SPENCER RIDING SCHOOL


Spencer Riding School - Revisited

By Mike Millsap <tex_ride@swbell.net>

Thursday, October 28, 1999

THE FREDDIE SPENCER HIGH PERFORMANCE RIDING SCHOOL REVISITED

This is a follow-up article on the Spencer Riding School that I first attended in November of 1997, and most recently attended on October 20, 21, and 22, 1999. The Spencer School is located at the Las Vegas Speedway, 10 miles North of Las Vegas, Nevada. I persuaded my IronButt rider pal, Warren Harhay of Las Vegas, to enter the school with me, and thank him for his good company.

The first point that shouts to be made is the astounding evolution of all aspects of the school. Everything that can be refined has been refined, all for the good. In fact, as much as I enjoyed the first school, the school I attended last week was essentially a new and different school.

The school is now conducted in Spencer's new and very comfortable quarters in the industrial complex adjacent to the Speedway. The school now has a complete inventory of all sizes in leathers (by Vanson), boots, and helmets. In addition to Freddie Spencer and Nick Ienatsch, Jeff Haney and Dale Kieffer now assist in the classroom and on the track. A third day has been added to some of the schools that includes track work on Honda XR100 dirt bikes. The curriculum has been completely revamped. Spencer now sells a product line that includes shirts, Vanson leathers (including a really neat Spencer School vanity jacket), hats, fanny packs, helmets, etc.

The one constant in the school is the fine teaching technique (always articulate, always charming, always positive and always polite) that is utilized by Spencer and his staff. Constant improvement also seems to be standard for the school.

You may access general information about the school from Freddie's web site, www.fastfreddie.com . However, I will summarize some of that material as background for this article.

I am sure that most knowledgeable riders are generally familiar with world champion Freddie Spencer, and his record in motorcycle racing. If not, please believe me when I tell you that he is the real article, a genuine world-class rider. In addition, he is an articulate, personable, intelligent adult who is incredibly smooth on a motorcycle, and able to communicate the art and finesse of what he does. His finesse is apparently based on his ability to receive and respond to every tingle and sound that he senses and hears in a bike.

The school is at the Las Vegas Speedway, an extraordinary facility. There are several other schools there that teach driving and racing in cars. Additionally, other professional racing organizations maintain garages and offices there. The Speedway is a very modern and imposing place, and, when you drive in the front gate, you know that you're into something serious.

The school and its facilities have become a frequent site for Honda and Michelin to showcase and introduce their products for motorcycle journalists. From their reports, it is clear that these journalists have as much fun at the Spencer School as I do.

The class is picked up at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino at 7:45 a.m.. The school has an arrangement with the Excalibur, and the rates were acceptable if you choose to stay there. If not, just be there at 7:45 a.m., and you will be picked up by a stretch van and transported to the Speedway. If I go back, I will rent a car and stay near the Speedway. Las Vegas traffic is awful.

I continue to believe the Excalibur (with its medieval castle theme) is the goofiest place in Las Vegas. But the room was okay, and very quiet. The room (king sized bed in a no-smoking room) was reasonable in condition and price. Actually, as tired as I was at the end of each day, the room was fine.

The students, after being picked up and transported to the Speedway, are given a continental breakfast. During the first breakfast the students pay all outstanding fees and deposits. The property damage deposit ($200.00) will be returned if you have no damage to your bike or rented gear.

Breakfast and lunch will be provided on all class days, with the lunch consisting of very tasty sandwiches, fruits, potato salad, chips, condiments, etc.. A variety of sodas and canned drinks are available together with an abundant supply of cold bottled water. In the three-day school, there is a barbeque dinner served at the end of the second day. No cold Lone Star beer is served.

There is no wasted time at the Spencer School. The breaks are short, and very organized. Nick insists on everyone using the time efficiently, and especially wants quick gear changes. Freddie usually lectures and answers questions during the meals.

Immediately after breakfast, Nick and Freddie did introductions, and each student stated his name, hometown, and described his bikes and motorcycling experience. Then we had an orientation lecture that lasted about 30 minutes, and consisted of an outline of the school lessons, rules, and policies.

We were advised that crashing a bike ended the school for the offending student. This rule did not apply if someone ran into you, and you were not at fault. The explanation was that the insurance company providing their medical and liability coverage would not allow anyone to continue in the school after displaying a propensity to crash. This rule does not apply to the dirt bikes and dirt track session.

Spencer and staff have carefully analyzed the crashes that have occurred in the past, and they will speak at length about safe riding habits. Safety is paramount at the school, and the staff watches constantly for any careless or dangerous conduct.

The average age in my class was again early forties, but with several students in their twenties. I understood that one student, a physician, was 62 and several others were in their fifties. There were 15 students in my class, and everyone was an experienced rider, mostly on sport bikes or sport tourers. We had one very attractive young woman in this class, but she crashed the first day in the tightest turn on the track. One other student crashed in the last hour of the last day. Neither was hurt, but one F4 was moderately damaged. All of the students seemed very concerned with safety, and very much in control.

