California Superbike School Track Training – Level 1
At the time I experienced and wrote this article about California Superbike School, they used Ducati motorcycles. They have now changed over to Kawasaki but this does not have any impact on the delivery and training that is given on the day.
Pre Course Decision
I decided to enroll in the California Superbike School program as I’d heard so much about it. I have ridden quite a lot over the years and taken different courses, but I had never done this course before. From the very start, I knew I was in good hands.
The experience started with some pre-course phone calls, my questions and queries were answered immediately and the information I gained put me at ease straight away. I spoke to the office staff initially and then spoke to Richard (AKA Badger) as I wanted to discuss what we would do and how the course works, no stones were left unturned and I knew I was going to have a great day.
My first time
As it was my first time, I started at the bottom. The first course to complete is Level 1, even though I had some previous track riding experience. Everyone starts here, even riders who are racing or riding around the famous TT circuit.
It was explained that there are no shortcuts and everyone has to go through the course properly to get the best out of it, it is a methodical process that allows riders to put the jigsaw pieces together in the correct order.
The communication is thorough and very professional, pre-course forms were sent through the post giving an outline of what will happen on the day. The detailed pack gave a good insight to the course and the pre-course forms should be filled out and taken with you on the day (you must also take your driving licence).
An Early Start
Because it was an early start I decided to book into a hotel in Bedford the night before. I didn’t fancy a 04:00 am start, driving down from Birmingham and then spending a full day deep in concentration.
Previous experience had taught me that track riding is demanding. Even the slightest fatigue is taxing and mistakes on the track normally result in unnecessary problems. So after a good night’s sleep it was time to get up and leave the hotel before the chefs had even started cooking breakfast!
I stopped to buy water and a sandwich on the way to Bedford Autodrome, that was breakfast sorted out and the bottles of water would keep me hydrated throughout the day.
All my kit in the car
I travelled down in the car because I had a large bag full of my old track stuff, including all in one leathers that were a bit tighter these days! Along with good protective Knox gloves, a lightweight Shoei helmet, Sidi boots, base layers, ear plugs and a tinted visor (in anticipation of a bright dry day).
As I made my way from Bedford town centre to Bedford Autodrome, the weather was cold and fresh, it was the early stages of sunrise with the mist rolling across the fields. At the time I didn’t know it but Bedford Autodrome was their new home and the very first day that California Superbike School operated from here, you would not have known it with the slick operation that was in place.
The day started early and registration was at 07.00 am. There were people there already and the Ducatis were all lined up and ready to go.
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The Panigales looked impressive
It looked impressive as I drove towards the track and even more so when I walked over to sign in. A line of brand new Panigales all shiny and bright red just waiting to be ridden around a very impressive circuit.
After signing in, it was time to look around and get familiarised with the set up. Tea and coffee were provided free of charge for the whole day, with cold drinks supplied to maintain hydration.
You could also help yourself to bananas and crisps during the day too. Bananas to give a slow release of energy and crisps to give the much needed salts and electrolytes back into the body after sweating whilst riding on track. Even though it may be cold, it is still demanding and it is important to maintain concentration levels.
Amazing facilities at Bedford
The facilities were good and the track could only be described as immaculate, it had a great surface and excellent tarmac for grip. It looked like a DVSA test centre where the tarmac gives amazing grip in almost every weather condition.
The bikes were being worked on, ensuring enough fuel was in the tank and last minute checks were being done. It was all done in silence and everyone had a role and task to do, the team got on with their business in a very deliberate way but made time to chat and introduce themselves.
After registration with California Superbike School, it was time to register up with MSV. They needed to see a full UK driving licence and in date photo ID, this was to allow riding on the track. A word of warning, without a licence (which must be in date) you will not proceed onto the track and it will be a waste of time and money.
I was a little bit apprehensive and also excited at the prospect of undertaking this formal track training program. I’d heard so much about this course and how it transforms riders’ thinking and behaviour. I wondered what was in store for me and how it would change my thinking and riding technique.
The first and subsequent session briefings were given by Gary. His presentation skills and delivery of the course content made learning easy. The way he described the bike, the way the rider could feel and what to do with the controls to achieve the best out of the session.
Step by step approach
It became apparent that this was a step by step process to undo any bad habits or to educate a rider in how to operate the controls correctly.
