Monday, July 25, 2011

Top Gun Class - Day 1

This was the 5th MSF class I've taken in about the last 6 years or so. I've taken the BRC, the one day refresher BRC, ARC, and ERC. All of the previous courses followed a predictable MSF format - some amount of classroom time to learn about theory and watch some videos, then lots of range time. I am quite comfortable with this set up. I know what to expect and can fall right into the system ready to learn.

There were six of us in the top gun class - 5 guys and me. I was the only girl in the ERC last spring as well. And, one of the guys from the ERC class was also in this class. He said he remembered my bike from the last class. I think that was his PC way of saying he remembered me because my bike looks nothing like it did back then. Well, except for the Saints fleur de lis on the windscreen. Anyway, that was cool to see him following up on his training too.

Don Gunn was our instructor. He is a retired motorcycle cop and also a retired motorcycle cop instructor. He's not a large man. He sort of reminded me of my father-in-law in some ways. He had us introduce ourselves, say where we lived, where we were from, how long we'd been riding, what we did for a living (he wanted to know who the lawyers were), and why we were taking the class or what we hoped to learn. I said I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I decided to take the class because most of my riding experience had been commuting to work which I felt was lulling me into a sense of security. He liked that answer. :-) After we all went around with the introductions Don said, "Ok, that was your classroom part of the class. Lets pick a bike."

10 minutes in and we were on the bikes already?! This was already pushing me out of my comfort zone. But, I was ready to learn.

All of day one we rode the 250 Nighthawk training bikes. We wrote our names on the tape on the headlights so we'd always have the same bike. He had us get familiar with the friction zone for a few minutes asked us if we were ready and off we went. Our first exercise was a follow the leader ride. We followed Don all around the range. The cones were already set up for all of the exercises but for this ride, he just seemed to be riding around. We were supposed to do everything he did. If he pointed at something with one hand, we pointed at that same thing with the same hand. We rode around one handed, holding our left hands out. He rode up to a stack of cones, picked one up and placed it on the next pile. We did the same. We rode through a cone weave and even in a small circle following each other. We even did a figure eight. Then we parked.

From there he gave us a brief lecture about the friction zone, how to use your rear brake, clutch and throttle simultaneously to produce a desired result, some situational discussions, examples of the way we probably do things now and how he would teach us a different way of doing things. I was excited and ready for more.

After that, the rest of the day sort of went the same way. We'd walk over to the particular cone pattern we'd be working with. Either he or his son Brent (or was it Brett?) would demo the course. He'd talk us through it. And then he'd say ok and we'd do it. No matter how complicated the exercise looked, and they got progressively more complicated as the course went on, he'd always approach it as if it was the easiest thing in the world, explain it simply and set us to it. We'd look around at each other sort of in disbelief and then mount the bikes and get to it. By the end of the first day, I think I would have believed I could have done anything Don told me I could do. (That's a good teacher!)

I didn't get to take any photos of the class as it was quite intense. That was a bummer, especially for those of you reading this unillustrated tome, Sorry.

I think I'd describe day one as brimming with optimism. I didn't yet know that I couldn't do some of these things. And in fact, I was fairly successful working my way through all the exercises. We weren't graded or scored so it was all about yourself and the bike and learning the limits of both. We did some straight weaves, followed by staggered weaves, followed by even more staggered weaves. At the end of the weaving run were three pairs of cones that we also had to maneuver before heading back through the same weave. It was an out and back deal. That turned out to be harder than it looked but the cones were small so it wasn't as traumatic as things that came on day two.

The most amazing thing we did was a keyhole exercise. Here is a you tube video demonstrating the set up.  We first did this individually, in each direction. Then Don sent in two bikes at a time, then three, then four, and ultimately putting 7 bikes in at a time! I couldn't believe it! We had to travel very slowly inside the circle so that as the last bike was entering the first was exiting.

On this first day we did lots of weaves and u-turns and circles. It was a good day for me. I felt quite confident and excited for the second day. It was a hot day, too. I think I was a little overheated so was glad to find out that our day was ending at 2pm. At the end of the day we rode the bikes over to the shed so they could be put away for the afternoon. Don said on day two we'd practice a few more exercises and then if we wanted to, we could ride our own bikes on the range. He said it was up to us if we wanted to do that. He emphasized that learning the exercises so that we could go out and practice on our own was the point of the class. So, there was no pressure on us to get our bikes out there. That felt good but I was anxious to get on my own bike and try out my new skills. I resolved to do that as I fell asleep, dreaming of riding the Nighthawk through a cone marked range.


  1. Kudos to you for taking so much training. I took my Team Oregon course back in 2002 to get my endorsement and haven't taken one since. I know i should but I'm just not sure which one is right for me with the amount of miles I have on two wheels. (didn't actually get a bike until 2009) I need one to gain cornering speed confidence.

    I have a mental block when it comes to taking classes. Performance anxiety to say the least. One of these days I need to get out for some parking lot practice.

    I am glad you had such a good time at the course. I can only aspire to getting that comfortable in a group training session. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. I think I have a mental block when I'm on my own. The self doubt makes me second guess my ability. But if I have an instructor or coach to reinforce my skills and performance, then I feel more confident. I wanted to draw some of the course patterns but I need to reload software on my laptop first. I'll try to find some of the patterns online too but haven't had much luck so far.