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HART Intermediate Course - a review

Discussion in 'New Riders and Riding Tips' started by zenali, Sep 21, 2009.

  1. My charming wife and I did the Intermediate Course at HART in Somerton (VIC) yesterday. I'm coming off restrictions soon, and my wife has recently taken over our CB400 as her main bike, so we both wanted to have a refresher course to hone our skills on bigger bikes. She rode one of their CB400s and I rode a Hornet 600. I figure that if you want to find out how far you can push yourself and a bigger bike, why not do it on somebody else's bike? Better yet, somebody else's bike that has crash bars!

    The weather was kind to us, with very little wind and only residual dampness on the tarmac. After signing the usual paperwork that says if we maim ourselves it is our own fault, we headed into the classroom for the pre-ride schpiel. Those of you who have been to a HART course will be familiar with their video on cornering and braking. After you do the Intermediate Course you will be even more familiar with it. Our instructors - Paul and Karl - gave us a quick run down of what to expect during the day, and then we went out to find a selection of CB250s, CB400s, and CB600Fs waiting for us. (Nobody took a CB250 though.)

    The Hornet felt pleasantly large, without being unwieldy. It was distinctly bigger than our CB400, but not overwhelmingly so. The most striking difference was the sound of the engine. Both bikes have inline 4 cylinder engines, but where the 400 has a smooth purr that revs up to a whine, the 600 has a much deeper growl. We did a few warm-up laps to get the feeling of the bikes, then the day began in earnest.

    The format of the course was practically identical to the license test course, and also the practice sessions that we had done previously. The instructors emphasised that all of the HART courses cover the same principals: braking, cornering, slow riding. The only real difference is the size of the bike and the speed you corner at or brake from.

    We started with emergency stops, but at 30 - 50 km/h instead of 20 - 25 km/h. I try to practice these every month or so, but somehow haven't managed to get a practice session in for the whole of the winter. I was curious about how well the Hornet would stop. Quite well, as it turns out! I managed a little stoppie (by accident), and locked the rear wheel once or twice, but generally got the hang of it. I did also have my first front wheel lockup, which happened so fast I only realised what it was when I had come to a halt. Apparently I did the right thing - release the front brake and re-apply - but I certainly didn't think about it consciously. I guess all that repetition is good for something.

    After the emergency braking we went on to slow riding. The Hornet was surprisingly nimble, even at a crawl. We rode the plank, which was actually easier on the bigger bike than it had been the last time I tried this exercise on a 250. There were a few dropped bikes during the slow ride, but as they say - more bikes go down at 10 km/h than at 100 km/h. It just goes to show that as a rule we could all stand to practice these slow skills a little more.

    Next came braking in a corner. This was actually fairly challenging because the corners in question were actually the corners of the riding range. I found it a bit distracting knowing that I was so close the the gutter as I tried to stand the bike upright and do an emergency stop, or brake smoothly around the corner. I had to really concentrate on not fixating on that gutter as I tipped into the corner. Definitely something I will need to practice on my own.

    The next exercise was swerving and weaving, using that light box they use for the licence test in Victoria. (For those who don't know, it is a box with three lights that can be triggered by the instructor. One light to indicate a left swerve, one to indicate a right swerve, and a red light in the middle to indicate an emergency stop.) This exercise was basically the same as the license test, but at higher speeds. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Hornet handled the swerves, though when the exercise ended I still felt that I had heaps of room for improvement.

    We also did a throttle control excercise, where we ran a slalom down the length of the range, weaving in and out of cones, using the throttle to stand the bike up after each cone. This was definitely challenging, though Karl made it look simple. I found that if I was in a good rhythm I had a natural variation of the throttle, but when I tried to mimic Karl's blips between cones it actually threw me off and my performance suffered. Once again, at the end of the exercise I was left with the impression that I had a lot to work on.

    Next up was cornering. This basically consisted of a course laid out among the cones with several very tight corners, a few sweepers, and a chicane thrown in to keep us honest. The aim was to improve our cornering lines and get into the habit of braking before each corner to set our speed. My biggest problem was that I tend to do exactly what they say not to do: I use the engine to slow me down before the corner, and then power on through - no brakes at all. To get around that, they told me to accelerate harder out of the corner so that it forced me to brake before hitting the next corner. Well, I tried that, but it threw my natural rhythm out completely, and I ended up missing every line that I aimed for. Yet another thing that I found I needed to work on.

    Finally, they set up another cornering course that took up the whole range and included a cone weave slalom section down the middle. Our goal was to try to combine the skills we'd been practicing to achieve two perfect laps - two laps where we were happy with our performance. There were two sweepers that were each followed by hairpins, which meant some corner braking if you wanted to get the best out of the sweepers, and there were two chicanes that forced you to slow right down.

    I decided to concentrate on my line and try to get the bike over as far as I could. I got the peg down a couple of times on the really tight corners, and was definitely getting faster, when I found out what happens if you let the crash bar sc**** (s c r a p e - edit) in a really tight circle around a cone. As I was trying to power out and stand the bike up, the crash bar dragged heavily and the rear wheel lost traction. The next thing I knew I was sliding across the tarmac and the bike was skidding away from me on its side. I quickly looked for anybody following me on the track, but it was only the second code of the course, so thankfully the next rider hadn't started yet. I jumped up and stood the bike up, and after fixing up the brake lever (which had rotated around a bit) I took off again.