The above statement is not to take anything away from Instructors who teach learner riders at a basic level. This course and the education that is delivered is in depth, it is about learning to understand the bike and not just be perched on top of it while it takes you for a ride. This knowledge was going to be extremely valuable to make future changes to personal riding skills; that’s if the process is learned, understood and practised until proficient.
During the session, Gary talked in depth about two things – Speed and Direction control. These are the two areas that riders do not do well, riding too fast and then asking the bike to do something that is not conducive to a good outcome. Like riding into a corner too fast and then braking while leaning the bike over or riding into a corner too fast and trying to man handle the bike around the bend with excessive steering – both of these inputs challenge the amount of available road grip.
Getting familiar with the layout of the track
On track we were asked to go out and get used to the layout of the circuit, to learn where it went and to get the feel of the track. We were going to be given certain things to work on through each session. This session was to stay in one gear, don’t use brakes and make the brain correct and control the speed by deliberate throttle control.
Initially It was a little awkward, riders were on different bikes and it was difficult to maintain space to start with. However this exercise quickly made you realise it was not about speed but about control, more importantly about yourself and how you control you!
This was a big thing that I personally learned in session 1 ‘If you can first learn how to control yourself – you can then learn how to control the machine’.
Thought provoking debrief
After the session, it was time for the debrief. We met up with Nick who was our coach for the day, there were two riders to each coach. He had been watching us on track but didn’t give any feedback to us after this session.
However, with his thought provoking question technique, it was about self analysis with in depth thinking about what we had just done and how we could improve. This was like no other course I’d ever done before, we were going to be dissecting our own riding a great deal and if open to it, we were going to be owning our own faults and downfalls throughout the day.
In a way we were encouraged to learn from our mistakes and put into practice the remedial methods required to fix any problems or faults, these are commonly known as bad habits. Many riders do not accept that they have bad habits because they have ridden like they do for many years.
This was a different approach, it made you aware of what you were doing wrong and why the bike reacted the way it did.
Session 2 & 3
The next two sessions were aimed at controlling speed and steering, the two necessary key factors to be in full control of the motorcycle. A thorough presentation with precise information ensured that everyone knew what they were required to work on and how to get the best out of the session.
We could use two gears and light brakes during these two sessions, it would give us more flexibility and better feel for the controls. The overriding point to remember was to get everything done early and in good time and to maintain composure without going into panic mode.
As long as you put into practice what had been discussed and tried to change what you were doing wrong, learning naturally took place. In fact there are times when you get the ‘Hahaaa moment’ when things just naturally fall into place, this to me was all about personal criticism about your own riding.
Small changes have huge results
Making small changes usually gets the best results, this was certainly making me analyse my own riding in a way that I’d never done before.
After each session, the questioning technique got more demanding as we were enticed into thinking deeper about our riding. We were not told what to do but given tips on changing, it was us who had come up with a plan about what we should do to make changes.
Of course it was training, the coaches are trained to draw information out of you without them giving all the answers. This is what impressed me the most about the structure of the course, you are not told what to do, you are guided into a way of thinking that allows you to understand the process and outcomes.
Session 4 & 5
After lunch the format remained much the same, we worked on counter steering and listened to the presentation on suspension. It was very thought provoking and answered a few questions as to why the bike reacts a certain way in certain conditions or situations. The bike only does what a rider tells it to do, we are the key to all the problems that we encounter.
Before our track time we all went through practical counter steering while using correct body position, Badger was our instructor for this session. He allowed us to make mistakes and with his coaching style encouraged us to think about how it felt, what felt good or bad and how we could correct or improve what we were doing.
It wasn’t rushed and we were given plenty of time to get the feel of what the instructors were trying to get us to do, so that it felt natural on the bike.
Building blocks and Apex
With the latest information given, the track time was to develop a quicker steering input into the bars, think about the apex and how the power delivery could help or affect cornering. This course is a step by step process, one session perfectly gets you ready for the next. It is the building blocks for a solid foundation, as long as you get what you have just done, the next bit fits in like a jigsaw.
We were advised to use 3 gears now with light brakes, our aim was to think about the grip pressure and what we did with our body. We were not to hang off the bike like a racer would on track, but use our body weight to help the bike steer, turning the head first to find where we wanted to go and then allow the body to go in the direction of the turn. Quick Steer was the name of the game and it was amazing how the bike moved when all the controls were used in the correct manner.
