Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic


I went to the Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic on Saturday, October 17. It looked interesting and educational, and I hoped to improve my confidence and skill level on the street.

The class is something I had thought about doing for some time -- maybe since I bought the Lee Parks book about a year and a half ago. It didn't appear that I would be able to take a class because they weren't offered very near South Carolina. They hold them near the Tail of the Dragon, about 150 miles from home, but I've not been there.

When I was cruising the 'net a few weeks ago, I clicked on the Total Control website and found that a class was to be offered by Total Rider Tech down in Lawrenceville Georgia. I did a quick Google map search and found that to be only 113 miles from home. I e-mailed their instructor Dave Ruocco to ask whether the class was for me -- my advanced age, two years of experience, 14,000 miles of street riding, and a desire to improve. I also asked if there was space in the class. He e-mailed back almost immediately saying that I was a good candidate for the class, and enumerated why he thought that was, generously omitting any reference to the advanced age part. ...and there was room in the class.

I excitedly asked my bride of thirty-four years if I could sign up. She mildly interrogated me on why I wanted to take the class, the cost, and when it was to take place. She said to go ahead and sign up!

I went back to the website, and, with shaking hands clutching my credit card, signed up for the October 17th class. I received confirmation that I was in.

Right after that, I e-mailed as many others as I could think of that I was going to the class, and would anyone like to go too. I also posted to a couple of forums that I was about to become more educated. A few days elapsed with some interest, but no takers.

A fellow who lives about thirty miles from me, and with whom I have ridden a couple of times, PMd me that he was interested and was going to sign up. He has about the same amount of experience as I, and we'd enjoyed riding together previously.

Plans were thus hatched to ride down the day before, spend the night and take the class the next day. I worked out a route that included several points of interest, as is my habit when riding: Ride a little, look a little, ride some more, look some more.

I packed my saddlebags, tail bag, and tank bag with everything I thought I might need. I watched the weather map closely as the day approached. It was to be cool and rainy on Friday morning, but cool and dry on Saturday. It looked ideal.

The Thursday before departure, my buddy called to say that his child was sick and that he would have to ride down later in the day. Rats. Well, I'll go on the original schedule and route anyway.

Friday dawned cool and a bit drizzly. I dress warmly in several synthetic layers, put on my balaclava, neck warmer, glove liners, winter gloves, and two-piece leather suit. I don't put on my rainsuit, as it is not raining enough to warrant it.

My Cortech saddlebags and tail bag, and my GTmoto magnetic tank bag contain enough for a few days on the road. I have an electric tire pump, motorcycle cover, and personal items all tucked away in an orderly manner, as you might expect any good engineer to do.

Note the bright vest. Studies have shown that a fluorescent vest dramatically increases the visibility of motorcyclists to other drivers. Good advice, and I need all the visibility I can get on this dreary day on the road. I stoke up the grip heaters and start out.

About the only issue is that the misting rain causes the helmet face shield to be harder to see through, but an occasional wipe with the glove and side-to-side head turns make that tolerable. I stay reasonably warm most of the way.

The route I planned to Lawrenceville and beyond is here.

I make my way down the mostly two-lane roads, occasionally stopping to look, eat a snack and hydrate, and to look at the map.

I stop at Hartwell Dam and walk for a few minutes to the top of it. It is overcast and windy, but I enjoy the exercise and the views. The dam, finished in 1963, holds back Lake Hartwell, and provides hydroelectric power as well as recreation and drinking water storage.

This is the view of the parking area from the top of the earthen dam. Only my lonely Ninja waits there today.

Distant view of the powerhouse from atop one side of the earthen dam.

View of switchgear from the top of the powerhouse.

I look over at the road bridge upon which I will shortly pass over the Savannah River just downstream of the dam.

Looking back at the parking lot. That tiny dot just to the left of the trees is my bike.

I remount and ride a little way to the bridge and walk out onto it for a picture of the face of the powerhouse.

On my way back to the bike I see a plaque behind the guardrail that says this bridge won an award for its beauty back in 1958 -- when I was eight! Now that I think about it, it is a graceful structure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholding engineer, right?

I ride further and pass through the little town of Colbert. There were some quaint buildings, an old fire truck, and a red caboose on display.

This wooden building shows evidence of mice -- they made a hole under the door, just like they do in the cartoons!

The afternoon clears a bit but is still cold. The sky and clouds are beautiful for a couple of hours. I stop for a potty break and take these pictures.

