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  • Sarah Merrell

Rev Up Your Riding with These Motorcycle Education Opportunities



I want to share a secret: I didn't always love riding. I desperately wanted to be a motorcyclist and experience the confidence and thrill that my more skilled two-wheeled counterparts enjoyed, but I was scared. Every time I swung a leg over my bike I feared that I would make a mistake and fall down...my heart would pound and my nerves made my stomach flip flop.


I vividly remember Women's Sportbike Rally 10 years ago. It was my first time riding The Dragon and I had only been riding for a matter of months. I teeter tottered through the curves and prayed that I wouldn't make a fool of myself. It took me three tries to make it up the hill out of the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort parking lot without stalling. Talk about cringe-worthy. And my poor clutch.


But despite the fear, I was dedicated to becoming better. The more I read, watched videos, received coaching, and attended track days, workshops and rider training and put the knowledge into practice, the more the fear melted away and was replaced with confidence. And as my confidence and skills grew, the more fun I had. And with fun came an intense love and passion for the sport. And that right there is why I'm an evangelist when it comes to rider education.


I wanted this post to be collaborative, so on Instagram I asked my followers to share the educational opportunities THEY have found most helpful too and I included them.


Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Course

If you're brand new to riding, I highly recommend this course. Not only does it provide some good knowledge and best practices for safely riding a bike on the road, but it also starts you out with the fundamental basics: how to work the clutch and throttle, how to utilize the brakes to stop quickly, and how to shift, among other elementary but important skills. I found they did a great job introducing people to motorcycling and their step-by-step approach wasn't overwhelming or challenging. Many of the people in the class had never ridden a motorcycle by themselves before (including me) so it was an amazing feeling at the end of the course to be able to say, “I am am motorcyclist!”


Twist of the Wrist (and Twist of the Wrist 2)

If there are two books that transformed my riding the most it's these. Today, the compliment I receive most often about my riding is that I'm smooth. And being smooth is critical since smooth = fast. Where did I learn how to be smooth? Twist of the Wrist 2. But it's so much more than that. The roads where I live are very technical with many different kinds of corners and changing elevation and camber. The first Twist of the Wrist book taught me how to read corners, how to set up for them, how to use the bike's controls to properly corner and the best lines to take. What I liked most is that Keith Code doesn't just tell you how to ride, he explains the bike’s mechanisms and physics and the WHY behind what he's teaching. I also like how each chapter of his books build on the prior ones. What I found to be extremely helpful was to read a chapter and then go out and ride and just focus on that one skill until it’s ingrained and second nature. I'd read the next one and work on that skill and so on. Just by reading this book and putting the knowledge into practice, my riding drastically improved--especially my cornering.

On my post, @jimmyandthatcamera and @jsteadtv referenced this book as being highly beneficial to their riding.


Riding with Better, Faster Riders

It's important to be discerning about who's advice and riding you follow. Just because someone is fast, it doesn't make them a good or safe rider. However, following and learning from someone who IS a good, solid rider can help you become a better rider. Whether on the road or track, I really enjoy following people who are better since I can learn a thing or two from them by mimicking their lines, body position and braking points. Following better, faster riders around is the number one way I got faster on The Dragon and other technical roads.

@perryhoover13 shared on Instagram that some of the best pieces of advice he's received were from a rider he met at the Overlook on The Dragon. He shared 3 things that made him faster: Loose arms, tit to tank, try to kiss the mirror.


Track Days

I can't say this enough: If you want to improve your riding, do track days! I've noticed that new riders who do track days progress so much faster than riders who don't. The reason why is because tracks offer classroom instruction where they impart a significant amount of knowledge about riding, and they have on-track coaches who are there to help you. I found it extremely beneficial to get with a coach and have him or her follow me around and then give me advice--or I follow the coach and practice braking, good lines and acceleration. Sometimes you don't even realize what you're doing wrong and the coaches will point it out and help you work on it. This doesn't just apply to novice riders though. The intermediate and advanced groups also have coaches. If you go to a track day and don't utilize the coaches, you're severely missing out. When you go to a track day, don't be afraid to approach a coach and tell the person you want some help.

@fosterw shared that track days are a great way to better your riding skills, especially the classroom sessions.


