Better riding

Riding – #ride5000miles initiative

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The average annual mileage for a British biker is just 3500 miles, with many riders struggling to even leave their own county.

That’s a real shame, and to this end our friends at MCN have launched their #ride5000miles initiative, a scheme aimed at encouraging riders to get out and enjoy their bikes.

It’s something we wholeheartedly support, so we took to Lincolnshire’s roads on an Aprilia V4 1100 Factory APRC to fly the flag and spread the word.

9:00am: It’s early, the sun is peeking through the clouds, and the silver and red paint on the Aprilia is burning through my eyes like a laser. It looks stunning, even when it’s not moving, and I’m genuinely looking forward to riding this bike. No map, no plan…just hit the road and head wherever takes my fancy. Lincolnshire is a big old county, and I’m eager to explore.

9:09am: The sensation of heading out with no plan, no fixed destination and no set return time is liberating. The bike is warmed up, and the bark from the Arrow can sounds purposeful. Let’s do this.

10:25am: The clouds have given way to brilliant sunshine, the tarmac is warming up nicely and the roads seem to be emptying. As I fill up with fuel in Sleaford, the Aprilia is already making an impression on me. The engine is phenomenal, with the ride-by-wire throttle meting out power predictably and smoothly with just a hint of snatch in first, although you’re always aware of the sheer brute force available on tap with a twist of your right hand. The steering feels light, and while the steering lock isn’t great, it’s not so bad as to be restrictive.

10:40am: I decide to head north along the A15 towards Lincoln, enjoying this undulating rollercoaster before turning right and taking a B road towards Digby, savouring the empty tarmac. I’m the only vehicle on this ribbon of asphalt and as the speed increases it becomes noticeable just how effective the Tuono’s nose fairing and cowl is at cosseting the rider from the wind. It’s really efficient and provides much more protection than a naked bike has any right to offer.

11:15am: I carry on until I get to Woodhall Spa, then chuck a left at the crossroads and let the Bucknall bends take me to Bardney. This really is biking heaven. The Tuono is built for roads like this, and the modifications on this bike let it really shine – the Dymag carbon wheels allow it to turn in quickly and accurately with the lightest of touches, and the Swedish suspension offers loads of feedback, taking the Tuono’s cornering brilliance to another level, inspiring huge levels of confidence and urging you to brake later and get on the throttle earlier in every corner.

12:00am: After another fuel stop in Horncastle I continue to head north and make a beeline for Cadwell Park, the spectacular 2.2-mile circuit carved into the sides of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The ‘Mini-Nürburgring’ may well be the narrowest track on the BSB calendar, but it’s also the most memorable – it has a striking mix of slow and fast corners, cambers, bumps and elevation changes, and every rider should experience it at least once in their lives.

1:08pm: After enjoying a snack at Cadwell’s café, I get suited and booted and hit the road again, taking a left followed by a quick right, to take a back road which will take me to one of the best road’s in the country – the rip roaring Caistor High Road.

This old Roman Road is technical, challenging and a joy to ride. It demands your total concentration and its flowing nature showcases just how good the V4 engine is. The acceleration is savage, the quick-revving engine delivering huge amounts of rapid grunt, giving the bike superbike levels of performance with every touch of the quickshifter. And that quickshifter is good, really good, seamlessly building speed and adding a satisfying pop to the V4’s booming feral soundtrack with every upshift.

1:55pm: I carry on heading north, the air starting to feel cooler as I get closer to the coast. We’re close to Humberside airport now, so I peel right and pull in to Kirmington and pull over outside Guy Martin’s pub. The road racing maverick isn’t around – must be busy with the day job – so I stick my lid back on, and retrace my route back to Horncastle, which is no bad thing.

3:04pm: I fill up again, brimming the Tuono’s tank before deciding to head to Willingham Woods to see if anyone’s around.

3:37pm: It may be a Friday, but there’s a fair few who have decided to do the same as me, fly splattered helmet and leathers testimony to the miles we’ve all covered. There’s a healthy selection of bikes from all manufacturers, and after a blather about the merits of V-twins versus V4s it’s time to hit the road again.

4:08pm: I suit up and head back towards Bardney, taking in an eclectic 12-mile triangle of twisting tarmac around the village before heading south west via Potterhanworth to pick up the A15 near Waddington.

