I’m zipping along serpentine State Route 23 near Otis, Massachusetts, and Ken Condon is in my head. As each corner approaches, I trail brake to scrub off speed, settle the chassis and load the front tire. I lean toward a delayed apex, feather off the brake in exchange for lean angle, ratchet on throttle…click, click, click…and exit the corner. My bike is pointed right where it needs to go.
I’ve been riding for more than 30 years, I know this road well and yet I’ve never felt so in control of my bike. Why? Because Condon was in my head all weekend: I just completed his Riding In The Zone Training Tour.
Instead of sitting in a seminar or ripping up a track, this experience integrates training in chassis dynamics, cornering, braking, throttle control and slow speed maneuvers—and then puts students on scenic New England roads to apply new skills as Condon provides real-time coaching via in-helmet communicators. With a nice dinner and bed-and-breakfast accommodations included, it’s advanced rider training and a mini moto tour in one.
Each Training Tour is limited to three students who complete a survey in advance to outline their goals for the program. “Keeping classes small allows me to customize training to the abilities and interests of the students,” Condon explained. “The format lets students learn from me and from each other.”
Condon rides motorcycles on racetracks, rural byways, dirt trails, frozen lakes and probably other places. He’s been an MSF instructor for 25 years and writing about safe, proficient riding for nearly as long. I’ve read his books and blog (ridinginthezone.com), attended his seminars and gone to his track days for non-sport bikes (Rider, January 2015). No one has taught me more about smart, safe riding.
But this experience was different, both for the underlying concept and how the training was delivered. All weekend, Condon emphasized mindfulness—continual, intentional, 360-degree awareness of yourself, your bike, the road and the environment. “Riding on the street introduces a lot of variables,” he explained, “and you need to manage them all. You need your head in the game.”
The ideas Condon explained over morning coffee and his real-time, on-the-road coaching reinforced the drills he led us through at a high school parking lot. (He gives you all those comments on video you can review at home.) Sometimes he led so we could mimic his actions. Other times he put us ahead to demonstrate what we learned. At speed, he told us what we were doing well and what needed work, while keeping us mindful of potential hazards that abound on the winding roads of rural New England. He also kept us laughing. When we arrived at a T intersection with limited sight lines, Condon alerted us to a group of chickens startled by our motors. “OK, why did the chicken cross the road?” he inquired via Bluetooth. “Anyone want to stop and ask?” (I was tempted…)
The tour followed a well-researched route through the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts and southern Vermont. Along the way Condon shared his knowledge of the region’s history and culture, offered insights into the landscape and economy, pointed out the homes of noteworthy residents, and took us to restaurants and general stores that are local institutions. We applied our developing skills along undulating dips and blind rises, on hairpins, in tight spaces and on twisty roads that would be perfect if they were closed to all other traffic. But of course they weren’t, so mindfulness figured in.
“That truck by the side of the road is an eclipse,” Condon said. “You can’t see what’s behind it, and whatever may be behind it can’t see you. What’s your strategy?” Apply situational awareness to predict the future. That doesn’t mean knowing what will happen, but rather anticipating what could happen so you’re not surprised if it does.
I made a quick, purposeful scan. The truck didn’t seem to be running. No one was in the driver’s seat. I looked at the top of the front wheel to see if it was moving. I looked beneath for shadows, movement or other clues that people, animals or a vehicle could emerge from behind. These potential hazards were complicated by the truck’s location on a curve. I scrubbed off speed, covered my brake and adjusted my line for a deeper look into the corner. It turned out nothing was behind that truck, but being mindful, I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was.
“Part of the way I communicate to my students is so they think, ‘Oh, I never thought of it that way,’” said Condon. “Then they can put that mindfulness to work riding a motorcycle with greater control, safety and enjoyment. Practice the skills and be mindful, but don’t overthink it. Internalize it, and enjoy the ride.”
Riding In The Zone Training Tours are AMA-sanctioned and insured events. To learn more, visit ridinginthezone.com. In other regions of the country, Rider’s own Eric Trow offers on-street training tours through Stayin’ Safe. Learn more at stayinsafe.com.