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  • Sarah Merrell

How Two Days Changed My Riding Forever

If you continue doing (fill in the blank), you will crash. This is a mantra that was said over and over again at Yamaha Champions Riding School--a two-day, advanced school I graduated from this week. Prior to the school, I had no idea I had so many bad habits that could lead to a potentially fatal situation--or at the very least, injuries. Every drill, skill and concept that we learned had the end goal of being not just a faster rider, but a safer rider. People who know me are probably scratching their heads at this because I'm known as being a safe rider. The school made me realize that my riding hasn't necessarily been safe, I've just had a lot of luck all these years. Here's why.

Understanding Grip

Tire grip was discussed significantly during the school because it's grip that keeps us on two wheels. The moment you lose the grip, you're likely to crash. But, it's amazing how you can create grip through how you ride the bike. To obtain grip, you need a larger tire contact patch, and to do that, you need to compress the bike by utilizing the brakes--and braking lighter for a longer period of time. I always thought I was only supposed to trail brake to the apex and then accelerate. At the school we practiced braking past the apex. This was a game changer. Not only does it provide better grip but it sets you up for improved direction and speed. Case in point: I now realize why I had a cold tire low side a couple years ago. It happened because I got on the throttle too quickly in a corner on a cold day. I didn't follow the concept that the school teaches: You have to load the tire before you can work the tire.

If you don't properly utilize your brakes, you will eventually crash.

Another element that plays into grip is smoothness. As riders, especially at track days, we're told to brake as late as possible and brake hard and then accelerate hard. This often leads riders to snatching hard at the brake and then romping on the throttle. Abrupt movements like slamming on the brakes or throttle lead to a loss of grip. Stab at the brakes and the tire won't stay planted. At the school, they showed us this with an actual tire. If you apply pressure to the tire gradually and smoothly, that tire isn't moving. But chop at it and it immediately breaks loose.

If you're abrupt, you will eventually crash.

And then there's body positioning. I used to think that I didn't need to lean off the bike or drop my head down unless I was taking a high-speed corner. But I learned during the two days how critical body positioning is in terms of grip. By leaning off the bike, it enables the tire to lean less and stand up more which translates to more grip. I realized that I thought I was properly leaning off the bike, but I wasn't. I wasn't getting my outside arm extended or my head down. As soon as I started getting my head down, the bike cornered so much better.

If you don't have correct body positioning, you will eventually crash.

Using Your Eyes

The thing about being a rider is that many of us "think" we're looking ahead, but we're really not. It took going through a drill during the school called Pointy End of the Cone to realize that I'm not using my eyes to scan ahead and prepare for what's coming. NOT doing this can be deadly. Whether on the street or track, there could be anything up ahead or around the next corner--an animal, a fallen rider, an oil spill, a bike part, a rock or a tree branch. During the cone drill, the instructors put random cones throughout the race track and we had to ride around the pointy end of the cone--and each lap, they changed the cones--so we had to be constantly scanning and looking ahead. I learned from this drill that if you're looking ahead, you can still be fast and at a high speed yet work your way around objects without running off the road/track or crashing. In addition to this being a life saver, I found that I was so much faster after this drill since I was seeing and preparing for the corners up ahead and not the current corner that I'm in.

If you don't use your eyes and scan ahead, you will eventually crash.

Cover the Brake

In my 10 years of riding, I have never covered the brake. Looking back, I've been just plain lucky. By covering the brake, and just using two fingers to control it, there's more reaction time and the ability to respond to variables--like the rider in front of you crashing and having to dodge them or a semi truck being stuck in the middle of the road around the next corner. I'm not used to doing this, so it felt awkward at first. But, it will save your life.

If you don't cover the brakes, you will eventually crash.

Focus and Having a Plan

We've all done it. We're riding with a group of friends and get too busy trying to keep up with them or pass them, or we get distracted, and we lose focus on our riding. At The Dragon, this is very easy to do with all the photographers and people hanging out on the side of the road. When we're not focused and in the moment, we're not making sure we follow the proper techniques and we're not scanning ahead with our eyes. We're complacent, and that complacency can kill you. We were also taught to have a plan when riding. Before you get on the bike, think about where you're going, what's going on and what you want to work on.

If you don't stay focused and have a plan, you will eventually crash.

You Can't Afford NOT to Do Champ School

Think about how much money a crash can cost you. The medical bills. The repairs to your bike. The increase in insurance costs. Time away from work. The pain and road to recovery. Crashes are expensive financially and physically. What Yamaha Champions Riding School does is it crash-proofs your riding. If you follow the techniques, it keeps you from behaviors that can lead to a crash. The other important thing it does is it instills confidence. I now have improved confidence in my riding because I know the way that I'm riding now provides maximum grip. I also have the added confidence that if something unexpected happens, I can handle it and safely get around it. This peace-of-mind translates into added comfort and fun on the bike. So when you consider the cost of a crash, and the peace-of-mind of crash-proof riding, Champ School becomes well worth the cost. In fact, what you learn is priceless.

Who Needs This?

Everyone. Absolutely everyone. Crash-proof riding translates to racers--because you can't win a race if you crash and don't finish the race. And it translates to brand new riders, too. I remember how fearful I was when I first started riding. If I had done Champ School back then, I would have been less fearful and would have progressed much faster. I talk to a lot of people, especially women, who want to be motorcyclists but they're afraid of crashing. With the Champ School methodology, you can learn to ride in a way that prevents crashes. No matter how long you've riding, or how experienced or advanced you are, I guarantee this school will make you faster yet also safer. You can't afford not to do this school.

To learn more about Yamaha Champions Riding School, visit . And save 10% off with code Sarah10 at checkout. Stay tuned for more blog posts, videos and photos from Champ School!

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