I want to be a better rider. I don't want to ride faster, I want to have more capability in the skills that really matter. I want to be comfortable enough in the corners that should the unexpected happen, I've got enough mental capacity, skill and experience left over to handle it without crashing. I don't want to be alarmed by tar snakes, grass clippings and bumps. I want to take a TractionWerks course.
From the Hurt Report (1981):
"Approximately one-fourth of these motorcycle accidents were single vehicle accidents involving the motorcycle colliding with the roadway or some fixed object in the environment."
"In single vehicle accidents, motorcycle rider error was present as the accident precipitating factor in about two-thirds of the cases, with the typical error being a slideout and fall due to over braking or running wide on a curve due to excess speed or under-cornering."
Lacking more current detailed motorcycle accident statistics, we are still relying on the Hurt Report for guidance. If we can agree on this, that means that based on 1981 data, an estimated 17% of all motorcycle accidents occurred as a result of rider error, typically due to errors made in cornering.
I think it's safe to say that in a perfect situation, given the right motorcycle and with good training, most of us could negotiate any curve safely. It's when things start to go wrong that we get into trouble. The reality of riding on the street is that the unexpected occurs, all the time. I was riding a month ago with a friend who low-sided in a tight corner right in front of me. I can't speak to what was going on in their mind as it happened, but I can tell you what I saw. They were riding a cruiser and came into a tight corner a bit hot, scraping a peg. They straightened the bike up and then immediately pushed it over again so they wouldn't blow the corner. Unfortunately, there was a massive swath of dirt in the center of the road and the bike lost traction and they went down.
There's no doubt in my mind that if that pile of dirt hadn't been there, the rider would have negotiated the corner without incident. The corner was clearly rideable, 2 riders had already ridden through safely. But for that one rider, stacking up the factors, the dirt was the final straw.
Was it avoidable? Unfortunately, I'd say yes. The entry speed for the corner did not match the capability of the bike and rider in that moment. Would cornering training have made a difference? There's no doubt in my mind, yes.
In the United States, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) is the largest provider of motorcycle training resources. Their entry-level courses up to and including licensing teach the "Slow - Look - Press - Roll" technique of cornering. In the time and spaces allotted for training, most entry-level courses don't talk much about, or prepare you for cornering beyond this or a similar methodology.
TractionWerks exists as a service to our community with the intent of reducing the number of single-motorcycle accidents and fatalities. At TractionWerks they prepare you for the road by building your capability in the critical skill of cornering.
Let's talk about capability and corners for a minute. When I say capability, I am referring to our riding skill, our experience, and our mental capacity. Cornering skills are learned and developed through instruction, practice and coaching and experience is gained through repeated exposure to more and different types of corners. What do I mean by mental capacity?? One of the things TractionWerks is doing is building your mental capacity such that the sensations of leaning a bike into a sharp corner do not demand all your mental attention, there's lots of room left to deal with the unexpected and you're less likely to panic if that occurs.
TractionWerks develops your capability such that your total capability increases. Jamie Chartrand will say that he rides the street at 20% of his capability. His 20% equals my 70% or 80%. I could change that, and the answer isn't more kilometres - I do 25,000 km a season. The only prudent, safe way for me to increase my capability is to seek out instruction, on a safe, closed circuit, where I can practice and get feedback on my technique and expose myself to a large number of corners in a short amount of time.
TractionWerks take most of the dangers out of the equation by conducting your training on a closed-circuit. Video-monitored and controlled by a team, the circuit removes traffic, wildlife, potholes, gravel and other hazards from your environment. The whole circuit is a series of corners, allowing you to focus purely on the techniques being taught and the experience of leaning your bike over in corners.
What are the barriers to training? One is misconceptions about who should take training and when. TractionWerks caters to a variety of skill and experience levels. They have had students fresh from their road test and others who have been riding for 30 years. The closed-circuit allows riders of all skill levels to be on the track together, practicing and gaining experience. All students are reminded that slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
Another common barrier is cost. It's very costly to operate the closed-circuit and as a result to take closed-circuit training. But where else can I get this opportunity? Imagine trying to learn on the road in traffic?! So, it costs what it costs. I am one of those people who budget for motorcycle season. I budget for gas, maintenance, tires, trips and other miscellaneous expenses. My budget for a 25,000km season is around 8k. If I wanted to refresh my training every year, it would cost me about 6% of my annual budget to take this invaluable training.
I could ride for another 20 years and never improve unless I recklessly push myself on the street or get a track bike with all the cost that entails. But I'm the kind of person who needs to get better at whatever I do. So, why haven't I pulled the trigger then?? The reality is, I don't have an excuse. I'm away for this next series of courses, which means I need to sort myself out for next season. Thanks for reading, ride safe.