Better Living Through Motorcycling
Any sport requires mastering a series of skills. It's not enough for a basketball player to just dunk baskets from half-court: he must also be able to dribble, block, catch, and be in good physical condition. So just learning how to brake hard isn't enough to ride fast: the rider must also be proficient at throttle control, body positioning, line selection and shifting.
What Lee's section on body dynamics does is break down every rider skill needed to ride safely, quickly and smoothly on the street or track and teach it separately, so the reader may comprehend, practice and hopefully master each skill individually before they put it all together in the real world.
Now that the reader has a glimpse of all these skills, Parks moves on to the least important part of fast riding: the motorcycle. We all know that what you ride isn't as important as how you ride, a fact hammered home when the street squid on his R1 shows up for his first track day, only to be passed on the outside by an old lady on a Concours.
Nevertheless, our riding can be improved by good suspension setup and ergonomic adjustments, which Lee covers in Part Four along with aerodynamics and chassis tuning.
Finally, "tuning" the rider himself is covered with a section on rider fitness, riding gear and doing track days. The rider fitness section was especially welcome, as I have started and then stopped going to the gym when I became bored with a workout routine that didn't seem relevant to motorcycling. Lee suggests a workout regimen designed to help you ride faster, smoother and longer. All without a prescription.
Lee's section on riding gear is as good as the rest of the book. Parks recommends a balance between comfort, convenience and protection, as he recognizes that the most protective riding gear does a person no good at all if it's too uncomfortable or inconvenient to wear. "Making an educated decision on riding gear requires an understanding of quality, materials, and construction." says the ex-products testing guru.
Parks winds up his book by not just recommending a track day as the next step in rider education, but also by answering many of the common questions new riders have about attending one. Trackday structure, etiquette, and bike preparation are covered. And as a bonus, Lee has some useful appendixes about bike prep, a list of track day and school organizers, how to set up your garage and contact information for his favorite aftermarket suppliers.
Obviously, Lee can't teach you to ride like him in 159 pages. But like any self-help book, Total Control gives the reader a good starting point and lets her know that motorcycling is a sport, with conventions, wisdom and technique available for the novice, intermediate or expert rider.
What's so special about Lee's book, when there are already many excellent books on this topics? Unlike most fast riders and racers, Lee can translate the instinctive understanding of how to make a motorcycle go around corners quickly into human language, communicable to the novice or expert rider. He does this by breaking down all the facets of speed into digestible, comprehensible steps.
But it's clear that the book is there just to whet your appetite for more training. To that end, Lee is training instructors all over the country -- and the world -- in his Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic (ARC) techniques so he can franchise his school and not have to spend much of his life traveling. His ARC schools promise training and techniques to supplement and expand on what the MSF teaches in their RiderCourses. With sales of his book expected to hit 100,000, Lee hopes to create a huge market for his ARCs.
Lee approaches motorcycling with practical modesty. Instead of a vast stable of the latest, fastest streetbikes you would expect a champion roadracer and motorjournalist to have, Lee's garage has only a well-worn, much modified late-'80s Honda Hawk. He also still has his SV650 racebike he won the WERA national endurance championship on. He uses a Nolan flip-up helmet to facilitate teaching, and his trusty Aerostich from his MCN days. For dirtbikes, he has a YZ250 and a YZ426 with supermoto wheels he uses for racing at the nearby Grange Super TT circuit, as well as a few strays that friends leave in his garage.
Lee's demeanor switches back and forth from that of a spiritual guru uninterested in worldly possessions to that of a mercenary businessman looking for the next get-rich-quick scheme. On the truck ride from Apple Valley to Phoenix for one of his ARCs, we go from discussing his spiritual journey studying Taoism or Werner Erhard to his research into sensory deprivation tanks. But you never get the impression he's unfocused, insincere or looking to rip anybody off; he's just displaying American optimism and enterprise, a sincere belief that the next thing he tries or discovers will be the best thing ever.
Lee takes particular pleasure in firing his police-model Remington shotgun in his backyard. "Can you imagine doing this in LA?" he asks, as I'm figuring out how to load the DayGlo-orange clay disc into his launcher. He hollers "pull", and I yank the lanyard, launching the "pigeon" into an arc along his property line. Lee draws a bead, fires, and the disc flies into pieces. "I can shoot off a dozen boxes if I wanted to. Living in most places, there'd be a SWAT team here in minutes. I just don't understand why anybody would want to live in the city."
I point out that learning how to shoot is much like learning how to ride a motorcycle fast, with drills and reinforcement of muscle memory becoming second-nature until the shooter can just focus on a few things, and have a pure experience. Lee nods and tells me about Zen and the Art of Archery, a pre-WWII book by Eugen Herrigel recounting the author's quest to understand Zen Buddhism better by studying Archery under a Japanese teacher. When everything is right, when all the techniques are mastered, the student simply steps aside and lets the process take place: as Herrigel describes; "it shoots." It's the same firing a rifle; when the shooter masters all the techniques, like breath control, trigger pull, and a good supported firing position, he needs to do nothing but focus on these techniques and almost as if by magic, a hole appears in a piece of paper (or a person) 500 meters away.
