Going for Gold
What is it like to take a Ride Forever Gold course? Heres the inside story, following a group of riders entering the Ride of a Lifetime competition on a course with Chris Smith
Regular readers will need no introduction to Chris. The sometime movie stunt co-ordinator and Ride Forever instructor was kind enough to extend an invitation to join one of his Gold courses, to which the only reply could be yes.
The rest of the group was made up of a bunch of riding buddies, who had winning the Ride of a Lifetime prize in mind. That draw wont take place until after the 30th June, but Mark, Phil, James and Les wanted to get their training in while the weather was still golden. As it turns out, theyre quite happy to get soaking wet on a ride, but its usually off road. This was a chance to have Chris cast his eye over everyones on-road riding, and to see where improvements might be gained.
Taking a Gold course is quite different to the Bronze, Silver or Urban Rider courses. For a start, theres little in the way of set structure. Top instructors like Chris work by asking what it is a rider is looking for and gauging what they need. Then its about creating the right sort of riding, evaluation and exercises that will deliver.
So, while the day begins with a familiar routine of coffee, signing on and a few Q&As, followed by some safety checks in the car park, things move swiftly to an evaluation ride.
By its nature, Gold level training is built on the premise that riders attending will have a pretty high level of skills, knowledge and prior training. So Chris soon had us out on a looping route along the glorious roads of the Hunua Ranges, checking us all out one-by-one.
It was clear that this was a group of capable riders , composed and disciplined progress was obvious. So when Chris pulled us over via bluetooth ear piece, the news was pretty good. One or two flaws in positioning, some advice for James on turn-in technique, and not enough reaction to potential hazards on my part. Chris also noticed some potential improvements in use of the gears, pointing out the differences in engine braking and torque between an inline four and a V-twin.
For the second session, as well as checking wed all taken on board earlier advice, Chris cooked up an interesting exercise. Trail braking is widely known as a technique, but Chris briefed us on a series of trail braking styles to try, especially with the back brake. Displaying an impressive knowledge of practical physics, he explained how this could be used to maintain or tighten a line. And, counterintuitively, how the same can be achieved by applying throttle.
By now we were in a steep bit of country south of the Waikato river and west of SH1. The terrain was perfect, with plenty of sharp downhill corners to practice on. Putting into effect the techniques Chris had described made a clear difference, showing that even highly experienced riders can gain new skills.
A break for lunch offered the chance of a round-table on what wed observed and learned from the day so far. As well as individualised tips for each of us from Chris, the calibre of riders on the course meant plenty of interesting advice and stories were on offer.
Then we were off again, this time with a focus on road craft. Observation, reaction, positioning, lines, adjusting speed - it was time for each of us to demonstrate the right moves. Again, as a group, the standard was very high with little to criticise.
Chris had one more exercise to try. It had been sparked by some discussion on counter-steering during an earlier stop. The exercise was to cover a twisty section of highway using only the right hand to steer, where safe. This had two main effects: making the need to counter-steer more obvious and highlighting how it is possible to either enhance or fight a steering input. I certainly found the steering input needed to be stronger and that finesse was a little lacking. It proved to me that I am using a push on the inside bar combined with an outside bar pull in normal steering.
Our route had taken us close to Raglan, then spearing north-east on recently sealed minor roads. In glorious sunshine, and with virtually no traffic to deal with, the ride back up towards Auckland was a classic. Taking in some of the route wed headed out on, the roads had everything: from recently surfaced, billiard-smooth open curves to stomach-testing changes of elevation. Riding alone it would have been a dream, but it was even more fun in the company of a group of expert riders.
The day ended with a coffee, a debrief and presentation of a pack of goodies to accompany everyones Gold Ride Forever certificates. The smiles said it all: the day, not just the course, had been gold.