Guest Ride Report – An Introduction to Cornerspin

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Although there are a lot of good riding and racing schools in Southern California, it’s not true that all such schools are on the left coast. Consider Aaron Stevenson’s Cornerspin and its brother Cornerspeed. Cornerspeed is held at Virginia International Speedway. Cornerspin is held at Aaron’s compound in North Carolina, and it’s described as “road racing in the dirt”!

An Introduction to Cornerspin
By David N

As a beginner, I chose the dirt. Besides, I’m old and crashing on the dirt is softer. You will crash. So, I signed up for Cornerspin, and I took my nephew and my son-in-law. That was last July and I’ve been back twice since.

To envision Cornerspin, think a weekend of skills training, practice and racing riding Honda CRF100s and CRF150s on a baby Laguna Seca track carved in the dirt. Day one is posture, turning, braking, throttle and one-handed drills. Day two is more of the same, but you will be sliding front and rear wheels through the turns, and you will be faster too!

The drilling starts first with correct posture. Ride with your elbows up. Your brake and clutch levers should be pointed down, not straight out. On turns, keep your outside elbow high and inside arm straight leaning the bike down. Sit with your junk almost in the gas tank. Keep the balls of your feet on the footpegs. Turn with your lower body and always look ahead through the next turn. The bike will go where you look. Apply throttle with finesse, like you’re turning a screwdriver. “Screwdriver hands,” Aaron says.

The next instruction is NO COASTING. You’re either on the gas or you’re on the brake. You don’t have to be on gas hard at all times, but you should never just coast. You’re driving and controlling the bike, not just going for a ride.

On braking, we learn how it feels to lock up the rear brake, then we trail off the brake just before that point so we can feel maximum braking power. Do the same with the front brake, you should know how it feels to have either end wash out. It won’t scare you, and Aaron helps by demonstrates everything.

Just when you’re having fun, Aaron makes you do it one handed. Place your left hand on the gas cap and navigate through tight S turns. The idea is to practice balance, turning the bike with your lower body and avoid having a death grip on the handlebar. I’m guilty of the death grip.

For more braking, we learn to “back it in”. That’s sliding the rear while braking and adding countersteer. We practice this on a short track which he turns into a diamond. He tightens the corners as we go around. He puts tires and plastic barrels in our way. The trick for me was not the tight braking and sliding, that’s fun. My focus was learning to give it a lot of gas early to get around the turn fast. I need more practice with that.

For still more posture drills, we go around tight circles slowly and lean the bike as far as we can, outside elbow up as before. The goal is to spill the bike by clipping the inside peg – but no one actually spilled it. I wasn’t too bad at this.

On real world track drills, we add throttle steering. The idea was to back it in the tight turn with hard braking, then trail off the brake, lean the bike hard and gas it out. If done right you’ll leave a rooster tail and wheelie out of the turn. I got it right maybe 2-3 times out of ten, but never got the wheelie. It’s hard to lean the bike at slow speed after braking, but that’s the trick for rear wheel spin.

I think the best part is learning that the throttle is your friend. It often gets you out of trouble. This is the opposite of what I learned in “defensive driving”, but it works especially when the front end begins to slide. One exercise had us pulling out in 2nd gear, but that wasn’t the main goal of the exercise. It was rather a turning exercise, but I did find the practice of starting in second helped me learn to be more aggressive with the throttle.

And of course, the best part is free track time when we try to put it all together – see the video at the end of the post.

Last July, it was very hot and the heat wore us down as the weekend progress. While lunch and drinks are provided, it’s a good idea to bring your own hydration pack.

On my second visit, it rained a lot the days before. The school was almost cancelled but the sun eventually came out, so the track was very muddy. While we cussed the mud, it was the most productive of my three visits. Slippery mud is like deep powdery sand. Keep your feet on the pegs, control the bike with your legs, and power through modulating your throttle. This helped my trail riding – I have no interest to try road racing.

Some old guy in a Bultaco shirt.

My third visit was this month. Aaron shot me an email as the school had three openings at the last minute and the weather forecast was perfect. So, I was in. Besides, there is a discount for returning students. First timers pay $569. Returning students pay $365. You can rent gear if you need it: I rented the first time but I quickly purchased my own gear.

I never asked, but I’m pretty sure Aaron is older than me. Yet, unlike most of us old guys, he’s in real good shape. He was drinking some special green healthy muck and conditions himself cycling. It shows.

First timers will be impressed at Aaron’s name-dropping, jokes, and stories. He has a story about everything and everyone from Valentino Rossi to all of the lesser knowns. The first time you hear his stories you’ll say “wow”. The second time you might question them, but the third time you’ll succumb. The weekend will not pass without his jokes and they’re great, even if you don’t laugh!

The nearby Comfort Suites was said to offer discounts to participants but when I called them to make a reservation, the clerk had no idea. She said “Corner-who?” and quoted me an ungodly rate. So, I stayed at the Days Inn. Some folks actually camp at Aaron’s track, but I’m not a camper. The Days Inn there was cheap if you don’t mind the smell of pot smoke whisking through the hallways each night. On our second trip, the desk in our room had some sort of insect infestation. There were thankfully no bedbugs, but I did not return there.

The rooms at Comfort Suites were nice but they’re cheaper if you become a member.

On my third trip, I stayed at the local Comfort Suites. It’s cheaper if you become a member. I signed up online, so my price was $94 per night with taxes, much less than I was originally quoted. The room was pretty nice. But I almost didn’t make it, as I was detoured by a puppy I found in the Comfort Suites parking lot. The poor pup was obviously lost but the hotel would not let me take it to my room for the night. I understood “no pets” but sheltering a lost puppy was more of an exigent circumstance. The manager did not agree and that soured me on the hotel. I’m not sure where I will stay next.

Thankfully, the weather was cool, so I put the puppy in my truck. I planned to leave in the morning with the pup if I had to, but I found the owner before dawn. That made me happy for two reasons: first for the obvious reason but second, I could still go racing!

Each school starts with introductions, basically who are you and why are you here. Well, “my name is David and I collect Bultacos. I want to learn how to spin them sideways.

Each school has a variety of students from beginning riders to experienced road racers, all ages and genders. Many are returning students, and Aaron calls them “recidivists”. Once you get an individual evaluation, you break into groups. By my third time around, I graduated to the faster group! Cool. It’s not a competition, but heck, you’ll grow a race face.

One older student this time was a bigtime adventure bike rider. Like me, he had no race experience, but he rode the Colorado Rockies and other inhospitable trails on a big R1200GS. That takes skill and it showed, he was really fast. I could keep up with him, but I couldn’t pass him. I might have to try Colorado. Those BMWs are big though!

You will crash, but it usually doesn’t hurt.

This is not a dirt bike school. Although you will become a better rider or racer, motocross riding is different. Aaron calls this “road racing in the dirt…because the highest levels of skill to control a sliding a motorcycle on asphalt begins in the dirt.” It’s best summed up in video:

That said, you won’t learn to throttle it sideways flat track style. So, my personal goal is not yet done. No worries though, Aaron runs a flat track school for that. That school is held only once or so per year, weather permitting, and the prerequisite is Cornerspin. I’m signed up, and I’ll report on the flat track experience when it comes.

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