street triple R

Oh How I Miss Riding Motorcycles in San Francisco

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Long ago, there was a time when everyday was Ride to Work Day. I was forced to, parking in San Francisco is no joke. And it’s impossible to find affordable, all day car parking so two wheels is practically a must. Unless you want to sit in traffic on a bus for an hour, a motorcycle or scooter can shave a good 30 minutes off of your cross town commute.

If I go way back to 2003, when I had a scooter, it saved me money on bus far because it only cost me $0.10/HOUR to park all day. You read that right, $0.10 AN HOUR. Less than $1.00/day, which was half the rice of a round trip bus ticket. It also cost me less than 25 minutes weaving in and out of trafffic, lanesplitting down Fell Street or navigating Van Ness Avenue in the middle of rush hour.

It was one of the most freeing experiences I ever had. Now, I have lots of free, all day parking. And not a curvy hill in site during my commute. Let’s also just say that Philadelphia stop signs and traffic lights make for a pretty annoying ride.

Goldie starts to overheat after just 5-10 minutes in slow speed traffic. If I want to avoid that, then it’s a brief zip down Interstate 95, and by the time she warms up it’s ready to get off 2 exits down.

Le Sigh.

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Riding with CLASS Motorcycle School at Virginia International Raceway

Nope, we didn’t crash and have to get our bikes towed! (Kendon Motorcycle Trailer)

Nope, we didn’t crash and have to get our bikes towed! (Kendon Motorcycle Trailer)

Not Just Your Average Monday.

Earlier this week I had the honor of attending back to back track days with my friends at Reg Pridmore’s CLASS Motorcycle School.

I attended a special, unique event earlier in April just for women riders but this one was one of their regular 2 day events at VIRginia International Raceway in Alton, VA. My husband and I loaded up our bikes on the RevZilla Trailer (#IloveMyJob) and drove out Sunday, October 14th.

Here I am dancing with our bikes?

Here I am dancing with our bikes?

We rented one of the fancy garages at the track and made our home for the next 2 days.

By the way, we didn’t bring half the stuff most people bring with them to the track. Everyone will tell you something different, but I can tell you that you’ll probably use half of what you actually bring. So this is our simplified list in order of importance:

  1. Our track gear (duh!); suits, helmets, gloves, boots, back protectors

  2. Our bikes and keys

  3. Painters tape and duct tape (painters tape goes first, then duct tape. You’ll see why in a minute)

  4. Clean clothes for 3 nights since we left Sunday and got back Wednesday

  5. Chairs (because standing around all the time is tiring)

  6. Tool box (we have this one from Sonic). Of course we didn’t use everything but it does have some nice moto specific tools that can come in handy. I mainly used the tools to remove my mirrors, reinstall them afterwards and tighten up some loose ends.

  7. Cleaners, paper towels:

    1. Mucoff products: dry chain lube & degreaser, protectant, goggle/faceshield cleaner

    2. Simple Green; general, all purpose cleaner

  8. Tire compressor (so you can adjust your tire pressure below street levels. I drop mine to 28 front and rear for a little more stick)

  9. Tie downs to tie the bikes down to the trailer

  10. A few snacks/drinks

Oh and did I mention that because we went to the South Course on Day 1 (not North as planned), we had to leave our cozy paddock behind! So we managed all day without anything with us, and relied on track friends to help us out.

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In retrospect I could’ve used extra fuel, but there was a Sunoco station on site, just on the other side of the parking lot. This was the first track day where my fuel light actually went on at the end of the last session!

We got in Sunday night a little late but stayed up to tape up our headlights and turn signals. You didn’t have to take your mirrors if you didn’t want to but I found them distracting and they were easy enough to remove.

This is why you need duct tape and painters tape, so you can make eyes! Let’s just say my husband’s creativity inspired me. Remember to never directly apply duct tape to your lights and mirrors, you want to use painters tape first and then you can go crazy with funny colors and what not.

Although Hurricane Michael hit the weekend before, we had the privilege of riding both courses at VIR; both the North and South Courses. Originally we were only supposed to ride the North Course but it just worked out that we were able to do South on Day 1 and North on Day 2.

The South Course was a shorter, slower paced track. The upside to this is that I got to do more laps than I normally would have. The schedule for CLASS was a little different than track days I’ve done in the past with other organizations.

As with every track day, the day started first thing (7:30am-8:00am) with Check In and Tech Inspection followed by a safety meeting where rules and information for the day was presented and shared by Reg’s team.

These rules were imposed on both groups, regardless of experience level or training so you know that everyone is on the same page and things will go as safely as possible.

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Reg also impressed upon us a few other thoughts that he truly believed were important to our time at VIR for the next 2 days. I find these messages are important, not only for the track but for the street too:

  1. Slowing down, maintaining control

  2. Courtesy and consideration

  3. Learning not speeding

I can feel the instructor’s (orange shirt) eyes on the back of my head watching my pitiful form.

