There are copious different ways to improve one’s riding skills. Many beginner riders are happy with spending as much time on two wheels as possible, gradually improving and learning from their own mistakes. I myself am a big fan of taking advantage of someone else’s knowledge and experience. I find it to be not only time efficient (who doesn’t love making rapid progress!) but it has also saved me from gaining bad habits. I like to think I’ve been very smart in choosing where to get tuition from. I definitely never relied on forums, or on people with only a few more months of experience than me.. No, no. I always preferred to go to professionals who have had a successful a career in racing and now make their living teaching others. From ‘Off Road Skills’ school in Wales, through ‘Novice Only day’ at Cadwell, to ‘Supermotor School’ in the Netherlands – you name it, I tried it. I loved all these experiences, and found each of them to be very beneficial, but I also quickly realised that on-track experience was my favourite poison, so I gradually started spending more and more time on various circuits.
For quite a while, I made the most of the free tuition that is usually available at trackdays. Admittedly, you don’t get to spend much time with the instructor, as they tend to be very busy catering for between 50-160 people in one day. That being said, I need a lot of practise when mastering a new skill, so having only one or two instructed sessions always worked well for me, and gave me something to work on for the rest of the day. It all was going great for a couple of years, but then I hit a wall (luckily only metaphorically), stopped making any progress, and started getting very frustrated with my lack of improvement. I reached my breaking point after a two-day event in Estoril, late last summer. It was my first time at this circuit, so it took me a while to familiarise myself with the layout, but once I got the hang of it I started picking up the pace and really pushing my limits. I was wrestling the bike so much, my body was sore for a week after the event. All I ever heard during my year-long stagnation was that I have to go faster, so in Estoril I pushed so hard I could feel I was on the verge of crashing in almost every corner and yet I was STILL slower than everyone else. I knew I was doing something wrong, but no one could pinpoint what it was. As soon as I came back from Portugal, I decided to take drastic measures and booked a full day of ‘Notso-Fast Rider Coaching’ with Gary Walton. Gary was fully booked up until the end of the year, with only one date still available at Donington – my least favourite circuit. I booked it anyway, hoping he would help me overcome my disinclination towards that track. Mother Nature of course heard I was up to the challenge, and booked my least favourite weather too.. As I showed up at Donington on a cold, rainy, October morning, I couldn’t help but think these dreadful circumstances were, ironically, a blessing. After all, what better way to learn than in the toughest conditions?! If Gary could get me to improve in the rain and at the track I haven’t been able to enjoy, then surely everything after that will be a walk in the park?
As soon as I walked into the garage, Gary welcomed me with with a firm handshake and a hot cup of tea, as well as offering help with unloading my bike from the van – talk about knowing the way to a woman’s heart! ;)
We set up our bikes on matching pit mats, and, feeling very factory-rider, I sat down to discuss with Gary my weaknesses and tell him what I was hoping to achieve. As we were preparing for our first session, the rain started to come down heavily and after one look at my face, Gary immediately assured me that we didn’t necessarily have to go out in extreme conditions and if the whole day turned out to be a washout, he would be willing to reschedule for another day. He was more than happy to admit, he understands a day with him is a considerable financial investment and he doesn’t like the idea of anyone feeling like they wasted an opportunity to make the most if it. I thought that was very considerate of him.
We agreed to skip the first session, and instead spent the time analysing my body position and bike set up – interestingly, Gary picked up on wrong rearset positioning, which had been affecting both my body position and riding ability. Towards the second session the rain eased off so we decided to head out. It was Gary’s chance to assess my riding. Initially he led the way and showed me the line, and then dropped behind me and followed me for the rest of the session. Once we got back to the garage, we spent the entire 40 minutes reviewing the footage from both the rear and front facing cameras installed on Gary’s motorbike. Although Gary was aware of my many faults, surprisingly he focused on what I was doing well and presented techniques on how I could do that more often. It was all narrowed down to just a couple of straightforward points for me to focus on in the next session. After that session, back in the pits, we studied the footage and decided what (and how) to tackle in the next session. We continued in this manner throughout the whole day. We even worked through the lunch break. Needless to say, it was the most intense learning experience I’ve ever had. However, Gary’s ability to simplify his instructions down to just a few clear points, meant I was quickly and easily able to adjust my riding.
From every training I’ve ever done, I picked up little catch phrases that used to pop into my mind as I was riding, but after a day with Gary, they have all been phased out by his instructions and pointers. So what makes Gary different, and, in my eyes, better, from all the other coaches? The answer is in the name. “Notso-fast”. When other instructors have always tried to push me well out of my comfort zone, insisting that my problems would disappear if only I went faster, Gary took the exact opposite approach, and asked me to slow down and fix my little problems first, which smoothed out my riding, quickly increased my confidence and resulted in me rapidly but comfortably picking up the pace. He completely transformed my riding, and when I went to Cartagena a month later, I was able to apply his advice on track and carry on improving my riding. I also noticed an immense difference in my mindset – I went from being extremely nervous and anxious, to completely relaxed, which helped me enjoy my time on track so much more.
I’m confident that I will benefit from everything Gary taught me, for a long time, and in all honesty, I feel this has been the most useful on-track tuition I’ve ever received.
Photography by Wil Collins