On two, once again
After many years of being away from motorcycles, I’ve been drawn back to two wheels lately. It’s hard not to be when people like Maynard and Nico roll up on the type of things I always used to look at but never had. More important though is that modern motorcycles offer amazing new technologies. They are lighter, more responsive, and they brake better than ever. Plus they have Anti Lock Brakes and traction control if you get the right models. Which you should. I began riding at a time when the first production motorcycles with ABS were just coming out, and as someone who was trained to handle brakes with tenderness and care and a little bit of fear if you don’t get it right, they were awesome.
I recently spent the day at the Ducati Riding Experience, which is a program run by the Italian brand in partnership with their local Philippine distributor Access Plus. The Philippines is actually one of the key initiators of this program outside Italy, and is seen as a shining example of how to do it right. Take away all the fun and cool bikes and everything, what comes across is this: they mean to keep you alive, on their bikes or anyone’s.
The group taking this particular course (there are at least three more this year, and we STRONGLY suggest you look into them) was a mix of returning riders and newly minted owners (of Ducati and other brands) and people who never did anything other than bicycle. It was the newbies that were most impressive. The DRE system is strict but encouraging, so much so that the groups pulled together to finish as a team by supporting newer riders who had put bikes down more than once in the morning. They all ended up finishing and on bigger, stronger motorcycles that initially scared them. The program is not racing-oriented or sports-minded, but takes a holistic view of riding and the skills they believe will keep you alive.
The day began with a discussion on the basics of bikes and riding and safety, then progressed quickly to the outside and the Ducati Scramblers we all began with. Slow slaloms allowed people to get comfortable and learn how to stop suddenly, which is often more daunting than it seems. Things then speeded up with faster and more challenging slaloms, which actually need a different mindset of inducing countersteer as opposed to directional steering. More than speed, for a beginner or even a returning rider like me, that needs confidence and commitment.
Training progressed to tighter and faster circles and slaloms, and you could see many riders move from timid to testing to relaxed. Towards the end of the day, the key skills were taught and tested. These motorcycles all have ABS brakes, which we believe all motorcycles should have at this point. This presented more problems for returning riders like me than it did for new riders who now believe these motorcycles are completely able. I grew up learning that riding meant always being careful of braking, and every course I took at whatever level was a chance to practice the delicate art of motorcycle braking. I’m completely comfortable slamming on the brakes on four wheels, I was completely wary of doing the same thing on two. It was even more challenging because of the fact that we would be doing these exercises on both cement and sand at the same time. Sand alone is tough enough, but combining different levels of friction where a motorcycle would suddenly reach a surface that might provide way more grip (or way less) and suddenly flip you forward (or slide out from under you) was treacherous. So, after watching the newbies go first I went out and did the same. I have to say that it was completely uneventful, which is a great thing. Motorcycling is about managing multiple risks, and this technology takes out a big chunk of some of them which in turn allows you to concentrate on others.
The day active program ended with a higher-speed avoidance session, which has you accelerate, curve out of a lane and avoid a car-shaped line then slot right back into a tight lane. This is something that in real life would happen pretty regularly and in an instant, such as with a car, child, ball or dog suddenly appearing before you. You don’t have to just avoid it, you have to survive the situation that comes up because you avoided it such as a possible incoming car or wall or cliff.
Ducatis are fun, and riding is a wonderful experience. This program isn’t meant to sell people motorcycles so much as it is to help people enjoy them safely. The bikes speak for themselves in this case, and the way the event is handled speaks to the brand just as much as properly run car events speak for their own premium brands. We have known the people from Ducati and their training instructors for a long time, and each one has said that they learned something from taking this course themselves that they never knew before. So did I. The best thing about this program is that it is now easily available to anyone. It will train you and keep you safe in ways you probably would never realize until it is too late. And plus, it is a great way to spend some time on some pretty awesome machinery.