Showing posts with label Training. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Training. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Three-Wheel Motorcycle MOST Training with the Iron Buffalo Motorcycle School.

Disclaimer: The cost of the course was sponsored by Colorado State Patrol’s MOST program and I am compensated for this article as well.

Recently, I was contacted by the Colorado State Patrol’s Motorcycle Operator Safety Training (MOST) program.  They asked if I’d like to take one of the several training courses offered under MOST by several of the area’s motorcycle training schools.

Training is always a good thing, even though I had already gone through and passed both the two-wheel and three-wheeled courses with T3RG and Abate’s training programs; refresher training in my favorite mode of transportation was of course a good idea.

It’s not sufficient, you see, to take a basic course and just leave it at that.  There’s always the need to practice what you learn at said courses, practice until action becomes “muscle memory” and is something automatic.  When the traffic situation arises calling for the training given at these courses, there’s no time to think of what to do - your body and mind must know and act decisively to avoid a problem.

I chose to take my MOST training at the Iron Buffalo Motorcycle School, but there are plenty of options to choose from on MOST’s website so you can find a class that’s in your area and right for you. There were nine students total including yours truly and two very good instructors for this 3 Wheel Motorcycle training course: Richard (Wiff) and Kent.

A short word on the instructors: Superb. Both Wiff and Kent are very knowledgeable, and patient, always making sure the material was understood before moving on.  Their use of humor interspersed with the material, along with examples from their riding experiences helped reinforce the key concepts and kept things moving along nicely.

We met at 8:00 AM this past Saturday morning at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium in Commerce City and spent I think a couple of hours going through the initial modules published by the Evergreen Safety Council for Motorcycle Training in one of the stadium’s viewing suites.

Day one topics ranged from what to look for in protective gear, pros and cons of three-wheeled vehicles, risk awareness, basic identification and use of controls along with related safety checks.  This was then reinforced out on the “range”; one of the parking lots for the stadium, on the vehicles we’d be using to train.

Each exercise was first briefed by one of the instructors.

Iron Buffalo provided the use of three Can-Am Spyders, two of which were the touring model and one that was the F3 model which is “sportier”.  There was also a 2013 Ural Patrol Sidecar rig that belonged to Wiff. One of the students opted to ride his own 2014 Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide and yours truly rode Scarlett, my 2014 Ural Patrol.

Scarlett on the left, the Can-AM F3 next to her, Wiff’s 2013 Patrol 
and the two RT models of Can-AM Spyders.


Tony’s 2014 HD Tri-Glide

We would spend the rest of the day riding, ending at around 2:30 PM on the first day.  We got familiar with the motorcycles (for those not riding one’s own ride) and doing basic maneuvers such as right and left turns, stopping safely both in a straight line and within painted curve lines on the parking lot and most importantly,  becoming familiar with the handling characteristics of three-wheeled motorcycles.

They are, after all, entirely different beasts than two-wheeled motorcycles.  This course will teach you to be safe on such a conveyance. The instructors took turns both briefing us before each exercise and then demonstrating the exercise to make it clear what was expected of each student.

Day two we moved into more advanced subjects such as how to drive defensively, especially making sure we understood safe driving concepts such as good following distance, scanning ahead and using SLADE (Scan, Locate, Assess, Decide, Execute) to prioritize oncoming threats and possible issues before it’s too late.

Defensive driving techniques were discussed and key points emphasized and stability issues related to three-wheeled motorcycles are highlighted along with techniques to deal with same.  Finally, advanced topics such as driving on steep, tight turning roads with perhaps loose traction were brought up and techniques discussed, which would later be reinforced on the range.

Of course, no motorcycle training course is complete without a reminder of the hazards and perils of driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs or other dangerous factors.

On the range, we had fun going through the several exercises which taught us proper body positioning on turns and how to swerve safely on three wheels in case of unexpected obstacles. Safe stopping within curves was further emphasized with more complex exercises requiring one to think and multi-task successfully while moving.  It was challenging at times, but fun as things begin to “click” within everyone’s mind.



Dave learns “the feel” of when the sidecar wheel leaves the ground 
and how to deal with it properly.

Wiff taking his rig through one of the curve 
negotiation exercises, showing us how it’s done.

Note his body position to offset the forces 
causing the sidecar to lift during the turn.

Ken, above and John, below shifting their bodies to compensate for the forces induced by the curve exercises.  Both are under the watchful eye of Wiff.


The Can-Am Spyders proved themselves to be very safe and stable three-wheeled motorcycles.  They and the HD Trike were very hard to cause a wheel to come off the ground, but the students learned to ride properly to prevent such occurrences anyways.
Dave, flying the chair, on purpose for the first time.


Yours truly, thinking about the new things learned and 
old concepts reinforced.

Finally, there came the last two exercises involving just Dave and I, the two sidecar rig riders.  The objective was to learn to “fly the chair” intentionally.  All previous training had been designed to help us keep the sidecar’s wheel down on the ground during tight right hand turns; now it was time to get a feel for maneuvering a sidecar rig with the sidecar wheel in the air! Dave, by the way, on these his first days of riding a sidecar rig, turned out to be a natural at flying the chair.

It was quite satisfying to me, as I am sure it was to the instructors, watching students go from tentatively making a turn on three wheels to confidently negotiating much more complex exercises!

Both Wiff and Kent did an outstanding job making sure we learned the concepts and correcting us when we didn’t quite get things right.  Their clear instructions rounded out the material and usually by the second attempt, we’d get it right!

I’ve been riding since 2006, with my first day on a motorcycle being the day I took the Basic Rider Course with T3RG Motorcycle School.  Since then, I’ve taken and learned so much with the Experienced Rider Course, Civilian Top Gun Riding course and of course the Three- Wheel Riding course that I heartily endorse such training courses.