    All up, the day was great. Heaps of fun, and very good at pointing out the weaknesses in my riding technique. I've come away with a list of things I want to work on in my day to day riding. Plus, I got to find out exactly how far I can lean a bike over in a corner without crashing - without any risk to my own bike!
  2. Why didn't they want you to use engine braking before corners? In the twisties I don't use the brakes that much... with my v-twin the engine braking is normally sufficient to get me to the speed I want to take the corners.. I don't go that fast through twisites. I can see how using the brakes would make me quicker through a course of twisties. But I'm just wondering what the reasons they gave you were?
  3. The reason they give is that if you are in the habit of braking before every corner - even if it is just a little - then you are much less likely to be taken by surprise when you enter a corner too hot and need to wash off some speed. Their argument is that if you are not used to braking before a corner, you are more likely to over-react and grab a fistful of front brake when you hit a corner too quickly.

    It makes sense when you think about it as training your muscle memory with good habits. In a panic situation you do what comes naturally. If you are used to a light application of the brakes before cornering, then what comes naturally should be a gentle squeeze on the brakes rather than a grab at the lever that ends up locking your front wheel.

    I do tend to brake before corners on the road because the CB400 doesn't have a lot of engine braking. But on the course on the range it felt like there wasn't time between corners for much acceleration or braking - I tended to want to flow from one corner to the next. I did brake after the long sweepers before hitting the hair pin bends, and before some of the tighter corners that followed a series of gentler corners. But most of the time I would use the throttle to set my speed rather than the brakes. That puts me in the "might grab a fistful of brakes" basket when it comes to an emergency.
  4. Thanks for that :)
  5. Well Done zenali !
    Sounded like a good day all up.
    Thankfully it wasn't your own bike that went sliding lol
  6. You can say that again. :) But then, I would never ride my own bike as hard as I rode that Hornet. The funny thing is that the crash bars give you confidence to really lean, but they reduce your ground clearance a bit too.
  7. Great write up thanks! How was it price wise? I assume you need leathers? Thanks!
  8. I was there doing my learners test yesterday, we were watching you guys out there on the bigger bikes during our break.

    I reckon ill be going there to do all my riding courses.
  9. No leathers needed. They say only long pants and long sleeves, like the license test. But I was glad that I was wearing my draggins and jacket all the same! I got up after my low-side without a scratch.

    Oh, and the course was $243 for a weekend day - with the Netrider Member discount. (Which pays for the Netrider membership right there!)

    I saw your post saying that you were at Somerton going for your Ls. Congratulations! I'd definitely recommend going back there for practice sessions as you start riding on the road. It is very useful to focus on specific skills without the distraction of traffic. And if you push it a little too hard, it doesn't matter so much. The bikes have crash bars for a reason!
  10. very good review, glad someone took the time to write this up because as much as I enjoyed the course and thought it was worth while, I couldn't really be bothered writting a full review and anything else wouldn't give it justice.

    Would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a just to improve their skills or use it as an opportunity to practice on a bigger bike in a controlled situation (like why I did the course).

    p.s i was actually there on sunday doing the same course with you.
  11. Great review. Good for a read and very informative. Just a quick question. Would you recommend having a certain amount of experience underneath your belt before attempting the course? Or can you do it independent of experience? I've only been riding about a fortnight but am interested in doing this course prior to getting off my learners (11 weeks and counting!!)
  12. I'm pretty sure that you need to already hold your license before you can do the Intermediate Course. But there are two other options available to you. First, you can book yourself in for a practice session. These last a few hours, and cover the main skills we did in the intermediate day. My wife and I did a few of these while we were on our learners, and they really helped builld confidence and skills for handling the bike.

    Your second option is the Learners to License course that HART offer. I don't think they had that when I was going for my license - or if they did, I didn't know about it - so I don't have any first-hand experience to pass along. But from reading about it on their website it seems like it could be worth looking at.

    All of the HART courses follow a pretty similar pattern - they just get progressively harder and faster. You might feel pretty comfortable with your emergency braking at 25-30 km/h, but when you give it a try from 60 km/h it seems quite different. Or doing the cone weave at 40 km/h instead of 20 km/h. So instead of jumping straight to the intermediate level, I'd recommend doing a practice session or two first, or maybe the Learners to License.

    (And if you do the L to L, maybe you could give it a write up so that others know what it is like and whether it is worth doing themselves.)
  13. So that is three netriders out at Somerton on the same day. We should have a secret sign or something so we can recognise one another.

    What do you ride?
  14. haha - we can have have our own gang sign!:cheeky:

    I ride a vtr250.
  15. Aha - and did you park it under that covered section of the car park?
  16. Good write up mate.

    Regarding the Ebraking, was it done with or without gearing down?
  17. Without gearing down - just pulling in the clutch at the last second.
  18. Nah, i drove - too far for me knowing that i would likely be tired after the day was over.

    i was the young guy there by myself.
  19. I've practised emergency braking from 130 kph (check your mirrors first). One really needs to know how long it takes to stop the bike from that kind of speed if you are doing regular country miles at speed. It feels quick, but then you look behind you to where you first hit the brakes. Good lesson.

    The thing the interests me the most in your write-up Zenali is the traffic-light swerve test at speed. That's something that I can't replicate by doing laps of the Black Spur, and I benefited greatly from the test during the P course because it taught me that I can quickly and deliberately throw the bike into a counter-swerve without loosing traction. It's also a good test of your reflexes.

    +1 With learning to brake before corners while at the same time setting up the right line and corner entry speed. I'm still trying to get this right ..... :p
  20. Hey Zen, I did the intermediate course earlier this year in January at the Tulla range, and am looking to book my partner in to do it in the next month or two (will probably do it again myself as I also really enjoyed it) - I'm just wondering if it differs much from what I did at Tulla.

    Is the range at Somerton bigger than the old one at Tulla?



    Those CB6's are pretty nimble hey!