Succumbing to the busyness of life can be pretty easy. I’ve been working so much lately I couldn’t remember the last time I threw a leg over my motorcycle for fun. Most of my “free time” is well after nightfall and my visor has tiny scratches that compound my already terrible night vision.
I spend my weekends preparing new motorcyclists to hit the road, beyond a watchful eye. Observing new students transports me to when I took the MSF. I think about the arc of my own motorcycling life: the newness, the adventure of riding when I first got my license, the difficulties and challenges of learning so much in a short time. Now it’s become a tool—for getting to and from work, for my motorcycle touring company, Motobird Adventures—and much of that shiny newness has dulled. That oxidation is a nagging reminder that I need to make more of an effort to carve out time to just enjoy riding for riding’s sake.
Increased experience, in time and miles ridden, no longer being a “new” rider, means that riding is less stressful. Over the years, I’ve learned much about how to ride safer, more efficiently, and more effectively. I don’t tense up or target fixate, and I’m certainly riding faster than I used to.
I still try to take at least a few classes each year and feel that not enough riders continue their riding education. Motorcycling knowledge is limitless in every direction. You can’t ever know everything, and having a professional observe, identify gaps, and provide specific feedback is incredibly useful for developing skills and building better habits.
So though I’m nocturnal and this Monday morning was my third in a row waking up closer to the time I go to bed than start my day, I’m layered up, grumpily making my way through the dark and cold to Sonoma Raceway, Sears Point, future CityBike circuit, whatever they’re calling it these days, to take Z2 Track Days’ RoadRider 2.0 course.
Reminding myself that I’d get to actually ride on the track for the first time was more than enough to shake the morning grump from my tired body. I’ve been very intrigued by the track for some time, but intimidated as well—not so much riding on it, but everything that goes on around it. It’s not like throwing your cousin’s half-together two-stroke in the pickup and heading to the nearest field or forest—there are rules, limited locations, days, and cost. Z2’s RoadRider 2.0 course was a great opportunity to ease me into the track culture in the guise of learning improved street skills.
The course is a good next step in rider education after you’ve been licensed and riding for a while, or even if you’ve been riding for years. Like many classes I’ve taken—and taught—it follows a familiar format of classroom learning and on range exercises, but offers the added benefit of two track sessions.
It’s a long day and there is a considerable amount of information to cover. Luckily, Z2 matched four instructors to a small group of 10 students, so there was a considerable amount of individual attention and time to practice. That said, there were a couple exercises I would have liked more time on, emergency braking being one of them. The range at Sonoma was larger than the range I’ve trained on, allowing for slightly higher speeds and longer distances to practice in, which better approximates the real world.
RoadRider 2.0 is geared towards beginners and relatively new riders, but there were several riders with more experience who greatly benefited from the class, as the instructors meet you where you are in skills and education. The class was divided into two groups, so the instructors were constantly working—one group would be in the classroom and the other on the range, then we’d switch.
The morning paddock sessions covered basics like weaving, turning, emergency braking, and began to touch on trail braking. Before a delicious catered gourmet lunch provided by Galen Gunther of Rolling Hospitality, we had our first track session, accompanied by Z2 staff at a near-one-to-one ratio of students to staff. Speeds were limited in this first session, but as I traced the track, I thought about how expensive this new habit was going to be.
After lunch we got into more challenging areas that pushed our comfort zone. My favorite challenged how far I was able to lean my motorcycle over, always a fun (and terrifying) thing to do. But I knew that the controlled environment with professionals overseeing my efforts was the time to test my limits and abilities. I trusted the instructors and the exercise and really enjoyed myself.
Throughout the day there was a heavy emphasis on looking where you want to go and properly gripping the bike with your body versus your hands. As a CMSP instructor, I greatly appreciated these two very important points, and even identified times I wasn’t using proper aim in very slow, tight turns. Once the instructor saw my error, she helped me improve tenfold.
I also really appreciated the more casual environment of the RoadRider 2.0 course. Since this isn’t a state-sanctioned program to license riders, there is a more human aspect to it. For example, if you need to sit out an exercise from exhaustion or heat, that is fine and encouraged. You aren’t disqualified from continuing if you need time to recharge.
Throughout the day I was able to refine and practice different skills. With so much to cover, some areas felt rushed, but since the class size was small, individual attention was frequent. The course was also a fantastic introduction to the track, which can be daunting for someone who’s never been. After you’ve taken RoadRider 2.0, riding a track day is sure to seem more accessible and Z2 offers track days for all levels of riders, with groups for similarly skilled riders.
I can’t leave out the added benefit of the class location. After closing the day with a second track session, you can take some amazing roads home and apply what you just learned to the streets—which I of course took full advantage of.
RoadRider 2.0 courses are $125 and typically run at Sonoma Raceway. Learn more at Z2Trackdays.com/rr20.
This story originally appeared in our July 2018 issue.