After 20 years as an instructor, Martin Hamel took over the FAST Riding School last year from long-time owner and former roadracer Michel Mercier. The school was immediately updated with a new website and logo, some new faces and sponsors, track options, and helpful interactive teaching techniques but still takes place at Shannonville Motorsport Park.
Those who have participated in FAST courses in the past will be happy to see the familiar faces of instructors Sean and Dan, who are friendly, supportive, and knowledgeable. And if you follow Canadian Superbike, you’ll recognize the fresh-faced addition to their team for this year. Quickly making a name for himself in CSBK, 18-year-old Alex Dumas joined the roster of instructors. Taking the top spot on the podium in both his first and second Pro Superbike races, it is a feat that has never been accomplished in the 43-year history of the series. He subsequently achieved three consecutive podium finishes at the CTMP tripleheader weekend.
Longtime CMG readers may recall me participating in FAST Level 1 and 2 back in 2019. Since Covid pretty much wrote-off any such activities last summer, I decided to sign up for Level 2 and 3 this year in hopes of getting a refresher before working on advancing my skills further.
My friend Grant took part in Level 1, 2, and 3, so I dropped him off on the first day and joined for the second and third. Level 1 starts out with track riding basics. Hamel described the track and identified each apex. Participants learn proper riding position, balance, gearing, braking and throttle management. Participants are broken up into groups based on ability and experience. Each session slowly builds incrementally on the skills learned surrounded by equally skilled riders, so you never feel overwhelmed. Broken up into three groups, we rotated amongst being briefed, participating in the on-track sessions and then a debriefing. A new teaching tool for this year was the inclusion of video shot by instructors to provide visual examples when offering constructive feedback.
You can bring your own gear and/or motorcycle, or FAST will set you up with a new (this year) helmet, racing suit, boots, and gauntlet gloves. If the cost of attending a riding school seems pricey, take a quick look at what it would cost to outfit yourself from head to toe and rent a motorcycle for the day. FAST immediately reveals itself to be a very cost-effective option. That’s before even considering what it would cost to attend a track day, then pay for fuel, tires, and instruction. If you don’t live nearby (there isn’t much of anything nearby), there are lots of hotel and motel options in Belleville which is only about twenty minutes down the highway. I don’t recommend driving too far before or after a day of track riding because it is both physically and mentally exhausting. Particularly on a hot summer day in a black leather suit. Prepare to sweat. A lot.
Last time I made use of a new Yamaha R6 from the school’s fleet of sport bikes, but this time I decided to bring my own. Picking up the 2001 model last fall, I’d changed the oil and done a coolant flush before taping up the lights and removing the mirrors. I even bragged about the benefits of riding an analog motorcycle on the track in my weekly Opinion piece.
Despite sitting for the last few years, the bike performed flawlessly on the Nelson Track during Level 2, which was impressive. It’s not easy on a motor to be turned on, then consistently wound up to redline for 15 minutes before being shut off for the next 45 while I cooled myself off with a cold drink and took in the feedback from instructors.
Level 3 once again started with a track walk of the longer and much faster Pro Track. Unlike the shorter Nelson Track used for Level 1 and 2 which only required second and third gear, the Pro Track features a slow speed hairpin which leads into the back stretch where you can expect to see the top of fifth gear which you couldn’t (and shouldn’t) legally get away with on the street. I was part way up the back straight on my last session of the afternoon when I grabbed fourth gear and heard the pop.
As I described in my subsequent follow-up Opinion piece about the shortcomings of age, it became apparent that I may have overworked the engine a touch, since you can now see daylight through it. I noticed a track Marshall talking into his radio while frantically waving a red flag. I immediately pulled over and looked down to see plumes of smoke billowing out of the engine as oil was spilling all over my boots. I then looked back and saw the trail of oil I’d left behind all down the back straight. Shutting the bike off, I hung my head in shame.
The FAST team’s professionalism and teamwork was demonstrated by how quickly and calmly they sprang into action whenever an incident occurred. Safety is the top priority, so riders are spaced out and any funny business is taken seriously and dealt with discreetly. Paramedics are on scene at the ready should anyone take a detour off track. My day was clearly over, as I returned to the pits in a side-by-side. Other participants waited patiently as the track was cleaned up for the remaining sessions to resume.
The next chapter of the FAST Riding School may include a new owner, logo, and employees, but after spending two days with them I’m glad to see that all of the elements that made participating in one of their programs a safe, enjoyable experience remain intact.