Wow, 05-2012 I had shoulder surgury. I considered being done riding but an e-mail offering a weekend to practice and participation in a promotional video was too good to pass up. Three months later the trip wasn't advisable by doctors... maybe that's what makes it the most rewarding ride I have ever taken.
I went down for a day in 2010, took the course as written below in 2011 and in 2012 took an extended weekend, then tasted some Oregon jollies: After a solid 10-11 filming and interacting with every instructor and a long wait the Video's published!
I just got back from Northwest Motorcycle School last weekend... I look forward to learning dirt and track next all I need is more bikes, more money, more time!
The course: 8am - 6:30pm, 4 days, 42 hours, $1,095 USD if you use their bikes, $26 per hour. What do you get for that in my case? 6 students, 2 instructors, a private lot and guidance to do things you would never consider on your bike.
40 mph braking will get your heart racing as you stop in less distance than you have ever done during normal riding. Chances are you're going to experience the sensation of locked tires and increased confidence using the front to the fullest with increasing G-Force and speed. You will notice how small increases in speeds make big differences in the last few feet of travel. It is one thing to know the facts of braking but the experience will add comfort knowing that last arm-length offers significant distance to wipe speed off not because someone told you but experience “you” can.
30 mph counter-steering likely had the biggest improvements from those that haven't used it fully. At 30mph you're pushing the bars assertively to transition the bike quickly. The experience of transitioning the peg from one to the next involves the suspension rebounding, the revs changing as the tire diameter changes with plenty of weight transfer and bar feedback to control lean. To complete counter-steering you’re inches away from obstacles that first come quickly, then predictably. This exercise reminds one to not vary the throttle as ground clearance or traction can be concerning.
Move onto the bulk of the course, low speed control. How can parking lot parade skills apply to normal riding? Let’s compare racing and low speed.
Body positioning is opposite (lean in fast, lean out slow), steering is opposite (counter vs. push steering), and braking is opposite (track braking mainly front, lot rear). Similarities include bike lean, turn initiation, head placement, planning lines, throttle and clutch control.
To be fast you need to be smooth and I guarantee variations near the cornering limit has penalties. A parking lot typically means putting a foot down or a tip-over while the track...
Maximum cornering means turning the bike as fast as possible. Track turns initiate with an assertive counter steering motion to the outside of the turn leaning the bike at speed. A video of a 15' slow turn shows a counter steering motion (dip) and the peg dragging before the turn begins followed by getting on the gas ASAP to power through the turn.
At low speed you plan a turn-in point on the ground and counter-steer (dip) the bike to setup the lean and suspension. At low speeds you add push steering after the dip while high speed immediately steers/leans with a dip (countersteer). You did not look at the spot when you turned you planned it, you did not look at the turn’s barrier be it a cone, obstacle or pavement edge you need to go around you planned your lines. If you didn’t plan to be inches away a cornering obstacle a line can be improved or you quickly run out of space.
With a quick steering motion you've transitioned the bike quickly and it wants to fall over the faster you turn. Regardless of speed you can only turn so fast, you can only lean so far but done “correctly” those limits are beyond 99% of riders. As you approach the limit of overloading the suspension or tires you're really pushing into uncomfortable territory and I hope it's on a practice bike as there’s only one way to find a limit.
The NWMCS obstacle course at top speed would have 100% of tire traction utilized at all times. That means balancing maximum throttle, braking and cornering traction while keeping suspension settled similar to the track. I still have a long ways to go. You make a smooth arc to a turn, transition from throttle to late trailing brakes, turn in to change direction decisively without ever looking at the obstacle, only the goal you’re now racing towards.
So how did my course go?
I previewed an Oregon class a couple months ago and noted this course was extremely difficult. I challenged the main course and made it through but wound up dropping my ST showing room to improve, I always need to improve. I heard one course had several… advanced riders and put my payment down in full.
