The leaders coned off a course for us. It consisted of a wide slalom, two tight circles, then a little straightaway & exit gate. We were supposed to zigzag through the slalom, go around the first circle in one direction and the second in the other direction, then get up a little speed (second gear at least) and practice a controlled emergency stop at the gate.
We went through that a few times, and everyone did OK. Actually, no one dropped her bike all day and that's a minor miracle, someone always dumps it on these sort of courses! A bunch of the ladies were having some significant trouble, though, keeping their feet on the pegs. Some of them were riding huge bikes & couldn't balance them very well at slow speeds, so down the feet would go. I saw some who practically paddle-walked their rides through the entire slalom.
(Apparently, I was one of the few who didn't put my feet down all day, a fact I attribute to stubborness instead of skill. I completely sucked my first time through the course, it felt like I was wrasslin' the handlebars rather than letting the front wheel flow through the turns, but it got better as I got a little warmed up. Also, I remembered to turn my head, which helps, duh! :P One of my times through, I managed to lock up my rear wheel on the quick stop, just a little skitterskitter and a tiny bit of fishtailing as the tire chattered and stopped. Whee. It terrifies me and makes me giggle simultaneously. At least I did the right thing & kept on the brake, but I wasn't carrying enough speed to highside the bike anyway.)
After everyone had been through the course three or four times, the leaders had diagnosed the biggest problems. The riders having the most trouble were trying to go more slowly by using less throttle, which doesn't work at walking speeds (the bike falls over with that little power to the rear wheel.) So, everyone gather 'round, we're going to have a quick lesson on the friction zone, the spot where the clutch is neither fully engaged nor fully disengaged. You absolutely need it for low-speed maneuvers. Ride with the clutch in the friction zone (otherwise known as "slipping like crazy"), give it more throttle, and drag the rear brake as much as needed to keep the speed down, and the bike is about a million times more stable. This was clearly a new concept for some, excellent! So off we went to practice in the friction zone: the slow race.
In the slow race, someone walks beside you at a normal pace while you ride in a straight line. Slip the clutch, roll on the throttle, and feather the rear brake. It's hard when you first try it, but gets easier with a little practice. Soon, everyone is confidently putt-putting through the parking lot at snail speeds. Then, back to the coned-off area, and we practiced the slalom/tight turns/quick stop again, and a lot of the riders did quite a bit better now that they had the friction zone concept in use.
Some folks kept practicing in the cones, some of us got bored & did other things. I repeated lots of U-turns. Then I'd breeze out the bike, stop and chat for a while, start up and do some more U-turns, etc etc. It was surprisingly fun to spend a morning working on the little things, perfecting one's skills. Maureen even let me take a spin around the parking lot on her brand new bike, a big V-Star 1100. (Wow, that's a vote of confidence! Thanks, Maureen!) A nice bike, but it's still in its break-in period so everything felt stiff. Stiff throttle, stiff clutch, even the rear brake felt unresponsive (though it functioned perfectly) ... maybe I'm just used to my Honda.
Afterwards, the group went to lunch in La Canada, then split up. I rode home the long way