Motorcycle Trip II

Hey all, it's Alan again.  I did another motorcycle trip, and that's what this update is all about.  I've put a number of the track pictures of me throughout the text.  Enjoy!

How it all started:
This started last year, just after my first Track Day.  At the end of the first track day, I had improved, but I was still missing something, and I figured it was a lack of training, in combination with the weight/wheelbase of the Hayabusa.  By the way, I got rid of the Hayabusa, and now have a 1000cc bike.  Just to refresh your memory, the Hayabusa was 1300cc, and it was a brute.  The new bike is another Suzuki.  It's got roughly the same horsepower (HP), slightly less torque, and a LOT LESS weight.  As in 100 pounds less weight.  It also steers much easier and quicker. 
Here are some pics of me with the new bike (you may have already seen these).

I look really big on the bike, huh?

Still look big on the bike...

Going back to what I was saying.  I wanted to take a class and really focus on cornering.  I wanted a well-known instructor at a technical track.  What is technical you ask?  I'll tell you.  A technical track has a lot of corners of varying types.  Hairpins, switchbacks, sweepers, etc. A technical track will make the rider work a lot harder than a track that's not as technical.  I was also interested in doing something with my best friend Mike who also rides (a Hayabusa).  He was up for it, so the planning began, way back in September of '06. 

After a lot of back and forth with Mike, we decided.  OK, basically, Mike pretty much deferred to me on the instructor/track stuff, but trust me, I inundated him with track maps, school info, instructor bios, etc.  I tend to OVERPLAN, but that's just how I work. 

I chose the Keith Code School.  Keith Code has been around a long time (since the 80s), and he has a proven track record.  Roughly 90% of the top-tier riders in the world go to this guy for training.  He is known for breaking down the concepts of cornering into a science.  The other thing I mentioned earlier was the track.  I agonized over this one.  I wanted something that would be challenging, and would be a lot of fun.  Some of my choices were:
Laguna Seca [Northern California] - This is a classic racetrack that's been around a long time.   The top riders in the US ride there, and even MotoGP (the top riders in the world) goes there.  How cool would it be to ride a motorcycle on that track?

Barber Motorsports [Alabama] - A relatively new track that has had rave reviews from auto and motorcycle enthusiasts alike.  Beautiful layout and facilities are there as well.

Not sure which turn this is.  If I figure it out, I'll note it here.
Sears Point (Infineon) [Northern California] - Another classic racing venue with a lot of history. 

So now the question is:

Which track?



This is SUCH a sweet track.It doesn't look like much from a bird's-eye view.
Barber Motorsports!  I'd heard so many great things from people that I know, and the videos I had seen nailed it for me.  What makes Barber so great? Well, the thing I liked a lot was the topology of the track.  There a number of dramatic elevation changes which add to the difficulty and fun.  From the highest point on the track to the lowest point, the difference in elevation is close to 100 feet.  That's huge in terms of a racing track.  Check out the two pictures on the right.  The top one gives a good feel for the differences in elevation.  The bottom one is a standard planimetric track map.

Once the School and Track decision was made, the logistics of the trip had to be done.  Airline, motel, rental car, etc.  I planned that out, and Mike executed on the hotel/rental car.  The motel wasn't as nice as I had hoped, but at least I'll know better next time (yes there WILL be a next time). 

Next on the planning list was equipment.  One of the nice things about the Keith Code School was that it's possible to rent their motorcycles.  They're all prepped and ready for the track.  All you have to do is hop on and ride.  Bringing our own bikes would have been problematical (especially for Mike), and would have meant a lot more work and cost, so it was kind of a no-brainer.  They use Kawasaki 600s.  They're smaller machines, so a lot more forgiving.  Remember, it's not about the speed, but the precision with which turns are made. 

The School also had rental helmets, leathers, boots, and gloves.  I had all of the equipment already from my last track day, but I decided that I wanted to go with a better set of leathers, so I purchased a nice set of Alpinestars in January.  I'm very pleased with the fit and quality of workmanship. 

In talking with Mike, he didn't have the leathers, gloves, or boots, and I gave him my opinion on using rental stuff: I don't want to sit in something that other people have sweat in (boots and leathers).  I offered to let him use my original suit.  I was worried about the fit as he's bigger in the chest, but it worked out well.
Getting leaned over a little bit more...
So once ALL the planning was done, it was a matter of waiting.  And waiting, and waiting.  I would call and double-check that our reservations were OK, and that I had everything I needed.  I made a list of all the stuff I was taking, sent 
it to Mike, and kept reminding him about other stuff to buy.

