Better Living Through Motorcycling
This exercise is hard for me initially: I'm not looking all the way through the turns, nor am I "snapping" the bike in the way Lee wants us to. But I force myself to follow Lee's 10-part cornering instructions, and find myself cornering more smoothly and with greater lean angle than ever. It's startling how fast I can steer the big Triumph that I took to the class now. Suddenly, my knee slider is making scraping noises at very slow, parking lot speeds. Another student follows suit, and he is prouder of the new scars on his kness pucks as I am.
The exercises conclude with Lee's low-speed U-turn technique. This is a skill I need to master, as I spend much of my time riding for MO doing photo passes and need a safe, fast and easy technique for quickly turning the bike around. Lee's method -- shifting your weight to the opposite side of the bike from the turn -- is easy to learn and effective, and soon we are all in our corners of the training area, making tight, feet-up steering-lock U-turns like pros.
It's one thing to master a technique in a controlled training environment, but that doesn't mean the training applies to real-world activities. Scoring 1350 on your SATs doesn't mean you will automatically get a high-paying job or write a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. So I was eager to see how my new knowledge worked on the street.
Riding back to MO from Lee's house, I felt more confident and in control of the bike. A motorcycle seems to turn quicker and stop more smoothly using his techniques, and the riding experience seems just a bit more fun with the new knowledge. However, riding with my buddies on my local twisty roads, I didn't feel like I was really going much faster. But when I rode for the first time at the notorious Streets of Willow racetrack, which is just the kind of tight, bumpy pavement Lee aims at in his materiel, I felt much better equipped to ride on unfamiliar pavement than I ever had before.
Was it worth it? At $295, Lee's course costs more than a trackday but includes lunch (with the one-day course) and has a very high student-to-teacher ratio of 6 to 1. The course is well designed and fun, but because of time constraints, it really can't cover all the techniques mentioned in the book, nor does it allow the students enough time to really practice and perfect the techniques that are taught. It isn't a substitute for a racetrack school, nor is it intended to be one. However, it does address the gap in motorcycle training successfully. Lee doesn't require leathers or a fancy, race-prepped sportbike. He doesn't promise to turn you into an expert roadracer. Instead, he promises -- and delivers -- to teach the rider how to be smoother, more confident and more in control of her motorcycle in all types of riding.
After working at industry magazine Motorcycle Product News for a two-year stint, Lee next took an opportunity to work at Motorcycle Consumer News, a smaller, subscription-based publication. After less than a year there, he was promoted to group editor, not just for Motorcycle Consumer News, but also for some of the publisher's other magazines. In the next five years, this ambitious young man made his mark on Motorcycle Consumer News, putting his roadracer slant on what had been a more cruising and touring-oriented publication.
During this time, Lee developed methods for evaluating gear and motorcycles in a more organized and consistent manner, with the "Cycle-Stats" forms for motorcycles and the "MCN best buy" for products. He also spent plenty of time watching other riders and racers on the track and on the street, developing theories about how to best operate a motorcycle. Lee left MCN in 2000 for an opportunity with another online magazine, which quickly went under.
Since that time, Lee has been self-employed, doing PR work for various companies (he's written BMW's motorcycle brochures), designing gear like his DeerSports gloves, writing a book on advanced riding techniques, and putting together a nation-wide network of Total Control Advanced Riding Clinics. Do all of these projects have a theme?
"I'm helping people express themselves through motorcycling." According to Lee, human beings need to express themselves, and they express themselves best when they are performing that activity with competence and verve. To Lee, the activity isn't as important as the quality of experience. "I'm good at riding motorcycles, so that's what I do." We get joy out of life when we do things well.
Why is this true? According to Lee, we are creatures composed of vibrations, as is everything in the Universe: "Vibration is the core, the basis of everything, from Quantum Physics to anything else. We're composed of vibrations, so we have to find a way to express -- become a vehicle for -- those vibrations." When we are doing something we love, and are doing it right, we get in touch with these vibes, putting us in touch with the essence of the Universe, in effect reaching what many might call God. "I get a very similar experience while singing" says Lee.
That's why Lee is constantly striving to improve motorcycling for people. If he were inclined towards Catholicism, he might be a priest, using sacrament and prayer to help people feel that vibe, but motorcycling is what he does well, so he uses that to connect spiritually. "Motorcycling is a religious experience for me: it's my form of religious expression." says Lee. When folks are connected to the "core of everything", they are fulfilled and happy, and Lee can feel good about his role in the world.
So how does he help people become better riders and have better riding experiences? The first is through his riding gear and accessories. He wasn't able to find a glove that he liked, one constructed out of strong, comfortable deer hide and made with the features he liked to have. So he designed his own glove and started marketing it on the internet and at motorcycle events. He's also designing a full riding suit.
Lee has given a lot of thought to rider education, seeing, like many other riders, some serious holes and shortcomings in rider education in the United States. This education is aimed too much at teaching beginners the barest essentials to avoid crashing, or at those advanced riders who want to be Rickey Racer. The middle ground -- where most riders are -- is mostly unaddressed.
To make a quality motorcycling experience "accessible to the everyday man" Lee put together and wrote his book, Total Control-High Performance Street Riding Techniques. This book, published in 2003, has been a modest success, with sales of over 25,000 copies and editions in several languages around the world.
Total Control-High Performance Street Riding Techniques
(Illustrated. 159 pps. Motorbooks International. $24.95)
Lee's book is broken down into short, concise sections that are easy to reference and written in plain English. In Part One, Lee explains Chassis Dynamics: traction, steering and suspension. This is the physics of motorcycling, and Lee explains these ideas so simply and clearly I found myself slapping my forehead in realization so often I had to put on a helmet to avoid bruising. He uses math and physics sparingly, preferring to use concise, witty prose to explain how things work. His section on suspension is comprehensive, concise and understandable without being condescending. After this section, the reader will be better able to comprehend the technical concepts later in the book.
Next, Lee tackles the most important part of going fast: Mental Dynamics. Here, he talks about fear, concentration, and having the right attitude; aspects which must be addressed before a rider seriously attempts to learn how to go fast.
With the rider's mental aspects squared away, we add to that by discussing at great length body positioning and control in Section Three: Body Dynamics. Lee makes it clear in his book that once the rider understands how a motorcycle is steered, and how to best steer the motorcycle, control and speed will come easily if the techniques in the book are practiced.