By AJ Jacobsen
When it comes to your riding, what do you invest in? Obviously, there’s the motorcycle, but after that, where do you spend your money? Gear? Upgrades? Track days? What about coaching?
Many riders shy away from paying for professional riding instruction. I can see why – it’s a lot of money, with rewards that are hard to measure, and it’s a lot spent in a short period of time. Compared to taking that same money and spending it on track days, seat time, or some cool stuff for the bike, it can seem like a hard sell.
I was one of those riders – I knew good coaching would benefit me, and I had worked with some on-track coaches at track days that helped, but I gained the most with some “online” coaching with Ken Hill. I would record a riding session, post it up, and we would discuss the improvement strategy. In 2016 I gained a lot of knowledge and my riding improved dramatically. I began to see the value of working with a good coach who really knew what they were doing.
2017 was a flop of a year for me for many reasons, and my riding stalled. I knew that to get past this, I would benefit from enlisting some one-on-one help where I could get immediate feedback. There were several options: attend a riding school, just work with track day coaches, or pay for a professional coach. Obviously, the cheapest method was a track day coach, but I also knew that their attention and dedication to me specifically would be lacking. Schools were sounding like a good option, but most of the ones I would consider, on dates that worked, would be at tracks I wasn’t familiar with. Not that I don’t love riding a new track, but let’s be fair, a significant part of a day would be spent just learning the track and the basics of the lines, something I could avoid at a local track. Then, there’s availability – I have limited days I’m able to be at a track, having a coach who can be there is extremely helpful.
After looking at schedules, options, and what was out there, and knowing my own riding and learning habits, I decided to focus on finding a one-on-one coach. Availability aside, I really wanted someone who would not only have the capacity to make my investment worthwhile, but I also needed someone who could break things down the way I needed and could put together a step-by-step plan. I also needed someone who could help keep me in the right head space, as often my own worst enemy is my own mind, especially after my dismal 2017 season. There were coaches I liked, coaches I respected, coaches who’s coaching I thought would work for me, and coaches who had availability and capacity, so the challenge was to find someone who fit all of those.
After a lot of thought, debate, and self-struggle, I finally decided to contact Tyler O’Hara. I knew who he was from the races, but did not know him in person. A friend of mine was working with him in 2017, and on a couple of occasions had shared some of what they had talked about, and his coaching style seemed like it would be a good fit. My friend’s riding also improved dramatically, and his lap times dropped like crazy, so the proof was kind of in the pudding there. As it turned out, Tyler had the availability, so I decided to give it a shot. It was a lot of money for me to put towards this, but I knew I needed some help, and that immediate feedback would be invaluable at this point.
We went ahead and scheduled the first day of coaching for Sunday on the opening weekend for Pacific Track Time. I took Saturday to just feel my bike out, made a lot of adjustments, spent time coaching customers, and just getting myself warmed up to the track, my race bike, and all the changes I made over the winter. I wasn’t sure if arranging help that early in the season was going to be the ideal strategy, but I wanted to kick the year off on a good note before I had a chance to get frustrated with myself or my riding.
On Sunday, we started with going over the basic premise of the training plan, and his approach to coaching, and specifically what he wanted to work on with me. We then got ready to get out on track and get things started. Throughout the day we did a combination of lead/follow, video, review, and tweaking. I walked away with a fair bit of notes and tweaks (which, once I compiled everything, was over 2 pages of bullet points), and it was great to kick off the season squashing some bad habits and fixing a few things right from the get-go. Honestly, though, the biggest help was after one session, where I had gotten into my “try too hard and get frustrated mode” (a relatively common occurrence for me, unfortunately), he immediately picked up on that and got me re-focused on the right things. The next session out was the best of the weekend, and I was feeling very comfortable and consistent.
Eventually, the day wrapped up, and while my brain was a bit on overload, the reality was that I had zero regrets spending the money. I walked away with a lot of information and a lot to think about and work on. My next question to myself was simply “when am I doing this next?” Again, there’s the money consideration, but race season is rapidly approaching and Tyler was heading down to Buttonwillow for the first test day. Buttonwillow hasn’t been one of my better tracks, so when a sponsorship check rolled in, I decided to dedicate some of that to getting this track sorted out. Our first two race rounds were both going to be at Buttonwillow, so I figured it would be better to get it sorted earlier rather than later. Even though I had no seat time between Sonoma and Buttonwillow to work on some of the stuff we had discussed, I could mentally work on those things, physically work on some of them on my street bike, and do my best to come in and make the most of the help to kick the season off. My final deciding factor was that, after the 2017 season, having someone there to keep my head in the right place may be invaluable going into this season.
In conclusion, coaching is going to be worth your while. When you’re starting out, you can gain a LOT from track day coaches, some of whom have formal training, many of whom have worked with coaches themselves, and all of whom have a desire to help riders improve. Once you’re past that initial phase, however, you would probably benefit from enlisting a riding coach or attending a riding school. The money is tough, I can’t lie about that, but you probably won’t regret it. Go into it willing to learn, and you will walk away with more than you know what to do with.