Cross-Training

The best motorcyclists from MotoGP racers to MotoAmerica cross-train. Many of them ride dirt or flat track as it helps them finesse sliding the tire. I've ridden my DRZ supermoto in the dirt and can attest that it's a completely different animal compared to road riding and it was interesting to become more comfortable with a tire slide and its limits. I've also found that my pit bike racing has made me a better rider on my "big" bike. Cross-training is the reason I desperately want to do SoCal Supermoto and Collin Edward's Texas Tornado Boot Camp.

@mkwade74 said, "There's definitely a lot to learn from riding in the dirt...it helped me finding/feeling the limits of traction."


Intermediate & Advanced Rider Courses

The MSF is a great course for brand new riders that teaches the very basics, however, as you progress as a rider, intermediate and advanced rider courses like Total Rider Tech and Total Control enable you to continue building your skills through instruction and drills. Total Rider Tech was a milestone in my riding. Prior to taking the course, I wasn't comfortable leaning the bike or getting a knee down. It made me nervous. During the course, we worked heavily on body positioning and they had us ride a circle and practice that positioning. We then picked up speed while leaning the bike more and more until we were dragging knee comfortably and confidently with a smooth throttle and proper body positioning. We also did a lot of drills that forced us to keep our eyes up, look where we're going and scan ahead. It was a total game-changer. Following the course, I was a completely different rider.


Women's Sportbike Rally (and Other Rallies)

Many motorcycle rallies, like Women's Sportbike Rally, offer educational opportunities like workshops and seminars. Last year at Women's Sportbike Rally, Dave Moss gave a presentation on suspension and there have also been workshops that teach how to work on your own bike or even how to get into racing or your first track day. The guided rides are also a form of education since you get to experience new roads and routes and oftentimes you can pick up pieces of advice from other riders. I also think inspiration and motivation play a huge role in progressing as a motorcyclist. By attending Women's Sportbike Rally, I had women to look up to and who were total "goals" for me. It gave me something to work towards.


Videos, Podcasts & Social Media

In today's world, we have nearly infinite knowledge right at our fingertips. YouTube offers videos on any topic you can think of and podcasts have also grown. Before going to a new track, I love watching videos of talented riders on the same track - especially the ones that break down the corners and provide tips with voiceover. But there are also instructional videos that are impactful. 100 Points of Grip by Nick Ienatsch is one of my favorites. I highly recommend following Ride Like a Champion on YouTube--the instructional videos are fantastic. And let’s not forget blogs and people to follow on social media. RideApart is a favorite since it has a TON of information—you could read it all day. And women who want advice on gear need to check out GearChic by Joanne Donn. She works for Revzilla and has phenomenal information on gear. On social media, I love following my favorite racers and instructors, but a few accounts continue to be a true inspiration to me and often have good tid bits of knowledge: @redspade, @melissaparis13, @rosyulina, @keeratiracing, @brittanymorrow (and the list could on!)

Lastly, motorcycle magazines can be a source of knowledge and inspiration as well. Nick Ienatsch writes a great column for CycleWorld and I also like Sportbike Inc and of course I want to give a shoutout to Blue Ridge Motorcycling Magazine, the magazine I write for.

On my post, @brittbraap shared, "@motojitsu on YouTube helped me a TON when I started and I still watch his videos for parking lot practice/slow maneuvering."


Yamaha Champions Riding School

In my post on Instagram asking for followers to share what they have found to be most beneficial for their riding, Yamaha Champions Riding School was referenced most often by far. I talk about Champ School A LOT because it was that life-changing of an experience. It's like taking the best of everything mentioned thus far in this blog post and putting it into one two-day school--taught by some of the best instructors in the country. It was an absolutely amazing experience getting to be on a track doing drills. The school was intense, and hard work, but all I can say is...WHOA. To fully get a feel for what this school entails and how it will change your riding, read my blog post on my Champ School experience.

Follower @moto_r64 said, "My first experience on track was doing the @champ_school course. It absolutely changed my life and on my first track day I laid waste to the entire beginner group so badly they bumped me to intermediate by the afternoon."

Follower @blackbeard.7 said, "@champ_school has been the best thing that I've done in years."

I personally got to experience Champ School, but follower @_skout_ recommended a couple other schools, "I've learned so much through on-track instruction through schools like @superbikeschool and @classrides."


I hope others will find these educational opportunities to be as helpful as I have. I'm a firm believer in being a life-long learner, so I'm excited to discover what I learn even a year from now. There may be a follow-up post!


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