Back to superbike school

Published: 01 July 2004

I know how to ride. Sounds arrogant doesn’t it? But it’s true, I really do know the theory of how to ride inside out. It’s the practice I sometimes struggle with.

After a series of relatively hefty sports-tourers my GSX-R1000 has come as something of a revelation. It’s so light, so flickable, so sharp-handling – and I really liked the idea of taking advantage of a bit of that.

And if there’s one place that insists on turning theory into practice it has to the California Superbike School. I joined the class at Level One on Thursday July 1, at Rockingham, Northants.

Many of my fellow classmates looked over the limited edition GSX-R with much admiration. “That’s brand new, isn’t it, mate?” I’d get asked. The subtext, written on the faces was “You must be mad to risk it on the track.” Maybe. It had just gone through its first service only the day before.

Those unfamiliar with the California Superbike School should click here for more info.

Images shown here are by Picture Management’s Gary Bailey and MCN’s Howard Boylan.

The basic aim of the school is to teach the art of cornering. The emphasis is on knowing what you are doing. By which I mean knowing when you turn the bike, how you do it and what you can expect the result to be.

The day is split 50-50 between classroom sessions and time on the track.

First you get the theory. European boss Andy Ibbott teases the answers he wants from his class via interactive question-and-answer sessions. And once you’ve got the idea, you go out and practice it. After each session you get a debrief with your instructor – a bloke who also follows you, leads you, or occasionally calls you in to offer a bit of advice during the day.

Step one sees you lapping in one gear only (fourth for inline fours like the GSX-R) with a ban on using your brakes – even at the hairpin. It’s strictly controlled too. I got black-flagged when my red rear light was spotted once too often. It makes you concentrate on throttle control and getting your entry speed right.

Session two follows another classroom lecture. This time you have the luxury of two gears (third and fourth). Still no brakes though. This session gets you to focus on your turn point, by making you pick one. Sounds simple, but most of us don’t have one in mind and without one you aren’t making the decision to control the corner.

Session three familiarises students with counter-steering (baffling to those who haven’t considered that they do it until now) and then makes you use that knowledge to speed up how fast you steer. You still have to stick to two gears for this track run but now you can brush your brakes lightly if you really feel the need…

Session four reveals how holding too tight on the bars or being two tense on the bike stops it doing what it should. The basic lesson is relax on our bike. And you get to practice that with three gears (and light braking).

The day ends with a final lesson in going where you look, introducing the use of peripheral vision to spot your turn points while you look for your next apex (two-step turning). And in this session you get to use all the gears – and the brakes.

And as it all comes together it is very, very good indeed. For a few flowing laps I felt like I not only knew what I was doing, I was also doing it relatively well – massively better than I had been at the beginning of the day.

My tyres showed heart-warming signs of serious abuse. The bike simply purred. It had clearly been gagging for it.

I can’t recommend the California Superbike School highly enough and, if I get the chance, I’m definitely going to try my hand at Level Two.

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