Recently, my motorcycle training events have emphasized track days and high speeds, so I thought it was time to work on skills for tight spaces and slow speeds. There’s a course for that: Ride Like A Pro.
Developed by former police motor officer Jerry “The Motorman” Palladino, Ride Like A Pro teaches a focused skill set for using a motorcycle’s gyroscopic motion to keep the bike upright and in control at slow speeds. Skill building focuses on just three areas: head and eyes, the clutch friction zone and the rear brake.
Certified instructors teach Ride Like A Pro at 16 locations across the U.S., plus locations in Indonesia and Japan. In my native New England, it’s taught by Mass Motorcycle School. On a cool Sunday morning in October, Dave Elias, Erica Corley and their support staff—all Certified Rider Education Instructors—prepared a large parking area in North Andover, Massachusetts, with strategically placed cones and chalk lines.
Course participants included both men and women. Everyone arrived riding big, heavy motorcycles (at 620 pounds, my BMW R 1200 RT was a lightweight). Students’ experience ranged from a few months to multiple decades, and the small class size allowed for plenty of practice on the course and one-on-one coaching from instructors.
“We’re here to help you learn how to handle your bike confidently in not a lot of space, at speeds much lower than you see on the open road,” Elias explained. “Don’t kid yourself, the slow speed stuff is very challenging. During the class, you’ll work on exercises that start you committing the three basic skills—head and eyes, friction zone and rear brake—to muscle memory so they become automatic.”
Instructor Erica Corley explained that Ride Like A Pro is also about trust. “You learn to trust yourself using the skills and to trust your motorcycle to do what you want it to do. That lets you override your discomfort using the skills at slow speed.”
Our first exercise introduced use of the clutch friction zone and rear brake together to keep the bike moving and stable during multiple slow runs around the parking lot. For several participants this was new territory—and crucial since everything else we learned relied on this skill set.
Next we snaked through a tight slalom course alternating deep handlebar dips while controlling speed with the friction zone and rear brake. The concept of trusting your skill, and trusting the motorcycle to do what you want, was becoming apparent.
“With the clutch in the friction zone and engine speed steady, the bike wants to go forward, but using the rear brake holds the bike back,” Elias explained. “These forces working against one another help keep the bike from falling over, even in deep turns.”
The challenge meter spiked to 11 with a staggered weave exercise that sent riders sharply left through a narrow gate, then immediately hard right through another gate just a few feet forward, then hard left, then hard right, over and over. “Head and eyes!” Corley barked at me. I kept hearing her corrections to point my head and eyes not where I’m going but where I want to go. It seemed counterintuitive to look way to the right while still turning left, but that’s what set me up for the next gate. After making the adjustment and internalizing the skill, I had one of those “ah-ha!” moments. Even still, it took several tries before I had a clean run where I made every gate.
When asked by the instructors what we each found to be the hardest exercise, I said the staggered weave. But as I thought about the tight figure eights and circuits of multiple U-turns we did later that didn’t seem as hard, I realized it was because the earlier exercises had prepared me. Though the later exercises were more challenging, I had already developed better skills.
Both Elias and Corley are experts in this kind of riding (Corley recently took seventh place in a civilian precision riding competition in Texas). Both also pointed out that they practice regularly. “These skills are powerful but perishable,” said Corley. “We’ll teach you the fundamentals and you keep practicing.” (Pro tip: tennis balls cut in half make great “cones”
I rode away with new confidence and highly useful skills to use and practice. At $175 for a four-hour class, Ride Like A Pro is not expensive. Dropping your bike just once at slow speed would likely cost much more. Plus, you can apply what you learn every time you ride.