4:33pm: A quick splash and dash in Sleaford before heading south and throwing a right in Bourne and hooking up with the fast and flowing A151 to Corby Glen. Left at the crossroads then it’s a back road blast all the way back to Stamford, complete with hump back bridges, blind corners and a couple of viaducts for the bark from the Arrow to bounce off.

5:48pm: I pull up outside my house, take off my lid and enjoy the warmth of the sun. I’ve done some 330 miles, and as the bike pinks in the early evening air, I look at its headlights, which are caked in the remains of a thousand flies.

Today has reminded me about what I love about bikes – the thrill, the freedom, the connection between man and machine.

What a ride.

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On track – beating the winter blues in Spain

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It’s the first session of the fast group and the sky around Jerez deep in rural Spain is reverberating to the sound of bikes being ridden hard. We’re waiting in the paddock for the call to form up in the pitlane, a ragtag army of first timers, road riders, commuters, Sunday scratchers, hardened European veterans and trackday addicts.

The circuit is 2.75 miles of gloriously fast straights, late apex technical twists and turns, and its 13 corners demand respect. MotoGP and WSBK both race here, and this is the track of choice for teams from both series for pre-season testing.

Soon a deep feral roar enters the paddock and pulls up. It’s a brand new Yamaha R1 and its owner has run on in Turn One and binned it in the kitty litter. Pretty soon the fast group’s first session is over and the other riders pull in. They dismount, remove their lids and head over to the garage where the battle-scarred Yamaha is resting, eager to muck in and help it return to the track.

It’s our turn next, and we nervously head to the track. It’s going to be a challenge – the Ducati 749S and me shouldn’t get too much of a beating from the litre bikes here in the corners, but we’ll get mullered on the long straights. It should make things interesting.

Rewind a week and I’m just leaving Stamford on my way to drop the bike off in Bedford. That’s the joy with events like this – you turn up at the designated collection point, pack your bike and kit securely in its stillage, wrap it in clingfilm and then it gets loaded on a truck and makes its way to Spain.

It’s 21º on this first day at the Tracksense event at Jerez – the sun is shining, the track’s warming up nicely and there’s not a single cloud in the blue sky.

The first session passes in a blur. The Continental Race Attacks were quick to warming up, offering loads of grip, and the 749S was gloriously powering its way through the corners.

It’s handling brilliantly, and sending it away to have its suspension set-up by Griff Woolley at Aprilia Performance has paid dividends. It’s beautifully composed, even when I’m being brutal on the brakes, and it holds a line as well as any modern machine I’ve ridden. Not bad for a 13-year-old Italian.

There are a lot of quick boys on track, including some very fast BSB race machines, but the good thing about trips like this is that everyone’s here for the same reason – to spend as much time as possible riding their bike round the track, over and over again. Nobody pressures anybody, nobody’s interested in claiming scalps or showing you how quick they are, they all just want to enjoy as much tracktime as possible.

After using the morning to learn the track, by mid-afternoon I’ve been downgraded from the intermediate group and am kneedown at almost every right-hand corner.

But after six brilliant sessions the day’s over and we make our way to our digs for the night – the four star hotel just a stone’s throw from the circuit.

Day Two sees the pace pick up and following a quicker rider for a few laps lets me try their lines. They’re tipping in much later, so I take their lead and before I know it I’m getting quicker and more confident. Before I know it my knee’s gracefully kissing the floor for the entirety of the lairy Turn Five, which I’ve just started to do in fourth. It feels quick, really quick, but I reckon I could even snick another gear through there.

I carry on lapping until the fuel light comes on and then head into the paddock. I grab a drink and a snack, refuel the bike and give my visor a clean. Back in the UK it’s raining and yet here I am in vented leathers and boots having the time of my life.

The day finishes with a talk by riding god Simon Crafar, who shows us some on board footage from his GSX-R10000. He’s a talented rider, but a genuinely enthusiastic and likeable bloke to boot, and gives us way more time than he should, answering our questions about lines, gearing and braking markers. His motto is ‘the only limit is you’…listening to him, I suspect he’s right.