After breakfast and suiting up, we were assigned our bikes. The school uses Honda CBR 600 F4s. Anyone familiar with sport bikes will recognize these bikes as superb machines. Freddie has a relationship with Michelin, and the tires are only used at two school sessions, and then replaced.

Our bikes had new tires, and the Michelin Pilot Race radials stick like glue. The bikes come in a track configuration. The turn signals, mirrors, lights and all other extraneous (for track purposes) devices are removed, and water wetter is used instead of anti-freeze.

Before discussing the track sessions, I should mention that the school advertises that it teaches four different classes. They are:

  1. Sport Rider I (2 days $1,895.00),
  2. Sport Rider I (3 days $2,295.00),
  3. Sport Rider II (3 days for returnees only $2,295.00), and
  4. Sport Rider Pro (2 days for aspiring racers $2,095.00).

The difference between the first two levels is one additional day and dirt bike training for the 3 day sessions.

The school advertises that the basic Sport Rider class is for beginner to advanced street riders. Frankly, I thought that a beginning rider would be in over his head at this school, but I was wrong. Beginning riders probably get as much out of the school as skilled riders. A beginner rider friend who attended made remarkable progress and wants to return.

I would not hesitate to recommend the school to the rider that has completed the MSF Beginner Course, and who is ready for more advanced tutoring. I know that Freddie is serious about teaching beginning riders, and, given what I have witnessed, he succeeds.

We moved to the track, a closed 2.5 mile circuit, and began our drills. In addition to the indoor classroom time at the school, there are numerous short lectures in a garage at the track, and demonstrations on the track.

Freddie has broken down his school into a series of drills, each of which builds upon the previous drill. The teaching protocol is extremely sound, and, if you are as focused as they demand, you cannot resist learning.

The drills were each held on different sections of the track, and each student was sent through the designated section to practice the drill with 10 to 15 seconds separation between each student. We did 6 to 10 repetitions of each drill, depending on whether or not the class all performed the drill correctly. Each repetition of the drill usually allowed the student to circle the track at his speed to join the line to repeat the drill. Plan on lots of riding.

I will not attempt to list or explain the individual drills in as much as the Spencer School obviously has a proprietary interest in these drills, and you really need to be there anyway. Generally, the drills have to do with smooth throttle control (including "maintenance throttle"), smooth braking (including "trail braking"), smooth shifting and down shifting, precise line selection, proper acceleration, and whole body weight shifting and steering.

The drills also include a lot of information about tires, geometry, and safe riding. All of this information will be invaluable to a touring or street rider even though it is presented in a racing format. However, if you want to learn to hang off and use knee sliders, you are at the right place. Just tell the instructors.

The emphasis was on smoothness and focus, and, in particular, a slow right hand. At no time did I ever feel that I was in any danger from anything I was doing or that others were doing. I did explore my envelope on almost each lap, and kept discovering that my capacities were greater than I knew. I could take more and more challenging lines at higher and higher speeds at greater and greater lean angles.

We were allowed, at the end of each day, to do two sessions of thirty minutes of practice laps. Each of the riders in my class was always under control and considerate of the others. Passing was permitted, but measured in yards rather than feet. There were only six or seven student riders on the track at one time, and these practice sessions were the time to work on assembling the components of the drills.

During the practice laps, Freddie, Nick, Jeff, and Dale rode with us, and give each of us instructions by hand signals that were explained in advance. Following the instructors, and doing what they signaled me to do, was extremely enlightening. Another new addition to the school is a video camera mounted on an instructor's bike. The instructor with the camera followed each student and taped practice laps that were then reviewed in the classroom at the end of the day. I never knew when I was being taped (no mirrors on the student bikes), but raved about the video review.

As for Freddie, all I can say is that following Freddie, as long as he would let me, was an almost mystical experience. Freddie is so smooth he appears to be in slow motion, but then goes streaking away. "Fast Freddie Spencer" equals "smooth."

The Spencer teaching techniques are very effective. They praise, but do not make negative "Don't do ..." comments or statements. There is no yelling and no ridicule. Everything said is phrased in positive or affirmative terms. It is very inspiring to have Fast Freddie Spencer, World Champion, pat you on the back, and tell you that you are doing a great job.

The school retains a contract photographer who captures the students' best turns. The optional photographic fee of $60.00 will provide each student a group photo and about a half dozen on-track photos. Warren Harhay may develop an arrangement with the school to copy and sell the on-track videos to the students.

At the risk of sounding smug, I am very pleased with my riding skills that the Spencer School taught me, and I believe that I am a much safer rider than before. I even know why I don't use the rear brakes in most situations.

Here's the bottom line. This is a great school that is great fun and it makes an enjoyable vacation for the type of rider who wants always to improve his or her skills. Before getting too concerned about the cost of the school, think of how much one trip to an ER can cost. Good riding skills enable safe riding.

Mike Millsap
Lubbock, Texas


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