You cannot get too much training.  You cannot practice too much.  Take one of these courses under Colorado StatePatrol’s MOST program: You’ll be a safer rider and enjoy this sport much more. If you want to take a MOST class, you can sign up for one here

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Training: Learning Precision Curves and Turns with Brigitta

Last week, I got an email from Colleen who runs the T3RG Motorcycle Schools, asking me if I was interested in some free training.  You see, they had an instructor-candidate to put through the paces and needed some sample-students for him to train and be trained.

There were several slots open this past weekend and next weekend so I asked and was approved to send the invite to anyone I knew who was an experienced rider and would like some free training.

The training would end up consisting of the curriculum described here on T3RG's website: LINK.  Note: All the pictures and videos were taken during Sunday's iteration of the training when there were more students.  I was too busy on Saturday being a student to take any photos or videos.

I'll admit I was a bit nervous about taking the course as I'd seen what graduates of said course were capable of doing: LINK.  Still, training is training so I attended this past Saturday's training session.  Two of the planned four students (including me) didn't show so it was basically two instructors and two students.   Bob Ucman was the main instructor and Abdullah was the instructor-candidate.  My fellow student was named "Digger" and he rode a big white Goldwing motorcycle, I rode Brigitta, my '87 R80 Beemer.

Abdullah has only been riding for a bit over a year now but he's got great talent and a great passion for motorcycling.  The skills he demonstrated during the exercise demos were to be envied for sure.  He's an orthopedic Surgeon back in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  Yep, he flew all the way here for the training!

Bob, I'd met before at the last Civilian Top Gun Rider Competition in which he competed.  Another rider with enviable riding skills and I can confirm now, excellent training skills and experience as well.  He had us settled down and comfortable immediately and would lead us through each exercise with such ease and confidence it wasn't hard to focus on the task at hand.

As the curriculum in the LINK above describes, the students learn to improve their riding into curves and tight turns.  We got warmed up on some offset cone weaves,  Bob and Abdullah steadily moved the cones closer and closer together as we completed each circuit, making for sharper turns and more careful use of aim points for entering each gate.  Fun Stuff.

We progressed onto figure eight maneuvers where one has a gate in the middle of the figure eight.  You have to execute a sharp cutover as you transit the gate and set your motorcycle up for the next portion of the figure eight, still, it wasn't too bad yet.  My apologies for the distortion in the center frame of some of the videos, seems I've got scratches on my camera lens!

The small orange and green cones represent the figure eight



Then, things got interesting for me.   Next up were a series of three circles called keyholes.  Why keyholes?  Because during competition, riders must enter the circle through a narrow corridor, sharply cut either left or right and ride around the different circles and exit via the same gate they entered through.  The keyholes started with a comfortable 32 foot circle which was OK, then as we completed the task, Bob would wave us to the next keyhole.

source: youtube.com
Keyhole Exercise

The second keyhole was 26 feet worth of circle and seemed much tighter to me.  Still both Digger and I completed this one without too many issues and we moved onto the 24 foot circle and last keyhole.  This one took a few tries for me to complete to both Bob's and my satisfaction.  The cut over is sharp and one has to then transition and go into full lock in the opposite direction in order to complete the circle without hitting the cones.  Slowly but surely, I learned to keep my eyes up, ignore the cones, push the motorcycle away from me and "commit" to the turn; all the while staying in the friction zone, keeping my revs up slightly and using my rear brakes as needed to control speed.  It's a lot to think about but Bob's and Abdullah's instructions, coaching and tips made it all quite doable!

Abdullah demonstrates the execution of the 32 foot keyhole exercise

The group executes the 32 foot keyhole exercise

Executing the 24 foot keyhole exercise

We broke for lunch.  It was prior to lunch that I discovered Brigitta's charging system wasn't charging her battery.  The guys had to push-start Brigitta and we carried on with the training.

After the keyhole exercises, Bob merged all three keyholes into a snowman-shaped formation.  There were entrance and exit gates at each end of the snowman, and gates linking each keyhole circle.  Abdullah demo'ed the sequence, with ease and elan I might add, and then it was our turn.

Digger and I took turns entering the gate at the 32 foot circle, making a complete circuit of it, then lining up our motorcycles to enter the 26 foot circle, execute another full circuit of it and finally enter the seemingly much smaller 24 foot circle and completing a final circuit before exiting out the gate!  Quite the challenging exercise for me, as it was the keyholes but in sequence one right after the other!  We did this several times and with Bob and Abdullah's coaching we both got this exercise down.  Fun stuff, really!

Above video shows Dezso on his F800GS making it look easy as he executes
the snowman exercise.

After a break it was time for the Iron Cross or Intersection exercise.   Picture if you will road intersection, each arm of the cross composed of basically a 24 foot circle but with the straight edges of a street represented by orange cones.   Click this link for more info on the setup of an Iron Cross:  LINK

Bob started us off first with a cone in the middle, representing a turning circle, to get us used to the Iron Cross' pattern and routes.  I got totally confused of course and managed after a couple more tries to get the route correct.  Then, to make it fun, Bob removed the center cone and circle and we had to execute the turns into each arm of the cross, cutting sharply into each arm, circling within it, then onto the next cross arm all the way around and exiting at the top of the cross after completing all four arms.  Challenging but fun!

Here's a link to Bob and Abdullah (who is in the lead), going through the Iron Cross together:

They make it look easy don't they?

Before the final exercise, which was running through the whole series of obstacles starting with the offset cone weaves, through the keyholes and snowman and finishing with the Iron Cross, Brigitta's clutch cable broke!

Luckily, I carried a spare cable (much to everyone's amazement) and with everyone's help Brigitta's cable was replaced and training resumed in less than 30 minutes I think.

So, in sum, almost eight packed hours of intense training and riding!  I learned a lot and now must get some traffic cones of my own to set up and practice the above exercises more!  My confidence in slow tight turning maneuvers has increased a lot and I owe it all that to Bob and Abdullah along with the great training environment and opportunities provided by T3RG Motorcycle Schools.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Martha takes the BRC, on a scooter!

