thing that’s good for you or something that’s fun? For me it was both. Most of the guys who took the workshop with me had put on a lot of miles on their bikes. They were fellow riding enthusiasts that welcomed the opportunity to hang out with like-minded riders, ride some great roads and improve their skills. If that sounds like you, give the Rider’s Workshop a call.
Epilogue: I was skeptical at first. On the Rider’s Workshop web page the term “Zen” kept popping up. I was worried that it would be a little too “New Age” for a curmudgeon like me. Then I found out I’d have to meet up with Jim and the other students at 7:00 am in southern Minnesota.
Thankfully, on the morning of the first day of the workshop, my khaki pants were clean. My crabby pants could stay hung in the closet. It was dark and foggy when I left my house. The ride down went very well, the sun came up and the fog dissipated. It would turn out to be a sunny, warm day. I shut off my electric vest long before I got to the restaurant meeting spot. I was early. Just retired farmers drinking coffee and swapping tall tales. I ordered blueberry pancakes and coffee. Three things about me: I’m shy, I don’t like to meet new people and caffeine in large doses gives me delusions of being bulletproof. I was primed and ready to roll when the others walked in.
We all moved to a large table, did the meet-and-greet and Jim laid out the ground rules. He talked awhile, answered our questions and the waitress kept bringing more coffee. By the time we walked outside to our bikes, I was hoping Chuck Norris would walk by just so I could punch him in his stubbly beard. Then I noticed the bikes. Every one of them was a BMW. All of them except mine. In my (far from infinite) wisdom, I had ridden a KTM 950 Supermoto. My bike had the same type of “fine German engineering” but it wasn’t made in Germany. The sadistic minions at KTM wrap suffering and misery in black vinyl and bolt it on their bikes. I don’t know if Austrians are grossly incompetent or just hate people who ride motorcycles. They make excellent bikes but their seats are horrific. Why? Why would they do that? If the “seat” makers that made my bike seat worked at a car company, say Volkswagen or Mercedes, their negligence would never be tolerated. Mobs with pitchforks and torches would clamor for their blood. They would be forced to flee to Argentina, change their names and live out their lives in fear and desperation.
Unhappy bike owners fill web chat rooms with sad tales of surging or final drive failures. The men and women who chose to ride the brand of bike I do, have to endure the systematic destruction of our gluteus maximus. By the end of the two-day workshop, I realized that I would be in less pain had I picked a fight with Chuck Norris.
What at first appeared to be caffeine-fueled stupidity turned out to be a subconscious attempt at self-preservation. Jim Ford’s Rider’s Workshop had improved my riding, but my choice in motorcycle brands gave me the thousand-yard stare of a grizzled veteran. So don’t ask me about the workshop ‘cause you weren’t there man. I’ve woken up in hospitals. I’ve worn a body cast. I’ve broken up with petty, vindictive women. KTM seats are worse.
Contact Jim Ford of The Rider’s Workshop toll free at 866-767-6900, by mail – Jim Ford, 4623 Saul Rd., Kensington, MD 20895 email – firstname.lastname@example.org