When I see a motorbike pass me by, I always remember the good old days when my brothers and I would hop on our small Honda Monkeys and ride like there was no tomorrow. Today, getting stuck in traffic and wasting so much time made me look at riding bikes once again and get the feeling of freedom.
When the opportunity came to test bikes for Fast Times, our own social media sites and soon to open MP Turbo website, I grabbed it without hesitation. The new bikes are much faster and have better handling with the bigger ones aided with electronic aids like anti-lock brake system (ABS), traction control and engine management settings.
These new technologies are all foreign to me and I knew that I had to go back to basics and re-learn riding again. I was so blessed when Ducati, through Toti and Joy Alberto, Carlo Flavier and Lory Uy, invited us to join the Ducati Riding Experience (DRE) at the Megatent, Libis, Quezon City held last October 21, 2017.
This was the best time to get my decades -old riding skills updated and test the new Ducati bikes, too. Here are the highlights of what happened in the DRE and a must read on if you would like to become a rider soon.
Grand and wet start
As soon as we arrived at the Megatent, the rains poured onto the venue. I knew this will be memorable as the whole group will not only be able to ride powerful bikes, but we will also do it in a wet track. I can see some of my batch mates getting excited with nervous smiles all around.
We had more than 20 enrollees and Joy Alberto was our DRE host. We had four instructors namely Toti Alberto, Gelo Roa, Philip Alvendia and our team had my friend, Miguel Bichara. Toti’s racing son TJ Alberto was also present to help us.
The lesson started with the Ducati bike parts explained and the various tests that we will have to complete to pass the course. They emphasized that it doesn’t mean that by joining the DRE, we will instantly graduate from it. This is good to know as we have to perform well in all tests.. Tips were given on how to safely and do the tests, especially in the high-speed ABS braking test on a sandy surface at that.
One of the more important lessons that we got from the classroom session was the riding form; we need to have at least one to two fingers on the clutch lever, the same on the front brake lever, our elbows bent, knees pressed on the tank and our toes on the foot pegs. Posture will also change during braking or accelerating to control these beasts.
Gone are the days the our old, relaxed riding with heels on the pegs, arms stretched and throwing caution to the wind in this age of traffic and crazy drivers out there! Thus, Lesson No. 1 learned!
After the detailed and very appropriate orientation, we were divided into groups. Our Team Miguel Bichara was composed of Mickey Yee, Joshua Balgan, Lynn Sanchez, Jing Chua, Carlo Paguia and celebrity Joyce Pring. In fact, a lot of celebrities were there like Iya Villania and others that supported their partners like Sam YG for Joyce, Drew Arellano for Iya, and Liza Soberano.
Before we went out on the course, we made sure we had all the right gear from helmets, riding jackets with armor, gloves, shin guards and riding boots. Miguel also demonstrated that we shouldn’t be afraid of the weight of the bike as when it is balanced upright, it only takes your fingertip to hold it. Our second lesson of the day – find the balance of the bike and try to keep it there when you move it around.
Our first test was a tight slalom course and we had a Ducati Scrambler 400 at our disposal. Miguel emphasized that we should avoid using the front brake and just to modulate the clutch and rear brakes as we go through the course.
The Scrambler was easy to ride around the course and is really a great bike for the beginner. It is light and has enough engine torque, which made it a bit easy to handle around tight obstacles. And I blasted around the course and missed the pylons! Lesson No. 3: Never overestimate your riding skills and never touch the front brakes in tight maneuvers!
The second test was a wider and longer slalom track that showed how countersteering was a valuable technique to master. Countersteering is when you turn the handle bar to the left, the bike will lean to the right and vice versa. This is how you can steer the bike when you are at speed.
After the slow slalom test, the faster track was much easier to handle with knowledge on countersteer. But the basics are still there – don’t touch the front brakes and modulate with the clutch, but add countersteering in the process. Lesson No. 4: Countersteering is a great rider’s technique.
The hardest exercise was the circle track with two courses: a bigger, outside track; and an inside, smaller one. The bigger track was okay but the hard part was asking us to look toward the instructor and not down at the pylons when taking it. The techniques were also different for the bigger one.
The bigger track required the rider to lean into the turn and the smaller one needed to have the bike leaned over with the rider upright on the other side. I just have to do my own thing in the end, like what I do in a car by looking at the apex, or else I get dizzy if I look at the center. Good things to remember and Lesson No. 5 was done!
The anti-brake skid test was what I didn’t look forward to. My old fear of braking on sand with full front and rear brakes applied was entering my mind, and I had a bad slide on my old MX bike back in the 1980s when I slid in a turn.
I got to use the bigger and more powerful Ducati Monster 800. Even though I longed to use this Monster, this test might not be the right time for it. When I was again asked to lead, I hesitantly mounted the bike and powered down the short straight. Right away, I noticed the big power difference and felt this would complicate matters.
When I applied the rear brakes, the Monster just went straight with no skidding around. It took quite long to stop and I had to dab the front brake as I was nearing the end of the parking lot. The second run was for the front brake only and again, no skidding sideways and it was shorter, with a little tinge of the rear end getting light.
The last run was the best and showed how both brakes can really cut the distance to almost half of the second turn. I highly recommend finding a bike with anti-lock brake system (ABS) if you intend to ride! Lesson No. 6: Fear conquered and buried, and I can ride on sand again!
This accident avoidance test emulates a vehicle stopping in front of you and avoiding it, which is a real world problem.
When we got to this test, it was already dark, as there was a long queue for the ABS test course. This added another problem, which is limited visibility.
I used a Ducati Scrambler 800 that wasn’t slow; in fact, it was more than enough for this test. The bike just cruised through the test but Miguel said I can do it faster next time. I usually downshift for this maneuver but couldn’t do it here.
By just de-clutching, the bike can easily be made to change directions by countersteering. With no other forces acting on it, you can change direction immediately. So that’s another technique worth knowing and Lesson No. 7 completed.
The DRE course is definitely a must do for new riders to learn new techniques and practice them safely, and hone their skills with very qualified instructors on hand. You also get to ride the latest Ducatis that you can dream of.