After completing both Level 1 and 2 courses with us previously, Michael Mann returned to join us at Cadwell Park for his Level 3 course and reported on his experience on Bennetts Bike Social. Here is a brief synopsis of the article and you can read the full version here: https://www.bennetts.co.uk/bikesocial/news-and-views/features/product/california-superbike-school-level-three
Each level takes a whole and very structured day to complete and the levels don’t relate directly to the ability of the rider; quite simply if Valentino Rossi turned up he would have to complete Level One before Level Two. You get the gist.
As the day progresses so does the pace even though the emphasis on the drills is very much teaching and mastering skills much like a school instead of a track day. Just like in levels one and two, the first drill of level three uses just one gear and no brakes to keep speed down but concentration up.
So, having already taken part in Levels One at Silverstone on the Stowe circuit two years ago on a School hire Ducati 1199 Panigale where I was taught all about throttle control and turning the bike with an eye-opening lesson on counter steering. Then it was onto Level Two which took me to Brand Hatch last summer on board a Kawasaki ZX-10R to focus on developing visual skills to make the road or track an easier place to ride, spotting danger, a reference point or even an exit point of a corner early enough to amend your line.
And now onto Level Three on the physically demanding, narrow yet picturesque 2.2 mile Cadwell Park circuit where even the straights are curved. And the bonus of having completed two of these school days before, is that I knew what to expect which can be a little daunting. After reminding ourselves of Level Two’s hand signals including the last drill of that session; 'Pick up' which focuses on getting more grip as you drive out of a turn. And that moves us on to Hook Turn, the key point of which is stabilising the bike on entry, mid-corner and exit.
Again, before splashing our way onto the circuit, one-by-one we get our bodies into a position on the 959 to encourage a faster and soother turn. The spine is almost parallel with the ground and while the lower body stays rigid offering stability, it’s the head and upper body that move further away from the bike in the turn.
The "locked on" position on the bike is found by pushing on foot peg to lock the upper leg (femur) into the tank squeezing the thighs and pushing the heel into heel plates. Leave a fist width between the fuel tank and your gentleman (or lady) parts to allow free movement around the tank without being too close, an affliction known as "tank shagging"! When lean down either side of the front fairing the inside elbow makes a v-shape and while the weight is more forwards, it loads the front suspension which leads to better front end grip and the bike turns better without more lean angle. Ideal for wet conditions…like today.
As the throttle increases, the effect of the hook turn decreases because weight transfers to the rear leaving less grip and stability at the front. This technique is also useful for corners that tighten. Once the coach is happy you can “lock on”, it’s off to your bike and out for the 20 minutes track session to put it into practice. And you’re encouraged to use one or two gears and as little brake as possible to keep speed down and concentration on the task up.
The rider coach will be out there on track too and is likely to have another two or three students to look at. He’ll assess by riding behind you then overtake giving a relevant and pre-discussed signal. He’ll sit in front for a few corners before waving you through. After the session he’ll then debrief you on the good bits and the bits that need a bit of work. Then it’s straight back to the classroom for lesson Two: Pivot steering which is designed to offer stability in the fast turns or bumpy sections of the circuit – ideal for Cadwell Park.
Because a bike is harder to turn at 150mph than 20mph there are certain positions the rider can adopt to still feel connected with the bike but keeping the flow and momentum all while loosing as little grip as possible. The key here is to lifting the body slightly. Very, very slightly by pushing gently on the pegs and using the thigh muscles. Doing this allows the upper body to get to work encouraging the bike to move. Understanding that the less lean angle of the machine equals more grip which is ultimately why we hang off a bike. So, use the inner thigh on the outer leg for support against the tank and sit further back in the seat to, once again, ‘lock on’.
Two gears are permitted this time as the GSX-R750 and I head onto the now slightly drying track. I tell myself that with practice comes confidence and find that Park Corner and the following long right-hander known as Chris Curve are perfect for this drill. They’re both fast, one longer than the other and are ideal to test your ability to use the outside leg to hold yourself against the tank while sitting further back in the saddle for maximum stability. I’m noticeably quicker as each lap passes and realise that something that is so simple to learn has great benefit.