My loving wife Martha, who's been so supporting and enabling in my motorcycling endeavours, agreed recently to take the BRC: Basic Riders Course for Motorcycles provided by T3RG Motorcycle School.

This posting is not a review of the course.  I highly recommend though, the taking of a course approved by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, whether through T3RG or some other school, if you're thinking of getting into motorcycling.

Ever the supportive spouse, Martha had agreed a few weeks ago to take the BRC, the main intent to get her the skills and endorsement to safely ride a scooter to and from her workplace.  Her commute is all of one mile each way on neighborhood roads; and it really didn't make much sense taking the cage in terms of fuel consumption and wear/tear on the engine for such a short commute.

Martha was a bit nervous about the whole thing.  For you see, she (as I had been) had never been on a motorcycle or scooter until day 1 of the BRC.  She would be taking the BRC one week and five years after I had gone through it myself back during Memorial Day Weekend of 2006.

We went through the T3RG school because they offered scooters as an option to the regular 250cc motorcycles for students.  We were to find out later, after class had started, that T3RG offered a class just for women.

There were ten students in the class, including Martha, but she was the only woman.

This past weekend was a hot one in terms of weather, the location was a small parking lot converted to a training range by T3RG.  Following pictures and videos should give you an idea of Martha's progress through the whole thing.
Day 1

 Just look at that concentration level!

Day One training exercise, basic turns....Martha is riding "sweep"

Starting to lean her scooter a little bit into the turns


Symmetry, of sorts, at the end of the day

As you can see, Martha was a bit hesitant with the throttle but made progress throughout the day.  She did manage to drop the scooter once when I was not there but neither her or the scooter were worse for the wear.

Here's a link to what Martha jokingly referred to her "speedy riding style" during day 1 of the course.  LINK

Day 2

Another scorchingly hot day here in Colorado, the instructor moved things along smartly and when I returned to the range, they were nearing the end of the training and getting ready for their rider testing.

I did witness her during one of the practice runs, get up too much speed and having to brake too hard before running out of pavement.  The engine cut out and she dropped the scooter.  I was walking over to her to make sure she was OK and to help her right her scooter but before I got there, she said to me: "I'm all right, let me do this".

Folks, I was so proud of her.  She didn't panic or become flustered.  Just got into the right position and picked up the scooter all by herself, started it up and rode off to rejoin the class.  Outstanding!

Once the training was over, due to the heat of the day only getting worse, the instructor moved straight into testing after getting the class to agree to skip lunch.  Below are videos of Martha going through a couple of the test portions of the rider test that enables them to get a Motorcycle Endorsement upon successful passing.

To me at the time of my BRC, this was the most dreaded test, riding a figure 8 within a rectangular box painted on the ground



The happy successful graduate of the BRC

Testing done, everyone in the class passed!  I was quite happy but I imagine Martha was much happier.  Now, to find her a scooter, and some better riding gear of course!

She's now got the basics, now its on to practice practice pratice......

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Training: Basic Ride Course for Three Wheeled Vehicles - Day 2+3

I finished ABATE's Two Day Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider Training Course today.  It actually took us three days as weather had caused postponements of the training last weekend until 1:00 PM today.  Botttom line: It's a well-thought out and well instructed course for folks who've never even swung a leg onto a Trike or Sidecar Rig.

Day Two last weekend began with about 3 hours of classroom training that covered such important subjects as driving in traffic, swerving, traction control and tip over lines for three wheeled vehicles.  There was much discussion about the physics involved with sharp curves, the speed you enter them at and the consequences of not slowing down and shifting your weight into the turn.  Good riding practices such as aggressive scanning, following distances, and creating safety buffers around you were covered or reinforced.

The considerations one must take while carrying cargo or passengers was covered, similar to the load triangle idea that is covered in the Basic Rider's Course for two wheeled motorcycles.  Finally, a good coverage of the effects of alcohol and drugs while riding a motor vehicle was done, to include actions one can take to prevent dangerous situations from happening perhaps.  Alan continued the good job he'd done as an instructor during Day One, making sure subjects were covered well and ensuring there were no questions on any particular subject.

As we started the Day Two riding maneuvers and practice though, it started snowing on us.  Since the maneuvers we were going to cover involved faster speeds and harder braking action; Alan decided to postpone the course to ensure safety.  I must say that while I was a bit dissappointed,  I had to agree with Alan's call on this, no sense getting hurt, especially since the other two students were new to Trikes.

The week went by, ABATE rescheduled things to today and we picked up where we left off pretty smoothly.
The maneuvers were similar to Day One's but now we were called on to upshift to second gear, pick up more speed (around 20 mph), lean aggresively and brake more aggressively and control our stops while at the same time downshifting back to first gear.  Lots more going on with each maneuver!

We had nice sunny weather this afternoon, here's a shot of Natasha with the Suzuki GZ250 next to her.
The afternoon passed pretty quickly as Alan ran us through all the remaining training maneuvers.  We learned such useful things as the feel for and control of a stop involving heavy braking.  For one set of maneuvers, we intentionally picked up enough speed and braked hard enough to skid the tires.  Good stuff!

The swerving training was very interesting to me as it's highly different on a sidecar rig than on a two wheeled motorcycle.  One has to do some quick and smooth shifting of one's butt from one side of the seat to the other while steering your way around the obstacle.  It took me some practice runs but I got it down enough to be comfortable with the notion of swerving now with a sidecar rig!  The best thing remains to be alert and scan forward enough to not have to swerve but instead slow and stop around obstacles, but it's a good skill to learn and practice!

Another difference for three wheeled riders is that when forced to stop quickly on a curve, one does not "square" the handlebars before coming to a stop.  Nope, you maintain your lean into the turn and come to a stop.  Took me a couple of tries to "ignore" the muscle memory I'd developed while riding two wheeled motorcycles to get it right.