I can feel the instructor’s (orange shirt) eyes on the back of my head watching my pitiful form.

I found this message to be comforting, empowering and set a positive tone for the riding ahead. One of the many personal rules I have about riding motorcycles is not riding in large groups of strangers (outside the confines of an organized, training ride with a dedicated riding organization e.g. large public rallies and parades. It simply makes me nervous because out on the street, the training and riding environment is vastly different. When a group of riders are at the track together, we’re generally on the same page. We know we’ve come here because we know it’s safer, and our environment is controlled and organized in a way that cannot be matched to a track day. I always feel 100% safer on the track than I do on the street.

As the day went on, I found myself finally figuring out this track and feeling the most confident at of course, the last lap. It took me all morning and afternoon to get my lines just right.

And as much as I wanted to get my knee down, I decided to shift my focus on hitting my apexes just right and keeping my line tight, not wide because on the street that can be a very dangerous outcome. (Imagine going wide on a 2 lane, 2 way road over the double yellows!) I finally started feeling more confident to take my lines tighter and get over my fear of going wide.  

Trying my best to hug those apexes and keep a tight, inside line per the Mantra of Reg Pridmore.

Trying my best to hug those apexes and keep a tight, inside line per the Mantra of Reg Pridmore.

There were only two groups, A and B. A was for Advanced Pace and B was for Relaxed Pace. I started out in A the first day on the South Course. Although I did fine in that group I wasn’t feeling comfortable with the pace of the other rides so halfway through day 2, I opted to ride in Group B. The group was smaller, so more room and more laps! I hardly ran into any traffic and it felt like I had the track to myself. I also had lots of opportunities for coaches to follow me and for me to follow them. Pretty much every session, there was a coach available if I needed help.

There was also a small Triumph contingent, which was also comforting.

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You might be able to see in the background, that there were quite a few non traditional sportbikes that attended too!

And yep, they also fully attended both days. SEEE?? Track Days aren’t just for Sportbikes!

It’s for everyone, anyone. It’s all about finding the right one for you, and contacting local track schools to see if their program fits in with your goals and objectives as a rider. I have a list on my website here, of advanced, nontraditional track day training around the country that I highly recommend.

http://www.gearchic.com/beyond-basic-training/

But if you do some searching online I’m sure you’ll find local schools that will be more than happy to provide you advanced street training on the racetrack.

Or, sign up for a class with Reg and Gigi and tell them I sent you!

For more information on CLASS Motorcycle Schools including dates and prices, visit their website: ClassRides.com. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.

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Shoutout to Shoei Helmets and Honda for sponsoring CLASS and making sure that the instructors have the best helmets and bikes as well.

My Gear:

  1. Helmet: Bell Race Star, Ace Cafe

  2. Suit: Alpinestars Womens Motegi V1 Race Suit (new version)

  3. Gloves: Racer High Racer Womens Gloves

  4. Boots: Dainese Womens Torque Out D1 Boots

  5. Back Protector: Alpinestars Nucleon KR-1, SM

And in case the men out there are wondering about my husband’s gear:

  1. Helmet: Bell Star Helmet (Pre 2015)

  2. Suit: Revit Venom Suit

  3. Gloves: Held Evo Thrux

  4. Boots: Dainese Torque Out D1 Mens Boots (same as mine)

  5. Back Protector: Alpinestars KR Adventure; he said it was more comfortable than the model I have

How a Custom Suspension Changed my Ride

My bike (Goldie, 2012 Triumph Street Triple R) originally came with a stock rear shock. 

Benny, with the original Ohlins Shock that was gifted to me by the best husband, ever. 

Benny, with the original Ohlins Shock that was gifted to me by the best husband, ever. 

Then my beloved husband bought me a used Ohlins Shock from a friend of ours, which I had installed earlier this year. Neither of us realized how stiff this shock was. It came from a Triumph Daytona, and it was set up for racing, not street riding.

What that meant was that it was extremely stiff. SO stiff, even my friend who's 6', 200lbs remarked how stiff it felt when he sat on it. It's definitely a bad sign when your weight isn't enough to compress the rear shock on your motorcycle.

It should ALWAYS sag a little bit beneath your weight. If it isn't, you need to get it looked at asap.

Or if you're looking at buying a particular bike, you need to consider how the suspension is set and hopefully you've had a chance to sit on it to see if the suspension is remotely close to your weight/profile. 

Ohlins Shock 1.0, installed on Goldie before the magical Rebuild

Ohlins Shock 1.0, installed on Goldie before the magical Rebuild

This shock was SO stiff, that it literally bruised my tailbone. For several weeks, it felt like I bruised my tailbone hard. I know for a fact that I didn't fall down on it, and I hadn't been sitting in hard chairs. Apparently, students can get bruised tailbones from sitting all day in classroom desks. I definitely wasn't doing that, and working at Revzilla keeps me on my feet pretty much all day. 

