Lately I've been helping instruct at Jason Pridmore's Star Motorcycle School, which travels to different tracks around the country. In the last couple of years I haven't been getting as much track time as I'd like, and I signed up mostly to force myself to ride more and stay sharp. I learned a lot more than I'd anticipated, and the experience did me good in more ways that just the extra track time.
Even in terms of straight riding, the schools have been way more than I'd bargained for. At the Star school, students are generally split into two groups; while one group is in the classroom, the other is on the track. Instructors are on-track for both groups, for an almost nonstop day. At Pahrump, for the first school of the year, I rode 500 track miles in two days. It's a workout, for sure.
One-on-one instruction involves leading or following a particular student for a handful of laps, then critiquing the student's riding. Following people and looking for technique, body position and lines-and then discussing it afterward-really forces me to think just as much about my own riding and work on being smooth, consistent and tidy. It's a matter of setting a good example for the students as well as being able to talk to them afterward: How can an instructor offer suggestions without knowing and understanding the techniques himself? The surprising thing is that it makes me think about basic concepts like countersteering and hanging off-things we often take for granted-just as much as more advanced techniques.
As it turns out, the school added a couple of supersport-prepped GSX-R600s to its rental fleet at the same time I started, and one of the bikes is set up with the exact same data-acquisition system we use here, the GPS-based Racepak G2X. Because I had a bit of background with our system, I was tasked with looking after the school's G2X and working with students who ride the bike. From a data-acquisition standpoint, a comparison test at this magazine needs to address the discrepancies between bikes, but at the school it's a matter of looking at the data for two different riders and pointing out differences that will help a student's riding. Again, comparing my data traces with those of various students' taught me as much as it taught them, and also helped me to better use the G2X when working on our own comparison tests here. There's a story in there about data acquisition and using it to go faster at the track, which I'm hoping to write for a future issue once I've got a bit more experience with it.
Once a day at the school, students stand at certain corners on the track and watch as several instructors ride around for demonstration. That part is far from fun for the instructors, and I find it a lot more stressful than working individually with students. Everything's got to be perfect, because in addition to our having to provide a good example for the students, James Lickwar-the instructor who does the commentary-takes every opportunity to poke fun at even the tiniest mistake. And of course it wouldn't do to crash during the demo, especially in front of the students.
One benefit of riding the demos is that I can take advantage of feedback from Lickwar and the other instructors. For example, one of the advanced techniques taught at the school is feathering the clutch on corner entries, something I've often struggled with. For a long time, I couldn't apply it to my own riding and at the beginning of the year didn't even see the need for it. But after quizzing Lickwar about the differences between my riding and the other instructors' styles at the Loudon, New Hampshire, school, I finally understood how it can help entering corners and can now use the technique somewhat properly.
Just like the saying goes, it's tough to teach an old dog new tricks. Changing my riding style at this point-even by the tiniest bit-is proving to be pretty difficult, and it's too easy to be lazy and fall into old habits. As bikes change we have to adapt our riding styles to suit, and it's a lot safer to take an analytical approach to going faster rather than just using brute force-I've paid the penalty for that more than once.
At the last school of the year I was asked to teach in the classroom for the afternoon sessions. Lickwar, who usually teaches those classes, was in Venezuela working with Robertino Pietri in the Latin American Superbike Championship, and couldn't be at the school. Of course, teaching in the classroom meant not riding for the afternoon sessions, so in a way the year ended right where it began: no track time for me. How ironic is that?
In any event, the whole experience has reinforced in me the importance of the learning process, and how beneficial it can be to take a riding school-not necessarily the Star school, but any one of the increasing number of really good schools that are popping up at tracks everywhere. Do yourself a favor and sign up; you won't regret it.