Day Three sees more of the same, and I’m laying dark lines out of every corner, smearing rubber into the grippy Spanish asphalt as I open the Ducati’s throttle. I’m hitting my apexes with accuracy, reveling in my on-track battles with the bigger capacity bikes. There’s nothing as stable as my bike mid lean, and I’m able to claw back a lot of time in the corners, before losing it all again on the straights. It’s a never ending tussle, which ebbs and flows as we make our way around this glorious track.

As I finish loading up my bike and kit for the return leg, I take time to reflect on the past three days. Yes, the track is great, and yes, I’ve well and truly bonded with my bike, but it’s the friendships and banter that will stick in my mind. Sharing a garage with nine other riders, nine other like-minded souls has been great, but it’s the nights that make trips like this really memorable. Sharing a room with someone for four nights is a great way to ensuring you’ll make friends, and sharing a track with a group of strangers for three days is a great way of making great friends for life. This is the by far the best thing I’ve done on a bike and is far better than a UK trackday – it’s more relaxed, the vibe is better and the riders are more disciplined. Try one, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. Hope to see you there…

BETTER RIDING – PERFORMANCE PLUS, BETTER THAN EVER

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Cadwell Park is a spectacular 2.2-mile circuit carved into the sides of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The ‘Mini-Nürgring may well be the narrowest track on the BSB calendar, but it’s also the most memorable – its striking mix of slow and fast corners, cambers, bumps and elevation changes produce sensational racing, while the Mountain sees the bikes getting massively airborne (google Jonny rea or Josh Brookes Cadwell).

The track’s unique character is what makes it so suited to rider training, and that’s why we hold our biannual Performance Plus days there – it’s very much like a road.

Improving your road skills on a track? Sounds mad doesn’t it? But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cadwell is the ideal place to improve your skills – there’s no roadside furniture, plenty of run off, the traffic only goes in one direction, and you get the chance to practice the same corners over and over and over again. And the circuit’s dedicated team of marshals,
and these unsung heroes ensure every one follows trackday etiquette and everyone leaves the event in one piece

We’ve helped thousands of riders improve their skills, wo why not see what we can do for your riding?

WHAT IS IT?

Performance Plus is a road riding course run on a racetrack by the experienced Hopp Rider Training team aimed at improving rider skill levels. The team has a wealth of experience and are knowledgeable and amiable.

The days are run at Cadwell Park and feature a mixture of on-and off-track sessions focusing on machine handling skills, defensive riding skills, basic bike maintenance and crash avoidance techniques.

But there’s far more to the day than that, and this year we have revamped it so it’s more useful, and relevant, than ever.

Our crash analysis classroom session makes a return, which basically breaks down a crash step-by-set and looks at how it could have been avoided. As well as looking at road basics – reading the road etc – it also challenges rider’s preconceptions and attitudes.

As well as riding and theory sessions, the Arai race track will be in attendance, and its technician will be servicing helmets and giving talks about basic helmet care.

We are also exploring providing on-road riding assessments – visit our Facebook page for more updates.

 I’VE NEVER BEEN ON TRACK BEFORE. WILL I BE OUT OF MY DEPTH?

All groups of riders are catered for, regardless of experience and ability, and if you’re particularly worried we can hand you a hi-viz vest to let other riders know your level. We group riders together according to experience, so you won’t be under any pressure to ride beyond your comfort zone. We want you to push yourself, but this isn’t a track day and are strict overtaking rules. Any rider seen intimidating other riders or riding recklessly will be sent home. All the bikes taking part are road bikes; any track bikes will be turned away.

WHAT WILL I GET FROM THE DAY?
The day starts with basic bike controls, with each drill building on the last, slowly building up skills and confidence before putting everything together with a series of laps.

You’ll be practicing the same corners over and over and over again and swapping positions constantly, so you’ll have a chance of leading and the opportunity to follow, soaking up information from your instructor and the lead rider.

The advantage with Performance Plus is that the groups are very small – often just five riders – and there are regular breaks for feedback. And as you’ll be under the expert gaze of an experienced racer, you’ll pick up plenty of hints and tips which will make you an event better rider.

HOW IS THE DAY ORGANISED?

Registration starts at 7.45am and after signing the disclaimers you’ll need to get noise tested. You won’t be able to hit the track unless you bring your driving licence – no licence means no time on track.

The day is equally split between the classroom and the track – you’ll either spend the morning in the classroom before taking to the asphalt or viceversa.

