Is that The Stig** next to my motorbike?
ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) , situational awareness, conspicuity, skill level. No, this is not a soap box diatribe on motorcycle safety, although I completely espouse the aforementioned safety attributes. Rather, this post is a recap and mini-review of a most excellent street oriented motorcycle safety weekend tour put on by a company called Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training.
Those of you not residing in the USA may not have heard of Stayin’ Safe, those here in the States probably have. Started in the late ’80’s or early ’90’s (?) by Larry Grodsky, a witty and sarcastic (I love it!) moto safety guru and author, the program is a on street, real world, real speed, training course to help motorcyclists become more proficient, and thus safer, dealing with riding environments we encounter every time we straddle a saddle. Upon Larry’s untimely death, Eric Trow, lead instructor at the time, took over the company and expanded it to what it is today.
My gear is packed in my tank bag and drybag, I’m ready and chomping at the bit to get on the road, put miles on my tires, and fully immerse myself in the Stayin’ Safe Training Tour. It’s been a hell of a long winter. My ride today is about 130 miles to the town of Cornelia, Georgia. The tour actually starts just six miles from Cornelia in Clarkesville, a beautiful small North Georgia town that Roo and I visit often. The Super 8 hotel I am staying in is ……………..well, it’s a Super 8, what more is there to say.
It’s six AM as my alarm goes off. I jump out of bed anticipating the rigorous riding schedule that Ryan, our instructor for this tour, has on tap for us. I pack up my gear, eat a small breakfast and caffeine up. It’s going to be a long, tough day riding the twisty roads of the North Georgia and Western North Carolina mountains. My Honda NC700XD parallel twin has been warming up and is ready to go. Six miles away is Java Joe’s coffee shop in Clarkesville, where our group will meet up and begin our training tour. It’s 43 degrees at 7:30 AM, but I’m so excited I don’t even feel the cold.
Surprisingly, everyone in the group starts rolling into Java Joe’s parking lot at the same time. We have five total in this group; four participants and one instructor. Stayin’ Safe Tours are intentionally kept small. Everyone in the group was a “seasoned” rider. At 22 years of riding experience, I was the novice. All the others had started riding before they could walk, rode dirt bikes at Baja when they were five, have owned sixty bikes over the last 10 years, blah, blah, blah. You know the story..
L to R: Joe, Skip, Ryan our instructor was the “baby” at 36, Steve. That’s Skips Yamaha FZ09 they are gathered round.
We came from all over; Joe & Skip trailered their bikes down from New York, Ryan is from Dahlonega, GA., Steve from Atlanta, and myself from South Carolina. A diverse group with the common goal of learning to become better, safer motorcycle riders and have fun doing so. And, as I had hoped, we all got along really well and enjoyed each others company throughout the weekend.
What’s it like?
In a nutshell, Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training is motorcycle safety training in real time at real speeds on everyday roads. Riders receive instruction and feedback via one-way radio from the instructor. Training is broken up into lessons that are “taught” at roadside stops throughout the two day tour, each lesson building on the other. As the tour goes on, every rider gets to lead the group while the instructor gives instruction, tips and positive feedback to the rider in the lead.
A roadside lesson stop
As we warm up in Java Joe’s, eating breakfast (number two for me), and drinking Java, introductions are made, forms are filled out, tour packets are passed around, and Ryan lays out the plan for the next two days. “Be prepared to work, be more prepared to have fun!” he says.
By 9:30 we are on the bikes and heading to a community college parking lot for some slow speed drills and warming up of tires (and bodies). Then it’s off to the mountainous terrain of North Georgia we go. I haven’t ridden in the mountains since last year, so I knew I was going to be a tired puppy tonight.
Ryan started us out easy for the morning session, on nice sweepers as we climbed upward, with Ryan in the lead on his BMW GS1200, followed by Steve on his Indian Springfield, myself on my Honda NC700XD, Skip on his Yamaha FZ09, and Joe bringing up the rear on his Triumph Speed Triple. By lunch time, we had crossed the state line into North Carolina. Lunch was a welcome respite. Information processing and putting that information into practice on mountain roads was beginning to take it’s toll.
Ah! Lunch! Everyone say beagle! (Can’t say beagle without smiling)
Our lunch stop is a very popular moto destination!
Look at that smile! This pup was having a field day! Treats from everyone!
After lunch, it’s back on the bikes for the afternoon session. Ryan kept it easy for a little while, letting lunch digest a bit until blood flow gets back to the brain. He coaches us to get our “motorcycle minds” in gear, as we start working on the skills to negotiate the much more technical mountain roads in North Carolina.
Lessons in the afternoon session focus on being aware of potential hazard areas and how to spot them when they are hidden and finding the proper line for optimum sight distance in the many blind curves of these North Carolina mountains.
I am very familiar with the roads here, as this is part of my moto playground on any weekend day. But, Ryan took us down some roads that I never knew existed, or be able to find by myself, except perhaps,from making a wrong turn. And these roads were sick! One and one-half lane roads with no center line and no shoulders makes you stick to an optimum line for maximum sight distance, or you could become a hood ornament. Trial by fire!
By early evening we arrive at our destination for the night, The Oak Park Inn in Waynesville, North Carolina. We’re all tired from a long, just shy of 200 mile day, negotiating mountainous terrain. Park the bikes, clean up, we all pop a beer and hang for a while talking about the day before walking to the Sweet Onion restaurant for a most excellent dinner, compliments of Stayin’ Safe.
Oak Park Inn
Sunday was an early start. Where’s the coffee? Two hard boiled eggs and a Hammer Nutrition bar, then I’m off to Ryan’s room to meet the other guys for a 7:30 AM rider’s meeting and video review of yesterdays lessons. We all had questions and suggestions and ideas about the topics we were discussing. Ryan guided us with questions and scenarios as to why our strategies may or may not be best in a given situation. Like riding, it was a dynamic exchange, ever changing with no hard and fast rules.
After the riders meeting, we suited up, bid farewell to the Oak Park Inn, and headed to a vacant parking lot for some smooth braking practice, and learning how to “push the bike down” as Ryan put it, to execute tight, slow speed turns. It’s counter intuitive, and a bit scary, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really lots of fun and effective!
Back on the road, we headed to Clydes restaurant in downtown Waynesville, for brunch, again, compliments of Stayin’ Safe. Clouds were rolling in, as rain was forecast for this afternoon. The afternoon session was similar to yesterday, albeit shorter, putting into practice what we had learned, but on even more technical roads. By 3 PM we were done. Everyone received a certificate of completion, a patch, decal and pin. E-mails and phone numbers were exchanged as we all said our goodbyes and headed home or to hotels.
Clouds were heavy as I headed south. Looking up at Cold Mountain I could see the summit was enveloped in cloud. As I climbed to the Blue Ridge Parkway, visibility decreased to about 10 feet. I did stay ahead of, and sometimes behind, the rain, but it was very wet and misty going through the clouds. Up and over the top, about one quarter mile down the other side, I burst through the cloud cover. From then on it was clear sailing into South Carolina, practicing the new techniques I learned all the way home.
This is a very well designed on-street safety course that I encourage everyone to take, regardless of how many years riding experience one has. You will be surprised at what you will learn, and what you may have forgotten. This is a thinking riders course, using dynamic mental strategies to safely ride a motorcycle in what can be described as a ever changing hostile environment. It can definitely make your moto riding safer, build your own self confidence, and increase the fun factor to your motorcycle riding.
For more info: Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training:
** The Stig. BBC TV series Top Gear, The Stig is their track car tester and race driver. Nobody knows who he really is (except the producers).