Eric Trow and Pete Tamblyn are the instructors for Stayin’ Safe, an advanced motorcycle-training program. A third rider, Ryan, an instructor in the making, rides mostly sweep and keeps a watchful eye on the group. They have countless years and miles on two wheels, but most importantly they have a drive to make motorcyclists better riders, which is reflected in their competent teaching styles.
My two-day session is in the Great Smoky Mountains near Highlands, NC, and it is the first time that Stayin’ Safe has offered a combination of gravel and paved roads. Many motorcyclists own dual sport machines, but they never take advantage of the off-road capabilities. This course is designed to get the rider comfortable on loose surfaces.
The class consists of experienced riders, who are all motorcycle instructors in their home state, but normally every skill level is represented. Dave Saam from Champaign, IL, riding on a 650GS, works for the University of Illinois Motorcycle Rider Program as a RiderCoach and RiderCoach Trainer. Jeff, Steve and Ruocco are rider coaches of Total Rider Tech in Illinois and Wisconsin. Jeff and Ruocco are riding KLR 650s, and Steve is aboard a Transalp.
The first day starts off with introductions and setting up communication equipment. All students bring earphones to plug into supplied radios so that they are able to hear the instructors while riding. After a short ride we stop at a parking lot behind a community college that’s used for motorcycle courses. We do some weaving and braking drills before we dismount and discuss lane positions. Emphasis is placed not only on position entering and following through a curve, but also on straights, busy roads, four lanes, and crests, calculating in different factors. As we continue with the on-road session students take turns leading, being followed by an instructor who gives such feedback and instruction as: “For this next left-hander, position yourself on the right, letting you see the most of the road ahead,” and “Watch the trees over the crest. Does it indicate which way the road will go?”
Each student gets plenty of chances for evaluation, and I get feedback about my entering speed. I’m a rather spirited rider, and around blind curves my pace is too fast. I am told to slow down before entering, spot my exit, roll on the throttle, and accelerate out. Doing so makes my ride smoother, more fun, and safer.
After some fun curves, compliments of the mountains, we stop at a parking lot where a gravel road disappears into the woods. Pete explains the differences of riding styles and places a sticker on our bikes reminding us to look ahead, relax our elbows, and steer with our feet. The one-lane road is mostly hard-packed dirt. Pete’s advice immediately pays off, and I notice my confidence increasing with each turn. We ride over water several times and get to see the beauty of the area, which is the number one reason riders should explore what’s down an unpaved road. The most scenic, least traveled, and out-of-the-ordinary places can be found down dirt roads.
The day continues with a mix of paved and unpaved roads, which keep our minds sharp and test our concentration. The constant mix also increases the fun. As the day goes on the commentary becomes more to the point. Instructors start to say, “Too fast, move right, look up, roll on the throttle,” and “Check your mirrors?”
Another point stressed at Stayin’ Safe is 360-degree awareness. Frequent mirror checks are necessary before passing, coming to a stop, or entering a curve. Knowing what’s around you greatly increases your ability to get out of harm’s way.
The second day starts with video analysis. Footage from past sessions offers material for in-depth discussions, and the classroom-style learning enhances what we’re doing on the road. After breakfast we snake our way through leafless trees and work on smooth braking and accelerating out of turns.
The on-road ride takes us back to Highlands, where we stop for lunch. As I ride I notice my lines have noticeably changed, along with my braking and throttle inputs, resulting in an even smoother ride. The one-on-one coaching is invaluable for those who want to become better and safer riders.
Stayin’ Safe is a program that introduces riders to off-road riding, improves on-road lane positioning, and increases their confidence. Regardless of your riding experience, learning new techniques or refreshing your skills is beneficial to your safety and overall enjoyment on the road.
For more information and course dates, visit www.stayinsafe.com.