Finally, as I was the only sidecar rider, Alan covered two remaining maneuvers that involved sidecar rigs.  The first was taking the sidecar rig and going around a circle of cones, the objective being to "fly the chair" and try and make it around the circle with the chair in the air!  I had my reservations but it turned out not as hard as I thought it would be.  Though not as smoothly as Alan, I was able to "fly the chair" and almost made a complete circle with the chair in the air!

The last remaining sidecar only maneuver involved going into a right turn around the same circle of cones but this time as I came out of the circle, I was to go in a straight line across the parking lot while continuing to fly  the chair!  Alan made it look easy as he demo'ed it, I was not able to go more than a few feet in a somewhat straight line before the rig would start turning to the right again!  I tried several times and while I apparently can keep a rig going in circles with the chair in the air, going straight is going to take some practice!

Still, I was quite pleased that I could fly the chair when I wanted and keep it in a curve.  Since I've read that many sidecarists get in trouble when their sidecar lifts when in a tight right hand turn, they over-correct and go into a straight line onto oncoming traffic.  The fact I can keep her turning until I get the sidecar back down I regard as a good thing!  Again, speed while in the turn is the key factor.  One most shift one's weight into a turn and keep the speeds down enough to not fly the chair and yet not be an obstacle to the car behind you!

We now all went through the skills testing that would allow those of us who passed to skip the riding test at the DMV for the Three-Wheeled Endorsement.  All of us did well enough, I am happy to report, to pass the test!  Smiles all around when Alan made that announcement.  He issued us our training cards and after making sure there were no questions, ended the class.

Roger, one of my fellow student's husband, asked Alan how his Harley Davison sidecar rig did with "flying the chair".  Alan offered to show us!  Heck, he even asked me if I wanted to take his rig out for a spin.  I declined but felt gratified that he was confident enough in my skills to allow me to ride his rig.  I have to tell you, the man can "fly the chair" and make it look easy!

Here's Alan Mason, our instructor, getting his Harley Davidson rig ready for the demo

There he goes, straight down the parking lot, preparing to turn right to come back towards us

Here's Alan as he was coming back towards us, aimed straight at me really, making it look easy.
Note:  his sidecar was up the whole time from shortly after the start all the way to the finish!

As Alan finished the paperwork, he OK'ed my going out on the now empty parking lot with Natasha and try "flying the chair".  Here's what I learned:

1.  Yes, picking up the chair is not difficult at all, but it was a tad  harder on Natasha (most likely due to the ballast weight of the batteries) than on the empty training sidecar provided by ABATE.  

2.  I am now more at ease with the concept of the chair coming up on me on a tight right hand turn, I believe I have the basic skills (which I must practice) to handle that situation when and if it occurs.

3.  The powered sidecar wheel on Natasha keeps spinning and I think gaining speed while I am flying the chair.  Each time I touched down the sidecar wheel without pulling in the clutch first, I heard a small squeal as the tire touched pavement again!  So, not a good idea to keep my sidecar wheel up a long time, as I knew beforehand and as the manual says.   I've mentioned it before, but apparently when the sidecar wheel is in the air, the differential transfers all power to the sidecar wheel!  Theoretically, if I was able to keep flying the chair long enough, I'd come to a stop and the sidecar wheel would be spinning!   This is not something I intend to try and find out what happens!

So, I got some great training on advanced sidecar rig handling.  Learned some basic techniques that I'd not been using properly on my own sidecar rig but will from now on.  A great course of instruction and something I'd strongly recommend any sidecar rig rider or trike rider take!  ABATE of Colorado are the only ones in the whole state that offer this course.  I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Training: Basic Rider Course for Three Wheeled Vehicles - Day One

Last weekend, I attended the two day Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider training course put out by ABATE of Colorado..  Its part of my commitment to get training where I can to make me a better and safer rider.  I had arranged for participation in this course last year but then I had "issues" with Natasha which delayed participation.  Natasha being a rare beast in terms of having fulltime 2WD, I wanted to use her in the more advanced portions of the course.

This course was the first iteration for 2010 and I was one of three riders scheduled.  The class was at the Mile High Marketplace flea market near the junction of I-76 and 88th Street (they're other regular location is in Colorado Springs).  They've their own section of the vast parking lot that surrounds the flea market and ABATE provides you with either a sidecar rig or a trike, whatever your interest might be.

If you've ever taken the Basic Rider Course put on by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), then you'll be familiar with the curriculum in ABATE's Beginner Trike/Sidecar Rider course.  Alan Mason was our instructor and he got us settled into about three hours of classroom instruction with practiced ease and confidence.  My fellow students included Mike and Becky.  Both of them were seeking instruction in riding a Trike, I was the only one there focused primarily on learning good sidecar rig riding techniques.

The course is built on the building block concept, and the instruction was clear and unhurried. It is geared for a student who's never been either on a sidecar rig or a trike.   Allan made sure to get class participation by involving us students in the discussions.  Then it was time for us to get on the motorcycles!  ABATE had small Suzuki GZ 250 motorcycles with Velorex sidecars attached.  There were also two Honda Trikes, one with a 750cc motor and the other with a 1300cc motor.  Becky and Mike settled onto these trikes respectively.

Here's the Suzuki GZ 250 with Velorex Sidecar Rig I rode most of today

Here's one of the two Honda Trikes

This gives you an idea of how much bigger the Ural is compared to the smaller Suzuki Rig

Using again the building block concept, we started with basic training such as motorcycle controls, hand signals, basic stop and go of the motorcycles, slow turns and maneuvers.  At first, it was a bit slow for me since I'd been riding Natasha, my Ural sidecar rig, for over 6000 miles now but things got interesting fast enough!

