Motor Officer rides through turn 9
How do you train some of the most highly trained motorcycle riders in the country? It’s a daunting challenge, and one Fishtail Riding School has taken on in New England for the past decade. The key to an effective school has been to identify the holes that exist in the motor training regimen and then create a curriculum that fills those holes.
While current motor training is superb, it does have significant gaps. This training focuses on riding motors at relatively low speeds in tight spaces. It teaches officers to have an excellent sense of the machine/rider capabilities, and the results are riders who are without peer when operating within those parameters. The gaps reveal themselves when the officers take the motors up to higher speeds.
The clearest conflict between slow speed and high speed riding deals with body position. Motor training emphasizes the rider staying upright relative to the horizon while leaning the motor into the turn, using the floorboards as a lean guide. At parking lot speeds this is extremely effective in keeping the lean angle consistent. The problem arises when speeds increase. Pushing the bike down onto the floorboards prematurely uses up cornering clearance, and should the officer misjudge the turn he doesn’t have the option of leaning the bike more. Doing so will only lever the tire(s) off the pavement leading to a crash.
At Fishtail we teach the officers to reverse their habit patterns once the speeds reach normal, street riding speeds. Instead of staying above the motor, we teach the officers to lean their upper body into the turn and push the handlebars away from pavement, delaying the point where the floorboards touch down. This increases both the safety margin as well as the potential speed for any given corner.
Our second major area of focus deals with the geometry of negotiating a turn. The point at which a rider initiates the turn has a significant impact on how well and how safely he can track through a given turn. Misjudge the entry point and the probability of running out of roadway prior to finishing the turn goes up significantly. There is simply no way to effectively teach this aspect of riding in current slow-speed training. Learning this fundamental safety skill requires negotiating a variety of turns at various speeds.
Motorcycle Officers riding through a turn
The rest of our curriculum focuses on areas of vision control at higher speeds, traction control in various conditions, brake control and throttle use. These are all done in the context of proper seating position and understanding the geometry of turn.
New habit patterns take time to learn and must be reinforced on a regular basis, just as the current slow speed training does. However, the techniques to safely ride a motorcycle at speed are unique and in many ways opposite of those needed for the cone drills. This is why the closed course environment is so effective. Officers can focus on the new skills at speed without the distractions or threats of the street environment while being coached by the instructors.
We are pleased to say the training has been extremely effective. Cambridge PD realized a 70% reduction in their motor accident rates after training with us. Officers from the North East Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) have seen similar reductions. During the first few years of NEMLEC’s training, it was normal for officers to approach us as soon as they arrived for that year’s training and say, “You saved my life last year.” As a result, we are now a permanent part of their annual training.
Fishtail operates a motor unit-exclusive training day every spring at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This year’s day is Wednesday, May 15. The training is scheduled to fit into the motor officer’s regular duty day, and we provided a light breakfast and full lunch, plus plenty of hydration. For those officers who cannot make the exclusive day due to short-notice duty, vacation, etc., we can also enroll them, on a limited basis, in our regularly held schools.
One of our instructor's, Wes Robichaud follows officer's during training