Skills development continues

As I prepare for my “partly around the world” trip, I take a pause and think about the road, the terrain, and my bike. I wonder whether I’ve prepared myself, and my bike for the trip. It seems to me that each time I ride the bike, I find small, incremental changes that I can make, which better prepare the bike for the road ahead.

But regardless how well I’ve prepared the bike, it will do me no good if I have not also prepared myself for the trip. This means taking an assessment of my skills, and comparing my current, perceived skill level with the level that think that I’ll need to rely on as I travel around the world.

This isn’t my first rodeo

Since preparing for my trip across Patagonia in 2014, I’ve been committed to skills development in an attempt to stay safe, and be prepared for anything that I might be presented with. So, I’ve taken the intro and advanced skills courses at Rawhyde in CA, and also ridden through the Mojave dessert with Rawhyde, in a activity that they call “Base Camp Alpha”. In addition, I’ve taken some parking lot training to approve awareness and flow, and I’ve spent several days on race tracks, working on high-speed skills, including braking, lean angle, and vision. I’ve even taken some wilderness survival courses, and been taking Crossfit classes for a year now.

In addition, I’ve been teaching high-performance driving with the Audi Club for almost 15 years now. So, let’s assume that all of these courses and skills development have prepared me for riding internationally, and within the US. But, there are situations that come up in large International cities that often don’t occur in the US. Specifically, the traffic mix in many European and Asian cities is comprised of small motorcycles and scooters, combined with erratic traffic flow, and in some cases, seemingly no rules of the road at all. For these cities, it is necessary to ensure that I’m both skilled, and comfortable riding in tight quarters, with erratic and unpredictable events happening continually.

How do you prepare for chaos?

In general terms, there are 3 types of training courses that a motorcyclist can attend. These three types are…

  • Road riding skills (Including parking lot, race track, and road riding)
  • Off-road riding skills (Including slow, hill, mud, sand, rocks, gravel riding)
  • Specialized skills for special circumstances (Everything else)

To prepare for this trip, and to get ready to ride in cities like Xian China, Moscow Russia, or Bangkok Thailand, I need to improve my slow, close-order, interrupt-driven skills. Until recently, specific training for these specific skills has generally not been available as part of structured coursework offered to potential students in America. But, in 2019, the BMW Performance Riding Academy, in conjunction with the MOA and other organizations have begun to offer a course that covers these topics. This type of training is called Authority Training.

Motorcycle cops constantly face these close-order situations, and all Motorcycle cops prepare for their job by attending a type of training that is called Authority Training. And so, today and tomorrow, I will attend one of the first scheduled training courses at the BMW academy in Greer, SC.

What is Authority training?

Authority training is a 2-day course, offered by the BMW Performance Academy in Greer, which is focused on slow-speed, tight-quarters, rapid direction change obstacles, which are similar to the types of event that I’ll be faced with in Bangkok, Moscow, etc.

Choose your weapon

When we signed up for the class, we had to choose a specific model which we’d ride throughout the 2 days of training. In my case, my bike was a 2019 R 1250 GS Adventure. Very similar to my current 2015 GSA, except this bike has the new motor, and numerous other changes (large and small) are also included. Generally, it behaves similar to mine, but better.

Trials stops and balance drills

The class started when we were forced to ride around a parking lot while moving our bodies around the bike, riding in unorthodox ways. We first lifted our left leg up and onto the seat, resting our knee on the seat, while it hung off of the right side of the bike. We rode like this for a lap, and then forced our bodies into more and more unorthodox riding positions. Eventually we rode the bike with my left leg, over the bike, resting on the right foot-peg, while I stuck my right leg out to the side.

These drills are an effective way of forcing the rider to manage the weight of a big bike, while riding in in sub-optimal positions, yet still keeping the bike upright and moving forward.

These drills help develop balance, and they force you to ride slowly, placing the highest demands on the rider, with the assumptions that a rider should be able to get mount or dismount their bike from either side, and to launch from a stop in almost any possible riding position.

Of all of these drills, perhaps the most famous, and most relevant is the Trials stop. A trials stop is demonstrated by riding along, and applying the brakes so that the bike is momentarily halted, and then forward motion starts again, without the rider ever using their foot to balance the bike.