The debriefs were the same, the onus was on the rider to give their own description of how it felt on track. Discussions on what was right and wrong and some advice and tips on how to correct what felt wrong, or more importantly what happened before that for the bike to not feel right!
The Instructors graft all-day
The development was always thought provoking and self analysis helped the instructors to give you personal and specific points to address and work on. They work tirelessly to help you improve and have a great bedside manner that is encouraging and helpful.
The last session was putting it all together, don’t undo the great work already put into place. You do get a free reign but it is to work on what you have been doing previously, the instruction is to ride at 75% of ability to ensure learning is still taking place.
You are not expected to grow horns and show how fast you can ride, if you do there is an instructor not too far away who will pull the reins in. When you think you are going quick and the instructors pass you one handed, pointing at certain points on the track at twice your corner speed, you realise that there is far more to learn.
The Feel of the Day
Upon arrival and during the day, there is a very laid back atmosphere, this is certainly not a coincidence. It has been crafted this way to eliminate any feeling of competition, it is made clear from the start that this is not a track day. You are here to learn and the price of the course means that you have embarked on a learning day and not a track day.
You are only competing with yourself and your own personal demons, challenges and fears. There is no testosterone as all riders are instructed to ride at 75%. No crashing is the motto and the emphasis is on education. If you are doing anything wrong that has not been taught or you are starting to ride faster than your guardian angel can fly, you are very quickly roped in.
It is not a track day
This is not a track day to learn how to ride fast, it’s a school day to understand new techniques or cement good habits. Listen, learn and understand and if you don’t get it, ask because that is what the day is all about.
Let somebody know that you don’t understand what is expected of you, if you don’t know how to do the next exercise it will be explained in a different way to you, the education is fantastic. You are never too far away from help and advice.
It is a calm reminder that these skills are learned, applied and practiced. Nobody was born with these skills, it is something that time and practice makes proficient but there is a strict process to learning this type of riding. First understand what to do and then practice at a slow speed to allow the brain to cope, only then will true learning and improvement take place.
I have been riding since 1985 and done quite a lot on a motorbike over the years. This includes off roading, track riding, touring and training riders from learner level to advanced. I’ve heard great reviews about California Superbike School and never took the plunge until now.
Well-Educated and Professional
When you buy a track day and get the so-called tuition from their helpers, it isn’t training! Let me assure you, It is not the same. California Superbike School has a team of educated and fully qualified instructors, they use a structured training plan to get the best out of your riding and the last thing you will hear from them is how to get your knee down.
This course is an absolute must for every rider, before enrolling you should be comfortable and confident riding at the speed limit. It is not a good idea passing your basic motorcycle test and then going straight onto this course.
I would suggest getting some DVSA Enhanced Rider Scheme (ERS) training from a professional instructor first, this will give you some basic tools and you should practice advanced riding skills before taking the plunge. You should feel confident riding your own machine on the road. Remember learning is the key to survival, even the expert started as a novice!
You can’t help but learn
You can’t help but learn, if your ears are open and you open your mind to new techniques the learning curve is steep. It made me think about my own riding and I made lots of changes throughout the day, all for the better. These skills are transferable to the road and will definitely make you a better rider.
The day is a guide to help you develop at your own pace and work on your own weaknesses, with a low student-to-instructor ratio the training is very personal to you. There is time to rest, reflect and refuel the body during the day so that concentration levels remain high where maximum learning takes place.
Times are changing
The industry is changing, no longer is the emphasis on speed and how fast the bike goes. The era we are in now does not include the sports bikes that once were. Riders are looking for adventure and new things to try.
Because this course can now be signposted as part of a DVSA Enhanced Rider Scheme syllabus, it is a great opportunity to learn in different environments to improve personal skill levels.
It’s an exciting prospect to know that so many training organisations are now working together to reduce accident statistics, all in the knowledge that they are keeping more riders safer than ever before.
Gary and his team are exceptional, they deliver high-level guidance to anyone who wants to learn. This is expensive but well worth the high-end cost to learn new skills in a safe environment. Can’t wait for my next day with them.
Keep it on the black stuff ®