Published on August 27th, 2014 | by Boris
THE STAY UPRIGHT CORNERING & BRAKING COURSE
The whole face-planting into a truck thing has worn on me some. It’s been six months now and shit still hurts. My left arm is weak. It screams a bit each time I pull a clutch in. My neck is much the same. I move differently. And because I move differently, I ride differently. But I’m working on it.
Weight-lifting by the gorilla-loads is in my near-future.
I will resolve my physical weakness by becoming very strong again. It will take time. But it will be done.
Mentally, I was struggling a bit too.
A kind of cerebral programming glitch was going on each time I upped the riding ante a bit.
Fear is not the right word. I’m not sure hesitancy is either.
But there was certainly some kind of dope-virus informing my riding.
So when Stay Upright called and invited me along to partake and write about one of its Braking and Cornering courses, I could not get there fast enough.
I equipped myself with a 2014 Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200, so there would be no “my motorcycle is shit and doesn’t go around corners” excuses. The Dorsoduro certainly goes around corners. Pretty much like a bullet goes through a pumpkin. It remained to be seen if I could be a part of that.
At 0730 on an overcast day I presented myself at Sydney Motorsport Park (SMP). I was caparisoned in a Berik Big League race suit, with matching boots and gloves, and a new Shark Race R-Pro Scott Redding replica.
I felt like a fraudulent spastic.
Which is quite normal.
Each time I get all race-geared up I feel like that.
And I didn’t even have to wear all that gear. The Stay Upright course will permit you to play in Kevlar-lined jeans, a textile jacket and an approved open-face.
But I had my own reasons for wearing what I was wearing.
I was going to a race track.
And at some stage during that day, me, the Dorsoduro and SMP were gonna get up into each other’s shit. I was so going to make that happen. And that had to happen in a racing suit.
But first thing was first.
Graeme Wilshaw, the manager of Stay Upright, welcomed us all, introduced the instructors (a veritable talent-fest of former world champions like Mark Willis) and handed us over to the head instructor, Wayne ‘Clarkey’ Clarke.
You know who Wayne Clarke is, right? He and Wayne Gardner won the Castrol Six Hour in 1982, among other things. Clarkey has been at Stay Upright for almost 30 years, which means Warwick Schuberg must have hired him shortly after I did my first Stay Upright course back at Amaroo Park in those mutually eye-opening days.
I was actually very surprised and greatly pleased to see Warwick himself that morning. I had wanted to hug him and thank him for the last three decades. His words and his lessons have saved my skin more times than I can count. I literally owe him my life.
Breakfast was provided, but since I had eaten at home, I gobbled jelly beans and coffee and glared at the threatening sky.
The track was currently dry with a damp spot or two, but Sydney was undergoing a late winter rainy season and there were lots of clouds in the sky.
Breakfast and intros done, we geared up, almost 50 of us, and headed out onto the track for a reconnaissance.
Having ridden SMP many times before, there was not much for me to recce. And certainly not in second gear. Two laps later we were lined back up on the pit wall to discuss body positioning.
Stay Upright’s take is that there are three – Touring, Sport and Race. Basically three incrementally more aggressive physical inputs to riding the bike. But what was really being taught (and what so many riders are doing) was to not ride your bike like a frozen, immobile lump. Move. Drop your shoulder into a corner. Slide your mangina off the seat a touch. You know, interact with the bike.
This was first demonstrated to us by three instructors, then we were back on the track and asked to perform the same weaving chicane-like manoeuvre through three witch’s hats arrayed on the main straight.
If you were especially retarded, one of the instructors watching would pull you over and speak gently to you about your technique and how it could be improved.
This was a hallmark of the whole day. All of the instructors were attentive, available and focused on the students. I thought that was great, and it very much reminded me of how Warwick originally taught the first Stay Upright courses, but with less yelling.
The best part about this for me was that after I did my cone-weave, I then got to do a lap of the track. In fact, each time there was an exercise, a lap of the track was done.
Heh. Yeah, you get it.
Next up was the braking aspect of the course. Same deal. Demonstration, followed by participation. And a lap of the track.
The arrangement was that you were to start at Point A (at three different straight sections of the track), proceed to Point B some 200 metres away, and then stop. Using gears and brakes and presumably prayers. I say prayers, because I was very quickly astonished by how many people could not stop where they were meant to stop.
How is that possible, I thought? How did you people manage to ride to the track without dying? I was perplexed as rider after rider sailed past the stop-line in embarrassed shame. Sure, lots stopped properly. But a scary amount did not.