All riders are split into groups according to experience, style of bike and riding style. The experienced riders, group A, will spend the morning honing their riding techniques on track, while the more inexperienced riders, group B, will be in Cadwell’s Clubhouse challenging their preconceptions about road safety and learning just how quickly things can go wrong. And just as importantly the theory and techniques to stop them going wrong in the first place.

The track then closes for an hour for lunch, then in the afternoon the groups swap – those who were in the classroom hit the track, while those who were on track hit the classroom. The day finishes at 5.15pm.

DO I HAVE TO WEAR LEATHERS?

No. Although leathers are encouraged as they offer more protection, textiles are also allowed to be worn on track. Full-face helmets, gloves and boots are compulsory, and any two-piece leathers or textiles must be zipped together. Remember to pack waterproofs – Cadwell has a microclimate all of its own and can get wet very quickly.

IS FOOD AVAILABLE?

Cadwell’s canteen always serves up a tasty treat but try and go easy on the lunch as a big and hearty meal will slow down your reaction times come mid-afternoon. And don’t forget to top up on fluids – you’ll be working hard, so remember to drink plenty of water.

Performance Plus takes place on May 3 September 20, and costs £99.

For more information visit http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/LRSP.

Smooth operator – how riding with a pillion will make you a better rider

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Contributor Nathan Millward was living close by and needed a lift for four weeks while he was doing some work for RiDE. No problem I thought, I’ll take him on the back of a BMW S1000XR test bike on my commute. How difficult could it be?

I’d never had anyone on the back of any bike before, and I underestimated just what a difference it made to everything – brakes, acceleration, cornering, gear changes, comfort and practicality.

The first couple of trips were horrible – to accommodate Nathan I was forced to ride far closer to the tank than I normally would, and my legs and feet were cramped, so much so that I was struggling to use the pegs. Then there was the riding dynamic to deal with ­ – Nathan holding on for dear life while I did my best to stop us clashing heads with every clumsily executed gear change and Nathan fighting against the lean and throwing the big Bandit horribly off course. Then there was the fact that I couldn’t wear a rucksack anymore, so we had to start sharing luggage. After that first trip the look of fear through his clear visor made me realise there was a lot of work to do.

So I refined my technique over the following four weeks and having a pillion on the back, although hard work, actually benefitted my riding in a lot of different ways. It made me plan everything much further in advance, made me smoother and made me assess my riding in a way I never had before.

And it all came together on a long weekend’s ride to Scarborough. Nathan was so comfortable on the back he actually fell asleep, and only woke up as we pulled on to his parent’s drive.  I took that as a compliment, rather than an insult – I like to think he fell asleep due to comfort and not boredom. Job done.

 

Better riding: dirt track drifter

The Champions Flat Track School is one of the UK’s best kept secrets. Run by the godfather of flat tracking, Lincolnshire’s own Peter Boast, this is the place where the cream of racing come to practice their skills. Italy has Valentino’s Ranch, America has Colin Edwards’ Texas Tornado Boot Camp and Spain has Marc Marquez’s Oval, but Guy Martin, Sam and Alex Lowes, Steve Plater, Josh Waters and a host of other leading racers have all been to Caenby to sharpen their bike control and racecraft under the expert tutelage of Pete. That tells you just how good he is…

There’s no doubt flat tracking has massively influenced bike racing since King Kenny Roberts came to Grand Prix racing and put his own stamp on it, winning three world titles with his sideways style and impeccable bike control. And the importance of being able to slide a bike continues today, with nearly every top level rider using the dirt to keep themselves at the top of their game. So just how useful is flat tracking for the average road? Pete Boast invited us to the Champions Flat Track School to find out.

I’m still bleary eyed as I pull into the farm in Caenby, and the cold is doing nothing for the metal work in my feet. Winter is well and truly here, and it’s not far off freezing. It may be cold, but the welcome couldn’t be warmer as Pete, Jackie and Geoff greet us like old friends. After a warming cup of coffee and a quick chat, it’s down to business and once the obligatory paperwork is out of the way Pete introduces us to our bikes, a mix of 100cc and 125cc Hondas, which have been lowered and are running on smooth tyres.