The only thing I could tell for sure is that I rode my bike with the stiffer shock recently and it definitely was kicking my ass, literally. I felt every.single.bump. I was saying Ow! inside my helmet over every bump in the road. And if you're from Philly then you know how especially painful the roads can be. 

In April, I was excited when my friend Shawn told me that Ohlins would be at NJMP for MotoAmerica racing, and someone could rebuild my shock and make it actually fit ME!!

So I scrambled to take off the rear shock and get it over to the racetrack so a wonderful man named Ken could work his magic and modify it. 

I have to give Ken a Huge THANK YOU for squeezing me in to his very busy racing schedule that afternoon. Thanks Ken!!! So go check out his Instagram feed and give him a follow.

Ken uses his magic fingers to adjust valves to perfection!

Ken uses his magic fingers to adjust valves to perfection!

What appears to be a box full of keychains is really the secret to suspension magic. But that's all I know. 

What appears to be a box full of keychains is really the secret to suspension magic. But that's all I know. 

After all was said and done, and my wallet was emptied (because all that work doesn't come free!) I have a new-to-me rear shock. 

Just to compare, take a look at the before (blue) and after (red). It doesn't look like much, but the spring is much shorter, and the clearance is totally different. And also, the little bits inside the gold canister are different now and totally reworked for me. I'm not sure what that means mechanically, but all I know is that the new-to-me shock provides a completely different riding experience (Ohlins only had a used spring, so that's why it's a little smudged. But whatever, I didn't care!).

So what exactly does all this mean for me and Goldie? Well, for one thing, my bike actually responds to my weight. When I sit on her, my weight actually compresses the spring, I can feel the bike smush a little beneath my weight!  If I feel like it, I can actually modify the compression and rebound on the fly. I'm terrible at explaining this, so I highly recommend reading this article which gives a great overview of rear and front suspensions and what can happen if it's too soft or firm. 

Your bike suspension is designed primarily to absorb the imperfections in the roads, and ensure that tyres keep contact with the roads. Most bikes suspension are based on a spring like you would find in a pen, mattress or trampoline but much stronger. To stop the spring from bouncing the tyre like a yoyo; the rate the spring moves up and down is controlled by “dampers”.
— GoStar-Racing.com

When I would go over bumps, it felt like the bike wasn't absorbing the shock at all, instead my butt would take the brunt of it. Anytime I'd go over even a tiny bump I would squeeze my knees against the tank and raise my butt off the seat a bit (pavement, not dirt). Now I find myself doing that far, far less frequently than before. 

Corners

When my husband and I went to West Virginia last week, it was a game changer for me. Goldie had always been an amazing ride, even with the stock suspension. But now I felt a noticeable difference in slow and fast corners. 

In the tighter, slower turns I no longer felt like the rear wheel was going to slide out from under me because it wasn't gaining the right traction (which can be dangerous in corners). It feels firm, solid in every corner, as if the bike were attached to rails (traction!) and I was gliding through the corner without any wobble/bumpy feedback when rolling on the throttle (which I love to do once I'm in the corner). At higher speeds (freeway) I can feel the suspension working overtime to go over all the small bumps in the road. It's like I know I'm going over them but my body isn't feeling them as much.

my ass 

But most of all, my ass! It doesn't hurt anymore. And most importantly, my confidence has gone up. I'm still recovering from my accident last year so I still think of oil/fuel being spilled in every corner that I'm up against. Even if it's just water, in my mind I immediately think that it's something slippery. Having a stable, smooth rear suspension has helped me trust not my bike, but myself too. 

a little lower? 

Now that my rear suspension actually responds to my weight, I've found that the seat height has adjusted about 0.5" lower, possibly more. I just don't know how to measure that. But I can definitely tell because for the first time I was able to flat my right foot (although I still had to slide my butt off the seat a bit).

I'm so used to riding with the bike the way it was before, taller. Although I'm by no means flat footing both (which I would never want anyhow), now I find parking a little easier if there's a slight slope. I'm still wearing my tall insoles, but now I wonder if I can try the Dainese boots I've been wanting. Since they fit so tight on me, I'd have zero space for my insoles. Hmmmm. 

now what?

Now the only thing left to do is take it to a suspension guru to have the bike set up correctly so the front is balanced with the rear. Next year I might try to take on the front forks and see if they need to be changed, but so far I'm liking it the way it is. 

Happy Riding, and don't forget to check that suspension!

Some women want diamonds, pearls, and other useless junk. But this one needs a revalved Ohlins!!

Some women want diamonds, pearls, and other useless junk. But this one needs a revalved Ohlins!!

Video of Riding Motorcycles in (West) Virginia

Last week, me and my husband went for a fabulous vacation down South to Virginia / West Virginia. A ride report is coming soon. In the meantime, check out this short video of one of our afternoon rides through the mountains. 

Wish I could take credit for the amazing video editing, sound production, camera work and post production. All the credit goes to my husband, founder and CTO of this company. 

Thanks for watching! Stay tuned for a ride report.