I learned to back it in this weekend! The best course ever!!!
I'm sore all over the body, have a few bruises, my diet today consist mainly of ibuprofen and I can slide it sideways! I'm a graduate of Aaron Stevenson's Cornerspin course. Two days ago my experience on slippery surfaces was limited to about 30 miles of gravel in the middle of nowhere in Utah, riding a fully loaded Tiger on a Atlantic-Pacific-Atlantic mission. I have been interested in learning to ride on looser surfaces with a bit more confidence, but taking a 500lbs bike out to the woods and starting experimenting didn't sound like a good idea. So when I heard about Cornerspin (while taking Aaron's Cornerspeed track course at VIR) I was sold. For $500 I get to use their 125cc dirtbike, their track, ride with a group of 6 students under supervision of 3 or more instructors for 2 days?! Hell yeah!
They sell Cornerpin as a road racing course taught on dirt. As it turns out, most of the MotoGP riders have started as flat-trackers or dirt-riders. Look at Nicky Hayden or Tony Elias sliding it on tarmac and it's got to be clear that they didn't first learn it at 200mph on racing slicks. Learning the mindset that sliding bike can be controlled just as much as a planted one - that was the main thing I took out of this weekend.
Lets back up. Friday after work I got into my car and drove 5 hrs to (near) Salisbury, NC. I had agreed with Aaron over email that he'll let me camp at the course site. (There were hotels near by but I'm cheap on little things so I can afford more fun things..) After pitching my tent and cooking dinner I took my flashlight and went for a little track reconnaisance. I found a mini flat-track, with about 50 ft straightaways and 25ft diameter turns in the ends, ~10ft wide on clay/dirt-type surface. Walking further downhill I saw about a football field or larger area filled with tracks that looped around just everywhere. Some of the turns were so narrow and tight that in my humble opinion there was no way a bike could get through there without stopping and lifting the tail around. With some anxciety at heart I retired to my tent for the night.
After the instructors and other students had arrived it was time to suit up and get on the bike. I'm 6'5'' tall with unproportionally long legs, 36'' inseam. Fitting onto a 125 4-stroke kids bike was and act of flexibility and determination, but it was possible and became almost natural later. First exercise -brake control. Rear brake only, press it to near lockout and slide it a little. Slide it some more. Slide it a lot and turn at the same time. Add front brake. My mind was used to 500lbs Tiger on street-biast tires. Front brake meant an immediate lockout. Not on those little beasts. We had no knobbies but the lightness of the bike gave tire enough bite to stop it with amazing force, yet allowing lockout and going over the bars as I discovered later on. Very impressive. Sliding the tail around while hard on front brake. I was already learning skills I had considered reserved by mother nature for the few gifted ones. And then we got off the brakes and were introduced to my new best friend - the training circle. About 10 feet wide circular track, ~ 30 ft radius with some elevation and camber changes. It was time to push the bike down and let the tail dance. Took me several laps and the first crash to understand the concept. I kept putting my weight to the inside like on pavement despite what the instructors told me. The little bike decided to illustrate the point and throw me down. I learned. With my inside leg sliding on the ground and bike under me I broke the rear wheel loose for short spurts. I felt like I had bike bent to the maximum possible lean-angle until one of the instructors showed that it's possible to go the entire lap spinning the rear. I got back to my student mode.
The reminder of the day was spent running different track configurations (which there seeemed to be an infinite number of), with the instructors following or leading and constantly pointing out my poor body position and hesitation with the throttle. The human mind is a peculiar thing. I treated the intruction, that the only way to not run wide in a tight slick hairpin is to gas it early, with a lot of hesitation. I was trying to coast through there and kept knocking over the big plastic gardening barrels that stood on the outside of the turns. Then I finally managed to make a brave attempt, get my body position right and gas my way out of there. Magnificient! Now I was convinced that the concept works, but I still couldn't get myself to do it in every turn! At around 4 o'clock we were given a free reign to ride around and practice what we wanted, the formal part was over for the day. There was so much information, my mind was cluttered with little things, the second I focused on throttle I let my body slip back to the inside and down I went and vice versa, hyper-exaggerating myself into a perfect body postion I seemingly ran out of brain capacity to command my right wrist, so I coasted wide and knocked another blue barrel into the bushes. I hade made immense progress, but it was just not coming all together. And I felt as if I had kick-boxed long bouts the entire day. I could barely move in the extreme exhaustion.
The next morning was miserable. I had not slept too well. I kept dreaming about riding the dirttrack and loosing the front end. Every time it pushed I jerked and was wide awake. And so about ten times. And the soreness.. Keeping your leg out there for the turns apparently used muscles I didn't know I had. Crawling out of the tent and walking to porta-potty was a painful ordeal. Handful of ibuprofen and some careful squats and stretches later I was willing to get on the bike again. We had two guests that morning. An ex-student who said that it's the second day when it really comes together and that he had been amazed how he could slide around with his feet on the pegs and control the bike. Yeah right!, was my silent mental note. Second guy was a few time flat-track national champ, who showed his skills on the mini-track. I wish I hadn't seen it, made me feel quite inferior about my lean angle and speed.
Couple of warm up laps on the practice circle and off to the track, doing various new exercises. The second day focus was keeping feet on pegs. On Saturday afternoon I had just barely started to feel comfortable with sliding the tail with my foot out there for support and now I'm supposed to do same thing without it? I was close to screaming out I QUIT, but pride kept me there trying to make a 7hp bike do what I wanted it to do. Mysteriously things did start to come together. Lap by lap I was getting more confident. I geared up after lunch a bit sooner than others and left them listening to Aaron's cool stories about racing. I had some practicing to do. Out there on the track by myself it clicked. Weighting the pegs right, pushing the bike down and counter-balancing it with my body-lean plus adding a steady throttle roll-on, I was coming out tight tirns with room to spare, faster and with a tailslide that I had control over. Somewhere in my brain the neurons had agreed on things and I was able to put all the instruction into one good turn. A big smile was wiped from my face by a crash in the next corner. I was still a student, but I had seen the light and it kept on getting brighter from then on. I could really do it. Feet on pegs, going through tight narrow track sliding around and avoiding the barrels! At the end of the day I put some laps on the mini flat-track and never have I felt more in control of a bike. While all my sensors were telling me that according to Sir Isaac Newton and bunch of other smart guys I should either go down or wide at the given speed, my freshly-adjusted brain decided to keep the bike down and throttle on, which brought me out of a turn into the next one with speeds I wouldn't have considered possible 48 hrs ago. The feeling of absolute control, when your rear wheel is madly spinning under a leaned over bike that moves in the direction my eyes look must be somewhat similar to what a ruthless dictator feels during a military parade when the masses chant his name in an orchestrated manner.
I had stayed late, the course was over and when getting off the bike I realized how exhausted I was. Another handful of pain-pills didn't help much and during the 5hr drive home I literally had use my right hand to lift my right foot between the gas and brake. It was easy on the interstate, in smaller towns when I had to shift it took extreme will-power to operate both legs without assistance.
I can't wait to recover, get on my bike and put the acquired tools into practice!
This course is fun and Aaron goes into detail explaining how the same skills work on the road, just like they do for all the Haydens and many others. Except for the day many years ago when I first got on a bicycle, this weekend made my riding skills curve spike upwards like never before!