Overall, the method of teaching is hugely efficient and effective. Your time is maximised with just the right amount of theory, practical and rest during each hour. There’s plenty to take in and I’d encourage note taking (or just read this time and again!) because when you get home and are asked how it went, I guarantee you’ll have forgotten at least one of the tips.
That’s because the day is physically demanding too. On a track day you’ll mainly just be whipping around lap-after-lap evading the crazy folk hunting for the invisible trophy but on a school day it’s all practice, practice, practice. The focus required on learning new skills requires concentration, thinking about the last time you approached that particular corner and how you can make it better this time. I am pleased to be able to recall elements of the day from my own notes which I’ll be thinking about tomorrow morning when I’m back on the Africa Twin for my commute.
Ok, it’ll be down the A605 instead of Cadwell Park but many of the drill skills can be transferred to the road.
After completing his Level 1 with us two years previously, David Williams joined us at Brands Hatch once again for his Level 2 course and reported on his experience in the Evening Standard. Here is a brief synopsis of the article and you can read the full version here: www.standard.co.uk.
Squeezed into thick, brightly coloured leathers from neck to ankles, perspiring freely into my crash helmet and waiting for my heart to stop punching my ribs after several laps of Brands Hatch, I’m standing in the pit lane with my instructor Badger at the California Superbike School and playing catch with a juggling ball. I’m told to look at the wall while tossing him the ball which, inevitably, misses him by a country mile — coincidentally the same distance by which I missed several crucial ‘reference points’ on the circuit.
“Now look at me and throw it,” instructs Badger. I do, and it hits him square in the chest. Today’s lesson is all about vision — how fixating on one point of the bend makes you run wide. My pit-lane lecture comes after I’ve soared around the circuit faster than I thought possible, on a rip-snorting Ducati Monster 1200. On the straight, I saw the speedo flicker past 100mph.
Still trying to grasp the point of the ball, and with Badger’s insistence that it all comes down to peripheral vision ringing in my ears, I rumble back on to the circuit, try not to go cross-eyed as I scan the track as instructed — and fly round like a sweaty torpedo.
There’s a lot to take in at the California Superbike School, which is why the day — from 7am to 5pm — consists of five classroom sessions, each followed by five long sessions on track, which are intended to make you safer and more confident on the road.
I tackled Level 1 two years ago, dramatically improving my riding as I honed counter-steering (turning the handlebars the “wrong” way at speed to dip the bike into a corner more smartly), stabilised the bike mid-bend with the throttle and had the time of my life at speeds that would have seen me locked up on public roads.
Now I was here for Level 2, to learn how effective motorcycle control comes down to what you can — or can’t — do with a leather juggling ball. The day began by signing on for my leathers and bike and a stern talk on track safety, followed by a detailed lecture on those “reference points” — the bits of a bend that help you “make friends with corners”. Then we were let loose to put it into practice, dissipating our nerves in a flurry of throttle, braking and banking.
Next we were told to ride on the “wrong” part of each bend to discover the myriad ways there are of sailing through a corner safely, even if you are nudged off-line by another rider. Next came “The Three Step” — a sequence for our eyes to follow in a bend. “If you’re looking too close,” said the instructor, “you feel rushed. Look too far ahead and you feel lost.”
All I need now are some safe, deserted bends on which to practise before I tackle Level 3.
In an article for AutoCar India, Kartikeya Singhee reported on the CSS experience at our Chennai schools in India during February 2016 – titled ‘Complusory School for Survival’. A sample of the article follows but you can read the full version on www.autocarindia.com:
The name is quite misleading. Firstly, I didn’t attend it in cool and sunny California, instead it was in the blazing heat of muggy Chennai. And, while most students rode superbikes there, the school isn’t about riding superbikes. And since the school is held at a race track, you could inadvertently assume a few more things. No, it isn’t about stepping onto a podium. Or, about showing your buddies how a neat pass is done. Or, about getting your knee down. It’s about staying on your motorcycle, and staying in control. It’s about learning the tools that can keep you safe and smooth on a motorcycle for a long time to come. Everything else is a bonus.