Imagine that you come upon a stop sign, and instead of stopping, and putting your foot down for balance, you simply apply the brakes, stop the bike, balance for a brief moment, and then release the clutch, and begin forward movement again.

The drills… (turns, stops, and falls)

By about 10:30 on the first day, we begin the drills in earnest. We moved through the Slalom drill, Wide slalom drill, Snowman, Iron Cross, and others.

Each of these drills forces the rider to navigate the exercise obstacles while applying throttle, brake, and clutch while turning the bike in very tight quarters, always avoiding using their foot for balance, . The complexity and demands of these drills affects each rider differently, but as I judge my own performance and watch my fellow riders, it’s easy to see which riders are comfortable handing a big bike, using precise clutch and throttle control. Those that have these skills make it through the drill, not always perfect, but improving with each run. Those that don’t have these skills tend to drop the bike in the middle of the exercise. A few riders have avoided dropping the bike at all, while others have dropped the bike as many as 20 times.

OK, OK, in my case, I had an almost perfect day, dropping my bile only once, and improving my skills with each test. I would say that I probably could have avoided dropping the bike as I did, but I was acting conservatively, trying to avoide a repeat of what happened to me in 2013.

In 2013, as I was approaching the bottom of an exit ramp, after having owned my 2007 GSA for only 2 weeks, I came to an abrupt stop, and the bike began to fall over. Instead of letting the bike fall, I fought it. By fighting the bike, and putting all of my strength into keeping the bike upright, the handlebar swept my right leg, and broke both bones. I’ve learned my lesson from this mistake, and so when presented with a similar situation, I decided to let the bike fall, avoiding a broken leg. So, I’d say that discretion is the better part of valor, yet again.

Day 2

Day 2 starts with a 60 minute practice session where we ride through each obstacle, working to improve our performance so that we can complete each obstacle without making an error.

Throughout the practice session, I work on my skills, and find that I’ve become really comfortable with some of the exercises, while some others, such as the snowman, I was able to complete without errors during only one run.

We had been told that there would be an informal test of our skills, where we would run the complete course, competing on time, and accepting deductions of 1 point for hitting a cone, 2 points for a “dab”, and 10 points for going off-course, or outside the boundaries of an obstacle.

The competition

The competition began, and Chris was daring and very bold. He decided to take the first run on the course, giving the rest of us a chance to watch him, and perhaps learn from his choices and results. Chris attacked the course, and although he had done a really great job during practice, he had some difficulty when running the full course in competition.

I went next, and I had what I thought was just about my best run through all of the obstacles. I even managed to complete the snowman, with almost no deductions.

Corky went last, and he took on the course with a big smile, and a great deal of enthusiasm. These courses are damn difficult, and it seems that Corky received enough deductions to put him out of contention for the competition.

At the end of the day, we’ll find out who received the least deduction points, and therefore “won the competition”.

A very interesting lunch conversation

During lunch, I sat with Ron, Ding, and Corky. Each has different riding experience, but more importantly, each has different travel and life experience, as well as knowledge related to their respective professions, with medical and military training being key skills for our lunch.

We talked about things that I might experience in foreign countries, and each lunch buddy had a different story that helped me better understand the risks of parasitic-born illnesses, and which drugs I should bring with me, in order to prepare for anything that might happen.

By the end of lunch, I had gotten at least 5 great ideas from these guys. I’m using these ideas and suggestions to better prepare for the trip, but I’ve also decided to setup an appointment with my local travel clinic for ASAP.

Panic stops and threshold braking

After lunch, our first exercise was similar to the exercises we teach to students in cars, when at Audi Club or Cadillac driving events. Because motorcycles are prone to falling over when left alone, we were asked to accelerate to 30 mph, and apply the rear brake only, and let the bike come to a stop. I mention the motorcycle’s inherent lack of balance, and this trait is easy to feel and see when you’re riding on pavement, with the rear end moving around wildly beneath you. You always feel like you’re about to lose traction and fall to the ground, so the trick is to overcome these fears, and ride it out…

After a few runs, we disabled the Antilock Braking System (ABS) and retested. This time, as we were letting the bike decelerate, I felt the back of the bike sliding beneath me, swaying and dancing from side to side as the bike slowed to a stop.

