California Superbike school: Levels 2 & 3
Talk about “Turning it up to 11”. Suzuki’s venerable GSX-R600 was more than enough motorcycle when I hired one to undertake Level One of California Superbike School earlier this year. It might be small in stature against the big, litre boys, but the ‘Gixxer six’ was agile, lively and all that was really needed to concentrate on the day’s exercises, if a tad cramped for taller riders. Then I hired a BMW S 1000 RR to return for levels Two and Three.
Holey sheet, what a difference!
BMW has become the advanced riding school’s official motorcycle partner in Australia and New Zealand, in line with the US, and now you can ‘discover the art of cornering’ aboard a near-200hp, fire-breathing thoroughbred. Sounds scary doesn’t it? That’s where you’d be wrong because the bike’s advanced electronic safety aids can be tailored to suit riders of all abilities and all weather conditions. It’s also a surprisingly user-friendly bike to ride
that’s comfortable and predictable at your ever-expanding limit.
The school is now attracting riders keen to have a crack on the S 1000 RR at full noise with the added benefit of developing their skills in a rich learning environment. Fair enough too. For most students, however, it’s the chance to safely explore the performance of their own beloved beasts on some of the world’s most revered race circuits.
In our case, Phillip Island.
LEVEL 2: VISUAL THINKING
Level One addresses the most common rider errors and covers five drills including the importance of throttle input, turn-in points, quick steer, rider input and two-step turning. All of it translates to everyday riding and even answers questions you probably didn’t realise you had. I still apply these skills to my everyday riding and I can say without hesitation that they’ve even got me out a few unexpected pickles. Faster friends suddenly became slow, too.
The time has now come for Level Two, and it’s all about sharpening your visual skills. As with Level One, there are five technical briefings and five track sessions during the day. Each level builds on the previous one.
“Of all the skills and techniques leading to successful riding, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: your ability to rapidly translate what you see into what you are supposed to be doing with the motorcycle’s controls,” reads the Level Two drill sheet. “Today we are going to continue to unravel the problems of vision and how to control them.”
When it comes to riding motorcycles, our worst enemy is target fixation, or focusing on what we want to avoid, California Superbike School founder Keith Code says. The result? Subconsciously steering straight for it with undesirable consequences. It’s as simple as looking to where you want to go or end up where you’re looking. The solution is to apply reference points to help guide your eyes from start to finish of a turn. Another is to hone your wide, or peripheral, view, which again gives you more space and a slower sense of speed.
Another light bulb-switching exercise is identifying corner claustrophobia and our need to return to our ‘safe space’, or desired line, on the road or track, and how it heightens our anxiety when we’re not. The school’s simple remedy is to ride the entire track on its outer extremities. All the way around on the far left, then the far right – including rumble strips – to effectively explore the vast sense of space. Space equals time.
Everybody in the room is stunned to learn Phillip Island’s 12 turns are all the same width. If you have a better sense of the available space, there are obviously more line options.
LEVEL 3: POSITION STATEMENT
Several riders enrol in two levels back to back. Talk about striking while the iron is hot. The benefit is confidence and familiarity on the second day, and applying the previous day’s drills. A potential downside is being overwhelmed by two days of intense riding and training, but it’s not uncommon and some even sign up for a trio. It’s entirely up to you.
The BMW S 1000 RR has so far been an ideal training partner. Its engine and running gear are immensely powerful yet surefooted and confidence-inspiring.
The school stipulates the bikes are to be set to ‘Sport’ mode, which has fairly high ABS and traction control thresholds – the latter of which allows a little slide before saving the day. It even comes with a quickshifter which makes perfect sense on the track. Standard heated grips won’t be necessary today, however.
Where Level Two lays important foundations, Level Three unlocks a helluva lot by addressing five more pro-active points on riding. These include bike-handling techniques, body position choices and how these can affect the cornering process.
The classroom moves from the comfort of a conference room to the practicality of a closed garage pit where an S 1000 RR takes centre stage. Our body positions are individually fine tuned by the off-track instructor (in our case, Steve Brouggy, the school’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand) to make our riding more comfortable and more effective. This ensures each rider’s body position, movement and mass is working for them, not against them.
Exercises such as ‘Hook turns’, ‘Power steering’, ‘Knee to knee’, ‘Hip flick’ and ‘Attack angle’ essentially unleash the cornering beasts in all of us.
There’s no such thing as ‘the slower guys’ anymore and everybody nominates more than one of the most beneficial drills to their riding.
For me, it’s locking in my outer leg in relation to the footpeg and tank to hold my body weight, thus further relaxing my torso, arms and hands. The hook
turn, to help tighten or remain tight in a corner without the need for more lean angle, also proves especially beneficial.
Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t prevent me from lowsiding out of Siberia, or Turn Six, where I get on the gas too soon while at maximum lean angle. “Ah shit. Idiot!” I calm and casually say to myself not because my bacon is sliding across the grass and into the kitty litter, but because I’ve pushed the envelope a fraction too far on my favourite corner.
I dust myself off, give the thumbs up to passers-by and check my nerves. My hands are dead still and my heart rate hasn’t spiked. The recovery van arrives within moments to help and I ride it back to the pits. The bike’s invaluable crash knobs have saved the day and the only damage is light scuffing to the left side of the fairing. After a candid debrief with my riding coach I get back to class and back on track aboard another S 1000 RR for the rest of the day’s exercises. Nobody’s upset and nobody’s injured.
You’re probably wondering what it cost and whether it was worth it.
Each level costs $549 at Phillip Island or Sydney Motorsports Park. Bike hire costs $399 (with a $1000 deposit) and $60 for a KBC helmet and RST leathers, gloves and boots ($75 just gear). Repairs are charged per accident to a maximum of $5000.
I’ve since heard the usual responses including “Shit happens”. Fact is, I’m sincerely glad it did. It taught me a helluva lesson about the bike’s and tyre’s limits and, besides, there’s no traffic or street furniture on a track.
Sure, the bank balance might be a little poorer, but I’ve walked away a rider with much richer experience, and that’s priceless by my watch.
At least I can now also write a post-crash report on the leathers… Bring on Level Four!
A day at the California Superbike School is a full one, starting at 7am sharp and finishing at 5.30pm.
The day involves:
• Five technical classroom sessions
• Five 20-minute on-track sessions
• Student-to-coach ratio is 3:1 or lower
• An off-track drill
• An on-track coach assigned to you
• Drill sheets to complete
• Water, sports drink and refreshments
WHERE & HOW MUCH?
Levels 1-4 $549
Sydney Motorsports Park
Bike hire $399 (BMW S 1000 RR and fuel)
Riding gear $75 (includes one or all of the following: helmet, boots, gloves, leathers), $60 with bike hire.