Riding a sidecar rig that does not have a driven sidecar wheel like my Natasha was "eye-opening".  I was now experiencing the yaw forces that riders of rigs that are 1WD experience. For example, when you accelerate from a stop, the sidecar resists due to inertia for the tiniest but noticeable bit.  Left hand turns mean that while the tug is slowing to make the left turn, the sidecar still has the momentum to go straight for a bit.  Right hand turns were pretty much the same as on Natasha, you got to slow down or risk "flying the chair".  Quick stops are marked by the sidecar still having forward momentum which forces you to compensate with the handlebar.  All very new experiences for me since Natasha, with the exception of right turn behaviors, does not do these things!.  Day One, all sidecar riders are given 50lbs of ballast in the form of a sandbag, Day Two, the ballast is removed!

All the maneuvers you do will be familiar if you've ever taken basic rider training.  It involves riding specific tracks outlined by orange plastic cones and explained by thorough instructions and demonstrations by Allan, our instructor.  Allan always made sure to provide immediate feedback, but what I liked best is he did it for the other students in a manner which built up their confidence and with a sense of humor.

Here's a couple of pictures of a home built VW Trike.  I'd never heard of these until today, but Mike, my fellow student had mentioned he had one as well.  It's apparently a VW beetle which has been chopped in half and the front end of a motorcycle grafted on to make it a trike!  The rider was there during lunch to be given the driver's test for Trike endorsement by Allan.  Third party driver license testing is apparently one more of the offerings of ABATE.

Definitely an eye-catching beast

The rider/owner said he built it himself, and took about a year to do it.

After lunch we practiced more involved maneuvers and courses.  I was having a good time with the small Suzuki GZ250 sidecar rig and apparently was getting pretty comfortable with it.  I say this because after I returned to the staging area after one exercise which involved figure eight tracks and tight right and left hand turns, Allan walked up to me and held up two of his finger as if he was squeezing a two inch object together.

He had a big smile on his face and I asked what he meant by the gesture.  Turns out he was indicating that I had taken a right turn fast enough that I'd managed to "fly the chair"; the gap between his fingers indicated the amount of space between my tire and the pavement for a brief moment!  I never even felt the sidecar come up!

I'd told Allan one of my objectives was to "safely and intentionally fly the chair" and to learn to deal with it in a safe manner.  The fact that I'd done it without even knowing was initially surprising, hence Allan's smile at my shocked expression; and subsequently both a bit amusing and thought-provoking.

4:00 PM came around and we were done for Day One.  Allan asked if we had any more questions or wanted to try anything else.  I asked if I could run the same course but this time on Natasha.  "Of course!" said Allan.  All day he'd repeatedly asked us if we wanted to swap bikes and such.  I walked over to Natasha and did a couple of runs of the figure eight course.  You have to upshift into second gear and get up to at least 20 mph in the straightaways so I had some good speed going into the tight right handed turns.

First run, I felt I had kept all three wheels on the pavement.  Second run, I think I must have picked up a bit more speed because at the apex of the right hand turn, I felt the side car lift up!  I immediately rolled off the throttle and pulled in the clutch and the sidecar tire settled back onto the pavement with a gentle bump.  Wow.

I rode over to where Allan was standing and he gave me some pointers about what had just happened and what I would learn the next day.  I apparently had the sidecar wheel up a good 6-8 inches off the ground that time.  Kind of scary but exciting too.  I learned a lot about sidecar riding today, and Day Two promises even more advanced stuff.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Deer Creek Canyon and my first Three Wheel Practice

After a lazy morning doing mostly inconsequential things around the house, I left it a little after 1:00 PM and headed west along city roads and county roads. I wanted to get a feel for how long it'll take me to get to the foothills without exceeding 60MPH for when I ride the sidecar rig to the mountains.

It takes just shy of one hour I now know. From Deer Creek Canyon, I can range north and west without hitting expressways (almost) so I should be good to go in terms of reaching mountain roads.


Since I was at Deer Creek Canyon, my favorite and nearest curvy road, I rode the curves and twists all the way to Fenders. Turning around, I had even more fun since this time there were no cars ahead of me like on the way up.




I turned onto a residential road called Buckhorn Road where numerous large rock formations dot the countryside. Pricey looking houses are nestled near the rock formations and the place must look awesome with snow on the ground. Soon, I'll have a rig that can go on this road, even with snow on the ground.



Pictures done, I went back towards Chatfield Reservoir on Deer Creek Canyon Road. I had an appointment with my riding mentor, John, aka Sanoke. He'd graciously put his outrigger wheel onto his Yamaha 550 Maxim motorcycle and was willing to let me get a feel for riding with a third wheel. Here's my previous posting about John's outrigger: LINK.

I got to John's house a little before 3:30 PM I think. He rolled out his rig and after some instructions, I was told to go. I promptly went in the wrong direction. Got my wits about me, and still in first gear, slowly careened out of the cul-de-sac. I managed to run the rig up onto the neighbors lawn and near missed the man's mailbox!

What a cool rig eh?

Still, I wasn't giving up. I kept going, learning to steer the rig as a sidecar rig and not as a solo motorcycle. Let me tell you, at first, it was wildly different and quite disconcerting! After a couple of runs around the neighborhood streets, I returned to John's house.

We talked for a bit, he gave me some more advice and graciously let me have another turn at the rig. This second ride went much better. I steered my way sedately out of the cul-de-sac with no issues. I went up and down the same neighborhood streets, even achieving 20 mph on the straightaways. I would slow way down on the right hand turns as I did not want to "fly the chair" or in this case, the third wheel!

Here's John's rig back in the garage, undamaged by me

I practiced u-turns which are a cinch with a third wheel by the way. I even wandered a bit from John's home neighborhood streets, into the next housing development and did just fine. I was having a blast during this second ride, big stupid grin on my face and not much in terms of death grip on the handlebar grips. You know what one of the hardest things was? Not putting my feet down at stops, it seemed unnatural the first few times!

Made it back to John's place and tried a tight right turn within the cul-de-sac. Guess I went too fast because I saw the third wheel start to come up! I panicked a little bit and over-corrected but it was all good. Got the rig stopped and steered it back towards John's driveway.

