The Outsider

By Steve ThorntonPosted on

The story about Edelweiss training programs in the June issue’s Speculator section got me thinking: I can’t imagine a better thing to do on a motorcycle than work on your skills in the Italian Alps. It’s not only the idea of becoming a better motorcyclist that excites me, but the location, the opportunity to ride fantastic mountain roads, in Italy, while being challenged to improve your motorcycling skills in an environment that punishes those with poor abilities . . . now that’s a good day in the Alpine sun.

But there are many schools for motorcyclists: you can work on your mechanical abilities, your race track performance, your sliding skills in dirt, your street skills in traffic, your wheelies at your municipality’s designated wheelie yard (or maybe, as suggested by a British bike magazine some years ago, in front of the nearest girls’ school—but don’t say we told you). Anyway, I’d love to be able to wheelie at will, and I’m somewhat chagrined that I have yet to learn that particular skill. Now, I know we’ll get letters from safety types complaining that I’m advocating dangerous practices (and maybe from a girls’ school principal—and I’ll run that one on the RW page for sure), and I don’t want to piss off readers of Cycle Canada—you are my livelihood, after all, and it matters a lot to me that you like this magazine—but let’s face it, we don’t ride motorcycles because we want to be safe, we ride because we want a thrill of some sort and motorcycling delivers. We choose an avocation that’s inherently more dangerous than riding in a car, which is itself a dangerous thing to do, and we do want to be safe, so we regulate the risk by calling on our skill and attention while we do it. And by wearing all the gear that David Booth described in the last issue. And, of course, carrying a rabbit’s foot in our jacket pocket, because no matter how skilled you are, how much and what type of gear you wear, what kind of environment you ride in, luck is the one attribute you absolutely must have. Fighter pilots say they’d rather be lucky than good, and fighter pilots know something about risk.

So in order to mitigate risk I’ll carry that rabbit’s foot around, but I’ll also see about taking some courses this year. I want to say something about old dogs and new tricks here, but I’m not talking about dogs, or tricks; I’m talking about survival skills, and skills that increase the enjoyment of motorcycling. I have taken a number of courses already: a dirt-riding program at Horseshoe Valley north of Toronto where I learned that you can ride right over a muffler and you can steer with the rear brake; a performance cruiser course at Cayuga Speedway near Niagara Falls where I learned that you can hang off while cornering on a Kawasaki Vaquero and that it helps as much as it looks stupid, which is a lot; twice a race track course at Shannonville Motorsport Park east of Toronto and once in Calgary, where I learned that a good street rider may not be anything close to a good track rider, but a good track rider makes a vastly better street rider. And once, just for the hell of it, a street program by an aging instructor in Smalltown, British Columbia, who swore that he’d fail anyone he caught using the front brake, where I learned that even idiots can teach motorcycling. I should have told that guy to go fly United, but the other courses I took were useful exercises taught by professionals who care about their students.

And if I get the chance to take a course in the Italian Alps with Edelweiss, I’ll give it everything I have and I’ll certainly write about it here, because whether or not you can teach new tricks to an old dog, you can certainly teach an old rider how to become a smoother rider, a safer rider, and a happier rider—but even if I don’t, I’ll try to find something closer to home, because the more you focus on the skill of riding, the more you learn about it, and the more you push yourself to better yourself, the more entertaining and exciting riding becomes. That should be obvious to those of you who have taken courses, and I hope that’s a majority of you. But for those who haven’t? Here’s a tip: get off your collective asses and sign up for some instruction. There’s very little chance you’ll regret it, you’re almost certain to enjoy it more than most things you do on a motorcycle, and you might not even notice the crash you avoid because you’ve improved as a rider, but avoiding that crash will certainly make every dollar you spend on that course worthwhile.

Meanwhile, I might see about learning to wheelie (no, not in front of a girls’ school). I might try to talk Dave Booth or Paul Penzo into teaching me the technique of lofting that front tire at will—I know Penzo can do it, and Booth can probably talk a motorcycle into wheelying. And if that happens, I’ll write about it, too. Because even the skills you won’t use on a daily basis can be fun to learn and amusing to read about. And learning and motorcycling are two verbs that gain power when they’re put together, whether it’s on the page of a magazine, or the seat of a motorcycle. And to tell the truth, I’ve got doubts about that rabbit’s foot. It’s already proved itself unlucky for the original owner, after all. So I’ll keep it, but I’ll count on my skills more than my luck.


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