February 10, 2000
Reg Pridmore's CLASS Motorcycle Racing School-Streets of Willow, November 4, 1999 by Terence Geoghegan
Loye-long version starts here:
About a year ago or so, my teen-aged daughter dragged me to a certain multiplex in Camarillo to see Titanic. Personally, I was looking forward to the trailers-I could watch trailers for hours. Maybe because they're like the highlights reel without the slow bits. Or maybe because I have the attention span the gods gave to hubcaps. ¿Quien sabe?
But I was to be disappointed. As the lights went down, two pathologically cheerful young theater attendants sprang to the front of the theater, hoisting baskets of...what, exactly? An infomercial soon told us that for a mere dollar, we could buy a heart-shaped pin from the youngsters, and the proceeds would go to-I swear that I am not making this up-"help needy children."
Perfect, I thought. An opportunity to explain to my daughter the pathology of stealing in the name of charity. I explained that the theater owner had to get his cut (leaving out the bit about paying off his heroin dealer, and the entrepreneur who had the negs of the guy in bed with a live boy and a dead girl), and so did the slavemasters of the third-world sweatshops who whipped and pimped the children who actually made the little pins, and then there were the costs of distribution, and the costs of the infomercial itself, so that out of the dollar, the "needy children" would likely get precisely squat.
Ah, but the infomercial wasn't done with us yet. Onscreen, a well-dressed milquetoast was arguing with Saint Peter, seeking entrance to the Kingdom. He had been good during his lifetime...but he had no heart-shaped pin! In extremis, he squealed: "At least I wasn't a lawyer!"
The darkness began to stir within; this was not going to turn out well. My talons were going to trash my good shoes. My tail would begin to thrash methodically against the concrete floor, which is not good for my scales. Then, just in case the infomercial was tending toward excessive subtlety, up to the Pearly Gates roars Your Basic Biker. Tattoos, shaved head, open-pipe Hogley-Ferguson. But Saint Peter waves him on through, because even a biker can get into Heaven, providing he sports, as did this one, the requisite heart-shaped pin on his tattered denim vest.
Let's see. Should I be insulted because I'm a lawyer? Or because I'm a biker? No need to choose.
[Loye (editor of Citations, the monthly mag of the Ventura County Bar Association, where the short version was first published.) -suggested snip here; the rest of this paragraph may be "intended for mature audiences only." Your call....] I stood up. I announced, loudly, to no one in particular that I would be happy to discuss the nature of bigotry in the late twentieth century with that son-of-a-bitch theater manager, should he dare to show his face. No takers....
Political correctness in our time has wrongfully deprived bigots everywhere of their divine right to put the boot in. But help is at hand; while they can't use the "N word" in polite society anymore, they can say exactly the same things as long as they substitute the word "lawyer"-or "biker." A pox on them.
Of course, this story has nothing to do with our story. Except that it involves a motorcycle.
Loye-short version starts here:
I've been riding for twenty-eight years. Twenty motorcycles or so, perhaps a half-million miles. Between 1987 and 1992, I lived on a GoldWing in Europe, towing a 1200 lb. trailer. Up and down the Trollsteigen, over the Swiss Alps. Jailed twice in Serbia on suspicion of espionage. Shot at in Turkey by Kurdish separatists. Campsite burglarized in St. Petersburg-we think that they wanted my law-school texts for toilet paper. Mud. Snow. Ice. River fordings in Turkey. Fjord fordings in Norway. You'd think that by now I might have learned how to actually ride. Too bad that there are some skills that don't come by osmosis.
President's Day, 1995. Eastbound on Thompson at Chestnut. On my jewel, a cherry '83 GS1100E. The silver Ford dropped into the left turn pocket facing me. The driver braked, looking me in the eyes, ceding the right of way. Then she dropped the hammer and swung broadside in front of me. I nailed the brakes, almost hard enough to avoid her right rear fender. Almost.
The Suzuki has fearsome brakes, capable of a "stoppie," where the bike actually stands up on its front wheel, and they did their job. I didn't do mine. I didn't have the skill to make the commitment.
Fast-forward four years and change. My friend Barry called; he'd picked up a leftover '98 Honda CBR600F3 for his commute from Jamul to La Jolla, and he'd been scaring himself. He'd decided to take Reg Pridmore's street-riding skills course at Willow, up in Rosamond. "Cool," said I, on the spot. "I'll do it with you."
Local legend Reg Pridmore (he used to own the BMW dealership in Ventura, until Honda, which sponsors the CLASS school, became uncomfortable with that) ruled road-racing in the seventies; he was the three-time AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) National Superbike Champion from 1976-1978. Now he teaches his skills to fledgling racers, and also to those who just want to improve their street skills-to avoid the odd Ford here and there. Sears Point, Laguna Seca, and, closest to us, the Streets of Willow in Rosamond. A few times a year, Reg runs an "over 40" day. Older riders don't tend to crash much; insurance rates can reflect this. At the time, $250 bought you a day of geezer racing, including lunch-a considerable discount from the "gasoline and testosterone don't mix" standard rates.
