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Ask the expert

By Mario

Ride Forever caught up with National Level racer–and Ride Forever instructor–Dan Ornsby.

Ride Forever training continues to grow in popularity. For the instructors, it has meant some long days and high mileages as they travel around the country to deliver the courses. Probably none more so than Christchurch-based Dan Ornsby, who covers the whole of central and southern South Island. Southern winters being what they are, it’s now time for a bit of a break and that allowed us to chat with Dan about how the training has gone and about his racing plans for next year.

Ride Forever:  It sounds like you’ve been on quite a road trip. What were the challenges of delivering courses across so much of the country?

Dan Ornsby: As time has gone on, it’s got a lot easier.  We based ourselves for a while at Highland Motorsport Park, which is more central, and that worked out well. We had a conference room and an area for skills training, emergency braking, things like that.

RF: Did you go out on track?

DO: Only for an escorted lap. More of a tease than anything!

RF: Presumably you were doing all three levels of training. What were the differences in what riders needed or wanted for each level? Any common problems?

DO: I find a lot of people struggle with low speed control. Now you’d tend to think that would be more at the entry level, the Bronze course. And in the Bronze and Silver courses that is part of the content. You wouldn’t expect a Gold level, experienced rider to struggle but in the feedback there were a couple of requests for it to be included. So, across the board, it can be a problem.
But whenever we gather information at the beginning of courses, the main area mentioned is cornering, and lacking confidence there.
Thing is, both areas, and so much of riding, is about remaining relaxed. I try to keep things simple and the number one thing for balance is head positioning - keeping your head up and looking ahead.

RF: So was there quite a gap in skill level even at the Gold Level?

DO: A bit of a gap but it’s more that some riders are better in some areas compared to others. We had one guy in Invercargill, an ex-motorcycle cop, and he wasn’t sure how good his low-speed riding was because he’d never been trained that way. But his riding was good, he had good technique. He was pleased just to have a professional eye cast over his riding, and have a good day out with other riders.

RF: And what’s been the general reaction to the courses? Is the value appreciated?

DO:  Sure, at $20 for a full day Bronze level training or $50 for the others, there’s no denying the value. But the feedback we’ve had has just been great and everyone leaves happy. Some people are over the moon.

RF: What sort of bikes have people been turning up on? Anything unusual?

DO: We’ve had everything from GN250s to a GSX-R1000, an FJR1300 and big touring BMWs. Even a couple of CRF250s. All sorts, including cruisers, like Harleys and a Honda Shadow.

RF: Any problems with the bigger bikes if you’re teaching tight, low speed drills?

DO: One or two did struggle, but then so did some of the riders on the lighter bikes. It’s always about technique. Sometimes I’ve had riders say that their big Harley can’t do the tight, low-speed maneuvers, so I take their bike and do it. It’s technique and confidence, and there can be some intimidation with the bigger bikes, with a bit of weight. So we work on building trust in the bike, and confidence.

RF: There are some approaches to training that really tear your riding apart in order to put it together the right way. That can impact on a rider’s confidence, do you ever see that?

DO: Yeah, but it’s about giving encouragement. People can over think. Sometimes a rider can take a step backwards but sometimes it’s needed in order to get them doing things correctly. It’s a balance. The important thing is to get a positive outcome.
Again, I like to keep things simple. Counter steering is a typical one, it can cause so much confusion and people overcomplicate it. I generally start with a discussion on it, get people’s different opinions and, generally, when you get people started they bring all these things they’ve heard and the result can be confusion. I just get people to focus on using counter steering for a quick change of direction.
In racing, the last thing I’m thinking about is counter steering. I just teach people to look in, relax the inside elbow and go with the bike. The bike actually needs very little input from the rider. I also focus on how important being in the correct gear and using the throttle are for cornering.

RF: Do you give riders a set of drills and theory they can go away and practice after the course?

DO: Absolutely, we tell everyone at the start of every course, “What you learn here today, you take away and you practice in your everyday riding.” Emergency stops are an example. There are a lot of riders who lack the confidence and the bike control to really stop a motorcycle hard. So after building people’s knowledge and experience of braking in the course, we tell them to look for opportunities to practice what they’ve learned - when there’s nobody around and on a good surface. It could be at the end of their street. You’re activating your reactions, you’re warming up your muscles, you’re building confidence, you’re preparing yourself....
Same with cornering. You go through a series of bends, then stop and think - analyse what you did, what could be better.
Whatever the skill, it’s trying to get people to constantly self-analyse what they are doing and so build their confidence.

RF: What are the major weaknesses you see in people’s braking technique? Is it worry about losing the front?

DO: It’s the panic thing, then snatching the front brake. It’s that overreaction. Another big one is the head tends to drop, which transfers more of their weight on the handlebars and the balance goes.
The answer is to go through the process; getting people to slow it down and get a smooth transition from throttle to brake. Appreciating the effectiveness of modern disc brakes and tyres, then getting the weight transferred onto the front and building grip.

RF: So are you off for the winter, now?

DO: Not really. It’s usually a quieter period but the new licence regime means there will be  more people signing up for training  for their licence assessments. We’ve just completed a really big patch this month. I’ve ridden just under 5,000km in three weeks. So it’ll be nice to take a short break, then back into it. It’s hugely rewarding but it is full on.

RF: And plans for racing?

DO: I usually compete in the National series on a R6 but I took a year off this year with so much going on. I’m actually looking at stepping up to the superbike class this coming season. Plans are still hush-hush but it should come together!

RF: We’ll look forward to it. See you in the paddock.

We’ll keep you posted on Dan’s campaign in National Superbike racing as his race package comes together. If you’re interested in learning from people of Dan’s caliber, you can take advantage of the Ride Forever training packages here, with courses at just $20 or $50 for a full day.