A local motorcycle forum arranged a group rate for a rider training course from the Ottawa Safety Council (the folks who teach basic motorcycle training for getting your license, among other courses). I signed up with 3 of my friends, and at the last minute 2 of them couldn't make it, so it was Prashant and I, plus 17 others of all ages, bike types, and levels of riding experience.
The course offered is called the Experienced Rider Course (ERC) and it's a full day of training. No classroom stuff, as they expect everyone to have at least a couple of years of riding under their belt. Basically, they have a large empty parking lot, 5 instructors, and a whole bunch of orange safety cones. They setup the cones for various exercises and the riders break into groups to test and hone their skills.
Lots of slow riding skills, like U-turns, figure-eights, slow and tight slalom, plus other fun stuff like emergency braking, riding over obstacles (a piece of 4x4 lumber).
The only time I took a rider training course was way back in 1986, when I was 16 years old. While I've had many years of riding on the road, I'm awere that i don't know everything, and I know full well that experienced riders can always learn something new or at least, reinforce something they already knew. And I'm happy to say that I did learn a few tips and tricks today; some things I already knew but didn't really follow, or some things I thought I knew.
The highlights of the things I learned:
1. Don't ride with 2 or 3 fingers covering the front brake as you don't have a solid grip on the handle bar when you do this. Now this goes against what I've always done, and the way I learned. Their argument for this was that covering the front brake might be something they teach you at a race track, or when riding off-road, but this course is all about improving your skills on the street. This will be a hard habbit to break.
2. When practicing slow speed manueuvers, don't touch the front brake at all. Yeah, I know all about keeping your eyes up and looking ahead where you want to go and not to look down, or not looking in the direction the bike is pointed (or not looking where you don't want to go) but using only the clutch and the rear brake really gives you much more control when doing slow speed stuff (slow, controlled slalom, figure-eights, U-turns, etc,). I definitely saw how much easier I can do these things when you just leave the front brake out of it. Until today, when practicing figure-eights and such I would always use both brakes. I improved ten-fold today when I followed their tip to lay off the front brake altogether.
3. When doing a figure-eight, your head should be turned so that you're looking in the direction of the far circle, and just as you hit the transition point as you cross into the other circle, your head should flip the other way (your head will do a 180 so you look at the opposite circle). This one really helped me see an improvement in being able to ride nice tight figure-eights, slow and fast.
4. When doing a U-turn, flip the bike to blub-out as you begin to hit the turn (like doing slalom) then execute the turn, keeping your head up and looking in the direction from which you came the entire time. After a few runs, I was easily able to do this in two parking spaces.
The instructors were all very good and they all offered good tips and pointed out good and bad things about the students' techniques.
Most riders don't realize how valuable it is to have someone [who knows what to look for] watch carefully as you perform the exercises and critique your technique. They were able to pick up and identify very subtle things, and offered good tips for improving skills.
In conclusion, I must say it was a positive experience and well worth the $60 it cost for the discounted group rate (regular rate is a little over $100 for the day). Although I've been riding for 38 years, 24 of those years on the road, there's always something to learn. It proved to me that regardless of how long you've been riding, there's always room for improvement. I knew this already, but I saw proof of it today. As far as the critiquing goes, you can't take it personally as they're job is not to make you feel bad, but they will help you to learn the correct way to do things.
Near the end of the day, they also demonstrated the proper way to pick up a motorcycle that has been dropped. Regardless of whether it's a 900-pound Harley, or a 275-pound super motard, there is a proper way to lift the bike without hurting yourself, and without causing damage to the bike (bending a handlebar is quite possible if you try to lift the bike by it).
At the end of the day, the main instructor said something worth remembering: the skills we practiced should be considered persishable skills, meaning that if you don't practice them, you will get rusty. A good piece of information.