Interview with Aaron Stevenson

Jul 22, 2016 View Comments by

Gettin’ Dirty Before Gettin’ Fast

Aaron Stevenson 2RR: Give us a taste of your motorcycle riding and racing background.
Aaron Stevenson: I started riding minibikes and motorcycles around the age of eight. Like most kids in the ’70s, I spent a lot of time trail riding and doing motocross, but when I was 14 years old I was struck by a car while on my bike. My mom put her foot down and made me stop riding for a few years. During that time, my dad hauled me to every flat track and road racing competition within three to four hours of where we lived, and I had the chance to see all the legends race (On Any Sunday—all those guys).

Once I got back on the bike, I really started following road racing and developed a passion for the discipline. I’ve raced with WERA, Champion Cup Series, and Formula USA, for a long time on vintage superbikes, which was a lot of fun.

How did you first learn to ride?
Minibikes—and I mean the old-school minibikes with Briggs & Stratton engines. When I was 10, my dad bought a Honda 50 street bike so we could ride together. I was too small to straddle it, so I would walk it off the porch, get on top, crank it, then rock it off the center stand to get it going. For months and months I road city streets like this, until one day my dad felt the motor and the cases were hot. He knew then that I had been riding his motorcycle, but he let me keep at it. That’s where it really started.

Aaron StevensonGive us an overview of your two schools, Cornerspin and Cornerspeed.
Cornerspeed, the parent company, is a comprehensive one-day track school for the aspiring racer and riders of all experience levels. We have been at Virginia International Raceway for 16 years as its official motorcycle school, covering a variety of drills and techniques applicable to all types of riding: vision, body position, throttle control, braking, interpreting turns/camber/elevation, and how that affects control.

Cornerspin, a two-day dirt training class, takes everything up multiple notches. It’s based on the training award-winning racer Kenny Roberts started 40 years ago using Honda XR100 dirt bikes to improve and enhance riders’ skills. Kenny was using this training to groom his (budding) world champions for the highest levels of competition. It benefits everyone, whether you ride dirt, street, or cruiser.

How do street riders benefit from riding in the dirt or on the track?
Street riders benefit from practicing on both. When you’re on the racetrack, it’s a controlled environment where new techniques can be practiced and limits can be pushed—limits that should not be practiced on the street, as a matter of personal and public safety. However, the training we do on asphalt requires greater speeds and the risk of serious consequences for making mistakes.

The beautiful thing about dirt is that you can safely train at a high level and for a long time. Here, you learn at 10 mph, not 110, which is why our riders use 100cc 7 hp motorcycles. Training on a high-horsepower big bike for an extended period time is something you can only do for so long before you get hurt. All the top-level racers use 100-150cc air-cooled machines to work at and beyond their limits, and we do too.

Aaron Stevenson 3

Why is training important for riders who aren’t interested in competition?
Learning to go past limits of traction, ability, and control is beneficial for all riders, because at some point in time you will lose traction, and how you react in that moment will determine whether or not you stay in control. What you take away from Cornerspin in particular can save your life on the street.

Aaron Stevenson 1How should riders choose whether to take Cornerspin or Cornerspeed?
I’ve had numerous students do both schools, but 100 percent of my students would recommend taking Cornerspin before Cornerspeed. That first class prepares you for so many things. I can talk all day about dynamics and control, but it doesn’t mean a thing until you feel what I’m talking about. That’s when the light bulbs come on. What’s funny is that so many people will ask, “What am I going to learn on a 7 hp motorcycle?” The answer is “everything.”

Should riders do any preparation before showing up to class?
For Cornerspin, preparation is minimal. We have everything you need, from rental gear to the bikes to lunches. But this is a physically demanding course. Having a base level of fitness before a very active weekend is key. Get a good night’s sleep, too, and arrive with an open mind. Be prepared to do things that make your brain say “no.” Just do the drills and trust us. It will all make sense by day two.

Aaron StevensonWhat should they expect when they arrive?
This is the most fun you’ll ever have on a motorcycle. I sometimes refer to Cornerspin as the “MasterCard school”—you will have priceless moments when you are sliding both tires, feet on the pegs, feeling like your favorite MotoGP racer. There’s nothing like it.

What are some of the common mistakes street riders make and how do you go about correcting them?
Often it has to do with vision and visual references. Riders don’t look far enough down the road, and many times they don’t understand what to look at. Getting them to realize they must look up, not down, is important. As I like to say, when you’re looking down at the road in front of you, you’re living in the past. Move your eyes upward and you’re living in the present.

Another mistake riders make is assuming that just because they’re on asphalt they have high levels of traction. Traction is always changing. Here, you’re in a low-friction environment, so if you make mistakes you’ll know it immediately. By preparing riders for changes in traction, we teach them to anticipate the change.

How does your training mirror what some famous racers do to maintain their edge?
While everything we teach is applicable to everyday riding, the lessons mirror what top-level racers like Kenny Roberts, Marc Márquez, and Valentino Rossi are doing. The same techniques I teach everyday riders, I teach to the young athletes I coach, many of whom have gone on to win numerous national championships. I follow the old 80/20 rule: 80 percent of what I teach is similar to what other coaches teach, but it’s the 20 percent that makes us unique.

 

Aaron Stevenson
Aaron Stevenson is the chief instructor and founder of Cornerspeed and Cornerspin, which offer riders of all experience levels the opportunity to train in the dirt and on the track. Though he’s best known for racing vintage superbikes, Stevenson has ridden since the age of eight in nearly every discipline. A national championship award winner, he has worked as an AMA Pro Racing official and a licensed FIM official. His ability to take complex theory and break it down into easy-to-understand steps, and his belief that “It’s not what you ride but how you ride it” continues to attract riders and racers of all stripes to train with his team in North Carolina and Virginia. www.cornerspeed.net

 

Photography: Florian Neuhauser and Cornerspeed

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