Day 1 I rode down Saturday morning. Before a long ride I typically have trouble sleeping and the anticipation of this challenge was no exception. I slept poorly between 11pm and 4am but woke excited to arrive in Renton around 6:15am. 8am and a meet and greet showed two motorcycle instructors and a motor unit captain taking the course. The first day involved getting used to a different bike forcing it to operate and it was a lot of work! The riders were managing the course with effort and we pushed each other through the exercises. I booked a hotel elsewhere with attractions nearby but after a shower I laid down for a moment around 7:30pm… then woke up around 6am.
Day 2 felt fantastic after a long sleep and started with 2 other students dropping out leaving 4 trained riders to do the course. The main course was mostly setup by noon and we started to really push the bikes to our limits. Follow the leader turned into cat and mouse trying to fake the other rider, ride inches away or endure painfully long stints of concentration typically ending in laughter and cones everywhere. By this time the bikes were tapping each other, tires, walls, fences, trailers, curbs and occasionally the pavement. I’m glad I wasn’t on my bike.
I decided to take a scenic ride Friday to Renton and get some sleep for the upcoming day. Day 3 had another instructor come down “Steve” that rides competitively and visits the course often. The students aren’t knocking down many cones or requiring too much instruction so now there’s 2 course instructors, 3 B.C. instructors, 1 motor unit captain demonstrating skills that are a wonder to behold. The exercises are now a breeze and the course is turning into a racetrack of finding the best line to race between all obstacles and it’s competitive. Bikes are bumping into each other, walls, fences and the tires are breaking loose backing into corners and powering out of turns.
A pub walking distance from the hotel offered a few drinks with most of the students and instructors, then a few drinks with everyone from BC, then a loud night with a couple others ending with too many drinks after midnight. I accidentally turned the air conditioning to high heat and woke around 6am drenched and dry at the same time. If I knew I was going to be thirsty in the morning I would have drank more the night before!
Day 4 saw the course complete half-way through leaving everyone to explore the capabilities of the bike. A course record for the day was 2:11 no penalties while my best runs were 2:24 fastest, 2:29 after penalties. The day went smooth and I left with a smile. 2 hour delays were posted for the border.
Impacting the frame has the motor take a bite out of riding boots.
Counter-Steering can be done at 35mph but throttle off and the frame drags, throttle on and the back tire slides.
The braking exercise can be done at 43mph with the back tire locked through most of the exercise within the distance. The front didn’t feel happy.
You can get a few inches closer to someone by putting your wheel beside their rear wheel behind their crash bars. I ran into the front, rear and side of other bikes with neither going down.
The bike will happily balance on the floorboards if you place both tires against a curb parallel and stop.
A bike can hop over a curb doing a 90 degree pull-out without falling over.
A bike can do lock steering with some lean doing a circle over a speed-bump.
Chasing someone on grass is a bad idea, while follow the leader endurance challenges at the end of day 4 is a great idea! Luckily!
You can slide the front tire a long ways with locked steering under power with the floorboards heavily weighted but it doesn’t help.
Full throttle with a bit of a turn has the back tire slide instead of picking up the front.
Sliding under braking into exercises breaks my concentration and isn’t worthwhile yet.
If you "really" try 100% you'll run into more problems with pogoing suspension and sliding tires than focusing on being smooth and thinking ahead.
The quickest time I had was probably the relaxing exhausted run at the end of day 4 in my video when I was physically and mentally done but Patty pushed me to run it again while recording... until I tossed the bike at the wall. I see lots of room for improvement.
I would recommend this course to any competent rider. If you’re fairly new or weak on the basics it will take significant adherence to meet the course requirements and not feel defeated. If you’re a decent rider you’re going to get a lot out of the course as the requirements will push all aspects of riding. If you’re an exceptional rider this will be a playground of exploration on a different bike. You will bump into hard objects and likely surprise yourself at what can be done without falling down. The instructors will find something challenging for riders regardless of skill new to experienced. It’s up to you to push your comfort level in a safe environment with equipment that can take a hit to find the limits of your riding ability. I had a great time.
My video: Random counter-steering to braking, failed braking from 45mph, exhausted course run end of day-4 after everyone was done.