Three days at the California Superbike School pack 15 classroom sessions to understand one principle or technique while seated in the cold comfort of a chair. But, there’s 300 minutes of track time to put it all to test. There’s no way that I could express the nuances of riding that are discussed at CSS in just a few pages. We spoke to a few students to know what they thought of CSS and how they rated themselves. Here’s hoping that it might convince you to be there next time around, no matter what bike you ride, or your experience on it.
By the end of three days, the improvement in riding isn’t evaluated in lap times. It’s judged by the sense of confidence that you walk away with.
After completing his Level 1 course the previous year, Michael Mann from Bennetts Bike Social joined us again for his Level 2 at Brands Hatch in May and reported on his experience (with an article and video) – here is a brief synopsis of the article but you can read the full version here: http://bit.ly/1dH5udJ
The beauty of a day like this is there’s plenty of time to meet fellow enthusiasts usually with the opening gambit of “which level are you doing?” followed quickly by “cool, and what are you riding?” Each riding coach is assigned 2-3 students and I found this method ideal with enough time at the end of each track session for one-to-one feedback. The coaches communicate via pre-designated hand signals on the circuit to remind you of each drill’s focus.
The 20-strong team of professional riders, tutors and admin staff are super-efficient and run the day like clockwork. Each hour is split into three lots of 20 minutes so you’ll either be riding/debriefing, in the classroom or having 20 minutes to yourself to digest the information and prepare for the next session.
Like a cake recipe, as the day progresses each drill incorporates more ingredients in the shape of techniques, gears and brakes. Confidence in your own ability grows with every session which results in faster and more efficient riding. The challenge of finding my quickest line around Paddock Hill Bend became a sub-fixation of the day, not only was I learning more in several hours than ever before but I was doing so on one of the UK’s most exhilarating circuits.
Every time you ride a bike you never stop learning and where better than on a circuit with no other vehicles heading towards you nor any offensive road conditions. The Indy circuit might only be 1.2 miles but there’s never a break, you’re always busy looking for your next reference point and creating a smoother flow of information purposely to tell yourself where you are and what to do. The more information you can soak in the better positioned you are going to be to alienate danger and create a smoother, faster line. And that might be a different line each lap (on track) or each corner (on the road) depending on what’s around you.
Conclusion: The day is tiring both mentally and physically. You'll work hard on the track practicing and pushing your newly found skills all while staying alert looking for reference points, trying new lines, attempting the 'three-step', picking the bike up out of the corner or looking for the vanishing point of the track. The course is so rewarding though. Use the debrief session wisely, the coaches are there to help you not criticise and I certainly came away a better rider. On every ride you are constantly learning yet the CSS will refine what to concentrate on to make you a more efficient rider with the ability to spot danger earlier. The course is an absolute essential and you’ll come away regretting not having done it sooner.
In an article for The Telegraph, Caroline Ash reported on her day with CSS at Silverstone in September – titled ‘It’s not about going fast, it’s about becoming a more confident rider.’ A sample of the article as follows:
Have you ever received a glossy colour brochure promising you it all, then felt disappointed afterwards? According to the information I received from the California Superbike School, its rider training courses looked exciting and ideally suited to a rider like me to wants to improve their skills after a lay-off. So I signed up, and promptly received clear and detailed information about the day of my course at Silverstone. A good start, I thought, and it turned out to be everything it had promised.
It was a very early start; registration at 7am, before being assigned to a group and directed to the pits. All bikes were checked and we each received a number so that we could be easily identified by the instructors as well as the photographer while on the track. After licence inspection and clothing check, you're given a warm welcome by the whole team.
Caroline went on to describe her enjoyment of our Level 1 course and how she felt about each aspect, with her conclusion:
Despite the heavy rain, I was surprised how my confidence had improved. Before taking this training I would have wanted to stop riding in such conditions, but armed with new knowledge I felt positive and just applied what I had learned. I found the day very beneficial, and applicable to riders at all levels. The understanding I gained in the lessons and on the track definitely helped me to ride better and with more confidence. The California Superbike School gave me what it claimed it would.
