After you’ve put in a few years behind handlebars, you realize simple seat time isn’t enough to improve your motorcycling ability.
Putting down thousands of kilometres can teach you situational awareness and other skills, but if you want to be truly challenged and learn new techniques, you’ll need to focus on training, either by yourself or with an instructor.
Here are some ideas to help you improve your riding this season. Even if there’s snow on the ground, you can start watching training videos now, and come spring, you’ll be even more ready to put those ideas into practice, or even book time with an instructor.
There are a few classic books on the subject of advanced motorcycle skills, with Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist perhaps the best-known. Code has taught performance riding techniques at the California Superbike School for decades, and his program is based on the principles from this book. It’s track-oriented, so motorcyclists looking for street survival techniques won’t want to rely on this book alone.
But if you want to learn how to get around a corner quickly, Code can teach you how. He’s written another book titled Soft Science of Roadracing Motorcycles: The Technical Procedures and Workbook for Roadracing Motorcycles, if you really want to geek out on the technical side of performance riding.
Total Control, by Lee Parks, is another performance riding book that’s been in print a long time. It’s for the rider who wants to go faster on the street — it’s not aimed at the doddering rider who simply wants to avoid crashing. As a longtime writer and instructor, Parks is very well-respected in the industry, and this book always seems to fare well in reviews.
For someone who’s more interested in cruisers, rather than sportbikes, there’s Maximum Control, by Pat Hahn. It’s also been in print for years, and focuses on heavy baggers, touring bikes, and similar motorcycles. If you own a heavy motorcycle, it’s worth looking at this book, as the techniques here could help a lot. You can’t get away with as much when you’re riding a heavy bike, and learning these tips could save you a lot of damage and misery.
The English translation of The Upper Half of the Motorcycle is another advanced riding skills book that has been in print for several years. Reviews are mixed: it’s debatable whether the book’s content is sometimes puzzling due to a poor translation from the original German, or whether the whole concept of the book (an examination of the psychological interface between rider and bike) is just a bit too far-out for the average reader.
Nevertheless, it’s worth a peek, if you want something different. The author is a former motorcycle instructor who worked as a psychology prof in Germany for many years, and while there’s some non-traditional theory in the book, there is also plenty of practical advice.
Video killed the vlogging star, and the Internet killed the instructional riding video. Not long ago, these things were everywhere, but now, few people are anxious to produce rider training DVDs because few people are willing to pay to watch them. With so much free content available, it’s hard to compete.
There are a few DVDs still available, though: the Police Advanced Motorcycling Riding Techniques DVD should have something to offer, even if those Brits do ride on the wrong side of the road. This film is all about surviving street hazards, not about carving corners, and will not only help keep you alive, but also likely help you hang on to your licence longer.
Here in North America, Ken Condon’s Riding in the Zone combination book/DVD is well known. The book/DVD combo works especially well in that the video demonstrates lots of the drills that Condon describes. Check around the web, and you’ll find lots of love for this set — it’s a great 1-2 punch for motorcyclists who want coaching from an expert, not just an Internet knuckledragger, but also want a demonstration on how to put those tips into action.
Horizons Unlimited also has a video series that focuses not on specific riding skills, but all the other skills associated with adventure riding: how to pick gear, what luggage to use, how to navigate international borders, etc. A lot of this information is available online for free, but these videos with well-known world travelers could help kill a lot of time, if you’re planning an international trip. The DVDs are for sale in the HU webstore (they’re not cheap).
As for the free stuff floating around the Internet: it’s a jungle out there, but if you spend some time searching, there’s some really good video material. Ken Condon has a few short video lessons on YouTube. The fellow at Roadcraft Nottingham also has quite a few interesting uploads on street riding, but again, he’s riding on the wrong side of the road.
The CarsSuck YouTube channel is aimed at more basic, entry-level riders, but some of the later videos in the series (hazard avoidance, etc.) are still worth brushing up every spring.
As for dirt riding—there’s a lot more quality advanced off-road training on YouTube than there is street riding. Some of the best stuff comes from Barry Morris, the Aussie adventure biker who travels the world teaching others how to hoon in the dirt (he’s done plenty of training in Canada). Most of the stuff in his Cross Training Enduro Skills channel is aimed at small-displacement dirt bikes, but he frequently includes sidebars on how to apply the information to bigger dual sport or adventure bikes.
Aside from those videos, Thumper Talk also has a selection of useful off-road riding videos on YouTube, and eveRide occasionally shares how-tos as well.
Parking lot practice
Once spring thaws the parking lots, you can get out and practice slow-speed maneuvering. If that sounds like beginner-level stuff, think again. Remember the old adage: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” Putting in your time at slow-speed maneuvers means you’ll build up skills that can help even when the pace picks up. See below for a good example
You can find several websites outlining basic parking lot drills, but one of the best pieces of material is this PDF on the Gold Wing Road Riders Association website. There are more drills at MotorcycleAssistant.com, and the BattleCycles website. These are mostly variations of the same basic drills, and all you need is an empty parking lot and some traffic cones (available at the dollar store). Some drills require an assistant as well.
Feeling really confident in your parking lot skills? Set up a gymkhana course in an empty lot (with permission, of course), get a stopwatch, and get your buddies together. You’ll learn pretty quickly who’s really in control of their bike.
Of course, the best way to learn how to handle a motorcycle well at speed is to hit the track with a riding instructor. If you live near a roadracing track, you should be able to find someone offering this sort of training.
Atlantic Canada has the High Performance Riding Academy done through SARL. At Ontario’s Shannonville track, you can take Michel Mercier’s highly regarded FAST school or the racing school through the RACE sanctioning body. Pro6 Cycle also offers training in Ontario (often at Calabogie). In Quebec, you can get track training at St-Eustache through Moto Nation. The Edmonton Road Racing Association has its track schools listed here.
You get the idea: if you live close to a track, you should be able to find someone teaching some sort of racing school there. Combine that with a few track days, and you should see an improvement in your skills.
If you’re planning to flog your big adventure bike or dual sport offroad, it might pay to find some professional instruction for that as well. Given the unique challenges of off-road riding, and unfamiliarity many riders have with these challenges, a few hours spent with a knowledgeable trainer can not only save you from crashing your bike, but result in a much more enjoyable off-road experience. Dirt riding is a lot more fun once you know what you’re doing.
There are also lots of decent off-road schools in Canada (too many to list), but Clinton Smout’s SMART Adventures program is particularly well-regarded, and convenient for many Ontario riders to visit. Trail Tours is also conveniently close to the GTA. On the east coast, adventure riders can consider attending Lorne Banks’ Adventure Riders International school. The Off-Road Adventure Academy is predominantly based out west, but does offer Quebec classes.
And if you’re looking for truly elite-level training, Rally Connex is bringing Chris Birch back for training dates in both Ontario and Quebec this year. Rally Connex also offers training specifically for women (no testosterone-fueled machismo there).
Motorcycling can be dangerous, but it’s extremely fun. It’s even more fun if you know what you’re doing. Read some training material this winter, watch some videos, and in the spring, get out and practise. It’ll pay off either way.