Had some more talk with John about his rig and I remain impressed at his metallurgical skills. As my previous posting mentions, he built it himself! I thanked him and promised him rides on the sidecar rig once I got it.

I left on Brigitta and didn't forget to put my feet down at stops now or how to counter-steer correctly. I hope my brain is nimble enough to allow me to learn two vastly different riding methods and keep them straight!

I still hope to get to the Ural dealer sometime this week to get a test ride on an actual Ural sidecar rig.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A taste of a Moto Referee's Work

This evening, I attended a clinic of sorts for motorcyclists who wished to get a feel for what the duties of a moto referee are within the context of a bicycle race.

We met at the Colorado State Patrol's training track on top of South Tabletop Mountain, near the NREL or National Renewable Energy Lab. There were four of us motorcyclists and Andrew Rosen on his red Honda VFR Sport Tourer. My fellow trainees were Joe with his F800GS Beemer, Tom and his Yamaha R1 Cruiser, Doug with his two year old R1200RT. All very nice motorcycles, I must say. I was riding Maria, my 2004 R1150RT.

There were many bicycle racers newbies there, called Cat4's or Category Four Riders who are just getting into the sport and trying to qualify in terms of points for races and moving up in category. Cat1 riders are national caliber/team members for amateur races. The training for the riders this evening was in the form of Criterium Racing, or closed course racing.

He gave us a briefing on what we'd do, what to look for, the roles of moto referees and safety instructions. This was after he'd allowed us several laps of the training course on our motorcycles to "get a feel" for the track. That was fun!

He led us off as the first training race got underway, showed us correct positioning when in different roles. For instance, one moto referee will be designated to stay with the lead rider and by doing so, designate the lead rider to the judges and chief referee for scoring purposes. This moto referee's job is to ride around 50-150 feet in front of the lead bicyclist racer.

Here's Joe on his F800GS, leading the racers, note his position relative to the lead riders

Another motor referee role is to ride about 100 ft to the rear and outside of the peloton. What's a peloton? Well, it's the main group of riders comprising a bicycle race. I found out, there's actual physical advantages to staying within the peloton until you decide to make your "attack" on the race leaders. Within the peloton, you get to draft off the racers in front of you, and the vacuum created by the racers in front of you aid in letting you keep up while not expending as much effort as the guys on the forward edge of the peloton. I was told the difference can be as much as 40% less effort expended by the racers to the rear of the peloton than what's being expended by the guys at the front of the peloton! As you might imagine, the faster bicyclists in the breakaway group in front of the peloton are working even harder.

Here's Tom "riding herd" on the Peloton

Moto Referees enforce rules such as not crossing the yellow line or illegal actions by bicyclist to gain unfair advantage off other riders, or actions which create dangerous situations. Riders who break the rules, can get disqualified and are taken out of the running for points.

In short, motorcyclists are used to control traffic, ferry photographers at National Level Races, carry Moto Referees who enforce the rules and other roles as mentioned in the examiner article.

At one point, I stood by the side of the raceway and you can definitely feel a strong draft as the peloton whizzes by you. Lots of strategy and physics involved in bicycle racing, I just got a small taste of that while talking with my fellow motorcyclists.

We, the motorcycle riders, took turns either leading or trailing the bicycle riders. It's actually quite interesting and fun doing this. Usually, I'd avoid bicyclists as much as possible when riding around Colorado; today I was riding with them! It almost felt like riding herd on a bunch of really fast moving deer. You really have to pay attention and keep track of where the bicyclists are. Specially when you're leading the leaders, their bikes can corner better than motorcycles usually and if you don't watch it, they're suddenly right behind you and drafting off of you!

The ACA will be conducting a formal clinic for motorcyclists who think they might want to obtain a license as a Moto Referee this fall. I'll put out information on this as I get it from the ACA and Andrew Rosen. He mentioned that moto referees are paid for the mileage on their motorycles in support of bike races plus about $70 for a full day or 8 hrs of race support riding; $50 for a half day of five hours work.

I was the only one of the four motorcyclists who didn't have actual bicycle racing experience and training, the other three had done it or still did it. Now they're exploring doing the referee job on their motorcycles as well in order to help their sport.

So, you're not going to make a living from this, but if doing such things to help ensure safe bike racing for bicyclist while getting to ride your motorcycle interests you; you should contact Andrew Rosen. Email LINK. The ACA can always use the help if you qualify.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Watching Precision Riders make their Harleys dance

On Sunday, August 9th, I was at Top Gun Motorsports watching an amazing display of skill and training put on by Marc Ward and Pam Redfern of the Civilian Top Gun Precision Riders Team.

Previously, I'd witnessed last year's Blue Knight competition where motorcycle police officers from all over the surrounding area compete to see who is best at slow speed maneuvers while negotiating tight obstacle courses. LINK. I remember thinking at the time, that those police officers were incredibly skilled with their big Harleys and BMW patrol motorcycles.

Well, on Sunday I witnessed the same level of skill put on by two "civilians". Both Marc and Pam are graduates of T3RG Motorcycle School's Top Gun Rider Training course. Heck, Pam had just recently graduated this June and she was out there wowing the Harley Davidson bikers who'd gathered for the demonstration.

While Marc has over 40 years of riding experience, he told me that it was not till he tried to complete the practice courses two years ago for the first annual Civilian Top Gun Competition that he realized he needed more formal training.

That training under his belt, he competed the first year and came within 1/10th of a second from winning first prize! He has placed in the top three positions in the last two Civilian Top Gun Competitions.

Pam has been riding since only 2005, and yet demonstrated the same wonderful slow speed maneuvering skills as Marc. Both riders were on Harley Davidson Road Kings by the way, which differ from police motorcycles mostly in that they lack the full fairings and of course some of the police equipment. They're large motorcycles, quite heavy and yet both Pam and Marc made them dance.