So FINALLY the time had come.  The plan was that Mike would fly from Reno to Birmingham on Tuesday, and I would fly in from Raleigh on Wednesday.  Heidi's mom, Bev, was in Raleigh, and that turned out to be a great thing, because I think it helped keep Heidi's mind off of what I was doing.  (Heidi doesn't care for the motorcycle thing AT ALL.   But you already knew that...).
and more...

Sidenote about racing:

It's not really racing per se, but I had been trying to describe to friends/family about what I was going to be doing.  I got a lot of disapproving frowns from some (my Mom, co-workers, etc.), and others were very upbeat.  Two people of note:

LARS: He wanted to know if I was racing.  Technically, the answer is NO, but I couldn't adequately explain to him what I was trying to do.  I would be timed, and I was on the track with other riders, but I wasn't really RACING against them. 

BEV: I had told Bev about my plans, and she knew that I was doing some "track thing".  While she was at the house, I turned on some motorcycle roadracing that I had recorded.  We're watching this for a bit, and she asks me, "You're going to do THAT?!" It probably didn't help that the racing we were watching was being done in the rain, and several riders were crashing. 

I told her that that was indeed what I planned on doing, and that it wasn't racing per se, but instruction on how to corner.  She went into "Mom Mode", and got all concerned and worried about safety, speed, etc.  The topic of speed came up, and while I was reluctant to mention it, I did tell her that the track I was going to was not an especially fast track.  When she asked "How fast?", I told her: About 120mph. 

I know that seems awfully fast to most of you, but considering I hit around 170mph at the VIR track last year, it wasn't overly worrying to me.  Anyway, she was genuinely concerned, and I appreciated that.  Thanks Bev!

The night before my flight, Lars had been put to bed, and he came out of his room, and asked, "Daddy, how long are you going to be gone <small sniffle>?" I told him that it would be a short time.  He asked me another question with an even bigger sniffle, and he was on the verge of crying.  I told him that I would come upstairs and talk to him.  He walked into his room and started crying.  When I came up, he was sad, and I explained that everything would be OK.  It turns out that I was going to miss his graduation from school, and I think he was a bit bummed out by that.  I reassured him that I would be back, and see him first thing Monday morning.  He felt better.  Not sure which turn this one is either.
The next morning, the car was loaded, and Heidi and I took the kids to school, before she took me to the airport.  Anya was a bit cranky, and Lars was A-OK as usual.  Heidi dropped me off at the airport, with the obligatory, "Be careful!". 
The two flights were short (Raleigh to Atlanta/Atlanta to Birmingham) and uneventful.  I was worried about my luggage as I would be upset if it were lost/stolen.  Everything arrived without issue though, so that was good. 

It's always good seeing Mike.  I've known Mike since the 7th grade, so we have a lot of history.  He picked me up at the airport, and we went back to the hotel.  After some unpacking, we went to the mall, caught up on people/places/things, and got some not-so-yummy mall food. 

Or this one...

Mike tried on my set of leathers once we got back to the hotel, and while it was a bit snug, he was able to wear them  without issue. There were a couple of things that Mike didn't have, so we decided to try and find some gloves and a back protector.  We went to one place to find some gloves, and they gave us another place to go for the protector.  While we were looking at a back protector, I told Mike he should try on some boots, just to get a feeling for what they will feel like.  It turns out that the ones he tried on fit so well, that he decided to buy them.  After his little shopping spree, we went back to the hotel, watched some TV, and then hit the sack. 
We both got up early, and I had a bigger breakfast than I anticipated (I love bacon and potatoes).  Once we got the car loaded, we were off to Barber.  It was an uneventful trip which took about 25 minutes, and we were at the track by 6:50.  We did the standard registration thing, put down our deposit on bikes.  (If you wreck, you pay!)

While the other riders in our group (we were in the Yellow or Beginner Group) were trying on the rental suits, Mike and I were able to get some water/snacks, and just kind of hang out.  Getting things underway took a bit of time, but once the Advanced Group got started on the track, things moved quickly. 

