Not Just Skidding Around | The Vintage

FAlling over and crashing is a possible outcome when learning to ride a motorcycle. But what if a device existed that removed the potential of tipping over from the equation – wouldn’t it make sense to employ it at riding schools? Dane Pitarresi thinks so. He’s the man in North America behind SKIDBIKE, a unique piece of equipment developed in Sweden about a decade ago. Simply described, when a motorcycle is attached to a SKIDBIKE, front and rear tire grip can be electronically adjusted to simulate all kinds of riding conditions – such as squeezing the front brake, for example, while cornering. Doing that in most situations would usually have a rider on the ground. Doing that on a SKIDBIKE-equipped machine would see the bike lean to a certain point before the ‘Safety Wings’ prevented any damage. “In these situations,” Dane’s SKIDBIKE.com site claims, “the SKIDBIKE is ‘The Crash, Without the Rash.’” In other words, it becomes a terrific teaching aid, and one that Dane first discovered as it applied to cars.

The SKIDBIKE system on a motorcycle: it took a late night drinking session to apply the technology to a motorcycle! [Dane Pitarresi]

Born in 1951 and raised in Portland, Oregon, Dane was crazy about anything with wheels. His dad influenced the curiosity. Whenever a new car came into the family, everyone would load up and hit the road, “Just to see how fast it could go.” In 1954, his dad piled the family into a 1941 Buick Business Coupe and drove east to New York. That was followed in 1956 with a run to Mazatlán. In his teens, Dane raced bicycles on the velodrome and on the road, but after graduating from school, he sold everything to hitchhike around Europe. While there, he was presented with an opportunity to go either to Morocco to lay on the beach or to England to take a performance driving school at Thruxton [yes, THAT Thruxton, a WW2 airfield converted to a racetrack post-war, and the source of both the Velocette Thruxton and Triumph Thruxton production racers of the 1960s – ed.]. This was in the early 1970s, and Dane chose the driving school. “I found out I was kind of good at that,” he says. Returning home, Dane started racing sports cars in 1972 before getting into a bad street crash. He says, “In 1974 I tried to wrap a right hand drive bugeye sprite around a telephone pole.” Recovering set him back, but he was racing again by 1976. In the late 1970s, Dane discovered his calling when he began teaching others how to race. “I took the skills I’d learned in the UK and in my own racing career and taught amateur sports car club drivers how to race,” Dane explains, and continues, “In 1986, the manager of the Portland International Raceway took me aside and said some big names were making noise about hosting a race school, and he knew that was something I had wanted to do.

Municipalities are the biggest customers for the SKIDCAR and SKIDTRUCK systems, all of which provide excellent training for drivers. [Dane Pitarresi]

So, Dane talked his way into some Toyota cars, parts and tires and in 1987 began operating his own race school at Portland International Raceway. Not long after, when PIR’s maintenance manager went to Silverstone Circuit in Towcester, England, he noticed a Jaguar running around with outriggers built by Cedergrens Mechanical in Klintehamn, Sweden. The device, he learned, was called a SKIDCAR. He told Dane about it, and the pair thought a SKIDCAR would prove ideal for training at Portland, where, due to the water table, a skid pad couldn’t be built. “Except, once we got three of them here, we thought it wasn’t race car drivers who needed this, it’s the public and teenagers – we could teach them skid control. In 1990, I made a deal with Cedergrens and became the sole source for SKIDCAR in North America. We spent an enormous amount of money trying to market the driver training device to the public, but they all thought SKIDCAR should be free, and the prevailing mentality has been, ‘everyone else needs to learn to drive, and I don’t.’ Ever since, Dane and his wife and partner Lisa’s largest market for the SKIDCAR device has been to law enforcement agencies. “There are about 330 or 340 SKIDCARs in North America, but it’s something of a niche industry,” he admits. There’s also a SKIDTRUCK device, and, around 2010 or 2011, the SKIDBIKE came about.

A .gif screen capture of an entertaining video by Motorcyclist – watch the video here. [Motorcyclist]

“We’d talked about the idea of ​​doing a skid motorcycle, but there was a lot of engineering and geometry keeping the Swedes from doing it,” Dane says. “But the worldwide Skid community thought a SKIDBIKE would be great, and in 2012, I was in northern Sweden with the two brothers who run Cedergrens. It was a brutally cold January evening and we were talking about a skid bike and drinking whisky when Curt Cedergrens said, ‘I think I know how to do this!’ So, a really cold winter evening and whisky helped push it forward.” Dane’s company is now based in Las Vegas, and he continues to promote SKIDBIKE, SKIDCAR and SKIDTRUCK because, as he says, “With these devices we can allow riders and drivers to learn from their mistakes, and they can learn more quickly. We can literally decrease the coefficient of friction to decrease the tire contact patch, and it becomes like riding or driving on ice. One can quickly learn how to countersteer without getting hurt, and on the SKIDBIKE, it’s easy to understand that the handlebar needs to be square when those two wheels come into alignment – ​​that becomes muscle memory.”

The SKIDDRUCK is impressive! [Dane Pitarresi]

From 2013 to 2018, Dane devoted a significant amount of his marketing budget targeting state-run motorcycle training programs. He says most organizers appreciated the SKIDBIKE technology and could see the value in learning to ride with one. However, a SKIDBIKE is expensive at about $20,000 each, and the curriculum usually couldn’t accommodate the application. That’s not to say no one took it up – a few state-run programs invested in a SKIDBIKE. “But the private training schools didn’t see how a custom program with the SKIDBIKE could be marketed,” Dane explains. Which is a shame, because as Dane says, “The SKIDBIKE could target brand new riders who don’t even know how to twist a throttle to go – but with them on a SKIDBIKE they can start off riding right away. It doesn’t take long to get them to see how it all works and they can make all the mistakes they’re afraid of making without ever getting hurt.” Surprisingly, it’s law enforcement agencies and fire departments who appreciate SKIDCAR, SKIDBIKE and SKIDTRUCK. “With the SKIDBIKE, for example, most of the police departments use bagger-style machines and if they could get used to going down without putting a foot down it would save hundreds of thousands of dollars in injuries. With a police bike, when it goes down, it’s best to just let it fall and stay with it.”

SKIDBIKE and SKIDCAR training vehicles. Sounds fun, actually! [Dane Pitarresi]

Now, with many new vehicle technologies such as traction control and ABS, Dane says most people think they can just drive or ride faster. “These technologies intrude in the riding and driving experience,” he says, “and they try to keep us safe from ourselves. But with Skid training, we could teach riders and drivers how to be safe in the first place. And, we can show how these traction control and ABS systems work, and also show how they can be over-driven or over-ridden — if you overdo the laws of physics, you’re done.” He concludes, “What I get to do is so much fun; put someone in a SKIDBIKE or on a SKIDBIKE and they always come back shaking their head, saying everybody should try one.”

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He’s a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of JB Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

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