Don Gunn, a veteran of 16 years of training Police Motorcycle Officers, a former motorcycle officer, runs the Top Gun Rider Training course for T3RG Motorcycle Schools. The classes are small I am told which allows personal coaching and attention by Don to ensure students get what they need to learn precision riding.

Here's Pam at the start of the demo, addressing the bar crowd at Top Gun Motorsports. They were a bit loud and somewhat inattentive as bar crowds tend to be. That would soon change....

The demonstration starts out with Marc going through the cone obstacle course, acting as your typical untrained rider, duck-walking his motorcycle, rough shifting of gears, lots of stopping and backing up in order to get around some obstacle, unable to make a u-turn without putting his feet down. You get the idea. The looks, smiles and head nodding I saw in the audience said they'd seen such antics themselves from actual riding buddies.

Next, Marc got serious and did the same course several times, at speed and making his big Harley-Davidson Road King motorcycle seemingly dance around the cones!


Marc

Pam

As you can see in the above pictures, both Marc and Pam aren't afraid to really lean their motorcycles over, with full steering lock, carving out tight turns in a really smooth manner. The once rowdy audience watching from the bar had turned quite silent as they watched the impressive performances.

Next came a short talk by Pam about precision riding and riders who ride two-up. To back up her words, she then got on the back of Marc's motorcycle and they both proceeded to smoothly and quickly do a few runs through the course. This to show two things, demonstrate the proper attitude by the pillion rider and that precision riding is quite possible even when riding two-up.

Two-Up and heeled over

Each time Marc or Pam finished a demonstration run, the applause was quite strong. The owner of Top Gun Motorsports, Todd, remarked to T3RG's Colleen Boyle that the applause the Precision Riders were getting was louder than what the music bands he usually booked for his customers got!

Next, both Pam and Marc played a game of "Follow the Leader". Both of them rode the cone obstacle course several times, Pam closely followed by Marc. So, not only is each rider having to execute their own slow speed maneuvering around cones but also stay within five to seven feet of each other! Not much margin for error but not only did they do it well, they made it look so easy.

Follow the Leader

The talks by both Marc and Pam emphasized that the skills they were demonstrating were not something only achievable through extensive police training but were skills teachable to anyone that is an experienced rider. I could see some thoughtful looks come over several of the watching crowd. I know I'd like to gain such skills and I am sure some of the patrons were having the same thoughts I was having.

Now, T3RG is not saying you'll be able to give a trained and seasoned police motor officer a run for his money after their precision course but with practice I'd say you'd at least impress said officer with your own skills. Not to mention, the looks on your riding buddy's face when you execute that tight 24ft radius U-turn in front of him like it was nothing!

To finish off the demonstration, Pam "challenged" Marc to execute the course but while riding "side saddle". I missed how that got selected, probably something along the lines of "can you do it while riding like a girl", like back in the day when women rode horses side saddle.

Well, let me tell you, Marc not only did the course several times without error but he also did it while standing up with both legs over on the right side of the motorcycle! Pretty impressive stuff and the audience loved it!

Marc doing the "side saddle" challenge

Side saddle and standing

Several of the biker patrons came by T3RG's table to talk to Colleen and to pick up information materials for not only the Top Gun Rider Training course but the other course offered by T3RG. I am thinking this demonstration put on by the Precision Riders might inspire some folks to get that advanced training to not only make them better at slow speed parking lot maneuvers but help keep them safer out on the road.

Informally, Marc and Pam have shown their precision riding skills within their own H.O.G (Harley Owners Group) chapter: Colorado Chapter Thornton. They've inspired several of their fellow riders to take the T3RG training and in the last competition, they placed 7 of the top 10 spots in the Cruiser/Bagger class competition! You really can't argue with results like that.

The course layout used by T3RG is the same as the Blue Knight Top Gun competition uses. If I didn't make it clear, neither Marc nor Pam are motorcycle police officers or undergone that extensive training. Marc is in guitar sales and Pam is in accounts payable for a nationwide restaurant chain, they just had the willingness and motivation to take the training and practice for many, many hours to hone their skill. Being trained by the same expert trainer that teaches the actual police officers is a bonus. In fact, such skills are taught to most T3RG instructors and they even have a motorcycle drill team!

I also found out that the Blue Knight competition and the civilian top gun competitions regularly exchange judges to help out at each event. This says a lot about what the police officers think of the training undergone by T3RG instructors and the high regard they have for Don Gunn, the senior trainer.

Here's T3RG Motorcycle Schools website: LINK Go on over there and see if they offer training that interests you! Training, continuing training, is a good thing. Folks who don't take training on a regular basis, can get complacent and forget stuff. Don't be one of those. I recently underwent the Experienced Rider Course after racking up over 60,000 miles since the Basic Rider Course and I was surprised at how much I'd forgotten or grown complacent about.

Now, to get myself motivated to attend the Top Gun Rider Training.....

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Training: The Experienced Rider Course by MSF

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation or MSF, through T3RG Motorcycle Schools here in Colorado, put on a regularly scheduled Experienced Rider Course or ERC this morning. Up front, I will tell you this course was made complimentary for me when I offered to review it for them in this article.

From the t3rg.com website, prior to taking the ERC:

Recommend 6 months or 3000 miles of recent riding experience) (the bolding is mine)
(Passengers are permitted)
  • One day course
  • Use your own motorcycle and helmet
  • Qualifies graduates for insurance premium discounts with some motorcycle insurers.
Even if you've been riding for some time, there's always something new to learn. Increasing numbers of seasoned riders are utilizing the six-hour Experienced RiderCourse to hone their skills and fine-tune the mental skills needed for survival on the street.
There was four of us students for today's course. 3 men and one woman, two cruisers, one Beemer and one Triumph. The cruisers were a Yamaha VStar 1300 and The other was a Honda 750 Shadow. All were really nice looking motorcycles, I probably should have spiffed up Brigitta some before the class but oh well.
The instructor was a retired Air Force senior noncommissioned officer by the name of Dave Miles. He's been a motorcycle instructor since 1992 and come to the class well prepared and with a great sense of humor to put all us students at ease. His ride is a Kawasaki Voyager XII, first one I'd seen, comparable in size to a Goldwing or a Beemer LT I'd say. He sure made that thing look nimble as he demo'ed the exercises to us.
The ERC is basically a great refresher course of the stuff one learns in the BRC or Basic Rider Course. There's your offset weave through cones, similar to the ones at the BRC but in one part you place your left hand on your leg and then do the weave through the straight portion of the course. That was different, but it showed you the importance of hand inputs to your motorcycle's control.

