High Tech Coaching
About twenty years ago I was planning for a long-weekend ride through the hills outside Sydney. My biggest concern was my girlfriend at the time. She'd only recently taken delivery of a brand new CBR600F2.
While we were both confident in her ability to handle this motorcycle, which was much larger, heavier and more powerful than the BR250 she'd just traded, I could see an element of nervousness whenever we discussed the upcoming trip.
I wracked my brain for ways to alleviate her nerves, something to put her at rest, some way to reassure her that we could overcome any challenge.
It was at this time I decided to buy a pair of small walkie- talkies. They weren't designed for use in motorcycle helmets so I had to buy separate earbud headphones and computer microphones and then hack the radios and components together. The result was a surprisingly effective mashup of switches, earbuds and velcro.
I covered the microphones in foam and taped them up in such a way to minimize wind noise and the result was actually quite effective.
We left for the 3 day trip on a friday morning and within a few hours had established rules for communication. Battery life was too short to leave the radios on all the time so we established hand signals to know when to turn the radios on. Once they were on we could use the Push to Talk switches I had mounted beside the clutch lever and discuss whatever was important.
The result was occasional questions about what to do in certain situations my girlfriend had never faced before. We were able to chat freely whenever we were in traffic, but were restricted to about 60kph or about ~40mph before wind noise overwhelmed conversation.
The difference between riding with the radios, and riding without, was the difference between terror and confidence. It didn't take much but I was able to reassure her of the lessons she'd already mastered on her 250 and their relation to the 600. The biggest factor was simply the opportunity to get reassurance. Her questions were few and far between and my answers were simple, but thats all it took.
The trip was a huge success. We all had a great time riding on some spectacular roads. We spent a day and a half riding to a guest house on top of a mountain and spent the next day and a half riding down the other side. We had no accidents, no nasty surprises. Nothing but good fun.
After that first trip we didn't need the radios again so they sat forgotten in a drawer. But I remembered their usefullness when I started teaching for MSF. As I taught nervous first timers I remembered how reassuring they were. The MSF structure didn't allow for innovation like student radios so I had to rely on my teaching technique to put students at ease. As a result I think I learned a lot about how to reassure nervous students, how to show them that they could do what I needed them to do.
In the vast majority of cases I succeeded. But in the few where I failed I always felt that being able to talk them through an exercise that scared them would have made the difference between success and a skinned knee. And we had several skinned knees.
Having said this though, there is a lot to be said for learning techniques to overcome a lack of technology. And I'm glad for the opportunity.
When I started teaching at Ridesmart I could immediately see the need for communication between student and instructor.
I went back to my roots and bought a pair of walkie-talkies. Fortunately technology had progressed so that I was able to buy hands-free headsets with Push-to-Talk buttons.
I knew I would have issues with wind noise so I tried everything I could find to solve this.
I tried several throat-mics, bone conduction mics, even a skull mic which was advertised as being perfect for our application. But none worked.
Thanks to persistence and stubbornness there were occasional moments when they worked stunningly well.
In one particular case I worked with a student who had his own iPhone headset with custom fitted earbuds. While we were on the track at Cresson he said he could hear me clearly at every corner of the track. The difference was incredible.
He was slightly crossed up in right turns and I was able to fix this in a single corner. As he went through Little Bend I mentioned he needed to get his shoulder over further. He adjusted and immediately said
"Wow, that feels better."
At the end of the session he said he learned more in that one session than he had in six years of track days with Ridesmart and other organisations all across the country.
I knew the power of voice communication, I just needed to overcome the technical challenges.
Fortunately, being a member of the Fort Worth Motorcycle Riders club gave me access to a bunch of tech savvy riders who were always on the lookout for technology that can increase safety and keep people alive. Some members tested out multiple bespoke communication systems and the Sena SMH-10 proved to be an excellent solution thanks to its software based noise cancellation system.
Rick, doing his best Stormtrooper impression
I bought a pair and tried them, again on Cresson. The difference was amazing. My students could hear me as clearly as if we were on the phone.
Among the first students to use the Sena radios were some riders who had never been on the track before. At the end of the day we spoke at length about the benefits of having voice communication and they raved about the confidence it gave them. They said the instant feedback was reassuring, not distracting at all. Every time they had questions, they asked them immediately instead of having to wait until we were in class. That also meant they never forgot their questions, and I never had to wait for a moment to answer.
Shortly after this day at Cresson I worked with students at Eagles Canyon.
One of my students was back on track for the first time since crashing at Cresson. He was nervous, worried about repeating his mistake, and also terrified he would damage his new bike.
Thanks to the radios I was able to talk him through his return to the track. I could see how nervous he was but thanks to the radios he was able to make a rapid progression from Level 1 pace, up to the point where I honestly felt he was ready for Level 2.
In one day.
This story has been repeated over and over; an experienced student is not sure when to take the step from Level 1 to Level 2. Being able to provide feedback on everything they do gives them the confidence that they are in fact ready to move up.
Recently I worked with an experienced Level 2 rider who was not quite sure what to do to improve her pace.
Without the Sena radios I would have been trying to explain advanced riding techniques in class, half an hour after the student made the mistakes I wanted to correct.
Sandra, now a solid Level 3 rider.
Thanks to the Sena I was able to say "I see you're moving your entire head to scan from apex to horizon. Try staying focused on the horizon and scan for the apex with your peripheral vision."
I said this while going through the Wagon Wheel. On the very next lap, her corner speed increased by at least 15mph. And it kept climbing.
I noticed the student used much better body position in left turns, so I pointed this out. Each time we went through a right I told her how to move her body to get it to match left turns.
Before the end of the session, her corner speed through right turns also jumped dramatically. And its still rising.
This might have been possible without the radios, but it would have taken more than just a single session. It would have taken multiple days, back to back, with copious notes and video to make sure no issues were forgotten.
At Texas World Speedway this past weekend I was lucky enough to work with one student per day. The resulting improvements were exactly the reason I love to teach.
With one student it was his first time to TWS. After the round-robin we circulated the track and I kept up a steady stream of tips and advice. This turned out to be too much information so the next session I reduced my commentary to just corner numbers. This gave the student a reference so he understood what I meant when I made comments like;
"Make sure you push deep in Turn 7." or, "Make sure you're in the middle of the track when you finish Turn 10 early so you can prepare for Turn 11."
Alex learned more than I ever hoped for on his first time at TWS.
As we watched video from the first session he was able to scan and search for braking/turn in markers. As a result in the next session he knew exactly what to look for. At each corner I reminded him of what corner we were in, what to expect and how to prepare. As a result, he pushed deep through Turn 7, and finished Turn 10 early in time for a strong drive out and through Turn 11 like he'd done it a hundred times.
And this was before lunch on his fist day at this track...
Again, we achieved more each session than I would be able to do in a day without the radios.
Perhaps the greatest testimonial came from another instructor.
Ignacio used the radios at MSRH and TWS. (he'll be posting more on this issue shortly).
I love this video:
On Sunday my student, who was in Level 1 earlier this year, was already starting to catch Level 2 traffic in only her second time at TWS.
Leah combined excellent fundamentals
with smooth riding and style to die for.