California Superbike School – My 4 Days of Pure Bliss

Although we were not able to present the coming of California Superbike School right here in India, we bring to you the complete in house experience from one of our friends who actually participated in it. California Superbike School is one of the best schools in the world which teaches and trains aspiring riders the very basic nuances of the game, racing. Read on for a comprehensive coverage of what went inside.

How would you feel if sitting at your home you stumble across an opportunity to learn high performance motorcycling from people who taught Eric Bostrom, Doug Chandler, Tommy Hayden and James Toseland? I don’t think you would have much to complain. And if you are a motorcycling junkie like I am then you would be pulling your hair out in ecstasy and begin fantasising yourself at the pole position at the grid. I shot out of my home and indulged myself into some shopping. Now I gotta tell you here…I just can’t get enough of motorcycling Gear. I am always looking out for a reason and an opportunity to buy new gear and California Superbike School coming to India was as good an excuse as any other.  Money was splurged onto a Marushin crash helmet, MX-1 One- piece full leather s and full length SMX boots. With almost no money left to even buy myself breakfast I spent whatever last dimes and nickels that I could find in my pocket on DSG Riding Gloves.

Yes, California Superbike School was coming to India. For the first time EVER ! And I was gonna be a part of it…for the first time EVER. My Ninja 250R was gonna serve me at the track…for the first time EVER. With so many ‘first time evers, nervousness and curiosity was very high. Firstly to be able to attend California Superbike Schools sessions I had to get myself teleported to Chennai, a city more than 1000 kms away from the place where I was hatching my pole position dreams, namely Pune. I had to show up at the Madras Motor Sports Club race track at Irrungattukottai, Chennai on the 16th of February on time and in good health. With an extra load of enthusiasm and adrenaline already pumping into my veins an esoteric decision of riding down to Chennai was considered.

That would be the icing on the cake, you would get to tour to Chennai and when there you will get to hit the track… Little did I realise when I made the decision that riding down to Chennai was nowhere an experience anywhere close to the icing on the cake. It was like rubbing my buttocks and my back against a Texan huge-ass Cactus plant. When you are wearing 1.4mm leathers at temperatures wonted of a typical American barbeque you do feel like dead meat. Having to wear leather gear in sun, rain and snow (well it will never snow in this part of the world) is one of those downsides of riding a motorcycle.

It’s a bloody risky thing that you are endeavouring to undertake…you have no long distance experience and have never toured more than 250kms at one go. Sound advice…made sense…except that it made no sense at all. When you ride a motorcycle you assume and accept the associated risks that come along with it. If you wanna tip toe through life only to arrive at death safely, then STAY HOME! Soon I was in the saddle and the Ninja 250R was on NH4 and within no time was munching miles and drinking fuel at a rate comparable to that of a Space Shuttle.

California Superbike School has 1 day classes and a two day camp ! I was blessed with two 2 day camps! Yes! Four days at the track with coaches who did nothing but ride bikes all over the world all throughout the year. It turned out that four English blokes from the UK staff of California Superbike School (will be addressed as CSS henceforth) were to be our Gurus for the 2 two day camps. Amongst those four blokes was Andy Ibbott, the guy who coached Thomas Luethi at MotoGP 250cc class and saw him through as the winner.

“Discover the art of cornering” that is the motto for CSS. Hell yeah…many of you readers would agree that the true essence of motorcycling lies in cornering. Your right wrist bravado will not save your bacon for long; not on the streets or on at the track. The way I see it the roads are full of corners; sure there are a few straights but they only lead you to the next corner.  All braced then at 7am on the 16th of February I was excited to discover the art of cornering from none other than

  1. Andy Ibbott
  2. Gary Bailey
  3. Jet
  4. Adam
  5. Glenn

The customary Kit check was conducted by Glenn. The leathers, boots, helmets and just about the entire riding gear was checked for to make sure that the gear as a whole was fit to be used at the track. I’ve heard you can learn a lot about traction management by training in rain with the CSS, but I had no desire to do so! The Ninja 250R was my ride back home to Pune and at no cost did I want to total it. Thankfully…it doesn’t rain in Chennai in be honest it didn’t look like Chennai had any changes in weather anytime during the year. It looked as if the only thing that happened in Chennai was that the Sun shone every single day and turned the entire city into a big ass Sauna Bath, for free.

Breakfast was consumed, indemnity forms were signed and we head towards the classroom.  24 riders were divided into two colour coded groups: the white group and the green group. Flags and their significance was explained to us and with these basic things out of the way we were ready to actually start discovering the art of cornering. True motorcycling discussion began with Andy asking us what we thought was our job for the day.

‘To keep the bike stable’ Your job is to keep the bike stable at all costs and with all means. Your job for all the 4 days is to keep the bike stable. Mind you many of the attendees were racers…by keeping it stable he didn’t mean learning to balance. Keeping the bike stable in a corner at lean angles and at high speeds is what we are talking of here. There are four levels of training and everyone starts at level one. Through a series of interactive discussions with the class the foundation was laid and we were prepared for our very first lesson: throttle control.

That was our first lesson, our very first drill. And I can safely conclude today that it was the most important drill. The thing about the lessons at CSS is that each lesson builds on the one before. So if you haven’t got the very first lesson right your chances of even understanding the second lesson are meek. Nevertheless the coaches hound you on the track and make sure you get this drill right.

