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Build. Train. Race: Nean - Episode 1

Guest blog from Nean Kiskela, one of the 2021 Royal Enfield Build. Train. Race. riders (that's her above, with the bottle of water and checked Vans).

February of this year, I was officially accepted into the Royal Enfield Build.Train.Race (BTR) programme, which, if you're unfamiliar, is a freakin' opportunity of a lifetime! Royal Enfield carefully sifted through video applications to choose a group of women from all walks and moto disciplines each to be the receiver of one of their brand spankin' new INT650 motorcycles. The chosen women then learn through building to the best of their ability, and with the guidance from some of the finest at Royal Enfield and Moto Anatomy, to turn the twin into the flat track race bike of their dreams. During the same timescale, the riders train to race them in the American Flat Track race series against each other. HOLY SHIT, Y'ALL! Can you sense my nervous excitement?

For 2021 there are nine of us ladies picked for the programme, the group consisting of advanced, intermediate, and first-time flat trackers. We eagerly made our way to Florida in late-March for our first weekend of training and for an exciting meet and greet. Before then, all of us ladies had only talked via email or text. We all were set for two radical days of training at the Moto Anatomy Slide School.

Speaking of being excited and grateful, we were poised to study under one hell of a legendary flat tracker; Johnny Lewis - owner/operator of America's Royal Enfield Slide School. He would be ever so graciously instructing us over the weekend courtesy of, and in association with, the fantastic BTR program head and Royal Enfield global brand manager, Bree Poland. Nerves were a bit high, but our spirits were far surpassing. Saturday morning, I found that my first professionally built hot-shoe along with my boot was delivered straight to the school from Gary and Kellie at Lightshoe, and I couldn’t be more delighted by its steely brilliance. It was perfect, and it felt like everything was finally starting to get real for me at that moment.

Johnny eased us into our first day of training with a two-hour, sit-down lesson plan. We went over the bikes we’d be riding and the training we’d be applying on a tiny and tight oval track that day. His Slide School is equipped with Royal Enfield Himalayan FT411s {like the Slide Schools in both India and the UK] that were kitted out for flat track. We were ready to learn the patience and proper form to begin our curriculum.

We started slow, some of us fumbling. Me nervous, giggling, and being only 4’11” (150cm), I felt like I was struggling to reach the right footpeg to properly weight it and stretching the hell out of my left leg to try to glide around the corners smoothly under Johnny’s constant attention. Big emphasis was on 'try'. We won’t talk about the nervous sweats I had, but then again, maybe it was just the humid Florida climate. That’s it. I blame it on the weather. I guess you could say that’s the gist of what day one was: a lot of going in circles and slowly but surely getting better at it.

Besides flicking away the caterpillars that were ruthlessly descending upon us from the trees, all of us were doing our best to get our bearings on the new to us bikes, and take in the track conditions while hanging on every word of guidance Johnny was giving us. Retaining his flat track advice was a bit hard for me at times, because my muscle memory kept going back to riding like I was on my dirt bike in the woods or on a motocross track. I had to remind myself those skills don’t exactly apply here, but I feel like regardless of what all of us previously knew, or didn’t know, before we got there that day, we all got along and braapped into the evening as best we could. The first day was an overall success in my book. Also, it was pretty epic being that it was my birthday. Who could have asked for a better gift than to spend the day going left on a dirt track with good people?

Day two started with a quick group Q&A with Johnny, some silliness because naturally all of us were best friends by this point, and a review of what we had learned the day before. Then it was on! We were told we'd be going fast and turning left on the 1/5th mile oval track that day. Our studies would consist of going faster, perfecting and pushing into our slides, smooth foot braking, and *gasp* going elbow-to-elbow with our competition without looking at them.

I had to work on staying focused, i.e. 'Quit looking over at her! Watch what YOU'RE doing, not what she's doing, or else the bike will follow!' Johnny would urge us. But, by golly, when someone is that close to you in the turn it's pretty tough. I have a deeper level respect for the expert racers out there getting slideways with the concentration like they're the only one out there ripping up the track.

By the end of our last day, I felt like we all had the fundamentals down. Still, we could agree that more practice will be necessary if we want to start to get truly slideways, especially if we're going to come even remotely close to being a badass like our invaluable teacher Johnny Lewis.

I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am for round two of our training that’s set to be sometime in May. Plus, I’m already missing my new friends...

If you’d like, you can stay tuned to these Instagram accounts to watch our journey-

The Riders

Photos courtesy of Tristan Afre


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