Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Track Princess Goes Back to School

New school supplies in hand, I recently went back to the featured locale of my “Twelfth Day of Christmas," the Inde Motorsports Ranch, this time for some formal instruction at the Peris Riding School.

I got to play the role of Track Princess yet again, being the guest of my former employer-now-friend-now-“benefactor”.  And again, this wasn’t the mob of riders I had fully expected, but a class of perhaps ten or fifteen really serious riders and racers from all over the US and Canada.  Yup, all those top notch riders and… me.  Hah!*  I’m not kidding about that “Track Princess” part.

The Princess and her Ride

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The line up gets a spot check.

The two day course was part classroom time (from which I pilfered the lean angle photo I used here) and part riding.  Aside from the obvious thrill of getting to zoom around a racetrack unimpeded**, some other class features included getting yourself video taped for a lap (cool!) and having it critiqued in front of the class (groan!), a detailed talk about motorcycle suspension and how it affects your riding by guru Dave Ciesielski (who couldn’t bear to let me leave my folding mirrors on while I was riding), having the expertise of the Evan Steele Performance team at your disposal (they adjusted my rear brake lever so it would stop dragging on the ground when I cornered - I’d hate to catch the rear brake accidentally when I wasn’t meaning to, can you blame me?), and…


…a bomber thrill ride as pillion with Top Ten AMA Professional Racer Chris Peris!  I can’t think of a more effective way to redefine “fast.”  It went something like this:

Chris:  “Okay, first we’ll go on a slow lap..”

Me (in anticipation):  Hop, hop, bounce, bounce

Chris: “… then we’ll take a lap at speed.”

Me:  “Wahooooyeehaaaaaaa!”

Chris:  [continues to give instruction]

Me:  [continues to hop and whoop senselessly]

I joyously leap on the back of the BMW S1000RR (provided, I think, by Iron Horse Motorcycles).  I’m an expert pillion, but, but… the seat is the size of a basil leaf (maybe) and perched waaaaay up high.    And there’s nothing, I repeat, NOTHING to hold on to.   We take off and hit the long straightaway.

“Yaaaaaahoooooyoooowwwwwwwfffffast!!”  (Wasn’t this going to be the slow lap?)

Brake hard at the end of the straightaway in preparation for the first turn.  The pegs fold up under my feet.  Now I’ve got nuthin’ ‘cept the gas tank to brace against.


And through 21 turns and all the straights in between, with my head being practically blown off my neck:


Second lap.  Oh.  I see.  That WAS the slow lap.  This one is much, much faster.


Apologies to Chris for screaming in his ear.

Here I am, trying (and failing)  to "be cool" before hopping aboard.

Yes, this was the thrill ride of a lifetime on a two-wheeled rocket ship.  And as crazy fun-terrifying as it was (think high-dive or roller coaster, then multiply both thrill and fear factors by ten thousand), there wasn’t a lot of learning going on when you are busy hooting and hollering.  I did have the presence of mind to ask if we could go on a “Paula-Speed” lap as well, and Chris obliged.  The point being, that while I understand the concepts we had been learning about, I needed to see how they could be applied at my pace.  So we went for two actual slow laps where he patiently talked through each turn for me.

I knew my non-motorcycle riding friends would ask me, so I made a point to find out.  (Riders know that the last thing you’re doing while riding at the track is looking at your speedo.)  How fast did we go? Well, Chris wasn’t riding his actual racing bike, so it was just a piddling 160 mph or so.  Yawn, right?

After my ride, it took a good 45 minutes of recovery time before my heart stopped pounding and my legs stopped wobbling and I could consider getting back on my own bike.  Let me point out here that there were plenty of fast riders out there that said “No. Way.” when presented with this opportunity.  Just sayin’.

Teacher and me!

Some of the skills we worked on were the “lines” (the exact path around each corner), body position (hanging your body off the side of the bike when cornering), being either on the gas or on the brakes at all times (never in between), and trail braking all the way into the apex of the turns.  The first three concepts I pretty much get.  I mean, not at 160mph, but I can do them at my own level.  But braking all the way to the apex of the turn?  Yo, yo, THAT was new and crazy for me.  I was taught to brake until you begin to turn, then hit the throttle.  But today’s sport bikes are even more agile when the front wheel is carrying some extra weight, an effect easily created with a touch of your front brake.  I’ve got some learning to do.

We enjoyed dinner in the kitchen I showed to you in my last track post.  Simple, hearty and good – barbecued chicken (our chef for the evening gets two thumbs up for having the good sense to use dark meat), corn on the cob, rolls, beans, salsa and a cold beer or two.  (The beer only comes out after the bikes are safely put away.)

Chris Peris Riding School 054

* As before, gratitude to every single person there for making me feel welcome in a pack way beyond my skill level.  It was a fantastic learning environment, and again, I came away feeling good about my riding ability, despite the advanced company I was keeping.  Respect to all the excellent riders I met.

**Well, there were some impediments for some folks.  “Get offs” (aka crashes) do happen, and there were three over the course of the two days.  Two riders got away with a few curse words and banged up bikes, but my friend managed to do in six ribs, his pelvis, clavicle and scapula.  All in good fun, right?  (???)  Oy, crashing is for boys.  I think I'm going to bring him some croissants.  He needs some fattening up, anyway.

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