Dr. Frazier Learns New Tricks

October 13, 2009
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

Old Adventure Dog Learns New Tricks

The true adventure motorcyclist should rise to a challenge, something that involves the element of risk, part of the definition of the word adventure. The challenge to me involved money, and the risk of a bit of loss of face.

Lee Parks had been an entrant in the annual Big Dog Adventure Ride. Parks is known for his popular book on motorcycle riding titled Total Control, High Performance Street Riding Techniques. He was also offering a riding course. After we each successfully competed in the annual Big Dog carnage of piloting large-displacement motorcycles over some of the world’s highest trails and roads, he challenged me.

Do not tell this motorcyclist a heavy weight touring motorcycle cannot also be a sport tourer or round the world adventure machine.
Think your motorcycle is too big or bulky to corner well?

Parks knew of my five global circumnavigations and adventuresome motorcycling lifestyle and lightly opined that I could learn some things from taking his course. With over 1,000,000 miles to my credit, as well as having successfully road and dirt-track raced, I expressed some reluctance at spending time taking his course with a group of what I thought would be new motorcyclists. He assured me I would find fellow classmates as equally skilled and aged as I, so that argument dissipated. I came up with some other weak excuses for not accepting his challenge, most of which stemmed from my not wanting to admit my skills as a motorcycle operator might not be at the upper end of the scale.

“If you don’t learn anything in my course, I’ll refund any or all of your money, your call,” said Parks.

Today adventure riding around the world can be done almost entirely on paved roads, except for construction sections. Some ‘round the world adventurers take the all-paved routes. Others opt to fly or truck their motorcycles over unpaved sections. Therefore, instead of focusing on those few times when the motorcycle is off road, it makes more sense to focus on where most of the piloting takes place, over the paved sections. While the pavement is where Park’s Total Control Riding Clinic takes place, the application of many of the techniques can be transferred to off-road or unpaved sections.

I accepted the Lee Parks challenge.

There are numerous motorcycle training courses offered, ranging from the all-dirt riding courses to the full-on racing courses. The Total Control course falls in the middle, although it is done on pavement and not at speed. The course is fully explained at www.totalcontroltraining.net.

Load your adventure touring motorcycle for a round the world tour like this one from Singapore and you will significantly change how it turns  slows and goes.
Carrying around extra items like, luggage, sleeping bags and, yes, the spouse can change the handling dynamics of a motorcycle.

What I found interesting was the time spent on some of the mental dynamics of piloting a motorcycle, managing elements such as fear, the right attitude and concentration. Having traveled across countries known to be the most dangerous on the planet, like India or Taiwan, I could relate to having the brain working to manage these areas while dealing at the same time with the management or operation of the motorcycle.

The classroom sections on traction, steering and suspension found me thinking about the changes that took place on my motorcycle when I started adding weight and baggage. These sometimes drastic changes that occurred when I added aluminum panniers, crash bars, and five gallons of gas up high, significantly changed the way my suspension worked on pavement as well as off road.

While I listened to the instructor enlighten the group about suspension, ergonomics, chassis tuning and aerodynamics I started to realize how wrong some of my changes had been to motorcycles I used. Some modifications I had made actually worked against the motorcycle’s ability to perform properly.

Before we started our motorcycles and rode through the course in a large parking lot, the instructor walked us through the course, showing us where we should be turning, where we should be looking, and when we should be braking. Then we drove our motorcycles through the course.

This BMW GS rider demonstrates looking through the curve  a technique used to make turning safer and easier.
There is truth in the old adage, “your motorcycle goes where you look.”

One of my errors I immediately discovered was that I was not looking far enough through the curves to make the proper turn. My thoughts went back to instances when I had overshot turns in countries like Peru or Laos, where I had been hustling a bit on my overloaded motorcycle and luckily did not find a car or truck coming in the opposite direction. My analysis was my fault, not the tight curve or unmarked turn.

As I looked back on my Total Control training experience, I had to admit Parks was right. I had learned something, and not just one thing, but a handful of corrections and new techniques. He had taught this old dog some new tricks.

While out on the Big Dog Adventure Ride (www.horizonsunlimited.com/bigdog) in August, 2009, I applied some of those tricks to keep up with a couple of other Big Dogs who were riding larger motorcycles. We did some sliding on gravel sections, then some tight turns on single track or no track sections. Each time my KLR650 was able to keep up with the 950-1200cc big adventure motorcycles. When we later shared a table at the evening dinner the other riders expressed their admiration for what they called my “little KLR” and its ability to hold its own against their big boy toys. I told them it was a combination of set-up, and a few tricks this old dog had learned.

400 US Marines have taken the Total Control training course  securing the right stuff.
400 US Marines have taken the Total Control training course, securing the “right stuff.”

I found Parks in late September, just finishing the last of his training of 400 US Marines. We discussed what the Marines and I had learned during the Total Control course offerings. I shared my Big Dog Adventure Ride experiences with Parks, and he shared some wild tales he had heard from his Marine trainees. It seems there was a yearning for serious adventure in both groups, not the kind of motorcycling found on a racing track day or dirt track training course. In my group of Big Dog riders the average age was close to 50-55, while his Marine group was closer to their mid 20’s. He said the Marine group always told him how much they had learned after taking his course. I know that I came away from his course with some new driving tools in my motorcycling kit.

So it seems that it is not true that old dogs cannot learn new tricks. I had accepted the Lee Parks challenge, lost a little face by having to admit I didn’t know everything, but felt the risk was rewarded with a high return.