Throttle control started us off in a single file using 4th gear only, with no brakes to get a feel for the amount of engine braking and control available and develop our sense of speed. Prior to the class I was concerned about having riders passing and riding next to me. But the coaches and the course conductor Mr Gary Bailey made sure every that everybody had understood that the track was a learning environment for the 4 days to come and that if anyone were found close passing or racing they would have to forfeit their place at CSS. It was a threat…and it worked wonderfully well.

I learnt an important aspect about speed that day. Speed is relative.  You may think you’re riding fast until someone smokes past you.  It was common to have a coach pull in front of you and motion for you to follow his/her lead. (You’re doing your best while the coach is glancing back over his/her shoulder at you while cornering. Rather humbling!)

The coach also communicated with you on the track with live hand signals when on the motorcycle. These hand signals were discussed at length in the classroom sessions before so all knew what it meant  when the coach was pantomiming with his hands. Occasionally the coaches even pull you back into the pits or onto the side of the track to discuss something which they see you doing wrong. The track session lasts for about 20-30 mins and once done with the session every student had to get back to his Coach for a detailed discussion of what you thought you were doing wrong and what the coach observed you to be doing wrong. This was the best part of CSS. It was like having personalized coaching.  Here is a pic of one of such discussions with Andy.  This is also perhaps the most interactive part of CSS with a lot of questions being shot at you and a lot of feedback flowing to the coach. If your feedback to the drills and lessons and its execution on the track is good, the coach can really help you analyse your riding.

After the session with your coach it was back into the classroom to talk about “Turn Points”.  This time, when we went onto the track the coaches had placed a large X where they wanted us to turn in for a given turn.  They were “spoon feeding” us, but the idea was to experience turn points which might be placed at a spot differently than you would normally use.  We were allowed to use 3rd & 4th gears, but still no brakes.

The first day was Level 1 and included other drills dealing with turning quickly, minimizing negative rider input and their “two-step turn” process, an introduction to Level 2.  As the exercises progressed, we were allowed to use more gears and braking.  Generally by the end of the day there were no restrictions.  It was as fast or slow as you dared to go, but under control.  If observed riding unsafely, you could be “black-flagged” and pulled from the track.

With second day we were all at level 2. The drills got harder and the sun got merciless. I have never drunk so much water in my life without having to piss even once ! I was sweating profoundly and was trying to make sense of whatever was being taught to me. I was keeping up with riders at the track and it demanded sheer focus and concentration. Executing everything that you have learnt in the classrooms while not forgetting the lessons of day 1 was quite a considerable task, I tell you. By the end of the day..I had a fever. They called it track fever. It was normal and its mainly due to exhaustion. At the end of the day I had fever for all the 4 days. Mornings were fresh and I was always raring to learn more. Riding at the track is really a lot about endurance.  It simply isn’t an easy thing to do to be doing from 0700 hrs to 1800 hrs. I think the only reason I survived it was the euphoria and the adrenaline in me.

How to describe a lap?  Accelerate out of the pits, slow, down shift, listen and look for other bikes approaching.  Snap it to the right for turns 2  the one which is a 90 degree right hander and has no space, hanging off to the left (a good place to drag a knee) and roll on the throttle to take the next left hander.

Shift body left and right quickly for the follow through, engine beginning to snarl. Gas it up on the straight, Brake, snap it over for a quick left hook, then fast, shift the body right for the immediately following long never ending right turn. Tuck in the knees, start pouring on the coal, onto a short straight where you pin the throttle, engine starting to scream, for just a few moments to get past that rider in your way.

Shift body left, knee out for turn 6, scrub off some speed, turn right quickly, tracks second never ending right hander…keep rolling on the gas here, keep tight on the apex here as u wanna get a good drive out of this onto a long straight. Approach a dreaded corner, C8 body way right, knee out, brake, snap it tight for the right, relax arms and body for bumps in the pavement, quick, shift body left for the soon to come left.  Straight that gas..approach the slowest part of the track the c10 and c11 ‘S’ which ends in an uphill gradient, don’t miss ur apex at c10 or u r screwed..take the c11 and downhill towards a ling fast right hander. The last corner of the track,accelerating,sweeping right. The straight at start finish line in sight, gun the throttle..approach c1 at speeds in excess of 200 kmph, suspension being compressed, stay relaxed, ripples in pavement, don’t want to upset bike.

All this in just over 2 mins. Ok I could never do it in 2 mins but there were racers doing all the above 3.17 kms in 1.46 mins. Amazing..if u ask me. Was it worth the cost? You bet!  It was several weeks before the perpetual smile started to wear off.  Any time I reflect on the class a big grin spreads across my face. Did I learn anything that I can use on the street?  Most definitely and the classes revealed weaknesses I need to work on. I also noticed on the way home a reduced need to twist the throttle up.  It seemed the “Need for Speed” had been quenched, at least for the time being.

California Superbike School is a first class operation with top notch personnel.  Everyone was great and it was obvious they really enjoy what they do, but at the same time are serious about it.  They run a tight operation, yet in an un-stressful way.  I can’t say enough good things about them.  You will come away an improved rider.

At the end of it all I was level 4 certified from CSS and there was a small but splendid certificate distribution ceremony kinda thing in the late evening of 4th day. With the certificate safely tucked in my tank-bag I got up the next day and started riding towards Pune. To this date…the level4 certificate from CSS is my most prized possession!

Compiled by: Saad Khan
Wordings & Rider: Rohan Albal