Can a day at a race school achieve the same results, no matter what the rider? That's what Fast Bikes Magazine wanted to prove as they sent a rookie and a racer to the California Superbike School. A sample of the four page article follows:
"The California Superbike School has developed a well deserved reputation over the years as being the best in the land. But many are still reticent about investing their time and a not inconsiderable amount of money into a class because of a few ingrained reasons. For a start, bikers are inherently hard to reach and educate. We believe we know best and it's hard to get through to us when someone is telling us we're wrong. But once a rider accepts that training is a wise investment, many stumble at the notion that every CSS student starts at Level one. Whether you are Valentino Rossi or Francis Rossi, if you go to the school you start at the start. This is because Keith Code, the school's founder, believes in building a rider's core skills - regardless of speed or talent. So we thought we'd put this to the test and rustled up two spots to let a wet behind the ears track rookie (Ian) and a young fledgling racer (Luke) take a Level one day at Silverstone's Stowe circuit to see what each could get out of the event."
Both riders gave a detailed synopsis of their experience and their final conclusions were as follows:
So the school seems to work for everyone. Although Luke was faster than Ian, the pair of them emerged with positives to apply to their riding. "I've had a brilliant day and I can't recommend the school enough" says Ian. "For me it was a revelation. My riding on the track will make my riding on the road more confident and as a result, safer." And as for our tame racer, he too was full of praise for the day. "The instructor was great and he has genuinely taught me a lot. It was three to one, but he took his time with me and didn't move on until he was happy with the drill. Even the classroom stuff was great. I wasn't too sure what to expect, but all I can say is that I'll be coming back for Level Two, but not tomorrow because I'm knackered now!"
Superbike Magazine rated two of the top track riding schools in their July 2014 edition. A sample of the article follows:
Not content with heading to a track and making it up as you go along? Thankfully there are now quite a few choices when it comes to circuit instruction in the UK. We have Shaun his dunce's cap and sent him to two of the best race schools.
"Level one begins with a back-to-basics classroom session explaining the elements and principles of how a motorcycle handles. This may seem far too basic for some but it all becomes clear towards the end of the day why this approach is taken. We've all built up bad habits when it comes to riding technique and by breaking down every element of cornering and starting from scratch the California Superbike School can make their techniques work for everyone."
"£409 excluding bike hire puts the California Superbike School at the high end of tuition based options but the level of detail and instruction certainly warrants the extra cost."
Tim Thompson, Senior Editor at MCN, joined us at Rockingham National Circuit to shadow a CSS coach for the day and the first part of his experience was featured in MCN on 29 May – a more detailed account of Tim’s day with CSS will follow in MCN later this year. A sample of his article is as follows:
To complete the GSX-R750’s textbook running-in, it was off to Rockingham Motor Speedway for 100 laps of the national circuit. Bear with me. It was a surreal day, circulating with a coach (Badger) from the California Superbike School as he latched onto the tail of students practising their school drills in the quest for more corner speed.
It’s absorbing. Hooning on cold tyres after a student who’s already fast-group quick, catching then following close enough to see, for example, if he’s correctly picking up the throttle as soon as he’s finished turning into the corner or doing so too late at the apex or beyond. It’s not always clear if you simply watch the throttle hand. Instead Badger pointed me towards more subtle evidence like where in the corner the drive chain went taut (indicating that the throttle was open). Occasionally we actually pulled an errant student, led him into the pitlane for a carefully structured chat about unlocking the barriers to speed. More on this soon.
Motorcycle News reporter Steve Hunt joined us for the first ART course of the season, held at Silverstone's TRTH Copse Runway. Steve's a recently qualified rider and came along on his BMW F800GT to refine his cornering skills. Having spent a morning with us he reported that:
"The agility and handling of the BMW F800GT immediately felt better on the ride home. The bike seemed as if it was finally responding to my commands, rather than perhaps in previous rides, where I had felt a certain pressure to wrestle control from it, I was now in charge of my machine naturally and comfortably".