We eventually progressed to running at about 60 mph, and then applying both front and rear brake, stopping the bike as quickly as possible. It felt great to have tested these skills, felt the effects of a skidding rear tire, and also felt the negative G-forces exerted when under aggressive braking.

I’ve included a number of the videos for the exercises below. Enjoy

High-speed slalom

The next drill was a high-speed slalom, where we were traveling at about 20 mph, and were asked to weave between cones, using counter-steering and flow to make the exercise feel much like a video game might as you’re trying to avoid the cones.

Of all of the exercises, this was likely the most fun. There is a certain thrill that you get when you’re letting the bike flow from input to exit, input to exit, input to exit, over and over, all the while reacting quickly, and developing flow.

We finished up the day with one or two more exercises, and then headed back to the classroom for the End-of-day ceremonies. But, as we headed back to the classroom, we took a few minutes for some “hot” laps.

The video above is based on a template the I had created, in preparation for the World Trip. I have not used this editor for 60 days, and have become a bit rusty. So, forgive the quality of the video posts…

The winner of the competition

As I mentioned, the goal of the competition was to complete every obstacle, taking the smallest number of deduction points as possible. In the end, I learned that I had lost 22 of my 100 points, giving me a score of 78, and taking first place.

But, as I look at Chris’s skills, it seems to me that Chris is a much better rider than I am, and he should have probably won the competition. I watched Chris during the practice drills, where he was performing flawlessly, completing most obstacles without any problems at all. But, Chris decided to be the first competitor, and he was a little nervous, and he made a few mistakes. That said, it would have been fun for Corky, Chris and I to take a second run, to see how much better or worse we could have done after working through the nerves.

To be honest, I was also pretty nervous. These obstacles are very difficult, and in many cases, the smallest mistake will cause you to drop the bike, so there are real-life implications to making a mistake. All that said, here is the moment captured on film.

Closing thoughts

It was great to meet other riders that feel that this type of training is worth paying money for. We met some great folks from the Academy, and got a lot out of the course.

While I feel that you can never be too rich, handsome or well-trained, I’m going to have to take things as they are, and keep my mind focused on safety throughout the whole of the trip.

About the Author

Cliff Musante

Cliff Musante is a technologist, business leader, motorcycle enthusiast, father, grandfather, and more. In June, 2013 his passion for motorcycles was revitalized, and he set out to ride across Patagonia. Since then, he's logged thousands of miles, ridden across the US, and is planning a trip through Russia and China. This 'Blog is the story of all of his adventures.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading about and watching videos of the Authority Training. This must be a real challenge on ~600 pound motorcycles! This weekend I’m workingin the garage, putting my long-neglected ’98 Gold Wing back into rideable condition. I’d forgotten how massive (and complicated) these long distance cruisers are!

    1. Hey Bill, Thanks for the comment. As you know, these big bikes can certainly be a handful, and when you run them in the dirt/dessert, you get a feel for how difficult it can be when you’re navigating difficult terrain, like sand, gravel, mud, etc. But, strangely enough, even if you stay on tar, there is still a way to be overwhelmed with the challenges of integrating momentum, clutch control, committment, and tight quarters. With my size, I was able to use a bit of brute strength to overcome my lack of skill, and all of the training I took at Rawhyde really paid off when I had to stop the bike, and change direction while at a virtual standstill.
      But, in the article that Shawn Thomas wrote for the MOA, he mentioned that it is a certainty that you’ll drop the bike during this type of training.
      I managed to score a 78, which is the result of hitting 4 cones, 4 dabs with my foot, and one “off-course” excursion. I’m relatively happy with my performance, but I bet I could have improved, if given another chance.
      From my Patagonia trip, I recall that my roomate Jim is a Gold Wing guy. He used to tell me how much he loved that damn thing. Enjoy your restoration project.

  2. Well done! I always have appreciated the way you thoroughly attack a project with not only research but getting out and physically learning as well.. Always my inspiration!

    1. Hey Nance,
      Thanks for the support. I’m really looking forward to visiting with you in Belgium. If you’re lucky, I’ll demonstrate concentric circles…

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