Ride Like a Pro

Text: Robert Lamishaw • Photography: Robert Lamishaw

An often neglected motorcycle riding skill is fine low-speed control. You know, what we need to do in parking lots or on narrow streets where we have to make a U-turn in 20 feet. But due to lack of practice, most of us just aren't comfortable with these maneuvers and learning by trial and error is hard on the chrome and paint. So how does one acquire these important skills? One very good answer is the Ride Like a Pro one-day schools. Started on the east coast by Jerry "Motorman" Palladino, a retired motorcycle officer living in Florida, the class was so popular that several regional affiliates are now in business. When MSF Instructor Mark Paz decided that, as good as the MSF Basic and Advanced courses were, a more comprehensive training program was needed, he received permission to establish an independent but affiliated program here in Southern California.

Mark's riding dates back to the '70s, but his real training goes back to 1991 when his work with the FBI afforded him the opportunity to train with the LAPD Motorcycle Unit. As Mark says, "On my first day there, I realized that I really had a lot to learn. When I finished, I could finally say that I knew how to ride a motorcycle. I rode for many years and became the Los Angeles Division Motorcycle Training Coordinator for the FBI, helping to train agents to ride undercover, and on surveillance." After working with Jerry Palladino, Mark returned to L.A. to open his Ride Like a Pro West Coast school.

The morning starts off with a safety orientation - Mark is very big on safety - and then comes the first exercise. He always begins by explaining the exercise, walking the class through the course, and then demonstrating the proper technique on his big Harley dresser. It was our turn next. Starting us with a "slow ride," Mark provided each student with coaching on how to control the bike at very slow speeds. Head and eyes up; light pressure on the rear brake; keeping engine revolutions up and constant; controlling speed with the clutch; or, in other words, all of the basic skills needed during the day to master maneuvers we probably wouldn't attempt on our own.

From the slow ride, we progressed into a series of low-speed ess turns through cones - first placed 20 feet apart, and as we gained experience Mark moved the cones closer together. As I began weaving back and forth between them, 18 feet looked real close. A number of cones were crushed as we went along, but we learned, gaining skill and confidence as the morning progressed. And that's the point: each new exercise is fashioned to builds upon the skills learned in the previous one.

From the cone weave, we moved on to circles, first at 20 feet and then at 18. Circles became figure eights, then low-speed and standing U-turns, followed with tight, multiple low-speed left and right turns in a box, and so on until by the end of the day we were making tighter turns with greater confidence than any of us had thought possible just a few hours earlier.

Ride Like A Pro West Coast school sessions are held in Playa Del Rey, just north of the Los Angeles Airport, and on the campus of West LA City College. Class size is limited to six students to ensure plenty of riding time and personalized coaching. Training bikes (Kawasaki KZ1000 ex-police mounts) are available for an extra charge or you can use your own motorcycle. The full day costs $ 150 on your own bike, and Mark invites any student to take another class for free within one year - a real bargain and time well-spent at that.

For more information, contact Mark Paz at (310) 617-0825, or visit the web site at www.ridelikeaprowestcoast.com. And for great DVDs and training aids, check out Jerry Palladino's site at www.ridelikeapro.com.