“It doesn’t matter if you ride the 100cc or 125cc, they’re pretty much the same, and you won’t feel any difference on the oval. The only difference is the smaller bikes are kick start. Why do we use small capacity machines? Simple – they allow you to master the basics without being intimidating. And they’re a lot of fun.”

There’s a wide range of riders here today, from people with no experience at all such as Paul and myself, to amateur flat track racers such as Adrian, right the way up to up-and-coming road racers such as Franco. It’s an eclectic mix and the atmosphere is electric.

Trepidation builds as Pete and Geoff give us a demonstration, rear kicking out as they slam on the back brake and dig their left leg into the dirt. They make it look easy, effortless even, and the grin on their faces when they remove their helmets says everything. Bring it on…

After getting our steel shoes cable-tied on, we’re quickly split into two groups, and I’m put under Geoff’s watchful eyes.

The first lesson of the day is body position, and already I feel out of my depth.

“Push the bike away from you, move your arse so it’s on the outside of the seat and opposite to the corner you’re tipping into. Keep your elbows up and your upper body still. Let the bike move underneath you, don’t go with it.”

Geoff makes it sound simple, but it’s counter-intuitive to everything I do on the road. After a couple of runs of swerving through a line of cones it’s clear I’m struggling to let go of my road riding habits.

Next up is throttle control, and we’re told to ride figure of eights. Again it sounds easy, but controlling a bike on the throttle alone is harder than you’d think. But a smooth throttle is the key to all riding, and soon we’re getting bigger lean angles as we dart around our little track.

The third lesson of the day is sticking the left leg out and using it as a third point of contract with the ground. Geoff says: “You really need to dig it in. Later on it will make more sense, but it’s effectively a third point of contact with the dirt, and if you lose traction on a wheel, you can use your left leg to hold the bike up. So long as your left leg is out and down, you won’t crash.”

It’s tiring, much more tiring than it should be, and even after this five-minute drill my leg is aching. It still feels like I haven’t got the hang of flat tracking yet, and as the drills start to build on lessons learnt previously, I’m struggling to put everything together. I eventually get it right for two laps, but just when I start to feel like I’ve got it, my body position goes to pot and I start running horribly wide. There’s still work to be done.

The next drills sees us using the back brake to get the bike to slide into the corners. This is something we all struggle with, and we’re either guilty of dragging the brake for too long, or not braking hard enough.

After a quick couple of laps I pull in for a pep talk from Geoff, and when I head back out it starts to make sense. You can really stamp on the back brake, and by doing this, pushing the bike away from you and sticking your left leg out, you can really get the bike cranked over as you slide your way around the cone. Yes, you’re only going left, but your brain is working over time trying to manage the holy trinity of throttle control, brake and lean. “You need to be either on the brake or on the throttle. As soon as you’ve finished braking you need to be on the throttle. Your leg is managing the slide, stopping the front from tucking.”

We then move from our smaller oval to the big oval and start putting all the drills together. It’s hard work, and leaving your leg dangling quickly becomes tiring. I pick it up in an effort to reduce the pain and that’s when it happens – I tip in to the turn at the top of the course, tuck the front and spin the bike, throwing me off in a slow motion pirouette. I dust myself off, jump back on and in a couple of laps it happens again. And then again a lap later. I can’t stop laughing.

Geoff runs over and explains what I’ve done wrong. “You’re being too greedy with the gas. And you’ve stopped sticking your left leg out. You’ve come in  hard, and then made the bike unstable by asking for too much throttle, too soon. If you’d had your leg out, you’d have saved it, but you didn’t, so the front of the folded.”

Pretty soon most of us have tumbled, but by exploring the limits of grip we’re already starting to push ourselves and the bikes, and we’re learning about what’s possible, and the limits of adhesion.

And then things get really interesting when Pete decides to water the track.

“This will let you experience riding on looser ground, and you’ll feel the bike moving about more. You’ll have to be super smooth with the controls, and your inputs on the bike, and you may have to change your lines. Basically you’ll have to start again, reading the track and judging the grip levels.”

He’s right. The track feels loose, my arms begin to tighten and my lean angle and speed decreases. But after a few laps I’ve judged the conditions and my pace increases. I’ve got this.

