California Superbike School (level I) at Mid-Ohio, June 3 1996
Mandatory bike prep consisted of replacing coolant with water and removing mirrors. At the track, the techs tape over any remaining lenses and check/adjust tires. I removed the turn signals; they wouldn't hold the bike up if I crashed, anyway. Others didn't and came to the same conclusion. Rider prep was pretty standard; leathers or `stich-type, straight and sober, etc.
Keith's teaching style is very relaxed. It isn't "Do it my way" but rather "When you do this the bike wants to do that". He didn't ride, but four instructors rode the track with us, watching. If you were doing something wrong, they'd signal to you to that effect, and maybe have you follow them and/or bring you in for a pit lane discussion. The corner workers also radioed riding problems to the track marshall, who'd flag you to come in for a talk next lap. In the lessons, braking was never discussed except in the context of compensating for mistakes, hanging off the bike was not taught, and shifting was never mentioned.
Course rules: pass when you feel comfortable, inside or outside, as long as the rider being passed will feel comfortable too. Half-rolled up red flag pointed means "YOU - come in next time around". Instructor pointing at his tailsection means "Follow me; do exactly what I do". Thumbs-up - "You did it well". Various other signals - "You are doing [this] wrong". Track sessions were specifically geared towards practicing the points from the previous lesson - they were not just track time.
First lesson - throttle control. Roll on the throttle evenly through the corner. Do it early, do it smoothly. On the track, use one gear and no brakes. "No brakes" really lets you determine your best entry speed. Unfortunately, I was too busy figuring out the line to concentrate on the throttle control completely.
Lesson 2 - turn entry points: the "lines" which were missing in the first lesson. I had determined that I was entering most turns too early, and I was right. Big tape X's were before the turns now; they helped me on some turns (some I actually had right) but other students found them all a godsend.
Lesson 3 - fast turn-in. Counter steer strongly to get the bike turned quicker, so you spend more time cornering, so you won't have to corner as hard, so you can go faster. Muscle it right on over there and let it work. Most riders have a mental block about turning the bike under them that fast.
Lesson 4 - rider input. Be loose in the corners. Once the bike is turned, it should be doing the work. Be a good passenger now; you shouldn't have to be clamped down and twisting the `bars at all if you're balanced and are holding the right line. Slight changes in course can be made with light pressure.
Lesson 5 - 2-step entry. This is just looking into the turns to find your target (not necessarily the apex - many can't be seen from the entrance).
After session 5, there was an brief individual exercise in pit lane where we slalomed to develop rapid cornering transitions.
Overall, the program can be thought of as a continuation of Look, Lean, and Roll. At CSS, it's determine the line and entry speed, look to your target, turn the bike quickly, roll on the throttle ASAP, and get the bike balanced in your hands and under you. At semi-race speeds, getting all five of them right every time is very difficult. Fighting the body's natural survival instincts is crucial at every step, and is heavily emphasized.
What I learned:
I can lean the bike like crazy and it will stick, even with harder tires (491s). Dragged both boots, hit the right peg twice. Even letting off the throttle at those angles didn't upset the bike, showing that I wasn't really near the limit. The corners had concrete patches in the apexes, and I could cross the seams, at full lean, at very narrow angles in either direction ("up" or "down") without much drama. This was a real eye-opener, as I avoid pavement seams at any expense on the road, and I'm crawling all over them on the track at these speeds....
I was getting on the throttle too early, before the bike was fully turned, causing me to run wide. A lot of throttle is needed just to maintain speed in a corner, though. Turn 1 was a 60 mph sweeper; with full throttle in 4th I did well to come out at 65.
Building speed before a corner caused me to over-brake for it. Keith finds that some of his instructors do better lap times with no brakes than they do in races (several factors come into play here). With no brakes, I'd do 80 on the back and enter turn 3 at 60, but if I did 110 on the back, I'd enter at 50. The "lag time" in the K75 speedo didn't help me here.
I was the slowest one there, besides the PC, but in the corners that I did well, I cornered with many others. I wasn't interested in lap times, but most others were and used their horsepower advantage. One guy either got thrown out or left before it came down to that. He was very fast. I think the instructors felt that he was riding too fast to be on the track with the rest of us. You don't need to go super fast to do the exercises. Most corners were 50 to 60 MPH (for me); I used 4th gear everywhere except on the back. I know the bike was capable of dragging the pegs continuously through every corner, but I didn't quite get there; the increase in my lean angle that I _did_ develop was startling enough for me. No sliding for me that day. Now, with more time to get comfortable with those cornering speeds and angles, I could probably go to the next "step" if I were at a track again.
Three or four riders went down, but all were fine. All got back on and rode (after washing the dirt out of the bikes). Most damage was cosmetic; the K75 isn't as protected and I was correspondingly more apprehensive about sliding it. What do those engine covers cost, anyway?
Never was I cut off or in any kind of problem concerning another bike. Part of it was due to the class size (much smaller than CLASS, I gather). Riders were very considerate, and there was no competitive emphasis. Several times I'd hear riders asking others if they were comfortable with a certain pass, was I too close, etc.
I was only pulled in once, first session after lunch. I hadn't been using very aggressive lines (to stay off the concrete patches). After some discussion, we decided that I was getting on the throttle too early and I just needed to forget about the patches.
Overall, I got a lot of confidence from the course and would like to be able to refine those skills some more and maybe take level II in a year or so. Anyone who's up for some fast-paced instruction should like this course. Riding on my home turf, I'm increasing cornering speeds a lot and feeling good about it. BTW, I also looked at CLASS but the classes were sold out, too far away, and much larger. Both were about the same price - around $275. Non-riding guests of students are welcome to sit in on lessons and watch (my dad really enjoyed the day, too - lots of feedback from him about other riders).
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