(Incidentally, in 1997, Reg's son Jason won the AMA 750 Supersport championship; Reg and Jason thus became the first and only father-son AMA National Champions. Jason now runs his own school-the STAR motorcycle racing school, also based in Ventura; they're in the book. But while Jason's is a much harder-edged school strictly for racers, Reg is clear that his school is geared less towards racing and more towards street survival skills.)
Barry and I hooked up Thursday evening and spent the night in a motel in Rosamond. By 8:00 a.m. we were at the track. My '83 Honda CX650 Turbo had no problems with tech inspection; I'd spooned fresh meats onto the hoops, which the school is really strict about. Replacing coolant with straight water (coolant on the track in case of a crash that breaches a cooling system can lead rapidly to fatal losses of traction) wasn't required for this session; just tape the mirrors and headlights, disconnect the brake lights, and don the required full leathers. A little talc on the seat of the bike and the seat of the leathers, to ease cornering weight transitions, and we were ready to rock.
Reg splits the class of about fifty into two groups; one group in the classroom, and the other on the track, watched over by a squad of seven or eight instructors. Twenty minutes or so, then switch. the lessons learned in the classroom are rapidly tested on the track-as you ride, an instructor will drop in in front of you, pointing at his or her taillight: "Follow me closely. Ski like me; be like me." Keeping your nose latched to the instructor's tail requires concentration, commitment, and above all, smoothness. Burn up the front straight. Drop into Turn 1 as hot as you dare. Bleed speed because you must, but follow the line and carry what momentum you can, because it's easier to conserve it than create it. Strafe the apexes, and pull the trigger before the exit, to launch into the next straight. Repeat ten times, and here's the front straight again. Don't screw up. Asphalt is bloody unforgiving at these speeds, and I imagine that the gravel traps off the curves are worse.
After a few tours of the track, I could flog her up to 105 or 110 by the end of the front straight, but I was running out of motor. (I pulled into the pits once to query an instructor about the mysteries of the proper line through the mischievous Turn 8. He wrinkled his nose at the oily smoke wafting off my poor abused beast: "Sure is smoking a lot," he allowed. "Right," I thought. "What's seventeen in bike years? If I stripped you naked and flogged you this mercilessly, you'd smoke, too.")
Nail the brakes, hard. Harder. Hard pressure on the right peg, pitch it in and let the horizon rip loose. After a few tries, I could carry 70-75 through Turn 1, but I was still searching for that elusive smooth. The satisfaction of dragging the left peg through a sharp uphill left-hander, as the turbo screams, clawing for more speed. Only one thing better than going fast. Going Faster.
"I can do this." Can't I? Well, time for a reality check. A $20 donation to Reg's favorite charity-the "Ride for Kids," raising money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation-gets you two laps on the back of The Master's Honda VFR800 Interceptor. Reg is apologetic that he can't take you around "as fast as possible"; the realities of insurance and all that. But he guarantees a "five tenths, maybe six" ride for thems as can handle it.
An effortless wheelie up the front straight, maybe 130 by the end. 95 through Turn 1 as you try to stuff the blood back into your peepers. And smooth as a baby's ass, Reg is. The lean angles through the hairpins become absolutely insane, and Reg isn't even trying. No human being can possibly do what Reg is doing, and this is only halfway to race intensity? This isn't possible. What must it be like when he's running ten tenths on this course, without two hundred pounds of screaming meat death-gripped onto the back end?
Later, Barry and I swapped rides for a few. The CBR's new technology was impressive-the suspension, and especially the brakes. But these inline-fours make their power up high-with a 14,000 rpm redline, you have to dance on the shifter to stay in the fat part of the ponies. The CX's low-end grunt is more forgiving, and the transition to turbo boost is seamless. Still, you have to love the CBR's gonzo binders-when Barry got off the CX, his face was ashen. "You must have been terrified out there-your motorcycle has no brakes." Actually, the CX's brakes were state of the art, seventeen years ago. How times have changed.
And by the end of the day, the poor beast was knackered. Oil was weeping from every seal, and even the Harleys were passing me early on the front straight, no matter how hot I burned out of the last turn. (Well, technically, they were actually Buells, but close enough to Harleys to make me realize that I needed more motor if I was going to swim with the big fish.)
Mine was the second-oldest bike on the track that day; the oldest was an '82 Honda VT500FT Ascot, piloted by Grace Lee, the assistant Executive Director of the L.A. Bar Association. Small world.
The '83 CX650 Turbo is a collector's item, and deserves better than this abuse. So today I picked up a 1999 Suzuki 1200S Bandit. Only 4,000 miles, and heavily massaged. Fox shock, Progressive Suspension springs, braided stainless brake lines, low-profile Z-rated radials, K&N filter, DynoJet carb setup, Yoshimura stainless exhaust canister, oh yassuh. (Not the fastest bike on the planet, but perhaps the fastest that isn't on the insurance companies' high-risk list. $521 a year for 250/500 liability/UMI and full comp/collision; the CBR1100XX Super Blackbird I was considering runs $2,016 for the same coverage!)
Now all I have to do is visit Reg again, so that I can learn how to actually ride the beast....
Check the CLASS website at www.classrides.com for current schedules and pricing.
Class Motorcycle Schools
320 East Santa Maria Street, Suite M
Santa Paula, CA 93060-3800
(805) 933-9987 fax