The final session sees both groups head out on the track, and passing is allowed. The kids are flying – tireless, smooth and fearless – while the adults are starting to flag. I feel frazzled, body struggling to obey my brain’s instructions, and my muscles are aching in places I’ve never experienced pain. But I’m still smiling; we all are.

The day finishes when it’s dark. I genuinely can’t believe how much time we’ve had on the bike, how much we’ve all come on and how much fun you can have in second gear.

Pete’s still full of energy, and as enthusiastic as ever. He says: “I love this. Every day is different – different abilities, different personalities and different aims for the day. We get all kinds coming here, from the complete novice to the experienced racer, and they all end up leaving with more knowledge, and a big grin on their faces. It’s what makes it so special.”

Is it worth it? Absolutely. It’s a steal. You’ll improve your bike control, your confidence and you’ll realise just how capable a bike really is. And because you’ll be tackling the same corners over and over again you’ll learn how to read the feedback from the bike, and just how much you have in hand when you’re on the road– it’s amazing just how far you can really lean a bike should you have to (a crucial skill when you’ve misread a corner).

WE TRIED IT TOO

Adrian Middleton, 46, from Barnsley, has a background riding Enduros and Supermotos.
He said: “I was looking for something different, something that would boost my confidence while improving my skillset. I’ve already done Level 3 with Pete, and he recommended I do Level 1.

“You never stop learning, and the biggest thing I’ve taken from the day is the importance of throttle control, and just how important it is for keeping the bike settled. And there’s the back brake – you can really stomp hard on it and keep the bike fully under control.”

Paul Mooney, 55, from Bishop Stortford, 55, said: “I came to biking relatively late as part of my mid-life crisis, and I’ve only been riding for six years.

“I ride a Street Triple, and until today, all my experience has been on the road. It’s a strange experience at first, pushing the bike away from you, and goes against everything I do every time I ride.

“The day itself is well structured, and while there is a big jump with each step, it’s logical and builds upon the lessons you’ve already learnt. I’ve come away with loads of confidence and the appreciation that there is more than one line through a corner. And I can’t believe how far the bike can lean and still have grip.”
Ruth Mooney, 29, from Bishop Stortford, said: “I’ve only been on a bike six times, and I came here as I’m keen to learn as much as I can before I do my CBT. Pete was recommended to me by a friend, and my throttle control has come on loads.

“When you look at the track and what you’re expected to do, it’s pretty intimidating when you first arrive, but my coach Geoff was great, and really helped me loads with lots of little tips and advice.

“All the riders here were friendly, and there were no egos – we were all here because we want to improve, regardless of experience. I can’t recommend it enough.”

Franco Bourne, 12, from Durham, is an up-and-coming racer, who has already taken the GP70 class by storm and is making the step up to Superteens in 2017.

He said: “It’s been a long day, really long, and I can’t believe how much time you get on the bikes, which is brilliant. My back brake control has improved, getting better as the day went on, and I can really feel the difference.

“Riding on the rough surface has helped with my feeling too – I have a much better understanding of grip and what the bike is doing.”

WANT TO TRY IT FOR YOURSELF?

Pete Boast is a racer through and through. The 2009 European and British Flat Track Champion, Pete has also raced at the highest level at BSB and on the roads. He’s also a guest road tester for Bike magazine and a trackday instructor with MSV and the Ron Haslam Race School.

He runs his school throughout the year, and has both indoor and outdoor courses. For more information, or to book your own flat track experience, visit www.flattrackschool.co.uk or call 01507 313590.

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Better riding – how to master the wet weather

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The recent MotoGP race at Assen showed just how much grip is available in the wet with today’s tyres. Follow these tips to ensure you keep it shiny side up:

RELAX – “Many riders don’t enjoy riding in the wet and most actually avoid it where possible. It’s completely the wrong approach. The reality is that the skills you need in the wet are exactly the same as those you need when you’re riding in the dry, namely you need to be smooth with your inputs and you need to be relaxed on the bike.

“The biggest secret to good bike control is to ensure you’re in the right riding position. You need to be comfortable and leant forward slightly, with your arms bent – they need to be parallel to the road, and this allows you to steer the bike with the lightest of touches. This is important. If you’re holding too tight and the bike slides in the wet, this movement will be amplified and you’ll actually stop the bike from correcting itself.”