Still, they were at a cornering and braking course, and that was a great and good thing. They were precisely the people who should be at these courses.
Me? Not so much maybe. I have been able to marry up the front brake, back brake and downshift thingy for quite a long time now without any dramas, so I didn’t get much out of this section of the course. But I can certainly see that many people did, and I felt very pleased for them.
I got to do another 15 or so laps before lunch was called and the Dorsoduro needed petrol – and I was also very pleased about that.
I was feeling alright about myself as I chewed on a sandwich and took bites out of an apple. Stay Upright certainly catered the event well. Good food and lots of it; fruit, lollies, electrolyte drinks, tea, coffee and a very relaxed, patient and friendly atmosphere.
My knee had actually kissed the tarmac a few times. So while I still felt a little physically awkward on the bike with regards to my neck and shoulder, my head was no longer clanging alarm bells as my speed rose. And I was able to get on it a little bit.
Certainly not as much as the instructors, who are riding lords of some magnitude, but the Dorsoduro was a total babe of a bike to ride around the track. It would have screamed for more top-end at Phillip Island, but around SMP, it was simply perfect. It has loads of torque, kicks super hard out of corners – aided and abetted by killer traction control and sticky Bridgies – and steers quick, sure and very sharp.
Lunch lunched, we geared up again and were separated into seven groups and allotted an instructor for each group. First, the instructor would lead the group around on a lap, then he would drop behind the first rider and follow him around as the group followed them. Each lap the group would all pull back into the pits, and the instructor would spend a few minutes dissecting each student’s form, offering advice and making insightful observations. Some people got talked to longer. Some had shorter lectures. And it all seemed to hinge on how crap the individual was. Then the instructor would drop back behind the next student, and the process would repeat itself until all the students had been followed, observed and spoken to.
My conversation with my instructor went like this:
Me: “How shit am I?”
Him: “You’re not shit. You did quite well.”
Me: “Don’t fucken lie. If I’m shit, tell me I’m shit and how I can be less shit.”
Him: “You’re not shit. You could maybe carry a bit more corner speed on some of the bends. Throttle off later and then brake straight away. I see you throttling off, waiting, and then braking.”
Me: “It’s not a race.”
But we both knew it was. All the time.
And we both knew he was right. I redoubled my efforts.
The new section of SMP was screwing me a bit.
It was a right-left-right-blind-uphill left, followed by a stupid first-gear downhill super hairpin left and an uphill hairpin right.
I whined about it to Mark Willis.
I was amazed when he sat me down at a whiteboard, walked me through the section, then joined me on the track to have a few cracks at it. I followed him, then he followed me, then we talked about it.
Can I tell you how utterly precious that kind of interaction is?
The afternoon was two 20 minute track sessions. Kind of like a track day, but without the colour-coded groups. So care had to be taken. After all, many of these people had only worked out their brakes that morning.
I was juicing happiness out of every gland as I circulated. I was sore and exhausted, but I had rubbed much of my ring-rust off and while I still felt physically awkward on the bike, my mind was pretty right. The body would follow. But I had to get the mind right.
And I did.
Did I get much out of the course?
It would be dishonest to say it changed my life.
It didn’t. I could brake and corner before I came here.
Was I braking and cornering better at the end of the day? Yes, but not really as a result of any instruction. I got better because I got more confident going around and around the track.
But then the course really isn’t aimed at people like me.
The people it is aimed at will get a lot out of the course. It may well save their lives. It will certainly help them move better on a bike and stop with more confidence and precision.
Was there anything I didn’t like about the course?
Not really. I did get a little crazy sitting around various points of the track waiting for the instructor to finish lecturing the mugwump in front of me, but I have never been a patient man. There really is no way of speeding this process up, nor should there be. It will take as long as it takes for instructions to be delivered. I should be more patient. Guilty.
I loved the amount of track time. I loved the personal attention of the instructors and the very laid-back way the whole day runs. It’s not a track day, so don’t go there expecting that. In many ways it’s so much better.
Ultimately, it’s a course that is certainly worth doing if you’ve never done any kind of course, you’re relatively new to riding, or you think you’re doing lots of stuff wrong – and I’m not being nasty, but so many of you are.
You owe it to yourself to get as much training as often as you can. A lot depends on you up-skilling yourself and honing your craft, you know.
Yes, I know you know.
Best you do something about it, huh?
My thanks to Dan for the BIKE ME! shots and to Sam for the not BIKE ME! shots. And my gratitude to Stay Upright for their hospitality.
Go and look HERE for what courses are available and where.
And you might like to view our video of the day here.