For those of you who are not already familiar, Dr. Harry Wong offers a series of motorcycle riding clinics. Not only are these clinics helpful and fun, they are also free. The following is a report from last weekend's clinic, which I attended.
As is the custom, about 40 of us gathered at Doc Wong's office in Redwood City for the "tutorial". The topic of the day was judging corner entry speeds -the basic lesson of which was: complete your judgements, and speed adjustments in advance of each turn, instead of right at the beginning or (worse) in the middle of the turn. After the tutorial, we split into about five groups, each with a leader, and fired up the bikes for a ride in the Santa Cruz mountains. Having never been on one of these rides before, I took a guess and went with the third group.
After a couple weeks of frequent rain, Saturday had been one of the most beautiful days in history. The weather was supposed to change for Sunday's ride, but we headed off under clear skies. The ride really began with the ascent up King's Mountain Road. The pace was mellow -a good thing considering the occasional mud filled streams crossing the road. Most of us kicked the tail out once or twice here. Near the summit, a rather new looking BMW pannier was sitting on the road, no matching bike in sight. Sure enough, when we reached the top somebody's Beemer was looking a little unbalanced. Apparently, there had been some kind of minor fall.
The opposite side of King's is called Tunitas Creek Road, and has a very different character. Whereas most of King's is smooth and constant radius, Tunitas is rough, steep, slimy and has inconsistent turns. Naturally, we picked up the pace and did our best to follow our lessons (avoid late braking, etc.) as we snaked our way down. Still, the pace was such that our group stayed in a nice line. A few miles later we stopped for a break in San Gregorio.
As we headed South on Stage Road, through Pescadero to Cloverdale Road, and on to Gazos Creek, we finally had some dry curves to slice up with a little more abandon. By the time we got to Hwy 1, however, the wind was howling and a few drops of rain were in the air. The storm clouds over our head suggested that we were about to get wet. After being blown across the road for a few miles, we stopped for lunch in Davenport.
As we waited for our food the skies darkened and let loose with a torrent of horizontal rain. Some of our meals took incredibly long to appear (an hour for a burrito), so I ended up joining the fifth (least experienced) group for the next leg through the hills to Boulder Creek. Some of these folks were pretty unaccustomed to riding on mountain roads in blinding rain (I can't imagine why ; ) ), so the pace was slow. Along with a friend who also commutes by bike, I elected to go ahead at a faster pace. It may souns absurd, but I rather enjoy riding on wet roads. It allows you to test the limits of adhesion without actually going very fast. Its fun to slide around a bit. Despite the delay, we found the remainder of the riders draining and thawing at a coffee shop in Boulder Creek. The "official" ride was over.
After willing ourselves back on the bikes, about a half dozen of us began the trip back up Hwy 9 toward home. Despite the heinous conditions, I thought this was the best part of the ride. There were no more groups, so I just followed Doc Wong and a couple of experienced riders. Once we'd escaped traffic, we rode as fast as vision allowed. Occasionally my bike would step out as I cornered through muddy rivulets, but fear had disappeared after a few hours of slithering.
After a quick waterproof photo session at the summit (to prove that we're fools?), I followed Wong along Skyline and down Hwy 84. Having your pace dictated by a skilled rider can be very helpful. Instead of spending your mental energy on speed calculations, you can concentrate on feeling what the bike's doing underneath you. Having advance notice of slippery spots also allows you to relax and enjoy a little slide, instead of panicking after being caught by surprise.
As far as I know, everyone made it home in one piece. All in all, it was an excellent day on the road. Despite the awful weather, spirits were high, greatly aiding the enjoyment factor for all. In case you'd like to check it out Doc Wong has a home page with all the needed info: http://www.docwong.com/