Harry goes back to school – Moto Rider Academy advanced rider training


Story: Harry Fisher
Pics: J-Pix

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to race and, thanks to my time on The Bike Show, I’ve been able to fulfil that desire. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very good or even very fast but I enjoy myself and am happy with my singular lack of talent.

Or am I?

I tell myself that I’m happy but you can’t keep a competitive spirit down and, if I’m completely honest, I’m getting a bit frustrated; I have hit a brick wall in terms of lap times, or is it a psychological barrier? Have I started too late in life to have that lack of fear, that ability to suspend the imagination about what will happen if it all goes terribly wrong, that one needs to go fast? I tell myself that it can be done because I have seen others do it, both as a spectator and at close quarters on track. The bike that we race – our faithful and bulletproof Suzuki GSX-S1000F – is not the limiting factor; team mates in various endurance races have gone much faster than I have, so the one spoiling the party is me and me alone.

Moto Rider Academy school Harry Fisher Phakisa

Phakisa Freeway, the home of the Moto Rider Academy school

Coupled with this is the knowledge that all my racing so far has been at Red Star Raceway. Nothing wrong with that; it’s a good track, if very tight and twisty but it lacks the balls-out fast corners that really set the men apart from the boys. I question whether I will be able to take what little skill I have developed at Red Star and translate that into riding other tracks at a competitive pace.

I think about it a lot but don’t seem to come up with any answers. Luckily for me, I am never short of an offered opinion from Mat and Donovan and while Mat’s can be summarily ignored – ‘give up, mate’ – Don’s was a little more intriguing; ‘Go back to school.’

Now, I wasn’t very good at school, or rather, school wasn’t very good for me, so the thought of going back there doesn’t fill me with any great joy but, annoyingly, it is very good advice.

Fast forward three weeks and we’re at Phakisa, near Welkom, in the Free State. Any motorcyclist worth his or her salt knows it as the venue for the South African MotoGP race between 1999 and 2004, but since then it has survived on a diet of track days and national races. However, this is still a track that has hosted World Championship motorcycle races and therefore, is as good a place as any to test one’s mettle; make things click here and maybe I don’t need to feel so bad about myself.

The Moto Rider Academy has been running classes here for about 15 years, under the watchful eye of Andre Neethling, ably assisted by a team of experts, including our very own Donovan Fourie. I have to admit to being a bit confused upon arrival because it is definitely nottouting itself as a racing school and some of my classmates were, how to say this politely, not looking terribly ‘racy’. Had I, by some hilarious act of mischief on the part of my laugh-a-minute colleagues, stumbled into the complete beginner’s course? Was this a thinly veiled insult regarding my ability?

Moto Rider Academy Harry Fisher Phakisa Andre Neethling

Moto Rider Academy boss Andre Neethling follows a cautious Harry at the beginning of the day.

Actually, no! This was where it was all happening and there was no choice but to sit down and see exactly where this led me.

Moto Rider Academy works on the principle that there is always something you can learn, no matter your skill level. Absolute beginner? Weekend warrior? Top racer? Bet you don’t know it all, no matter how good you think you are and, if you are an absolute beginner, the only way to accelerate learning is with a bit of one-on-one training. It is always scares me silly that you can pass your test and immediately go out and buy the fastest bike possible with no further training. The wise ones will come and do a course such as this.

The whole idea is not necessarily to make you faster round a track – although it can do that – but to help you understand what you and your bike can do and equip you with the techniques to make you a better and safer rider on the road. So many track techniques can be taken onto the road and, to be honest, speed is the least important of those. Building confidence in yours and the bike’s abilities allows for more a more relaxed rider which in turn organically increases speed and enjoyment. And all it takes are a few simple techniques that can be safely taught in the controlled environment of a track.

You take what you want from the day. For some it was merely to feel more comfortable on their bike; for me, it was to simply go faster through ironing out some of the bad habits I’d fallen into through a couple of years’ doing my own thing on the racetrack.

Different elements are communicated clearly in the classroom before you head out onto the track to put things into practice and the day continues like that; classroom, track, classroom, track over seven or eight sessions. Out on track you are divided into groups of three or four riders, each group with an instructor. They will either leave any comments to the end of the session or stop you out on track in a safe place to give you a hint or tip. What is important is that at no point do you feel like you are being laughed at; the instructors genuinely want you to get better and, if they can help you do it, then that’s their job done. Of course, it’s up to you to put into practice what they advise you to, but that’s why you are there, surely? Ego has to be checked in at the door.

Moto Rider Academy Harry Fisher Phakisa school Harry later

Harry later in the day. Note the different body position and lean angle entering this corner.

And the amazing thing is that, through them watching you at close quarters and suggesting even the smallest things, your riding improves by leaps and bounds. If you take pride in your ability, then nothing stokes that pride more than doing something better. Not all of us are born with the natural ability of a Rossi or Marquez, neither will we ever get to that level through hard work, but there are personal targets to aim for and I can’t think of a better bunch of people to help you reach them.

I don’t think there was anyone there that day who left disappointed. I certainly didn’t and now it’s up to me to put everything into practice on my own.

If you’re interested in attending a training course with Moto Rider Academy, go to their website at www.motorideracademy.com. Price for the level one course is R1650 and this includes free entry to the Sunday open track day as well.

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