The format of the school is that there's a 15-20 minute instruction period for the Beginners, and while that's going on, the Advanced guys are on the bikes.  And it rotates with the Beginners using the same bikes.  My bike was #17, and Mike's was #19.

We didn't yet know who would be our On-track Instructor yet, but we'd find out shortly.  A young guy by the name of Josh was my instructor (that's him on the right telling me what I'm doing wrong and what I'm doing right).

Our first drill we were to practice was Throttle Control.  The idea was to use 4th gear around the ENTIRE track, with NO BRAKES.  Yeah, a bit scary.  I'll admit that I used my brakes once on the hairpin, but after that, I was cruising around in 4th.  As with most of the drills, it was very illuminating.  I tend to charge into corners, so exercising better throttle control was a good skill for me to practice. 

Gee Alan, you're such a GIFTED rider!  :^)

While we're on the track, instructors are riding around finding their students (two students to one instructor).  When your instructor passes you, they look back, and you're supposed to give a nod to let them know that you see them.  They'll then pat the back of their motorcycle, which means, "Follow me/Follow my line."
During some of the drills, the instructors do some crazy hand gestures.  Like during some of the throttle control drills, they will take their left hand, and signal you to roll-on the throttle (accelerate).  It's amazing (and a bit humbling) to watch someone go into a turn with only one hand on the bars.  Overall, I did most of the drills correctly throughout the two days, and was consistently getting the Thumbs Up.  After a session, we'd go find Josh, and he would tell us what we did right and wrong.  Generally I knew when and where I screwed-up.  Luckily my mistakes where becoming further apart and less major. 

Turn 7A

The class/track sessions continued, and pretty much from the get-go, Mike and I were some of the fastest students.  OK, honestly, we were the fastest students.  We were also some of the youngest students as well, which was a bit surprising.  I was paired with a guy, affectionately known as Grandpa.  He was there with his (I'm assuming) grandson.  He was probably in his 70s. 

Most of the other guys were in the late 40s/early 50s.  I think that Mike and I were just more comfortable with speed than most of the others.  Some of the riders were abysmal.  I hate to sound like a motorcycle snob, but they looked like they barely knew how to ride.  Some of these guys had multiple bikes too, so I was really thrown off by the lack of skill.  I guess having a previous track day under my belt was paying off. 

Some of the drills we practiced the first day were:
  • Throttle Control
  • Turn Points (very useful)
  • Quick Turning
  • Rider Input
  • Two-Step Turning (another one that was extremely beneficial)
I'm pretty sure this is Turn 13.
All of the bikes the students were using were rentals, so they were all pretty much equal.  A safe pass was defined as passing with at least 6 feet on either side, and you had to be at least one bike length ahead of the person you were passing before you could get in front. 

Generally, Mike and I would pretty much pass people at will, but there were times where I would get stuck in "traffic", and couldn't pass safely.  Sometimes the rider would stay inside, or run wide, so I had to pick my moments.  It did get frustrating at times, and there would be times when Mike would pass me, and I would pass him. 

At the end of the day, we were given our time sheets.  I had totally forgotten about our times!  Looking at the times, they were all over the place.  At first I thought I wasn't very consistent, then I remembered getting stuck in traffic, so the wide variation in times made more sense.  My average time during the first session was around 2:25, while my best time was 2:02.  That's 2 minutes and 2 seconds.  I had made a substantial improvement, so I was very pleased.  Soooo close to being under 2 minutes! It was one of my goals for Day 2 to get under 2 minutes. 
Below is a table of the times.  For some reason, the first lap time shouldn't be counted because we didn't start where the timing gun was located.  Here are the times:
Lap Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4 Session 5 Session 6 Session 7
1 09:45.56 02:07.90 01:38.87 02:46.49 This is the
session I
rode the
02:35.62 05:36.91
2 02:27.90 04:51.22 02:13.68 04:17.95 02:13.04 02:04.05
3   02:19.87 02:17.61 02:05.50 04:13.51  
4   02:25.07 02:12.44 02:04.72 02:05.45  
5       02:08.55 02:03.58  

Another one of my goals in taking the class was to "get my knee down".  This is kind of the Holy Grail for people starting out.  So what does that mean? Well, if you've never watched a motorcycle roadrace, it's hard to describe, but when going around a corner, the bike gets leaned over.  Sometimes way over. 

