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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them









Becoming a Better Motorcycle Rider

A “his and hers” review of Lee Parks’ Total Control Riding Class

By Adam Zuckerman
8/27/2013

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.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Adam and Suzanne Zuckerman
Adam Zuckerman and his wife, Suzanne, get ready to embark from their home in Connecticut on a motorcycle trip to Montana.

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.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Suzanne Zuckerman
Suzanne is an accomplished rider with eight years’ experience under her belt, including a cross-country trip on her 1988 Honda NT650 HawkGT. But even for experienced riders, the mind can be amazingly skillful at doubting itself.

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.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Christine Firehock teaching
Christine Firehock, owner of CKS KickSTART, teaches the Total Control curriculum, which addresses the mental and physical aspects of cornering.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Christine Firehock and Daughter
Christine is a fourth-generation motorcyclist who is passing on her love of riding to her 12-year-old daughter, Amber. The two are seen here at the 2012 AMA Women and Motorcycling Conference in Carson, City, Nev.

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.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Classroom Instruction
Instructors talk students through what they'll be learning on the riding range. Adam tells us that two of his classmates were MSF instructors, proof that those guys really care about lifelong learning.


Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Suzanne Zuckerman Motorcycling
Suzanne gives Adam her best "scaredy face" as they get ready for the first exercise.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Women Students
Suzanne says having three other women in the class (Stella, Renee and Elise) made her feel more comfortable.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Range
Riders split into groups so that each student can receive an instructor’s full attention while performing the drills.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider On Range Instruction
These classes are all about individualized and supportive coaching. “I never felt intimidated or chastised,” Suzanne tells us. “You could tell they wanted all of us to succeed.”

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Instructor with Student
Suzanne gets some one-on-one coaching from an instructor on the course.

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.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Christine Firehock Student
Talk about hands-on learning! Here Christine demonstrates to a student how to properly lean with bike on a curve. “This is age-appropriate learning,” she says. “Babies need to learn to crawl first, but you wouldn’t want to see a 2-year-old still crawling everywhere. Same with a second-year rider—there are new skills to learn as you get beyond toddling around on a bike.”

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Classroom
At lunchtime, the riders went back to the classroom and watched instructors explain several innovative drills to get the riders ready to challenge themselves out on the range.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Bike Lean Demonstration
This drill teaches body position and the feeling of leaning far over while the bike is not moving. Knowing what it ought to feel like helps when doing the real thing.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Bike Lean Woman
“When I heard about this drill, I knew I had found the right class,” Suzanne says. “I knew if I learned what it feels like on my own bike while stopped, I could do it while moving.”

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.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Instruction
Once the day got warmer, the students stayed at the range for their “classroom” sessions. These instructors don’t need PowerPoint to give a good lesson!

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Range Instruction
Like the rest of the students, Stella was a bit nervous during her first few attempts at hard cornering and didn’t get deep into the lean.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Cornering
Once the riders got better at looking through the corner, they began to lean their bikes farther over, as Elise demonstrates here.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Cornering BMW
Renee displays the whole package: looking through the turn, body position, and smooth throttle control. The reward? Impressive cornering.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Cornering Harley-Davidson
The Harley-Davidson bagger guys discovered that with proper technique, their bikes could safely corner much harder than they imagined.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Cornering Practice
By the end of the day, Suzanne was scrubbing the sides of her tires with confidence. “Now I understand why people say that cornering is fun,” she says.

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.

Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Adam Zuckerman
Becoming Better Motorcycle Rider Adam Zuckerman Riding
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.
 
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