We recently reported Avalon’s move to a top Dutch team to contest the new World Supersport 300 class. But just before she jetted off to Europe, the FIM 2016 European Women’s Champion squeezed in a day’s Ride Forever course and evaluation ride to gain her Restricted licence. And we went along for the ride.
Avalon Biddle gets World Supersport 300 ride with top Dutch team
The Ride Forever Bronze course is an ideal choice for riders on a Learner licence to prepare themselves for their Restricted. Avalon booked her course and licence evaluation with Chris Smith of Passmasters. The two know one another well from attending the same events over the years, like Ride Forever’s ‘Shiny Side Up’. Av is keen to get her licence because some circuits, especially closed road circuits, now require competitors to be licensed. Also, she works at a bike shop when not competing, so being able to take the bikes on the road is a big advantage.
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So how does an international motorcycle racer in her twenties end up having no road licence? Av never had to get one largely because her family took her to meetings. Starting in junior motocross, Av progressed to circuit racing through ‘Buckets’, mostly competing on kart tracks. “I used to love the speed in dirt racing but the height in the jumps freaked me out,” she says. “So with the circuit racing, I get the speed without the heights!”
How low can you go?
Speed, however, wasn't the issue at the beginning of the day. Along with the other three riders on her course—Adrian, Hamish and Terri—Avalon went through a bit of schooling on low-speed riding technique. It’s an important skill on the road, allowing riders to complete a U-turn without falling off among other manouevres, but in track racing? Not so much. And it turned out Av’s skills were a bit weak to begin with. A tight slalom weave saw the odd cone missed and one knocked over. But, with a bit of coaching from Chris, the World Supersport rider was soon completing the course in one, smooth swoop. She did have a laugh at herself though. “I can't believe how hard that was, and how bad I was at it!”
Next, the group moved out from Passmasters training ground onto the mean streets of Pukekohe. The day had started with a briefing on riding technique, including how to look for and spot hazards. Without much road riding under her belt, Avalon was shocked at just how much information there was to take in and process. “It’s a worry when you think about how many people are out there riding who still have to think about the basics,” says Avalon. “Things like changing gear or remembering to use their mirrors: when they're not automatic, it all takes attention.” Av was also partly referring to her habit of leaving her indicators on. Again, not something you have to worry about screaming into turn one at Maranello, but potentially dangerous on the road. Despite having dense urban traffic thrown at them in tight confines, all the riders managed to negotiate the urban part of the course without trouble. So it was time to hit the open road.
Head out on the highway
Terri had already taken a Bronze level course with Chris and was back trying to iron out a common problem. Like many riders, Terri was tending to turn in too early. As many experienced riders know, this restricts vision around the corner and can catch you out when the corner doesn't go where you were expecting it to. The end result can force riders to run wide on the exit.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Avalon began by having the same issue. Chris was excellent at picking this up and showing exactly what is needed: keeping a very wide line deep into the corner until you see the exit. Only then can you determine where to apex—usually very late and with a tight exit, ready for what’s ahead. It’s a little different to the race lines Av is used to. Following someone as skilled as Chris doing this is poetry and worth doing the day for this alone. But Chris had another tool up his sleeve which he used over the coffee break: an iPad App that lets riders sketch where they’d go on the approach to and through a corner, before Chris traces the ideal line. “It made a huge difference,” says Av. “Once I understood why I should be doing it, I really worked at it. Compared to track riding that was probably the biggest difference for me and the hardest to master.”
By the final session of the day, Av’s and Terri’s lines were spot on and a joy to watch. As Chris put it: “We had a real snake going!”
The acid test
Having spent the day teaching, coaching and watching Av, it was then time for Chris to take her on a one-on-one evaluation ride to shed her learner status. The instruction and practice made the result pretty much a foregone conclusion, but Av was none the less delighted to get her Restricted licence ‘pass’ for the road. Next stop, a full class 6.
“Doing the course was a real eye-opener,” says Avalon. “But it’s also kind of scary to think a lot of people out there don't do any additional training. It really impressed on me how many hazards there are to deal with and, without the training, they're not always going to pick those up, let alone know how to deal with them.”
By now, Av will be in Europe doing a different kind of testing in preparation for the season opening in April. We’ll keep you up to date with her progress, here on the website and in our Ride On newsletters. If you’re not a subscriber yet, enter your email address below.