One of my motorcycling new years resolutions was to get additional training this year. I fulfilled this resolution a few weeks ago when my friend Pete and I took a one-day class at California Superbike School at New Jersey Motorsports Park. It wasn’t a small investment – about $500 for the day including rental of a track suit – but it was well worth it. The class changed my riding style and made me 100% more confident in the corners.
The format of the class was solid: 15 minutes or so of classroom instruction; followed by track time to practice on the techniques learned during the class; followed by a brief meeting with a rider coach who spends some time watching your technique on the track. Over the course of the day, we repeated this cycle five times for five different instructions.
Right from the start, I learned something new. And I’m embarrassed to say that this was a new concept for me: cut the throttle heading into a corner, and when you hit the apex of the corner, smoothly accelerate out. (NOTE: See this post for a correction. I got this point wrong.) I either missed it when they talked about it in the Motorcycle Safety Course or just never learned it. Once I started practicing this technique, everything changed. My most common cornering mistake is coming into a corner too fast. Then I need to use the brakes, then I need to change direction. If the turn is a right-hand turn and there’s oncoming traffic, margin of error is decreased and it’s all that more difficult to get through the corner – and all that more dicey. Make it a hairpin turn on a mountain pass with a sheer drop off, and uh oh…
By controlling the throttle actively, I’m now able to modulate my speed, and rolling on the throttle as I exit the corner helps me maintain my line and get through the curve quickly. You can really see Pikes Peak Hill Climbing champion Greg Tracy using this technique in his video.
Another important learning for me was the notion of countersteering – pressing on the right side of the motorcycle handlebar and pulling on the left side of the motorcycle handlebar to turn right. This was taught in a one-on-one sidebar session and it was really, umm…counterintuitive for me. As the instructor explained the concept (which I’d heard of, but never really understood), I was still incredulous that pressing on the right side of the bars will initiate a right turn. When I’m standing still on the bike, straight up and down, and I press right, it looks like I will turn left.
But here’s the thing – I’m on a rounded tire, and riding at a good clip, and I’m also leaning the bike over. In this case, counter steering works. Nobody really does a good job explaining counter steering:
Example 1 (Love how he waves at some other bikers at the 40 second mark and says, “Nobody waves. Assholes.”)
Example 2 (This one’s a little bit better.)
Example 3 (ummmmm……..)
It’s one of those things that I just had to accept on faith. And once I tried it, I was amazed by the results. Now when I really focus on and exaggerate countersteering in my turns, pushing harder on the left handlebar to make a left hand turn and on the right to go right, my turns get a whole lot snappier.
I paid an extra $20 to have my lap times recorded, and I’m glad I did because I could really see my progress:
Average lap times:
Session 1: 3.03
Session 2: 3.04
Session 3: 2.38
Session 4: 2.39
Session 5: 2.32
My fastest lap was 2:30.6, which was the second lap of the final session:
I did NOT pay extra to rent one of the school’s BMW S1000RR‘s, and I’m sorry I didn’t. This was an extra $250 and both Pete and I decided to bank the savings and ride our own bikes, which was an option. Pete rides a Triumph America and I was riding my V-Strom. We both felt silly. Not everyone rode the beemers, but everyone else on the track had a sport bike of some ilk. And the tech inspector had a visible smirk on his face when we checked in our bikes.
I got some bad information when I asked someone at the BMW booth at the NYC Motorcycle Show about this. I had asked if we would be out of place on non-sportbikes, and the rep replied “Not at all. We had a guy riding an ElectraGlide last year, and we had to tell him to turn his radio off during the sessions.”
If I had it to do over again, I’d suck it up and pay the $250 to rent the beemer.
Given the quantum leaps the class made in my riding confidence, I’m planning to go back for the Level 2 class next year. I’m also planning to take the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program‘s RiderCourse 2 in October. You can never have enough training or instruction with motorcycle riding, and the fact that I didn’t know some very basic riding and cornering techniques even after four seasons of riding really emphasize this. I spend thousands every year on farkles and gear, now I’m going to make sure I set aside a bit of that cash for training on an annual basis.
A few more pics from the day…