On the first day of the class, you are trying to master the machine that you are on in a low traction environment. Aaron said that you always have 100% of traction available to you, but you have to understand the environment that you’re in to know exactly where that limit is. On our slippery dirt course, I was unsure that I could define what the limit was – I was afraid I’d just endlessly crash throughout the weekend. After a series of drills and break out sessions we started to learn how to use our body position to gain control in the traction environment we were in.
The idea behind body positioning was familiar to me as I'd done ice riding, but I had never had it broken down so perfectly. In a low traction environment, you have to keep your body upright and push the bike down below you while you sit on the tank to maintain control of the front end. You use your lower body to turn the bike, and your upper body to guide the bike. Aaron is a master of breaking down these details, and in the series of drills we worked on through the morning until lunch he was able to make sense of each little piece of the control we needed over our bikes. One rule for the day, however, we weren’t allowed to coast. Coasting only meant you left your maximum performance on the table.
To be honest, I knew I wasn't committing enough to some of these exercises. Using my lower body to control my motorcycle wasn't something I was used to and I continued to use my upper body to get the bike to turn. I wasn't the only student doing this, and Aaron knew it too. That's when he said the smartest thing he could say to force us to use the technique, "Okay, now take your left hand off the handlebar and put it on the gas tank and do the drills again."
What!? You want me to what?!
This is the beauty of Aaron’s instruction. He pushes you to a limit that you are comfortable with, and then he finds a way to push you beyond it so you can make significant improvements in a short amount of time. On such a small bike, the price for failure isn’t that high: you crash a 150-pound bike in the grass at 15mph. Then you get back up, pick the bike up and try the exercise again until you stop crashing. As I relentlessly attempted each exercise with one hand, I eventually stopped crashing. Not having the ability to use both hands meant I had to rely on my lower body. Which had me believing I might not be so bad at this after all.
By the middle of the afternoon, Aaron changed the configuration of the course for a new twist: now there was the uphill corkscrew and a steep decreasing radius turn. We lined up to discuss the decreasing radius turn before we would have the chance to check out the new course configuration. I watched in awe as one of the instructors repeated a simple set of steps: brake, turn, gas. No coasting! With each brake, the back end of his bike slid around. Unconcerned by this, he’d push the bike down to turn and grab a handful of throttle. It looked beautiful, and it seemed so simple. I couldn’t wait to give it a try.
As Aaron discussed what we should be watching for as we came into the apex, I noted the giant blue barrel sitting right next to the apex. My boyfriend said, "There is no barrel!" and Aaron repeated the sentiment – to avoid the barrel, we need only look down the course and not at the barrel. It was really quite Zen.
It was finally our turn to try out the course. I cautiously rode my bike in the first lap, noting the turns and realizing that entering the corkscrew required a sharp right turn uphill. As I began my second lap, I began to pick up speed. When I came through the decreasing radius turn, I realized I wasn’t looking through the turn but at that plastic barrel I was told not to look at during instruction. As you might have guessed, I plowed straight into it, knocking it over and going off course. A prefect lesson on target fixation! I began giggling as I rode back onto the course and decided that I shouldn't do that again.
As I got over my giggles, I tried to focus on keeping my elbows up and those three simple things: brake, turn, gas! I began saying it inside of my helmet as I came into each corner. With each lap I felt the back end slide out more and more as I braked. I shrieked with delight. After a few laps I realized that no one had passed me in quite some time, but I could hear someone behind me. I pushed the bike even harder and into the next gear. I was probably doing 25mph but it felt like I was doing 90! With this speed, I flew into the turn for the corkscrew but I slowed down too much and the engine began to lug. I almost dumped the bike, but I made a recovery and stopped dead in my tracks for the moment. As I started to crack up, I felt a hand on my shoulder. One of the instructors told me he'd been behind me the entire time and said I was killing it. I wanted to keep going. Aaron cheered for me as I came through a turn. Eventually I hit a mental wall and almost wiped out multiple times in one lap, so I decided to call it a day.
Continue Reading: Real Rider: The Cornerspin Motorcycle School Experience>>