Street Skills at NYST Review
Learn. Refresh. Affirm.
These are the foundations for every tactic taught at Jon DelVecchio’s Street Skills—a private motorcycle riding school that’s licensed in New York and caters to East Coast motorcyclists. Always hungry for a refresher course, I participated this past summer in a Street Skills school at one of my favorite riding tracks, New York Safety Track (NYST).
The track, residing on the high peaks in Jefferson, NY, is 2.1 miles long and 40 feet wide—the same as the Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park where MotoAmerica competes. NYST, which features an active, private airstrip on the front straight, snakes through some wooded areas with 450 feet of elevation changes, creating some real-world backroad feeling. This is perfect place to host a riding school.
I average around 25,000 miles a year on street and, since 2001, I have had two accidents. The latest, and worst, occurred in 2013. Looking back, both were preventable had I kept the basics in the forefront. I aggressively train in safety, smoothness, and speed. As more advanced the techniques become, sometimes the very basics fall out of practice.
Becoming a safe motorcyclist does not happen by taking a single class—say a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course—and employing just those methods. The problem is for the first few rides most riders are conscious of the techniques or methods learned, but this wears off and soon all that knowledge is left behind on the side of the road.
Learning is accomplished through reiteration of technique, something Street Skills uses as a base philosophy. It’s better to do one exercise 100 times than do 100 exercises once.
Though I’ve always practiced various techniques over the years, my last street accident prompted additional discipline and study—the 30+ foreign objects under my kneecap and subsequent 93 stitches had much to do with this. I decided to take a basic course every year.
This is what brought me to DelVecchio’s Street Skills. A fellow Italian with a Brooklyn accent and business teacher by day, DelVecchio put together a curriculum that was not only a refresher of the basics to me, but opened me up to some “aha” moments. In the most basic terms, the school provides safety and enjoyment because it allows riders to get the most out of their motorcycles.
Many skill-building exercises were covered during the one-day course:
- Build Riding Confidence
- Proper Body Position for control and comfort
- Looseness – Riding Relaxed
- Vision Control
- Passing Quickly and Safely
- Braking to Slow and Stop Effectively
- Throttle Control for Speed and steering
- Riding Smoothly
- Plan and Adjusting Cornering Line Selection
- Cornering with 100% Confidence and Control
- Trail Braking
- Conquering Corner Hazards
It may appear like much for a single-day motorcycle safety class, but DelVecchio’s curriculum covers it all, and demands practice of said techniques when you leave.
Street Skills – A Typical Class Day
Throughout the day, there were two groups—Yellow and Red. While one group was in a classroom, the other was riding on the track, practicing those principles with some control riders there for assistance.
I was on my 2011 Ducati Multistrada 1200, which I rode nearly 220 miles to NYST from my Northeast Pennsylvania home. I also participated in a few track sessions with some riding friends the day before.
I then camped, and awoke to participate in the Street Skills course. DelVecchio keeps his classes to a maximum of 25 so everyone gets attention. This time there were 22 students, a bunch of them from a local Moto Guzzi club.
DelVecchio begins with some in-class instruction for both groups, providing an overview and the course goals listed above, plus the need for hydration and nourishment. Both groups then head onto the track to learn the line, and no one is allowed to pass. By the afternoon, the groups split—one stays in the paddock area for instructions with DelVecchio, and the other heads onto the track to practice those instructions.
Throughout it all, DelVecchio reiterates his main principles as we go through each bulleted technique listed above—Learn (study), Refresh (what’s already known), and Affirm (does it work).
Expect plenty of riding time. The hour-long lunch break—featuring tasty BBQ—was welcomed by many as the conversations on technique continued.
Street Skills – Personal Takeaways
I realized over the years it’s simply in my nature to ride aggressively, regardless if I’m on a 200-horsepower superbike, a heavy and loaded adventure tourer, or a raked-out cruiser; it’s simply who I am. Instead of changing that, I embraced it, but began the as aggressive studies in technique, so I’m extremely safe.
DelVecchio touches on everything, from vision exercises to smooth braking and trail braking—the latter a technique that can be of huge assistance to all street riders. Many riders still don’t think that they can brake while turning, but having the ability to slow down mid-corner can mean the difference between life and death. Of course you can’t stab at brakes while at any type of lean, and this is why DelVecchio’s Street Skills stresses smoothness.
As for trail braking, DelVecchio had us practice this by our third session on the track, even before body position was discussed—that’s how vital he sees it to street riding, and I couldn’t agree more. Trail braking means you simply trail off the brakes as you’re coming to the sharpest point of a corner. It’s light braking, but keeps the suspension and front tire loaded, providing more traction.
Trail braking can help slow down a bike during cornering, as opposed to not having the brakes on and having to initiate them without the suspension loaded. The latter will upset the chassis, and stand the bike up, causing the rider to go straight and into danger.
Once DelVecchio provides some insight on letting the body remain loose on the bike—letting the suspension do its job without drastic input such as white knuckling the grips or squeezing the gas tank—he starts with many vision and body position exercises.
A rider is only as good as his vision, so having 360-degree awareness is vital. While out on the track, DelVecchio had us opening up our vision and looking farther down the road. This not only gave us a wider horizon to recognize threats, but also more time to react to them. The farther one looks ahead and recognizes a threat, the quicker he or she can react to a potential danger.
What Street Skills teaches is safety across all types of motorcycles. Typically, cruiser riders don’t analyze body position as much as sport riders, and usually keep their behinds and bodies planted on the bike. The natural byproduct of this is using more lean angle, which provides less traction.
DelVecchio’s course stresses body position—especially for cruiser-type motorcycles. His body-position technique is all about “kissing the mirrors.” You basically put your head where your mirrors are, while keeping your shoulders square and not twisting. He first teaches this without moving your butt from the seat; the average human head weighs between 10-11 lbs without a helmet, so this can make a big difference in helping the bike turn.
DelVecchio further elaborates kissing the mirrors by having you move your butt off the seat a bit to the left or right. It takes much less lean angle to get the same turn completed, which allows for more traction if needed for emergency stopping, or more traction for getting on the throttle sooner.
Street Skills – Concluding Thoughts
The Street Skills is not a typical track day, and DelVecchio stressed this over and over. Gear requirements are a full-face helmet, moto-specific pants, jacket and gloves (textile or leather), plus full-coverage boots. As for bike prep, tapping of mirrors or lights is not necessary—just have good tires, a clean and adjusted chain, working suspension and brakes, and, of course, no leaks.
Street Skills is for riders of all types, young and old, experienced and inexperienced. Everyone I spoke with at the NYST day—from riders with 40+ years experience to riders in their second year of motorcycling—came away with one of those “oh” moments. This is when things click, and the path to becoming a truly safe motorcyclist throttles into reality.
I can see myself returning to DelVecchio’s Street Skills course many more times in the future. It is best practice to constantly train the mind/body in safety so it becomes muscle memory. Plus, it’s always great to practice technique where you know cars aren’t present, and who doesn’t love to twist on the throttle as much as possible in a safe environment.
Also, if you plan on visiting a Street Skills at NYST, come the night before and camp. This is where the true community of motorcycle events such as Street Skills reside. You get all the handshakes completed before spending the day with thoughts organized, not only on riding, but learning how to ride smarter and safer.
Photos by Bryan Finch of 572Creations