A large number of motorcycle riders I meet have little idea of how to manage the risks of riding. Sure, they can operate a motorcycle well enough, but to ride a motorcycle well also means being really good at cornering and braking under pressure when the feces hits the fan—and more importantly, knowing how to avoid trouble in the first place.
There are several ways to be a better rider, but the most efficient way is to invest in advanced rider training. In America, rider training typically means performing drills in a parking lot. While you certainly can learn a ton at 25 mph, you can’t really apply advanced skills and survival strategies when you’re confined to a small chunk of asphalt. That’s where on-street training comes in.
Former Rider safety columnist Larry Grodsky was one of the first to offer on-street training using real-time one-way radio coaching combined with a tour. Sadly, Larry is no longer with us, but Grodsky’s legacy lives on under the nurturing wing of current Rider columnist Eric Trow. His Stayin’ Safe program has grown to operate scheduled training tours in eight eastern states, stretching from the Georgia mountains to the back roads of the Massachusetts Berkshires, plus special training tours in Wisconsin, Colorado and California. Beyond these established venues, Stayin’ Safe also conducts private training tours all across the country upon request.
Eric had been keeping an eye on the success of my own Riding in the Zone on-street training program and contacted me with the idea that we partner to expand Stayin’ Safe into New England. I agreed to become a student during a weekend “Switzerland of Ohio” two-day training tour to see whether partnership made sense.
The weekend begins with six students convening at a small breakfast spot just west of Pittsburgh where introductions are made and waivers are signed. The students come with varying degrees of ability, but the Stayin’ Safe curriculum is designed to accommodate this wide range of experience. Eric and assistant coach Hal brief us on what to expect and explain that the theme of day one is “riding with purpose.” This curriculum includes dynamic lane positioning and speed management, as well as how to read the road and negotiate curves. Radios are handed out and we get rolling.
A nearby parking lot is used to evaluate each rider’s cornering and braking ability. After Eric is satisfied that none of us are going to be a hazard, he leads us into busy Pittsburgh traffic where he calmly narrates his thought process for expertly managing intersecting traffic and the myriad of urban hazards in real time. Very effective.
Learning how to survive the urban battlefield is priceless, but we were promised some awesome twisties, and Eric delivers with high-quality roller coaster roads rippling through the southeastern part of the Buckeye state.
As we enter the meat of the twisty terrain, Eric shares strategies for determining the radius of a blind corner, while also commenting on proper lane placement and throttle timing. Each rider eventually filters to the front of the group so Eric can provide tips. One of the challenges of having a diverse group of riders means setting a pace that accommodates the less skilled while keeping more experienced riders engaged. And Eric does just that.
After several miles of corner carving and coaching we stop for a break where Eric pulls out a box of playground chalk and starts drawing corner diagrams on the parking lot pavement. A couple hours later we are having lunch at a quaint eatery in rural Beallsville, Ohio, where we continue to discuss topics and ask questions. Cornering and coaching resumed until the sun went behind the trees and we had 170 curvy miles on the odometer.
Our overnight stay is at the charming Stockport Mill Inn located in scenic Stockport, Ohio, where we enjoy a nice meal and a comfy bed, both of which are included in the price of the course.
Day two begins with a light breakfast in front of a projector screen watching videos that demonstrate many of the strategies we learned the day before. Eric explains that the theme of day two will focus on “riding with smoothness and precision,” with emphasis on braking, slow speed maneuvers and smoothly transitioning between the brakes and throttle.
The morning has us gobbling up more undulating Buckeye pavement before we stop for lunch at the Burr Oak Lodge in Glouster, Ohio, located on the challenging and beautiful Route 78 and near Route 555, a.k.a. the Triple Nickel. After lunch we make our way to a parking lot to practice slow speed techniques. The rest of the day sees us carving up Ohio’s best tarmac with Eric helping us refine our cornering technique.
After another long day of abusing the edges of our tires and learning how to keep ourselves out of trouble, we wrap up the weekend over ice cream, where we review our pre-ride surveys and discuss whether goals were met. With certificates handed out and contact information shared, we split for our respective homes.
In my eyes, each student gained noticeable improvement and increased confidence while having a great time touring a beautiful part of the country. While there is a place for parking lot courses in the spectrum of rider training, dodging little orange cones
simply cannot match the effectiveness of on-street training. Deciding to sign up for a course like this not only requires time and money, but also the courage to have your riding scrutinized. Once you witness Eric’s friendly and non-judgmental attitude, those anxieties quickly dissolve.
After witnessing the excellent curriculum, I decided to include the Stayin’ Safe two-day weekend course as an offering alongside my Riding in the Zone one-on-one training. If you’ve been riding for at least a year and are ready to become a better road rider, consider including one of Stayin’ Safe’s training tours in your plans. At $975 this service is not cheap, but the value you get for your investment is terrific. Included are expert instruction, one night’s hotel accommodation, a nice meal and a guided tour on some really cool roads. But most of all, you’ll come out a better, more confident rider.