Tested – California Superbike School Level Two

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The California Superbike School exists for one reason, and one reason only – to help riders master the art of cornering. Their step-by-step approach to training splits each Level into different drills, starting with the basics and adding elements on in simple but challenging exercises, all done under the expert eye of your own personal coach.

Every rider, regardless of ability, starts at Level One and there are four levels to the syllabus – the school’s riding system which is based on the radical A Twist of the Wrist manuals penned by Keith Code in the 1980s and 1990s. The system works – riders including James Toseland and Leon Camier have passed through the school’s doors on their way to racing success.

If Level One is all about throttle control and keeping the bike stable, and we covered this in depth in Issue 6, then Level Two is all about vision and the effect it has on your riding. As with Level One, the day will be split into five technical briefings and five track sessions, with each level building on the previous one. We’re at Silverstone, the UK School’s spiritual home, and will be riding the rapid National Circuit configuration complete with iconic corners such as Maggots, Luffield, Woodcote and the very fast Copse – the very same corners MotoGP legends Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo will be racing on in just five days. We’re based in the old garages, not the new and unpopular wing complex, and it’s inspiring to think our bikes are in the very same buildings that will house racing’s elite in just a few days. The day’s not even begun yet and it feels like we’re winning.

After completing the necessary paperwork and getting our kit checked over, we head to the back of the café for a safety briefing. This will also be our classroom for the day, and will be our second home when we’re not on track.

Glen Rothwell, California Superbike School riding coach and classroom guru, will be the man challenging our preconceptions and pushing us to push ourselves, and after explaining the day’s schedule and what he expects of us, we’re assigned our coach. I’ve lucked out today – I’m under the expert tutelage of Richard Brown, AKA Badger, the school’s general manager and coach, and the school’s coach of the year in 2006. He’s quick, knowledgeable, calming, enthusiastic and patient – everything a good coach should be.

Session One – Reference Points.

When it comes to cornering, we’ve all experienced the same problems at one point or another, although it’s fair to say some experience the problems more frequently than others. We’ve all come to a corner, panicked, braked, then realized we could’ve ridden it much, much quicker. Or we’ve found our eyes drawn to a particular part of the road, or something near our piece of the road, focused on it, found ourselves riding towards it, panicked, grabbed the brakes and found ourselves drifting wide, horribly off line and in all sorts of trouble. The issue here is target fixation, that moment when our brains focus on what we want to avoid at the expense of everything else. It’s partly down to evolution – our eyes have developed to for three things; food, danger and sex – but it’s also down to poor skills and lack of vision. By raising your vision and fully understanding what’s approaching you’ll give yourself more space and a slower sense of speed, effectively buying yourself more time which allows your eyes help you ride better.

We’re encouraged to use our eyes to scan the track for any distinguishing features – track furniture, marks on the asphalt, kerbs, drain covers, changes in the surface, rubber marks – to help us identify when to turn in and where the apex is. This is essentially a navigation exercise, and as well as allowing us to learn the track, we’ll only be allowed to ride in one gear and with no brakes, essentially allowing us to revisit the fundamentals of Level One – throttle control, turn-in points and two-step turning.
As we head out on to the track, the first thing that strikes we is just how wide Silverstone is. It’s at least 15m wide, and is as far removed from Cadwell as it gets. It’s really bumy too, especially in Luffield. The second is just how ingrained road riding is in my brain. I know I’m on track, but I can’t get used to overtaking on the left, and at the end of my first lap badger pulls me in. “This is a really wide track, so why aren’t you giving yourself more space. You’ve just passed a Triumph, far too close, and I’m not having it. Calm down and use the track. We’re all hear to enjoy ourselves. And we’ve got all day. Now, behave.”

It’s a valuable lesson and one I take on board. The lack of brakes makes Copse tricky and I’m turning in too soon. I’m also struggling to gel with Luffield. I’m entering the first left too wide, which is pulling me too far right for the next part.