CORNERING – “Another mistake many riders make in the wet is that they corner too gingerly. I’m not talking about really attacking bends, but riding confidently and making progress. If you tip-toe through the corners, virtually upright, on a closed throttle, you’re not generating any cornering force and your tyres will be generating very little grip. It’s a viscous circle – the bike’s feels nervous and twitchy, you back off, the bike feels even worse, so you back off more.

“It sounds crazy, but by riding more confidently and smoothly, you’ll actually be generating some cornering and braking forces, which in turn allows the tyres to grip. Still not convinced? Then try this – gently side your fingers across glass and they will simply glide across. Now try it again but this time push down with increasing force and they will begin to dig into the surface. Again the secret is smoothness.”

ACCELERATING – “Good throttle control is the key to wet weather riding, and I’m amazed at how few rides are able to demonstrate this basic, but essential, skill. Again, it’s all about smoothness – any big input will break traction and light the rear up, whereas smoothly winding the throttle provides drive and traction.”

BRAKING – “The best way to brake in the wet is to brake exactly the same as you would in the dry – squeeze the lever and apply it progressively. Never, ever grab, as any sudden input will break traction.

“You won’t be able to brake as hard as you would in the dry, and this needs to be reflect in your riding, but you can still brake surprisingly hard.

“The rear brake comes into its own in the wet, and by trying to provoke a rear-wheel lock up I can use it as a gauge for assessing how much grip is available – a vital tool for helping you to ride to the conditions.”

ROAD POSITIONING – “Wet weather means you’ll have to compromise your road position. Road markings, cat’s eyes, manhole covers and overbanding will all be very, very slippery and all should be avoided where possible.

“You may also have to adjust your position on corners as gravel could be sitting on your ideal line, so keep your vison up, look as far forward as possible and try and anticipate any hazards.”

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.

Riding – nine tips to get more from trackdays

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1) Positive thinking

Having the correct state of mind is crucial to a good ride. Whether you’re learning a new skill or pushing for a fast lap, a good mind set will pay dividends. Developing a new skill requires you to ride within your limitations, placing your attention on what you are doing. This allows you to understand the technique and gives your brain the time to digest new information. In the first few sessions of a trackday only work on one area of your riding.

2) Study a circuit map

The importance of a circuit map cannot be underestimated. Used correctly there are many advantages to be gained, none more-so than highlighting clear, easy to identify objects and markers for your braking, turn entry, apex and corner exit. Replaying laps of the circuit in your mind using these markers will reinforce the track layout and the lines you have chosen. Once you have specific makers set for a given turn you can refine them to become more efficient and reduce your lap times.

3) Raise your vision

All of the senses are working overtime when pushing personal limits, but the eyes often have a mind of their own. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what we are doing rather than what we want to do. Identifying reference points early will give you a better sense of speed, improve steering accuracy and throttle control.

4) Find your lines

One of the most common problems riders face is being able to understand what makes a good line. When constructing a corner start at the exit and work backwards. Your track position on the exit is dictated by your apex. Knowing the exact point of the apex will help you decide on a turn area. The position and the consistency of your mid-corner position is what truly dictates your line through a turn. Make a concerted effort to use good vision and locate a late apex to run faster lines.

5) Do corner preparation

The key to success is to get as much as possible done before the corner. Set yourself up early by moving your body position in to place before the turn entry. This helps the bike to remain stable.

6) Sort your braking

Use of the brakes on track has one primary function over all others, to set your speed for the turn. A very useful technique which allows you to set your speed deeper into the turn is trail braking. The initial hard braking should be done early while the bike is upright, reducing the risk of losing traction while the forks are compressed absorbing any bumps. As the turn begins and the lean angle increases additional cornering forces are placed on the tyre and suspension. The brake pressure should be released smoothly and in direct proportion to the increase in lean angle.

7) Turn quicker

One of the biggest limiting factors to increasing cornering speed and reducing your lap times is how quickly you can turn the bike. The faster you enter a corner, the quicker you must turn the bike. There are a number of ways to do this but the most effective way is to countersteer. Applying pressure to the right (inside) handlebar will turn the bike to the right and vice versa. The more pressure you apply the quicker the bike will turn. Using the pegs can assist with this and will allow you to run faster corner entry speeds.