To give the rider the ability to keep the bike stable, and not leaned over as much, the rider "hangs off".  The rider's butt is halfway off the seat (on the inside of the bike), and the upper body is also leaned to the inside of the bike.  The rider's inside knee sticks out like a feeler gauge.  When you're leaned over, looking further down the track, it's hard to know how far over you are.  Using the knee in this fashion also tells you how far over you are. 

I didn't get my knee down the first day, but I was scraping my boots/pegs.  That was a bit disconcerting to be honest, and I would try to immediately change my position on the bike, which didn't help stability much.  As the day progressed however, I became more used to it, so it wasn't a big deal. 

After a tiring day, Mike and I got some food, and went to the pool/jacuzzi to relax.  It sure made me feel OLD, although, I wasn't as sore as I thought, and I could have done an extra session.  (We did 7 the first day.)

We both crashed, and I was out by 9:30.
Turn 7A again.
It was only a two day class, but it seemed longer since I was feeling much more confident in my abilities, and the bike.  We got started a bit later, since we didn't have to worry about sign-in and registration.  That combined with knowing the format, made things much less stressful. 

Our next set of sessions covered things like body position (for hanging off), braking etc.  One of the cool things I like about the KC School was that they have different bikes which help a rider learn a particular aspect of riding.  I got on the Lean Bike, which was a bike that had essentially outriggers on it.  A rider learns how to properly hang off the bike, without as much fear of wrecking because the arms will save you.  (picture here).  That was a kick.  You get on, they tell you how to do it, and then you do big circles.  First left, then right.  It was a hoot!
The other bike I got on was the Panic Bike.  Same kind of thing as before.  There are arms on the outside of the bike, that will prevent you from falling.  The skill on this bike is to feel what it's like to lock up the front wheel.  If you don't know it, locking up the front wheel on a motorcycle is generally bad.  You lose steering, and if you're leaned over at all when the front wheel locks up, you go down.  Not pretty.  The key here is front brake modulation.  If you feel it locking up, you release the front brake a little bit (not all the way).  Turn 8 maybe?
After getting on the Lean Bike, I had my best session of both days.  Things really started to click, and I found I was going faster in turns, but it felt slower, and I felt more in control.  And then it happened.  I was going around Turn , which is a hairpin turn.  I was leaned over, and suddenly, my left knee scraped.  At first, I didn't know what the hell was going on.  It was a different feeling than scraping my foot, and I didn't feel anything wrong with the bike. 

Then it dawned on me: I just got my knee down! I was literally yelling in my helmet.  Goal #2 accomplished! I then scraped my knee on the right side, and it was great.  On another section of the track, I was getting my knee down, and back at Turn 5, I not only got my knee down, but kept it down for pretty much the entire radius of the turn.  Ahhhh.  Bliss... 

I was so stoked after that session, I showed my on-track instructor my pucks (that's the knee protector), and he was pleased.  He also commented that I was doing very well.  During that session, I was really in the zone.  I was thinking about everything, and nothing, and it was a very Zen like feeling.

The next session was excellent as well.  My instructor wanted me to practice some earlier drills that I missed doing the Lean/Panic bikes, so we worked on that.  Once I was on the track, and he passed me, and gave me the "Follow me" sign, I was on him
Nope.  Don't remember.
like glue.  Usually no more than a bike length behind him.  We'd go through a series of turns, and he'd give me a hand signal, and look back at me, and I was RIGHT THERE.  He'd nod his head, and go faster, do another hand signal, and again, I was right on his tail. 
Through one section of turns we were in lock step.  If you've ever watched a race, and you see a single file line of riders coming into a turn, the first guy will be tucked, and then he pops up, then the second guy pops up, and it's like all the riders are doing exactly the same thing, but milliseconds apart.  That's what was happening with me and Josh.  It was fantastic.  After that session, I was really breathing hard.  I didn't notice it while I was on the bike, but it hit me when I stopped.  Josh was very pleased, and commented that that had been my best session of the day.  I still needed to work out some issues with my body positioning, but I had improved greatly. 
I also noticed that my legs were aching something fierce.  I had been using my muscles in a weird way hanging off, and they were letting me know it.  Two days of riding was really starting to take its toll.  At that point I realized that I probably couldn't push as hard anymore because I was worried about making a mistake.  A number of the other riders had been commenting on how Mike and I were flying.  One of the guys actually came up to us, and was asking for some pointers.  Kinda cool. 
That yellow thing is the structure that holds the camera.
The next session wasn't as eventful, but I was keeping good speed and lines, but I was exhausted.  My calves where shaking and twitching, and I was wondering how I could do the next session (#7).  About 10 minutes before the session, I decided that I wasn't going to do it.  It started to drizzle, and then pour, so nobody was able to ride, so it worked out OK.  Better to cancel the last session of the last day than any other. 
We were presented with our times, and... I had gotten under two minutes (so had Mike)!  For reference, the pros do the same track at around 1 minute 23 seconds.  I have a lot of improvement left, don't I?