I motor on around Athens and find Waynesville, where the Iron Horse sculpture stands. What is that, you ask? It is a twelve foot high iron sculpture in the shape of a horse that was commissioned in 1954 by the University of Georgia. After an uproar that the college would place such an eyesore on its campus, it was moved to a field near Waynesville in 1959.

Photo by David Seibert on the GeorgiaInfo website.

I follow my directions out of town, but I cannot spot the horse. Maybe it isn't here any more, or is obscured by crops or brush. I stop and ask at a meat and three restaurant, but the guys eating inside didn't know what I was talking about. They also might be wondering where I dropped in from, dressed as I am. At least they didn't make any Mars comments. Anyway, I backtrack to Waynesville, and head toward Lawrenceville. After a few miles, I find my motel and check in.

I ask the clerk how to get to the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth. He makes a MapQuest map for me and I start out -- about twelve miles through city traffic. I find that the Atlanta suburbs are extremely busy, even at midday.

I follow the map, come to the right street, and turn in. [Watch the gravelly potholes and the diagonal railroad crossing, Bucky.] I successfully park in the gravel lot, and notice this little fellow laying face down nearby.

I walk cautiously toward him, making sure he will not be startled by my presence. I gently pick him up. He is mostly unscathed by his apparent face plant. I look around, but see no others who might be his friends, so I decide that he should be my riding companion for the rest of the day. I stuff his legs beneath the grab strap on my seat, and he seems content to wait for my return.

I take my tank bag off and undo its shoulder straps so I can carry it as a backpack. That is a nice feature of it, I think.

I pay my admission to the museum to an enthusiastic train aficionado who asks if I had recently been to the moon. I briefly explain the importance of protective gear, and at about that time, anther man walks up. Having overheard our conversation, he tells of his son-in-law who somehow laid his motorcycle down, hung on atop it for some distance apparently unhurt, only to hit another vehicle, rendering him unresponsive, and leading to his death. He was not wearing a helmet. I express my sympathy to the man. ATGATT helps prevent:

I enter the museum. It has quite a collection of rolling stock, locomotives, transit buses, and other stuff.

Savannah & Atlanta No. 750, a 4-6-2 light Pacific built in 1910 by ALCO, served on Florida East Coast's Miami-Key West line. It was sold to the Savannah and Atlanta Railway in 1935.

At left is the General II, a 1919 Baldwin 4-4-0 that was formerly at Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad east of Atlanta. At right is the Chattahoochee Valley #21 2-8-0 Consolidation Built in 1924 by Baldwin for Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railway passenger service. It was sold to Chattahoochee Valley Railroad in 1935; was in service until 1946; and in standby service until 1961.

Southern Railway E8 passenger diesel no. 6901, built in 1950

I have satisfied my thirst for trains today, and decide to leave. I ask another volunteer how long it would take to get to Stone Mountain, another Atlanta tourist destination. He says it would be about an hour and a half at this time of day, so I decide to go back to the motel and wait for my buddy who is coming down later. The traffic is heavier now. I don't think I would like to live in an area that is so busy.

My buddy calls me and we arrange to meet and have supper. The nearby O'Charley's restaurant is easy to get to, so we go there -- just a few minutes away despite the traffic. We pray for blessing, safety, and open minds before the meal. While we dine, we bring each other up to date on what has been happening in our lives. Fortunately, we are both still working -- that is saying something nowadays with the mess the economy is in -- and our families are well.

After supper, we ride a few miles to the church where the class is to be held tomorrow to make sure we can find it in the morning. After that, we part company and ride back to our rooms. I have ridden about two hundred miles all together on the way down and around today.

I secure my bike in a dry place for the night, turn in early, and sleep well.

I arise, and see that is still dry where I parked my bike. ...and my new passenger still seems content too. (We have been careful not to soil the carpeting.)

Idress and go for the breakfast in the motel lobby. I must say that this is the first time I have eaten Frosted Flakes with a fork, for they have run out of spoons. I slurp down the extra milk right from the bowl, then walk back to my room, move the bike outside again, and finish loading it.

I find the church easily thanks to our after-supper scouting trip. It isn't raining, but is quite cold -- about 40 degrees. I am the first student to arrive. Two men greet me and introduce themselves. Dave Ruocco, the teacher from Milwaukee, and Michael Buffington, the local assistant. This was to be the first such class in the Atlanta area, so they had a lot of pre-class planning to do. The are putting up the rain canopy, windbreaks, and plugging in the large monitor for the video presentations.