Lee Parks Designs DeerSports Gauntlets Long Term Review
I've always been partial to deer hide gloves. The soft feel and great wear characteristics almost always deliver a comfortable, long-lasting experience. I wind up throwing my old deerskin gloves out not because they are worn, but because they are just too old and smelly to keep wearing, where my leather gloves get holes in the fingers and tear at the seams after just one or two seasons of heavy wear.
Unfortunately, deerskin gloves are usually made for cruiser and touring riders, without the extra protection and secure fit I like in a racing glove. I also like a light colored glove, so my hands are more visible when I signal -- and gesture -- in traffic.
One thing these gloves lack is armor, but Lee says there's a reason for this: "Popular carbon fiber knuckle guards turn into dangerously sharp shards of fiber-reinforced epoxy resin which can aggravate a wound", according to Lee's website. More injuries are caused by seam failures than by lack of armor or padding, which is also why Lee doesn't use Kevlar thread (which in a crash slices through leather like a knife through butter, according to Lee), and why the gloves have only four seams in their entire construction, all located in low-impact areas.
After a month of wear the gloves had stretched to a perfect fit, the seams no longer irritated my fingers, and I commenced to enjoy many thousands of miles of happy glove-dom. They're comfortable enough to wear almost year-round in California, as the thick deerskin insulates against cold and heat, breathes well, and even keeps your hands dry in anything short of an extended ride in a drizzle.
The gauntlets are perfect for an Aerostich or riding jacket, but they do block airflow up your sleeves in hot weather. However, Lee also makes a short version of the gloves without gauntlets. The tan color has darkened and discolored with age, but Lee told me I could -- and should -- hand-wash the gloves occasionally to keep sweat and road grime from damaging the leather. I washed them in my kitchen sink recently, and they seemed to perk up quite a bit.
Additionally, the Velcro has worn out on the retention straps. Lee seemed puzzled that I had worn out the Velcro , so this might be unusual.
I would also appreciate padding on the sides and back of the gloves. Lee says most hand injuries result from abrasion, not impact, but I have fractured a bone in my hand with unarmored gloves. Lee is developing an armored glove that will feel as comfortable and unobtrusive as the DeerSports. These may prove to be the ultimate riding glove!
Lee's gloves are available through retailers or at his online store. They are a good value and an even better glove that I will enjoy for many years.
Lee believes he knows which techniques his students need to know to ride a motorcycle quickly and with confidence. And he can tell, at a glance, if a rider is practicing the techniques properly or not. Even when GP champion Valentino Rossi wasn't riding a distinctive bike, in distinctive leathers, Lee knew it was him anyway. "I could pick Valentino Rossi out from everybody else... he rides exactly the way I say he should ride; exactly how I talk about in the book." He also relates an anecdote about seeing himself on TV racing at Virginia International Raceway in borrowed leathers after his distinctive yellow and black leathers were stolen.
"I saw myself racing on Team Chicago, a cable TV show about motorcycle racing. At first I didn't recognize my new leathers and I thought, 'there's a guy with real good form. On closer examination, I recognized the bike and realized, 'hey, that's me.'" Lee holds that the best racers are more relaxed; they don't look like they are trying so hard. "The better you are, the less hard you're trying... you can always tell when someone is forcing something." Even though your high school coach always wanted you to try harder, the habitual winners always look focused but relaxed, like they are not trying very hard.
Watch Rossi effortlessly chase his competition until the last few laps of a GP race, only to pass them with ease at the last minute to see this illustrated.
That's easy for God-like racers like Rossi, but what about the rest of us, who often lose our passion and enthusiasm? How do you keep up an interest in motorcycling or other activities year after year? Lee talks about motocross champ Mike Rafferty: "Mike was asked the same thing and he told the reporter that you have to just 'keep the hunger.' When you're not riding, read about riding, think about riding, watch it on the TV. You have to maintain your passion for it."
Lee shows me how he keeps the hunger by suiting up for a session on his moto-cross course in front of his house. He rides a CR125; I hop on an XR100. He has me go round and round a pair of old tires, practicing sliding the rear knobbie in the dust and pushing the bike down and away from me to turn it while he plays with the tabletop jumps. "They're just the right size to clear with an XR100" he tells me as he heads off to jump them with the much faster 125. For the next hour, we go round and around the little track, with Lee always encouraging me to go faster, jump higher, carry one more gear before turning.
Then he rides to his back gate, swings it open and I follow him across the open desert behind his house, heading for the interstate in the distance. He leaps over berms and ruts with ease, hardly slowing down, as I struggle to just keep him in sight on the little XR. We climb up a steep embankment and cross some tracks.
We stop there, in between the I15 and some railroad tracks, watching the sun dip towards the horizon over the dusty desert. Lee surveys the landscape and tells me how he'd like to buy up the land and put in a road-racing course, mentioning the millions of potential customers in a 100-mile radius. As he talks, I get the sense of a man not just imagining a fun way to make money in the motorcycle industry, but a person who wants to make his part of the world perfect, a motorcycle utopia to help others find peace and fulfillment through motorsport.
What's your dream?