Thursday, August 18, 2011

Expert Motorcycle Riding Begins with the Basics

Back when I was a motor officer for Traffic Services, I and many of my colleagues would participate in training seminars as often as we could to hone our skills, learn new tactics and enjoy the camaraderie of spending time with other motorcycle officers from around North America.

I've never won an overall competition award, but I have won many individual awards for skills, slow riding, partner riding and blind course challenges.  I have been an instructor for the Toronto Police and a signing authority with the Ministry of Transportation, so I can walk with a little swagger when I attend these events...but I don't.

This year's Great Lakes Police Motorcycle Training Seminar reminds me why, even with a lot of experience and hardware under my belt, a motorcycle is machine that will remind you very quickly who is in charge.

Day 1.
First time on the motorcycle since my spring re-qualification to operate a Toronto Police Motorcycle.  I broke into my usual pre-competition routine.  Bike inspection: fluids, cables, connectors, equipment, signals, lights, air pressures, tire condition.  That resulted in some adjustments and repairs.  Then a stationary brake test, not much good trying to go if you can't stop! Start it up and roll on to about 20k, then another brake test.  Go again to about 50k and a threshold brake test, with a collision avoidance move.  Now I was sure that I had a good safe ride; now warm ups.
I like to do circles, tight ones! Left and right, warm up the steering head and get used to leaning the bike over.

Ready to go, ride over to the skills courses and shut the bike down.  Time for a little walking.  I like to walk the track to see the course of travel and visualize the lines I need to travel to ensure getting through a sea of cones without hitting any.

Back on the bike, start it up and head to the first exercise.  I chose a simple four turn patter, easy enough build my confidence and get ready for the rest.  Through the entry gates and position myself for the first turn. I adjusted my speed, set my line and absolutely hit every cone possible!!
I made a big mistake!! I looked at the pylons.  Even with all my experience, I made a big mistake by looking at the obstacle I wanted to avoid.
Bike - 1 : Me - 0

Safety Tip: Where your eyes go, you go.  Look where you want to go and steer there.

Once I had that reminder under my belt, I was ready to try again. (Thanks to the "cone crew" volunteers who were kind enough to re-set the pylons).

I had a couple hours of getting used to riding for gold again and felt way better! Enter cocky and confident...not good on a motorcycle.

I was halfway through a tough course and was getting aggressive to really turn the bike on a dime.  (Uhm, 800 pound motorcycles don't turn on dimes).  I cranked the handle bars, started the turn and put in a little back brake.  Enter physics and gravity.  The loss of my momentum coupled with the turn steering added up to a loss of balance.  I slammed my size 12 foot into the ground to pop the bike back upright, gave the motor a little more gas to work with, got off the brake and felt the initial shock travel from my foot, through my leg, into my spine and finishing in my neck.  800 pound motorcycles also don't pop back up by a foot slamming into the ground.
Bike - 2: Me - 0

Safety Tip: When riding a motorcycle or bicycle you can't eliminate momentum while turning tight other wise Sir Isaac Newton will stop to say hello.

Well, all of that behind me and my ego in check again I was ready to ride.  So into the the course that I have been having great rides in all day.  Time to go fast!!

I got into the exercise and got a little off my choice of riding line so to make up for it, I had to turn hard, power through the turn and then brake hard to set up for the next turn.  Can  you see it coming?

That's right sports fans...harsh on the controls and trying to utilize multiple inputs at the same time.  Hello sea of cones and more work for the cone crew.  I was not smooth.  I was anything but smooth and I (the cones) paid for it.
Bike - 3: Me - 0

Safety Tip: Smooth inputs are always required.  Smooth is fast, sloppy is slow.  If you are using too much of any one input (steering, braking or accelerator) you are using up the availability of the others.

The rest of the day went really good.  Cobwebs gone, rust shaken off and reminders that if I am not in control of the bike, it's in control of the results.I felt really good, once I went back to the basics.

Always inspect your equipment
Test your brakes
Warm up
Look and steer where you want to go
Maintain power to the rear wheel
Balanced inputs are smooth
Smooth is control

Day 2
Same start with inspection, testing and warm ups.

Into the cones.

Using everything that I had reminded myself of yesterday, I had a great day of riding the cones.

First competition: Last rider standing

This is a chess game.  Two riders line up on the outside of a large circle that has obstacles in it (hockey pucks, hard rubber balls and small pylons).  The idea is to force the other rider to hit an obstacle or ride out of bounds.  Essentially, plan your route not to hit anything and cause your opponent to hit something by planning their route for them.

It combines every skill you can think of. Steering, slow riding, quick acceleration, sudden stops and route planning.

That was a recap of the first two days from my perspective.

If you want to get your own look at it, head down the 401 to Conestoga College in Kitchener.  (Exit at Homer Watson Blvd, go north and take the first right.  You'll see it on your right hand side.

Click this link and you can see the schedule and all the events.


  1. I once parked in the parking lot of the driver training field on Dufferin, just to watch. I didn't even get out of the car. They told me to get lost. So, if I show up at GLPMTS, nobody's going to throw me out?

  2. Absolutely not! Everyone is welcome. Its free to the public and we'll be happy to chat and interact. Come on down.