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!