Streetmasters Motorcycle Workshops

Text: Eric Bass • Photography: StreetMasters

If we're being completely honest with ourselves, we all can admit to occasionally feeling the need to apply our brakes in the middle of a corner, or to cross the center line to save a turn we entered into too hot, or too early. As we leave the offending arc behind, smirking at us in the rearview, the ego offers reassurances that this was purely a freak occurrence due entirely to a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of circumstances unforeseeable by even "The World's Greatest Living Motorcycle Rider" (meaning you, of course!). Needless to say, your racing pulse tells a different story, and later that night, while ego sleeps, you'll dream of skillfully carving a smooth and graceful line through that very turn.

"What? You say this never happens to you? Well, umm, me neither. Of course not! After all, we're two of the world's greatest living motorcycle riders, right? But we both have lots of friends, mere mortal friends, who might occasionally have these experiences. So in the name of researching a potential cure for our "friends," I recently attended the StreetMasters Precision Cornering Motorcycle Workshop, which offers a one-day curriculum aimed at helping touring, sports-touring, and cruiser riders achieve mastery over their domain.

The program is overseen by highly qualified experts Bob Reichenberg and Walt Fulton III. Reichenberg has held prestigious positions in the instruction programs of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A three-time Daytona winner, Fulton's name should be familiar to anyone who remembers the classic racing film, On Any Sunday. In case you were wondering, Walt continues to race, and I can personally attest that he's still smooth as silk.

Held on the Horse Thief Mile track and the adjacent practice pad at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park northeast of Los Angeles, the StreetMasters Workshop takes full advantage of a closed circuit uniquely designed to simulate the most challenging components of a canyon passage. Laid out on a hillside for your riding pleasure is a sinister small intestine of uphill and downhill double apexes, decreasing radiuses, and other cruel and unusual riding challenges. A divider line is stenciled onto the track by the instructors to more closely simulate an actual road.

Students brought their own bikes and were expected to wear sensible riding equipment (which one deeply misguided fellow felt included an actively smoking tobacco pipe). Fortunately for him, traditional race attire was not required. The track was fully attended by field marshals, EMTs and an ambulance should things go awry.

Arriving at the briefing room, I joined 25 fellas ranging in age primarily from the 40-ish to 60-ish, along with a few 30-somethings, and one lady rider whose age I did not ask. Bob discussed fundamental techniques of proper cornering such as: finishing control transitions prior to initiating a turn to put the bike in the right gear to optimize its powerband, plotting a late-apex line that keeps your options open as the corner unfolds, visual skills covering head turn, target selection, and use of peripheral vision, and the importance of staying smooth and relaxed even when things don't go as planned.

After orientation we were split into two groups, one of which headed to the practice pad and the other to the track. These were further divided into subgroups so that no more than five students were assigned to each instructor. My squadron's morning session began on the track. StreetMaster's teaching methodology is for one student to lead the instructor while the other four students follow behind. After two laps, the lead student drops back and the next one moves ahead. This allowed us to practice following the instructor's lines as a group, and for him to individually assess our technique repeatedly over the course of the day. Ten laps later, we had completed one cycle and pulled in for comments and critiques before going back out for a second round.

During the morning session we rode in only one gear (second or third, depending upon your gearbox) and we were told not to use our brakes (unless urgently necessary) in order to focus on selecting appropriate entry speed, drawing late apex lines, smoothness in the corners, and throttle control. Top speed was initially limited to 25mph and, after a break to debrief, raised to 35mph. Moving to the practice pad for our next session, we drilled on smooth deceleration in order to disturb the geometry of the bike's suspension as little as possible. This was preparing us to get the use of our brakes back in the afternoon.

At lunch all of the students had the chance to Q&A with the instructors as a group. Intriguing questions arose, such as how to prevent hard parts from dragging, and what to do when you've gone too hot into a turn. Returning to the track, we were now allowed to brake and shift but held first to a 40mph limit, which increased after the 10-lap debrief to 45mph. A final crisis avoidance lesson on the practice pad offered braking and swerve drills aimed at simulating a sudden emergency.

With the afternoon's session concluded, we were all reunited for a graduation ceremony and received our diplomas. The day ended with a "parade" in which, one by one, students passed through a figure eight and offset weave before proceeding out to the track. Only this time, running Horse Thief Mile in the reverse direction gave us the chance to practice our skills in a newly unfamiliar series of curves, which is of course the point of the school, right?!

At the end of the day, all of the students I spoke with felt that they had improved their skills and received their money's worth of coaching. Given the well-thought-out curriculum and individual instruction, I'm sure that a day with StreetMasters could do the same for you, errr...I mean your friend.