Richmond's Roadcraft advanced riding school gets you motorcycling safely
There’s a well-worn saying among motorcycle riders that goes something like this: two types of people ride—those who have fallen off their bikes and those who will fall off.
Count me in the first group. Since getting my first motorcycle in 1965, I have hit the pavement in an intriguing variety of ways. There was the time I was coming home from my girlfriend’s place in the wee hours of the morning and collided with a locomotive. One time, I rode for 24 hours straight and was so fatigued when I got home that I rode right over a six-foot embankment and slept where I fell. And let’s not forget the time I dropped my bike on Douglas Street in Victoria, right in front of a loaded bus. I have also come off the back seat—facing backwards—while fooling around at 50 kilometres an hour; flopped over into the curb while riding a Honda Goldwing through downtown Needles, California; and dropped a BMW R1200S at the corner of 4th and Macdonald—again, in front of a bus. Those are the ones I can remember, and most of them were my own fault.
So I decided to take a course on motorcycle handling. After all, it’s only been 45 years since I got my licence. And I should also point out that when I got my motorcycle licence, lo, those many years ago, there was no motorcycle licence per se. You just bought your bike and rode it. And even when the authorities did institute a testing program, sometime in the 1980s, it consisted of executing a figure eight in the parking lot and demonstrating that you knew how to start the bike and shut it off.
That certainly doesn’t cut it at Roadcraft, an advanced riding school in Richmond that offers an advanced, non-government curriculum in the fine art of handling a motorcycle. While most of the instructors are ex–safety council alumni, the courses are designed to provide an all-encompassing riding experience.
“We look at Roadcraft as a multi-level skills enhanced training program,” explains head instructor Graham Street. All sizes and shapes of bikes are welcome.
Basically, there are three programs: basic and advanced low-speed handling and manoeuvring, and traffic awareness. I registered for the first, which focuses on wrangling your bike at various speeds, through various obstructions, without dropping it. While safe riding is the overriding focus of the course, emphasis is placed on learning the handling limits of your bike and the dynamics of weight transfer, traction control, braking, and low-speed balance.
Roadcraft breaks it down into three classroom sessions with two full days of riding exercises. This is a serious advanced-rider training course, and not for newbies. If you’re looking for an escorted joyride through the countryside, don’t sign up. As it turned out, it rained like hell, which added to the challenge—to put it mildly.
Before the cone-dodging starts, the first thing riders have to deal with is getting past bad habits: what Street and his colleagues call “riding on autopilot”. In other words, you’ve been riding this way for years and it’s gotten you this far, so you must be doing it right, right?
Not necessarily. Among other things, here’s what we learned:
- At least 60 percent of all motorcycle head injuries occur to the face. Ergo, if you ride with an open-face helmet, you’re taking your chances.
- The conventional wisdom that motorcycles have better braking than cars, allowing you to ride and stop faster, is not true. That might have been the case 20 years ago, but not today.
- Eye protection doesn’t mean shades. It means proper safety glasses.
- Black leather jackets offer little in the way of protection if you go down. Ditto chaps, leather pants, and gloves with no fingers.
- ABS on a motorcycle is definitely a good thing. If you can buy your bike with it, do so.
- The last five metres of a panic stop is when most of the deceleration happens. It takes most people at least one full second to react to a crisis situation, and by then it could be too late.
- In almost half of all accidents involving bikes and cars, the car is at fault. So what.
- In a potential accident situation, one-third of riders will do absolutely nothing and simply hope for the best. One in five will do something useful.
- Riding just 10 klicks over the speed limit can mean the difference between walking away or sustaining injuries if you’re involved in an accident.
- Road rash can kill you. Painfully.
- The old saw about “laying the bike down” if things get hairy is pure Hollywood bullshit.
- Old habits die hard, and it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks.
This last bit applied to me in spades, I’m afraid, and I found myself second-guessing my instructors on a regular basis. For example, the hardest thing I had to learn was to keep my head up while executing low-speed turns. It’s quite simple, really: find a focal point somewhere, aim the bike at it, apply throttle, and don’t look down. Easy to say, hard to do consistently. One of the instructors, Steve McKenna, brought his Goldwing and demonstrated over and over again that if you do all of the above, you will never get into trouble. McKenna has won handling competitions on his Goldwing, and his bike control has to be seen to be believed. “I don’t have any special bike-handling abilities,” he says. “I just figured it out and practise all the time.”
Riding a motorcycle is not what it used to be. For one thing, there are a lot more automobiles on the road than there were 45 years ago. And there are a lot more stupid motorists than there used to be. The roads are more crowded, people drive faster, bikes are way quicker, and the potential for disaster is greater. It’s a jungle out there.
But at least courses like those offered at Roadcraft will teach you how to protect yourself. Find them at roadcraftacademy.com/.