My wife, Suzanne, and I recently took the Lee Parks’ Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic offered through one of the company’s affiliates, CKS KickSTART, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. We took the class because each of us had, in our own way, reached a place where our riding was mentally “stuck,” and we needed coaching to progress.
A year and a half before we decided to take the course, my front tire skidded in a corner on fresh tar snakes. It was a minor accident, but the thought kept haunting me. Meanwhile, Suzanne was feeling like she couldn’t keep up with the boys, making her reluctant to ride, and her skills were getting rustier with each weekend away from her motorcycle. “I felt like my riding was disappointing everyone—me, my friends, even my bike,” she says.
We needed to get “unstuck” before my fear made me dangerous to myself and Suzanne’s fear led her to quit riding altogether. I had attended other advanced riding classes, so I knew coaching could help. But Suzanne had done only the Connecticut Beginning Rider’s Course—and her experience was mixed. She’d had a drill-sergeant-style instructor the first time, leading her to drop out halfway through. On her second try she had a supportive coach. Each time, however, she was the only female in the class. “At the end of the class, the guys all stuck around to hear whether ‘the girl’ passed,” she says. “They cheered when my name was called.”
With that experience in mind, we needed to pick the right class for both of us. I had liked the California Superbike School, but Suzanne didn’t feel ready to try riding on a racetrack, even though the skills learned there are meant to be transferred to street riding. When we learned that the Lee Parks curriculum focused on the psychological as well as physical aspects of cornering—and that the class was taught in a parking lot using our own motorcycles—we both felt like we had found the one. It was a bonus to discover that CKS KickSTART (the facility in our area that teaches the Total Control curriculum) is owned by a woman, Christine Firehock.
Suzanne worried a lot before the class. She said she was scared that she would “drop my bike, kill myself or somebody else, and look like an idiot.”
“As a female rider, I always feel like people are judging me,” she says. “I get a lot of support, but sometimes all it takes is that one man to say, ‘Girls shouldn’t ride,’ and I’m back to doubt and having to prove myself. It is really important to me to get to the point where I can ride without worrying that I’m holding everyone else back.”
Last spring, on the first morning of the class, we got up an hour before dawn for the frigid ride to Poughkeepsie. Fortunately, class began with hot coffee, snacks, and some classroom time at the local community college, where we got to know our instructors and our classmates. Ages ranged from 20s to 60s, with the students riding everything from Harley-Davidson tourers to Italian supersports. Experience ranged from two years to two decades.
As the name suggests, the Total Control class is about how to skillfully use a motorcycle. Focus is on how to smoothly and confidently navigate curves, which is where most riders struggle and where most rider-error accidents occur.
The skills taught are very different than those in the Beginning Rider’s Course (BRC). Some, like trail braking and body position, are almost opposite of what the BRC teaches beginners.
As the day progressed, the drills got more advanced. Strangely, a few people tipped over while lining up for exercises, but nobody wiped out during an exercise. Nobody got hurt or broke their bike. Suzanne was proud that she kept the rubber side down.
Suzanne’s conclusion: “Anybody can do this stuff. I was amazed by how much they helped me learn. Now the challenge is to keep using these skills on the street.”
Lee Parks’ Total Control Riding Clinics are held at locations all over the United States, as well as in Canada and England. For more information, visit TotalControlTraining.net.
About the Author: Adam Zuckerman lives in Newtown, Conn., with his wife, Suzanne, and his stepdaughters. He earns his money as a museum curator and by writing the occasional motorcycle article. He is also host of the Fuel, Air and SPARK! Motorcycle Night in Bethel, Conn., which he calls “Connecticut’s bike night for everyone who doesn’t worship at the Church of Harley.” He rides a 1998 Moto Guzzi CaliforniaEV, for which he’s done all the customization work, including adding a Harley-Davidson FXRP fairing.