We pull into the pits and Badger has already spotted an issue; my throttle control. “You’re struggling to hold a line, and that’s down to your throttle control. Smooth that out and the bike will stop feeling nervous and you’ll start to feel happier. Stick with it, it will come.”

Session Two – Changing Lines.

We’re back in the classroom and Glen is explaining the mechanics behind our riding. “The track you’re riding is 15m wide and consists of just seven corners. This means you’ll need 21 reference points, three for each corner. How many have you got?”
Trust be told I’ve managed to find about six at the minute. Which means I’m 15 short, and will explain why I’m struggling to ride the same line on consecutive laps.

The solution is to use the next session to explore new lines and different parts of the track. “During the early MotoGP, Sete Gibernau used to finetune his set-up by riding the same line lap while Valentino Rossi would use the practice sessions to explore all sorts of different lines to give himself as much information as possible to exploit any potential overtaking opportunities during the race. Different lines means it essentially becomes a different and brand new corner – a new turn-in point affects your apex and exit speed. Riding on the very right of the track for one lap, then the very left for the next lap will give you a new appreciation of the track and will allow you to notice details you’ve missed on your ‘normal’ lines.”

We head out again, ducks and drakes style, trying to absorb as much knowledge about the track as we can. It’s eye-opening, and makes me realise just how many lines there are through the corners, and just how wide, and late, some corners should be taken.

At the debrief Badger’s noticed another issue. “You’re missing Step One in Two-Step Turning. You’re moving your head but you’re not looking at the apex. You’re fixing your gaze on the exit, and that’s compromising your lines. Remember to look at the apex, and you’ll find things start flowing again.”

Session Three – Three-Step Turnin

This drill builds on Two-Step Turning and adds the exit to turn-in points and the apex. “Try and use the furniture and reference points, and link them together. For example, at Woodcote, hug the bollards and then look for the gantry on the right. This will stop you running wide and will let you get on the gas quicker.”

It’s a lot to take on board and out on track I start running wider lines, using more of the track as I start identifying more reference points, my confidence growing with each lap.

Badger notices a difference too. “You’re starting to run some nice, wide lines, which is making the track open up, which is allowing you to gain some speed. It’s coming together nicely.”

Session Four – Wide View

This session is all about using your peripheral vision. Making a conscious effort to use this in turn-in points prevents target fixation and gives a greater sense of space by slowing everything down.

It sounds simple and it is, and it’s also brilliantly effective – it really does give you a heightened sense of space and time, slowing everything down and giving you more options. It’s also very tiring initially, but it’s a skill you can practice during your normal drive/ ride.

Session Five – Picking The Bike Up

The day’s final session is all about getting the bike as upright out of a corner as quickly as possible. The sooner the bike is upright, the sooner the rider can get on the throttle. Glen explains: “Dani Pedrosa is the expert at this. If you watch him, he stands the bike up as early as he can. With the bike on the fatter part of its tyre it will have more grip, and the suspension works better when the bike is upright too. It’s a particularly useful skill to have in the wet.

“Some of you will be doing this anyway, and for some of you it will be new. Basically, you pick the bike up by countersteering the opposite way you did to turn in, so pushing on the outside bar instead of the inside, and keeping your body right off to the inside. By combining this with the throttle roll, you can be very early with full throttle and very fast out of the corner.”

We spend five minutes riding chairs in the classroom trying to emulate Dani Pedrosa, pushing our chair back to make our ‘bike’ stand up.

On track it seems to work well at Woodcote and Copse, allowing me to get on the gas much quicker, while also making me feel safer.

Away from the classroom:

I spent three days on track at Jerez and the effects of my time at the school were noticeable. I was riding with much more confidence, picking reference points to help me string together corners and ride with consistency. And by having the confidence to explore different lines, I was able to work out which corners would benefit from later, wider lines. And wide view enabled me to avoid target fixation, even when the rider in front of me panicked, grabbed a handful and ran on. The system is proven, the system works. So if you want to make yourself a safer, smoother and more confident rider, see what the California Superbike School can do for you.

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