Dave Ruocco's biography from the Total Rider Tech website:
Dave started training riders in 1995 as an MSF Rider coach in Minnesota. Since then he has introduced over 1300 students to the excitement of motorcycling. Dave has also become heavily involved in training students on the racetrack as well. He is currently an instructor for Private Track Time and has coached across the United States as an instructor for the Buell Inside Pass program. After taking Total Control in 2005, he quickly signed up to become a certified TCARC instructor and currently teaches ARCs across the Midwest. When not teaching motorcycling, he is a stay-at-home dad, busy raising his two young sons while practicing law.
Michael Buffington is a thirty-eight year old rider and amateur racer from Lawrenceville.

One by one, the other students arrive, six in all. That is good -- a small class ought to allow us to get more instruction and to allow more practice on the range.

My buddy rides a Honda VFR. Another fellow who I had communicated with before the class rides in on a new Ninja 650R. The others have Harleys and a BMW.

We start out with some introductions and an overview of what we are to hear and do this day:
an intro to trail braking, quite a bit of curve negotiation including weight shifting (hanging off), then a session on suspension setup.

Ruocco is a good speaker and a skilled rider, though he had a serious spill in May and his back is held together with several rods so he cannot ride yet. Buffington is the demonstrator and both of them give feedback on the range exercises.

The day starts out cold, but then turns rainy as well. I am wearing almost all of the clothing I packed. My arms are a bit stiff as a result. The temperature stays in the mid-40s, and the rain doesn't stop for long. I am cold, with no place to get warm. We are concerned about traction, and time is wasted between exercises warming up tires.

The proper corning steps are a key part of the training. There are ten, according to Parks:

  1. Reposition foot -- to give clearance at lean.
  2. Pre-position body -- Centerline of body moved to the inside of the centerline of the bike, well before the turn.
  3. Push on the outside grip -- To prevent the bike from turning in because of the body prepositioning.
  4. Locate turn point.
  5. Look through the turn.
  6. Relax outside grip -- To allow gravity to pull your off-center body and bike into the turn.
  7. Push on inside grip -- Use only the inside arm to control steering correction. Outside arm is relaxed. This is the most important point.
  8. Roll on throttle -- For stability and to straighten the bike up coming out of the turn.
  9. Push outside grip -- To help the throttle get the bike upright.
  10. Move back to neutral -- Only after the turn exit.
They have us practice this on our stationary bike with other students controlling the lean angle, then put us to work on the range. We practice in one direction around the cone circle, then the other. After that is two turns in a row in the same direction, and two successive turns in opposite directions.

For me, there is too much info given in the time allotted, and I could use about twice the number of range repetitions for each exercise. Perhaps a two-day class would be better.

I am thinking that I am doing poorly on the range exercises, though my [possibly benevolent] friend said later that he thought he saw improvement in my riding as the day went on.

The suspension setup instruction is good, but the time might be better used for more range practice. Only one of the bikes can be adjusted either because the others don't have adjustments or because the proper tools are not available to do so. Parks' book tells how to do it anyway.

We all get certificates near the end, so I suppose I have passed. Maybe I am too impatient with myself, but if I am to get any benefit from this class, I will have to set up the range layouts somewhere in a parking lot and practice, practice, practice. That is probably good advice for anything new I am learning anyway.

The class ends about 5:30 and I pack the bike for the ride home. I don my rainsuit over everything else, along with my reflective vest, and head out to the streets. This time I make a beeline to Interstate 85 and go home that way. It is certainly shorter and faster, but some of the trucks can be intimidating with their speed and bulk compared to my little Ninja.

About half way home, at the Georgia-South Carolina border, I stop for a rest break, but I have to ask someone to help me get my one-piece rainsuit off and back on because I cannot manage it by myself. (It is almost an emergency by the time I find someone to help.) I am sure the guy thinks I am nuts to be out riding on a night like this. Hmmmmm. That may be true. Do others manage a one-piece rainsuit alone?

The two and a half hour ride home is cold, rainy, and very fatiguing. The bike is dirty, but has performed flawlessly all the way.

Well, not much has gone the way I had hoped it would this weekend. I am discouraged about that. Did I waste the $300 class fee and other expenses?

I'll let you know in a year or so.

If you go:

RailGa Southeastern Railway Museum Page

Stone Mountain Park

Iron Horse
Iron Horse
Iron Horse

1 comment:

irondad said...

I've never parked a bike in a motel room, before. Have to try it sometime. As to the training, I'm surprised they even ran it in the rain. You got good experience in wet weather riding, didn't you?