Better Living Through Motorcycling
The Lee Parks Trilogy
You know at once Lee Parks is no ordinary guy when you roll up to his fenced-in compound on the outskirts of Apple Valley, California. The haphazard-looking A-frame home is surrounded by features that many motorcyclists dream of having, like a three-car (or 12-motorcycle) garage, 24-foot storage container, trap-shooting range and mini-motocross course complete with hay bales, whoops and table-tops.Accompanied by his faithful dog, Ryokan,(say "Rowe-con") Lee comes to the door with a phone pressed to one ear. Self-employed since 2001, Lee has a finger in many moto-stews, including designing, manufacturing and distributing riding gear, consulting and PR work for various manufacturers, assorted motojournalism assignments, and growing a chain of franchised riding clinics across the USA. Does he sound like a typical self-employed person? He has to be; if anybody worked me that hard I'd quit in hours.
He's a quick, energetic man in his mid-30s, a little heavier then he was when roadracing an SV650 in national-level endurance competition. "I'm not really as motivated to exercise if I don't have to be in shape for racing." But he still rides as much as he can, whether on his much-modified Honda "Frankenhawk" or on one of his dirtbikes on the expanse of empty desert trails right outside his door.
Lee's life philosophy is apparent once we're inside the house. "I like things with clean, simple lines." he says, and points out the careful feng shui layout of the furniture in his office. Although he grew up in a Jewish household and neighborhood in Highland Park, Illinois, Lee has embraced aspects of Eastern philosophy, especially Zen Buddhism and Taoism, to give him direction and guidance in his life. This carries into everything he does.
He's done a lot and plans to do much more. Lee started riding motorcycles at 12 years old when his dad, a rider himself, thought it would be a great father-son bonding opportunity. Two years later he allowed Lee to start ice racing. Lee enjoyed ice racing, but fell in love with the grace and subtle challenges of roadracing when he was 19. He developed his skills on a Kawasaki GPZ305 with the Utah Sportbike Association while he attended college, studying marketing and communications.
It was in college that he made it a goal to work in the motorcycle industry, working in advertising or PR for one of the big OEMs. Journalism appealed to him, but his journalism professor in the one course he took gave him a C+ and told him he'd never make it as a journalist.
In 1993 there were not that many motorcycle publications in the United States, and the chances of a young marketing and communications major fresh out of college getting a job with one were somewhere between slim and none. So when Lee heard of a position available at Motorcyclist, Lee naturally decided to apply. He wrote up a resume and cover letter detailing exactly why Art Friedman, editor at Motorcyclist should hire him. "I told him that if he would just give me 20 minutes of his time, I would explain why I would be a great choice." Lee's people call this chutzpah.
Incredibly, that interview happened, and the next day Lee received a call from Petersen Publication's human resources person, telling him they were flying him to LA to discuss his salary requirements. "I had a buddy who was an expert in HR, and he told me to always politely refuse the first salary offer and to get up and walk out of the office. Sure enough, she told me all they could pay me was the lowest salary they offer to starting associate editors. I told her that I appreciated the offer, but that it just didn't meet my needs. So I got up and slowly started walking out of the room. Just as I was reaching the door, she said, 'Wait, wait!' and offered me much more money; way more than I expected to get." Lee's chutzpah was once more rewarded. In his time at Motorcyclist, Lee learned his craft and made plenty of industry contacts.
Lee's Total Control Advanced Riding Clinics
No matter how long you've been riding or how many people you can pass on Sunday afternoons, if you're like most riders you could use some brush-up instruction and improvement of your riding skills. But although there is beginner and novice-level training in the form of the MSF's Basic RiderCourse (BRC) and Experienced RiderCourse, (ERC), and plenty of racing and racetrack-oriented training like American Supercamp and Keith Code's California Superbike school, a rider who might never do a track day yet enjoys riding at a brisk clip on the street -- like a majority of our readers -- will find a distinct lack of organized training.
After noting what worked -- and didn't -- while racing and riding motorcycles, Lee decided to create an actual curriculum that could be easily taught and duplicated, much like martial arts or military marksmanship are taught. This formed the basis of his Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic (ARC), an eight-hour class that combines classroom and hands-on instruction on riding better, smoother and faster.
The ARC I took was held at the excellent MSF facility, T.E.A.M. Arizona in Gilbert, AZ. Since it was over 110 degrees during the day, the class was broken into two evenings from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM, avoiding the mind-killing, scorching heat.
The first part of the Clinic is taught in an air-conditioned classroom. With the aid of a slick PowerPoint presentation and his easy-going manner, Lee discusses what it takes to go faster on a bike. The materiel is lively and informative, accompanied by a printed study guide for note-taking.
He starts with the hard facts from the physical world, like the forces and skills required for managing traction, but then moves into more esoteric concepts, like managing your fears. "What's the worst thing that can happen today?" he asks his students. When they tell him some of the things they are afraid of, like damaging their motorcycles, looking like jerks, or not being able to master the techniques taught, he then asks, "Well, can you handle that?" Lee's point is that most of us can handle even the worst imaginable situation, and we know that.
At sunset, after a couple of hours of classroom time, Lee moves us out to the still-scorching range area. There we start on his most basic exercises: throttle, braking and shifting exercises designed to teach us smoother control inputs and how to settle the machine's suspension before cornering. Like all of the ARC's exercises, these are done in incremental steps until we feel we have mastered them.
After a short break to cool off, we tackle a basic cornering exercise. Although I've been riding for 18 years and racing for over 10, I'm amazed at how clunky and slow I feel doing the low-speed exercises. But Lee is patient and we keep running through the exercises until late in the evening, when we are too tired and sweaty to concentrate. Because a large group of students cancelled at the last minute, the few remaining students and I benefit from Lee's increased attention.
The second evening we are back in the classroom to learn about suspension. Although I knew how to adjust static sag and understood the fundamentals of suspension, I had never really understood enough to set up suspension totally unassisted. Two hours spent talking about suspension with Lee changed that for good.
Lee takes the time to tell you what suspension really does, and why it needs to be adjusted properly. He shows graphs and charts of suspension rebound and damping, and what the adjustments do. For instance, I now understand why compression damping is less important to get right than rebound damping. The suspension section concludes with the students taking a stab at setting the suspensions on their own bikes, time permitting. A useful set-up sheet is provided for the students, along with a trouble-shooting guide.