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An (almost) little old lady at California Superbike School

What if there was something you could do to make you a safer, more confident, more comfortable rider? Of course, there is—motorcycle training! It’s one of those things most of us agree we need more of, yet most riders don’t do it. Even MotoGP riders train. They have rider coaches and train on race tracks. They train on dirt bikes. They’re the most skilled riders in the world, almost superhuman in their abilities, and they train constantly in an analytical way. There must be riders who think their skills are enough for the riding they do, but the riders I know enthusiastically approve when someone they know does a training course.

When I decided to return to riding a motorcycle after years of not riding, I signed up for the MSF course, the easiest route to a motorcycle license in California. I didn’t anticipate how much fun the two-day classroom and range riding would be. I did not know this ahead of time, but the “range” is a big parking lot. I was amazed there were people in class who had never thrown a leg over any kind of bike; I had the advantage of having ridden dirt bikes, so I didn’t have to learn how to operate a bike. I was impressed by the “never evers” riding motorcycles at the end of the two days!

Listen to Jean on 200 Miles Before Breakfast!

Photo by Bob Hartman

Our instructor, a mustachioed Vietnam veteran who rode his full-dress Harley to class, was a strict disciplinarian but also very funny. Out of a class of 20 students, only three of us were women. The men ranged from a skinny young guy with a small scooter to grizzled bikers. One woman dropped her bike on the first day and in spite of a lot of encouragement from staff and students, did not return for day two. The other woman, who was young and a real firecracker, bought a Suzuki sport bike from another classmate by the end of the course. The thing I was the most surprised about was that the majority of the class had been riding on the street for years and were just now getting around to getting an actual motorcycle license. I felt naïve that it never even occurred to me to ride without a license.

I got a small Honda and rode for a year, then upgraded to an F 800 GT and rode it for several more years, learning how to ride on the road and discovering the joys of motorcycle touring. I was an MOA member and knew about the Paul B Grant, but put motorcycle training in the category of “I’ll do that someday.”

When my husband and I went to the MOA rally in Great Falls, I signed us up for the Streetmasters Cornering School. It was held in a big parking lot, it was a blast and I was surprised that a few hours in a parking lot could make me a better rider. The Paul B Grant paid for the course, so it was even free! I resolved to do some sort of training course every year.

This year I looked online at all sorts of training offered near where I live in California. The choices ranged from dirt bike camps to road riding courses, including courses offered on a range or a private mini-track. What I really wanted to do was go to a track school. I had done track days on four wheels, ridden as a pillion on a hot lap of Thunderhill on the back of an instructor’s bike, and watched my husband while he did a track school at the fabled Laguna Seca, but I had been too nervous to go to the track myself on a motorcycle. I would be a novice on the track and I was sure it would be a testosterone festival with few or no other women. In the past, I’ve found that many things I was apprehensive about doing turned out to be rewarding, so I took a deep breath and told myself, “I’m going to the track.”

I decided to do everything in my power to cut down on the stress. I picked Thunderhill Raceway; I’ve driven there more than any other track, so I know the track the best. On the advice of a salesman at my local BMW dealer, I selected California Superbike School and signed up to ride it on their bike; that way I didn’t have to prepare my own bike, worry about new tires, or ride/trailer to the track. Plus, their school bikes are BMWs. By now my personal bike was an S 1000 XR—definitely a capable track bike—so I won’t rule it out in the future. Another benefit of Superbike School was I would get to ride a track-prepped S 1000 RR! I figured it was similar enough to my XR that I would be comfortable on it. It was a great decision as the RR was a fantastic bike, and riding a track-prepped bike with race tires was simply amazing.

I showed up at Thunderhill and I was one of three women in the class of about 60; all the staff, instructors and other students were friendly and encouraging. The classroom portions were very technical and crammed with information; it was tough to absorb everything. We had specific goals and drills for each track session. An example of one drill was to ride around the track using 4th gear only and no brakes! This was really fun and the RR has so much torque and power it was easy to use only 4th. In fact I don’t think I was ever in 5th or 6th gear all day!

Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the most aggressive rider in the class; after all, I’m dangerously close to little old lady territory. I felt comfortable with the other riders, though; everyone was very respectful on and off the track. After being on track in a car, it seemed like there was so much room on the track for passing! When my fantastic rider coach would give me a suggestion, it was like magic how well it worked.

Photo by Bob Hartman

Mostly though, Superbike School was about the most fun a motorcycle enthusiast could possibly have. There’s so much to concentrate on I couldn’t let the adrenaline rushing through me overwhelm my brain, but every time I came off track and took my helmet off I was grinning like a fool.

Each track session is 20 minutes and I’m sure they meticulously time them, but I swear each one got shorter; by the last session when I saw the checkered flag, I thought “that can’t be right! We’ve only been out here five minutes!” When an activity I’m doing compresses time, I know it’s a good one. Not only am I quite certain my riding skills improved, and I had the most fun ever, but CSS took me from being a competent road rider to being comfortable on the track in just one day.

So use your Paul B Grant money! You can use it for any type of motorcycle training course, so pick a fun one! I have to warn you though—some types of training may be addictive.

Editor’s Note: MOA Members are eligible for a $250 Paul B Grant once a year. Non-members are eligible for a $100 Paul B Grant once a year. Contact the Foundation for more information.