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My Riders Workshop

— by Tom Lange

In early October I took Jim Ford's Rider Workshop. Magazine editorials urge us to take regular training courses to maintain our riding skills, so I took this one. It's aimed at riding on curvy mountain roads, and it sounded like fun.

I read some testimonials from people who took the course. They raved about how much faster they could ride. Then Jim sent an e-mail saying I should have my bike completely serviced: new tires and change all the fluids. It began to seem like we'd be riding at 9/10ths, and all the other students would be testosterone-poisoned hot shots. I did get new tires and brake pads, but I began to doubt that I'd fit in.

The course lasted two whole days from Saturday through Sunday, and it began at Thurmont, Maryland. On Friday I rode down to Waynesboro, PA, and stayed overnight at a motel. As I was checking in, Joe and Tom found me; they were taking the course, too. We rode together to a restaurant and had dinner. As we were parking I noticed a fish symbol on Tom's saddlebag. Before we ate, those two said grace. Later I noticed Tom had a cross and a Bible verse airbrushed on his fairing.

Saturday we rode together to Thurmont to meet the rest of the class. The class rode to a restaurant to have breakfast and get acquainted. I needn't have worried about being in a class with young guys. The youngest person was over 50.

Joe was a CAT Scan repair technician from New Jersey. He rode an R1200RT and had only ridden 2 years. This past summer he took a cross country trip.

Tom was a tree surgeon from New Jersey. He rode an Electra Glide and has ridden all sorts of bikes since he was a kid. Tom and Joe know each other from their church.

Bill was retired and lives in Bloomsburg, PA. He rode a G650GS and had a few years riding experience. He took the same workshop last year.

Donna was from near Annapolis and works for a caterer. She rode an F650GS twin and had ridden about 2 years.

Jim Ford rode an F650GS single. He sold life insurance 20 years, then was a salesman at Bob's BMW for 10 years. He said he's ridden 450,000 miles on roads in Appalachia.

I mentioned I ride an SV650. Jim interjected, "Good choice!" He prefers smaller bikes for mountain roads. Then he told about some rich Southerners he'd met at a motorcycle campground in North Carolina. They had traded in their BMWs for V-Stroms.

The restaurant we were at had scrapple on the menu, so I got to try that for the first time.

After breakfast Jim gave each of us a family band radio and earbuds, so he could talk to us while we rode. He lectured each of us on riding posture and technique: Balls of feet on the pegs, lean forward 45 degrees, light pressure on the handlebars, relax arms and shoulders, shift gears often, keep rpm where engine produces maximum torque-it's most responsive there.

Jim led the group all day Saturday. We took turns following him. He'd make comments about our riding position and our position on the road. He emphasized positioning ourselves in our lane, so we could see as far ahead as possible.

On a straightaway ride close to the centerline. It also makes you most visible to oncoming traffic.

On a right hand curve ride in the left third of the lane but not too close to approaching traffic.

On a left hand curve ride on the right edge of the road.

Approach a blind crest in the center of the lane to maximize distance between oncoming traffic on the left and wildlife on the right.

I mentioned to Jim that he didn't apex the curves. He admitted that and said his aim is to see as far ahead as possible.

At the beginning of the day Jim announced he had changed our route at the last minute. We were scheduled to ride to Canaan Valley, WV. The weather forecast there Sunday was 36 degrees and rain. Instead we rode toward Natural Bridge, VA. All the hotels were full in nearby Lexington, because the local high school and Virginia Military Institute had homecomings that weekend. He had found a "flea bag" motel 10 miles outside of town, and the owner had assured him it was clean.

We had dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant in Lexington and then rode to the motel. But the owners had reserved rooms for the wrong weekend! It was 9:00 Saturday night by then. Jim got on his smart phone and found a Budget Inn closer to Lexington. We took off in a group toward this new motel. Partway there Joe discovered Donna wasn't with us, and he got us to stop. After some discussion Jim went back to the first motel, and the rest of us went on to the new one. Fortunately Donna stayed at the old motel and left a message on Jim's phone. Within an hour she and Jim got to the new place, and we checked in.

It started raining during the night. I had left my gloves on the motorcycle seat, so they were soaked by morning. Luckily I had brought another pair. When everyone was packed we bought gas and went for breakfast at a place called Pink Cadillac. It had posters of movie stars and cars of the 1950s. After breakfast Donna left for home, because the outlook was for rain all day.

On Sunday we took turns leading the group. Jim followed the leader and radioed comments. Weather was 45 degrees and rainy all day. We stopped around 4pm at a restaurant. We had a light meal. Joe and Tom passed out religious leaflets and tried to convert us, especially Jim. And we talked about motorcycles. Jim's first two motorcycles were K75s. He said he used to be a shaft-drive snob, but he's not any more. He went on to say he could make a chain last 35,000 miles with regular cleaning and lubrication. This would be a prophetic statement.

We left the restaurant. Joe and Tom headed for home in New Jersey. Jim, Bill, and I headed for Maryland. We were on Route 211 in the Thornton Gap and climbing a hill when Jim's chain broke and flew off. He coasted to the side of the road, and we stopped behind him. Jim called a friend to rescue him, but the friend wasn't home. His wife wasn't home, because she was on her way to Japan for a business trip. Bill offered Jim the use of his G650.

Jim locked his belongings in his saddlebags and left the bike on the side of the road. Jim drove Bill's bike, and Bill rode on the back. In that manner Bill took Jim to his home in Maryland. After that Bill would go to his motel in Frederick. I followed them, and Jim pointed out the turn-off for Route 15. I took Route 15 north and arrived in Waynesboro around 9:30pm. I bought some supper and went to the motel.

Monday morning was overcast and 36 degrees. For the ride home I put on long johns, a sweatshirt, and two fleece sweaters under my riding suit. Luckily I had brought some heavy mittens with thick wool fleece.

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