2008 Kawasaki NInja ZX-6R motorcycles await Ryan Shough, our MotoUSA Kawasaki Ultimate Motorcycle Getaway winner.
What’s your idea of an ultimate motorcycle getaway? Is it simply racking up the miles in the saddle of your street bike? Or maybe riding through forested single track aboard your off-road motorcycle? Well, if you’re Ryan Shough, winner of MotoUSA’s Ultimate Kawasaki Adventure Getaway, it is riding Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R sportbikes at Virginia International Raceway with Keith Code’s California Superbike School.
Shough, 32, was selected at random after he entered the contest online at MotorcycleUSA.com. Out of the four possible riding adventures to choose from (ATV, sportbike, dual-sport, and cruiser) Ryan selected what he knows best: Sportbike.
“Of course I was interested in them all,” said the lucky winner. “But I knew the sportbike option would be the most fun. I love doing trackdays and it’s been a while since I’ve done one, so the superbike school was a no-brainer.”
We plucked him from his San Francisco, California, home and jetted him cross-country to Virginia for two consecutive days of riding at one of America’s finest road courses. Joining him on his adventure was yours truly and Kawasaki’s Justin Dawes (aka: Full Throttle) who documented our adventure from behind the camera lens.
We arrived in Virginia a little early so we could check out VIR’s park-like facilities as well as watch the car guys thrash their rides around the track. The Vintage Sports Car Club of America occupied the 2.25-mile North course, which we were scheduled to ride in a few days, and Ferrari Club of America was using the 1.65-mile South course.
Visually the vintage guys have nothing on the Ferraris, yet we’ve still got to hand it to some of the drivers, especially one guy in a Honda S800 who was clearly one of the fastest drivers on track. It was awesome watching him barrel through Turn 3 on two wheels!
Check out this Ferrari F355 Challenge race car. If we had only brought our helmets we could have driven in it!
On the other end of the track were millions of dollars of Italian machinery being piloted by some of the luckiest guys alive! Ferrari F430 Scuderias, F360 Challenge Stradales, F355s, a 599 GTB Fiorano, and even a few Magnum P.I.-generation 308 GTS cars. There was also one brand-new, 2009 front-engine V8-powered California.
While these guys didn’t pilot their rides with the same tenacity as our Honda friend, it was thrilling to hear the high-pitched shriek of the Scuderias as they motored down the straightaway. Much to my surprise, the guys behind the wheels of these high-end toys are normal guys, only they wear nicer clothes and indulge in a more expensive hobby. A few drivers were even gracious enough to offer to let us rip around with them but we forgot our helmets at the hotel, so we decided to take them up on their offer in the morning.
And wouldn’t you know, the hot summer-like weather we enjoyed on the first day was replaced by cold rain. We drove back to the track hoping to get in a few laps but, alas, most of the folks had already packed up and the one or two guys on the track were just cruising around in order to avoid banging up their prized possession. Thus our man Ryan missed out on co-piloting a Ferrari. Moral of the story: Always bring your helmet when you’re off to the racetrack.
We had originally planned to spend a few hours blasting each other at the local paintball field but the rainy weather forced us indoors. Fortunately, Grand Prix Greensboro, an indoor go-kart racing facility, wasn’t too far away and we spent the rest of the afternoon banging into each other and getting up to speed before our first day of California Superbike School. There Dawes showed us how he earned his nickname by thoroughly beating both Ryan and me.
That night we got our road racing fix watching “Gorgeous” Jorge Lorenzo whoop up on everyone in MotoGP action from Le Mans and the Xerox Ducati World Superbike squad take a double one-two at Kyalami, South Africa. We also took the edge off our go kart beating by mixing it up at a local honky-tonk where Full Throttle Dawes continued to earn his keep by beating us and all the locals on the pool table.
Blue skies greeted us as we rushed back to the track early Monday morning. After a quick sign-in procedure we suited up. Ryan donned his new riding gear courtesy of the folks over at Joe Rocket. Since he’s a bigger guy, it’s always difficult to find gear that fits him right and as usual the Joe Rocket stuff didn’t disappoint.
After our first classroom briefing by Code’s staff we hit the track for our first of five 20-minute sessions. After a few warm-up laps, our first drill was to pilot the track in fourth gear without using any brakes. The purpose of this exercise was to understand how the throttle stabilizes the motorcycle through the corner. After each riding session we’d meet with our personal riding coach to discuss how we did on track.
It was all smiles after we returned from our first session. Despite not having ridden on the racetrack in over a year, Ryan looked comfortable around VIR’s roller coaster-like layout. We were both surprised by just how dependent we had become on using the brakes before turning into the corner. The drill proved to us just how much speed you can carry entering a corner. As the day progressed we used the same fourth gear, no brakes format continuing to build on Code’s in-class instruction.
As I followed Ryan throughout the day, I noticed that he kept upping his pace and looked to be one of the fastest guys in our group. Not bad at all for his first time, I thought to myself. Perhaps he was gaining speed a little too fast and during the second to last afternoon session he lost concentration in the back portion of the track, running off course and crashing his ZX-6R.
“I just lost my focus,” said Shough after the crash. “I forgot where I was on track and I just came in too fast into the corner and kind of panicked and ran off track.”
Fortunately Ryan’s Joe Rocket gear did its job and he only suffered some bumps and bruises. After a crash debrief with the instructors an undeterred Shough was given the go-ahead to return on track for our final session of the day.
I was back behind Ryan for the initial few laps. He looked fine and all was going well until we entered Turn 3. There he ran into the corner at a reasonable speed, but he didn’t turn the bike quickly enough and ran off track again. As he hit the dirt he lost control of the motorcycle and suffered another crash. Once more the Joe Rocket gear saved his bacon and although he finished the day battered and bruised he was in one piece and committed to finishing out the next day crash-free.
I was pretty sure that after two get-offs Ryan would be too sore to continue, but to my surprise there he was in the hotel lobby the next morning, smiling and ready to go. Admittedly he was achy and you could see the black and blue marks on his skin, but he refused to let it end his ultimate adventure early.
Shough: “The second day focused on finding and using reference points and where to look. Some of it was stuff I knew already but the reminders were helpful and everything was presented in a clear format that was easy to remember when I got out on track.”
Inside the classroom Ryan was all business as we received instruction. You could tell he was serious about redeeming himself after the first day. Back out on track, Shough didn’t look quite as speedy as the day before, but he did look smoother and more in control as he piloted around the lush green hills that make up VIR’s North course.
Temperatures rose throughout the day and by afternoon it was considerably warmer than the day before. As any motorcyclist will tell you the heat takes its toll on a rider. However, as opposed to the first day, Ryan’s focus never wavered and he finished the day without any off-track excursions.
“I wasn’t quite as fast as I was on the first day,” said Shough. “Since I was sore I had to work on being smooth. Although I didn’t feel as fast as before I still had fun and learned some new techniques that I can use back at home.”
Ryan did it. He wrapped up the final day with his head full of new riding techniques and his body completely intact. That night we celebrated by indulging in a fabulous dinner at one of the only restaurants that serves food that isn’t twice deep-fried. The next morning we reluctantly said our goodbyes and headed back home.
When the dust settled, we learned a few things about our adventurous winner: He’s tough, gritty and never quits. And, without a doubt, some formal on-track instruction was just what he needed to up his motorcycle riding game. So was Ryan’s adventure really that ultimate? Find out in his words.