Cornerspin™

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christa Neuhauser, Aaron Stevenson

Dirt bike experience makes you a better street rider, period. Spinning wheels, sideway slides, and gravel gremlins that so often cause panic on the pavement are par for the course for an off-road pilot.

Having grown up riding dirt bikes, I never think much of it when my street bike gets a little squirrelly. To me, the floating sensation of the front wheel slipping through some corner crud or the rear end stepping out under hard braking is just what motorcycles do. After all, they've been doing that since I was twelve. As it turns out, the "natural" actions and reactions that so often have kept my street machines upright are just instinctual tweaks of those reflexes I've long used to keep my trail bikes out of the trees.

On whatever you're riding, any loss of control, no matter how brief, will get your attention. But, like all of the positive aspects that make our sport so special, these negative conditions must also be experienced firsthand to be understood and dealt with effectively. And while that's a great notion, the idea of recreating these "Oh Shizzle!" moments on an expensive street machine is foolhardy at best. The logical solution: practice pushing the envelope of control in an off-pavement environment while aboard a machine built to take a tumble or three. That makes even more sense when the machine you're on belongs to someone else.

This is where Aaron Stephenson's Cornerspin™ School comes into the picture. For those familiar with motorcycle track days, the name should ring a bell. For the last 10 seasons, Stephenson and his expert team of professional road-racing instructors have been operating Cornerspeed®, the official motorcycle school for VIR (Virginia International Raceway). Their guidance has given countless students the opportunity to further their riding abilities in a safe and controlled racetrack environment. But Aaron, never one to rest on his laurels, felt the need to take his on-track and street-riding instruction to the next level by going back to the dirt.

If that raises eyebrows, it shouldn't. For years, many top echelon road racers have been flogging minibikes on flat tracks as part of their training regimen. While the speeds and weights of these somewhat sedate steeds are vastly different from supersport and street machines, the actions necessary to maintain control are fundamentally the same. Because bikes like Honda's XR100 are easy to handle, incredibly resilient (one instructor offered $ 100 to anybody who could blow one up), and downright fun to ride, they make it exceptionally easy to push them to their absolute edge and beyond. And with top names such as Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, the Hayden and Bostrom brothers, and even Valentino Rossi touting the benefits of this sort of training, there must be something to it.
When considering the Cornerspin™ class, it's imperative to understand that it is not a dirt-riding or flat-track racing school. Stephenson refers to it as "a road racing school taught in the dirt." In fact, the weekend I was there only one other student of the nine in attendance had any dirt experience. The others were either serious street riders or track-day junkies looking for a better understanding of why bikes do the things they do.

All of the drills start slowly, and they are predicated with a sit-down session to explain their meaning and pertinence. Aaron and his staff take great pains to describe how each exercise ties in to actions experienced on the track or street. Through it all, staying relaxed and in control during uncomfortable situations is what Cornerspin™ is all about. Sideway slides, two-wheel lockups, front-tire pushes, and all of the requisite wiggles and bucking that come along with these situations are experienced. Instructors circulate the meticulously groomed dirt course on bikes and on foot, constantly shouting instructions and stopping us to offer tips and suggestions. Proper corner lines and braking points are pointed out and those getting too comfortable are ordered to "Speed up!" Exploring and experimenting with limits both personal and mechanical is not only encouraged, it's demanded. All of the instructors are racers, and they know pushing the envelope is the only way to fully understand what you and the bike are capable of. But, as they constantly stress, exceeding the bounds here will net a few bumps and bruises, and maybe a broken clutch lever. However, out on the asphalt, it's guaranteed to be far worse.

As the session ends, it's amazing to see the improvement the students have made. Those who began stiff and uncertain on Saturday morning have become loose and relaxed by Sunday afternoon. Along with having had a great deal of fun, everyone in attendance agrees that they will be leaving with a far better understanding of how their actions affect their machines, especially in extreme situations.

Again, it must be emphasized that Cornerspin™ is not a dirt-riding school. You do not have to have prior off-road experience. In fact, a lack of off-road experience is all the more reason to attend. If you can't round up proper gear, don't worry; they have rentals.

Mostly, Cornerspin™ is about awareness. Motorcycles have a unique relationship with gravity and it doesn't take much to upset the applecart. When Aaron pushes us headfirst into potential hazards, we're forced to learn how our bikes will react and then we eventually come to anticipate and compensate during ensuing passes. Building confidence and competence in a secure environment often yields crucial dividends later. And if a couple of days of sliding, laughing, and getting a few mouthfuls of red dust helps keep the rubber side down out there in traffic, then the $ 500 entrance fee more than pays for itself.

Cornerspin™ dirt training for road riding and road racing school is located in Spencer, North Carolina, about an hour east of Charlotte and halfway between Atlanta and Washington, DC. Many motels and restaurants are a short drive from the facility. For more information about Cornerspin™ and Cornerspeed®, check out their website at www.cornerspeed.net, or give them a call at (704) 332-3147.