There were other exercises I remembered from my BRC back in 2006, showing you could stop suddenly whether going straight or leaned over in a curve; swerving left or right at command, negotiating curves smoothly, you get the idea. It's a refresher.
The difference? You're more experienced (hopefully) and can address issues you've found with your riding to the instructor for guidance. You're on your own motorcycle and not that little Honda Rebel or some such that the BRC provides its students.

Dave and the other students, during a water break

I was the first to show up in the morning, ended up being always the first of us four students to go through each exercise. I did OK through most of them, once I got a bit of coaching during the first iteration from Dave, I usually got it right the next few times. One of the students was probably not as experienced as he should have been, and Dave spent some additional time with him to try and get him squared away.

Hopefully, that student will get some more road experience and practice; I hope also he is able to take away from today all the good information passed out by Dave, the instructor. Dave's training style and confidence inspiring coaching reminded of outstanding NCOs I've had the fortune to work with or for me, he is just a great trainer.

I won't bore you with descriptions of the exercises we had demo'ed to us by Dave and then executed under his watchful eye. You can go here and download templates on how to lay out a course. Find yourself a parking lot, cut up some old tennis balls to use as your cones, and practice, practice, practice!

One thing that was new to me, was that one should use the motorcycle's engine cutoff switch to turn off the motorcycle, THEN turn off the ignition key. As Dave put it, removing your hand from the right grip means you've just given up control of both your go and stopping ability. I am guilty of this, I am going to have to work on that perhaps.

I do tend to put Brigitta in neutral before shutting off the engine, then leaning over to turn the key off since it's on the left side of the headlight bucket. Maria, my 1150RT on the other hand, I just put the sidestand down and that kills the engine. Something to think about I guess.
Some of the instruction is worth repeating however:

To properly negotiate curves. The saying is: Slow, Look, Press, Roll.
Slow down enough so you're not going too fast into the turn, better to slow too much and have to roll on more throttle than not slow down enough and have to use brakes while in the curve and leaned over!

Look as far ahead into your turn as you can, gives you better chance to spot hazards, takes your eyes off the dang road immediately in front of you, look where you want to go and your motorcycle will go there.

Press down on the inside hand grip to lean your motorcycle over into the turn, keep your eyes up and looking into the turn.

Roll on the throttle once you're executing your turn and leaned over, it stabilizes your motorcycle's suspension and smoothness really does count when making turns. I was pretty heeled over on some of the curves, it seemed to me anyways, it was enjoyable to get it right.
For the swerving exercise, Dave saw I was leaning slightly into the swerve's direction and coached me so that I was able to do the next swerve maneuvers remaining straight and upright. Yes, it's better that way. Also, hold your initial swerving press of the grip longer than your reverse press to get you back in line with your original direction of travel. This puts more space between you and the perceived hazard.

I did OK on the limited space turns exercise. Basically the dreaded U-turns within the confines of a rectangular box painted onto parking lot's pavement. I managed to stay within the lines each time but I did not go as fast or as smoothly as Dave, the instructor and I did dab my foot down once during one U-turn. The other students on the cruisers did pretty good as well with just one or two breachings of the box's borders. The remaining student, will need more seasoning and practice, let's leave it at that.
The last exercise had us riding in a line, in what the MSF calles the "Multiple Curves" course, where everything we'd discussed, practiced and learned was put together. That was fun and everyone seemed to be much smoother. Like I mentioned, I was always first in line so I could not see much of #2 and #3 student's style. I would come up on #4 on most of the exercises and so watched him sometimes struggle through part of an exercise. Still, he kept plugging away at it.
The last 40 minutes or so were review of concepts such as TCLOCS, the Risk Ladder, SEE and other such mneumonics designed to help you remember to do such things as:

Check your motorcycle and wear proper gear

Scan agressively ahead and behind you, Evaluate your options and course of actions/Execute the plan

Be aware that doing everything to increase the amount of space and time you have to react to outside factors, the better. This means, proper following distance, looking out 12 seconds so that things don't surprise you, be prepared to stop and assume that cager will turn in front of you or do something likewise stupid. That last sentence is my opinion, not the MSF's.

So is this one my opinion: You ARE invisible on the motorcycle, ride like you are and position yourself where the chances of you being hit by a clueless cager are minimized.

The instructor was queried on lane positioning. He reminded us all that the best lane position is the one where you can be seen, not the left third or the center or the right third. Position yourself to be seen, it boils down to this: the situation dictates the best lane riding position.
He also reminded us, after one student's question, that even though you may have the right-of-way and the other guy doesn't, you will still lose in a collision since you're on a motorcycle. Don't be DEAD right. Try and be unhittable.

All in all, a great way to spend five hours of one's time. I re-learned concepts and skills that I'd acquired at the BRC and they're now closer to the surface of my brain, helping to keep me safe on the road. I can see now why some riders choose to repeat this course every year, specially if they don't ride in the winter.

I highly recommend, if you're really an experienced rider, that you consider taking this course if its been a long while since the BRC or if you're a re-entry rider. Training is good stuff, and the folks at t3rg motorcycle schools know what they're doing.

Finally, when's the last time you ran TCLOCS on your motorcycle? I thought so. Here's a TCLOCS checklist you can download from msf.org to aid you in doing this as often as possible. The MSF says you should do it each time your ride but reality is I am doing good if I do it once a week.

LINK to TCLOCS checklist