8) Stand it up

A major factor to increasing your speed is how quickly you can get to full gas. Being patient with the throttle will help, and used in conjunction with picking the bike up on the exit will make use of its full potential. Standing the bike up reduces the lean angle and allows the suspension to work more effectively. This reduces the cornering forces and load on the tyres, enabling you to drive the bike out of the turn. Timing is important – too early and the bike will run wide. Get it right and you will smash your best times.

9) Be patient

Rolling the throttle on too hard early in the turn will push the bike wide, forcing you to hesitate or even roll of the throttle. Be disciplined and wait for the precise moment you can drive out of the turn. This will allow you to be assertive with your throttle and get to full gas sooner, carrying more speed down the straights.

Better riding – what we can learn from track instruction

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For many the thought of doing a trackdays can be intimidating – too much testosterone, too much cock waving and too much pressure. And then there’s the fear that you may just lob your pride and joy down the road.

However, properly run trackdays are probably the safest you’ll ever be on two wheels – there’s no oncoming traffic, no road furniture, wide run-offs and you can practice the same stretch of tarmac over and over and over again. We met up with British Superbike School instructor Ade Thomas to find out how getting some instruction on track can make you a better rider on the road:

1) Positive thinking: Having the correct state of mind is crucial to a good ride. Whether you’re learning a new skill or pushing for a fast lap, a good mind set will pay dividends. Developing a new skill requires you to ride within your limitations, placing your attention on what you are doing. This allows you to understand the technique and gives your brain the time to digest new information. In the first few sessions of a trackday only work on one area of your riding.

2) Study a circuit map: The importance of a circuit map cannot be underestimated. Used correctly there are many advantages to be gained, none more-so than highlighting clear, easy to identify objects and markers for your braking, turn entry, apex and corner exit. Replaying laps of the circuit in your mind using these markers will reinforce the track layout and the lines you have chosen. Once you have specific markers set for a given turn you can refine them to become more efficient and reduce your lap times.

3) Raise your vision: All of the senses are working overtime when pushing personal limits, but the eyes often have a mind of their own. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what we are doing rather than what we want to do. Identifying reference points early will give you a better sense of speed, improve steering accuracy and throttle control.

4) Find your lines: One of the most common problems riders face is being able to understand what makes a good line. When constructing a corner start at the exit and work backwards. Your track position on the exit is dictated by your apex. Knowing the exact point of the apex will help you decide on a turn area. The position and the consistency of your mid-corner position is what truly dictates your line through a turn. Make a concerted effort to use good vision and locate a late apex to run faster lines.

5) Do corner preparation: The key to success is to get as much as possible done before the corner. Set yourself up early by moving your body position in to place before the turn entry. This helps the bike to remain stable.

6) Sort your braking: Use of the brakes on track has one primary function over all others, to set your speed for the turn. A very useful technique which allows you to set your speed deeper into the turn is trail braking. The initial hard braking should be done early while the bike is upright, reducing the risk of losing traction while the forks are compressed absorbing any bumps. As the turn begins and the lean angle increases additional cornering forces are placed on the tyre and suspension. The brake pressure should be released smoothly and in direct proportion to the increase in lean angle.

7) Turn quicker: One of the biggest limiting factors to increasing cornering speed and reducing your lap times is how quickly you can turn the bike. The faster you enter a corner, the quicker you must turn the bike. There are a number of ways to do this but the most effective way is to countersteer. Applying pressure to the right (inside) handlebar will turn the bike to the right and vice versa. The more pressure you apply the quicker the bike will turn. Using the pegs can assist with this and will allow you to run faster corner entry speeds.

8) Stand it up: A major factor to increasing your speed is how quickly you can get to full gas. Being patient with the throttle will help, and used in conjunction with picking the bike up on the exit will make use of its full potential. Standing the bike up reduces the lean angle and allows the suspension to work more effectively. This reduces the cornering forces and load on the tyres, enabling you to drive the bike out of the turn. Timing is important – too early and the bike will run wide. Get it right and you will smash your best times.

9) Be patient: Rolling the throttle on too hard early in the turn will push the bike wide, forcing you to hesitate or even roll of the throttle. Be disciplined and wait for the precise moment you can drive out of the turn. This will allow you to be assertive with your throttle and get to full gas sooner, carrying more speed down the straights.