Within the space of a few hours Steve had learnt something that most learner motorcyclists are never taught:
"Perhaps instead of learning to master the roads during our initial motorcycle learning sessions we should all be taught to master our machines first? It’s almost ridiculous how such a few simple instructions can make such a large difference to your riding".
Read Steve's full report at: http://bit.ly/13x0BeJ
We were delighted to welcome Nick Francis, The Sun on Sunday's motorcycling correspondent to our first School of the year at Silverstone. He completed Level 1 and this is what he wrote in the paper on the 21 April:
The good weather is finally here, which means many of you will be making the most of it on a motorbike. But if you’re one of thousands of bikers who take a break from riding in the colder months, it might be worth getting some training to refresh your skills. There are a number of companies competing for your cash in this area, but none better than the California Superbike School.
As the name suggests it began in the US, but has been teaching bikers how to corner safely and quickly in the UK for years. That’s the crucial point about CSS - although the training takes place on a racetrack they aren’t teaching how to race, as such. Sure, you’ll learn how to identify an apex on a bend and turn at the right point, skills used by racers, but this is specifically the art of cornering. This is knowledge learned in the traffic-free safety of Silverstone or Rockingham, but making you a safer rider out on the roads.
Let’s face it - most riders can handle going in a straight line (I hope), but it’s the corners which can catch even the most experienced out. Broken down into four levels - a level each day you book onto - and a mix of classroom and practical tuition, the boys at CSS have structured it superbly. A team of vastly experienced instructors pay close attention to your progress and gradually bring on your skills as the day goes on. They’re a friendly bunch, no macho-rubbish which puts some people off motorbike schools, and they don’t care how much experience you have or what you ride.
I guarantee you’ll leave CSS a better rider than when you arrived.
Jay - Level 3 Student
I did level 3 again in Mondello and within 5 seconds of sitting on a parked bike the coach picked up on a small mistake I was making that when corrected made a big difference in how I got on when I went out on track. By the time we got half way through the hip flick drill everything was clicking back in to place and I noticed a massive difference in my riding and confidence on the bike.
David - Level 1 Student
I completed level 1 at Brands Hatch. Wow what a day! It completely changed my style of riding. I feel so much more confident and in control now. Worth every penny. Every member of the team was fantastic. I can't wait to come back for level 2.
Jo - Student
What a great day!
I haven’t stopped raving about it yet and couldn’t sleep for 24 hours I was buzzing so much ! Fabulous !
Lyndon - Level 1 Student
Great day at Cadwell Park on Monday, despite the weather.
Just wanted to say a big thank you to the entire CSS team for a great course. I’m clearing my diary to be able to get over to Stowe for Tuesday 11th September for Level 2.
Reza - Level 4 Student
Another fantastic day at CSS and you guys never fail to impress and the standard of organisation, classes, instruction and the instructors are first class. Please pass my thanks again to Badger for helping me improve my riding.
Jim - Level 1 Student
I had a great day and look forward to level 2 at some point!
David - Student
.... thank you for putting on a great day. Fab team and lots of great things learnt. .... we all had a lovely day and we are very happy, and very much looking forward to tomorrow
Scott P - Student
CSS has been one of the most exciting and enlightening things I have ever done.
The difference in my knowledge and riding is incredible. So much fun.
The feeling of putting in to practice what you have been taught, and then getting it right, is one of the best feelings ever.
Simon K - Student
Every member of the team made everyone feel welcome and relaxed, and the atmosphere among all of the students was lively and friendly.
I learnt a lot about what I was doing wrong with my riding and how to correct it which changed the way I rode. Big thanks to my instructor Duncan for spotting where I was going wrong and fixing it, Level 2 next.
Mat - Student
The most professional, talented group of people doing a job they are very clearly 100% committed to, and passionate about!
I’ve done Level 1 & 2 and will be back for more!
I never thought learning could be so much fun - thank you CSS!