Below is a table of the times for the second day:

Lap Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4 Session 5 Session 6 Session 7
1 03:09.48 02:56.21 I was
riding the
Lean Bike
and the
during this
02:19.42 01:21.33 02:25.27 RAINED
2 02:26.79 04:07.32 02:06.69 02:04.84 02:05.30
3 02:18.97 03:06.84 02:01.02 02:05.23 02:02.98
4 02:21.20 02:41.63 02:03.25 01:55.53 02:07.78
5 02:16.74 02:05.34 02:01.73 02:03.47 02:00.17
6 02:12.65   01:56.71 02:00.38 01:57.23
7 02:18.57   01:59.89   01:57.42
8 02:10.88       02:01.68


We got our "diplomas".  I asked Keith to sign one of his books for me, and I got him to sign a 10 dollar bill.  Why the sign that? In his first book, Twist of the Wrist, he talked about a riders attention at any given moment was like 10 dollars.  Everything a rider does costs attention.  As an example, since I know how to operate a motorcycle, use of the clutch and shifting may only cost me a quarter.  It may cost a new rider 2 dollars.  Ultimately, there's a finite amount of attention that a rider can spend, and when it runs out, generally the rider is over his/her head, and bad things happen.  That's the idea behind the $10.    I'm actually not waving to the camera.  Raising my hand indicates to fellow riders that I'm slowing down, and coming off the track.

Keith was actually surprised, and didn't understand why I was having him sign a 10 dollar bill.  His son, Dylan, who shared classroom instruction duties was there, laughed and said, "Yeah, 10 dollars worth of attention."
Keith understood, and signed away.  I bought some KC shirts (one for me, one for Mike), that was it.  We said our goodbyes to the other riders (didn't get any numbers or e-mails), got changed into our street clothes and headed back to the hotel. 

The next two days were just relaxation and recovery.  I had booked us a massage on Saturday, and we went to the Barber Motorcycle Museum as well.
So How Was It?
We had a great time!  It was very enlightening.  The track was gorgeous, and far exceeded my expectations.

What's Next?
Well, I'm signed up to do the Level III class in September at VIR.  It's the same place I went last year, but this time will be the North Course (I did the South Course before).  It's bound to be fun.  I'm on the fence about having Heidi and the kids come and watch.  It can be a bit dangerous in the pit area for the kids, and the big reason is I think Heidi would REALLY FREAK OUT if she saw me haulin' and leaned over.  I'm sure the topic will come up for discussion over the next few months.  I'm hoping to bring my bike (vs. rent), so that would be even better. 

I'm really kicking myself that I didn't get a picture with Mike and I in our leathers! <SMACK the forehead>

Mike did a write-up on the trip as well.  He is the master of brevity.

I hesitated to post the video, but it's here (it's on YouTube, so don't be surprised).  There's also a bit of a "discussion" on the video here.  I needed to do a "special" write-up for the video as it's very embarrassing.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the class. 

  X marks the spot (to turn).   This was Turn 5.  Probably the hardest turn to deal with.    
  I like this one because you can see the "X" they marked for the students which indicates the Turn-in point.  You can't really tell in the medium-size picture, but if you click on this large one, you can see the "X" in my visor.

That's Josh watching my technique!

  It's tough to see on the medium-size picture here, but if you click on the large one, you'll see I'm very close to dragging my peg/toes.   I didn't get any pics of me dragging a knee (SHOOT!), but this one shows I'm real close to getting the knee down.  It's hard to see, so open the large one to get a better view.