Learn the art of bike control: California Superbike School will teach you the secrets to speed

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Riding in the company I keep at work can be a sobering experience. The wider MCN team have hundreds of years of experience of riding every type of bike on the roads, runways, trails and racetracks – and they’re bloody good at it.

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If you’ve ever ridden with someone who is comfortable at a quicker pace than you, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The things you think you need to do to keep hold of their shirt tails – accelerate harder, brake later, carry more corner speed, lean further – just leave you dropping further off the pace.

Eventually, one of two things happens; your head drops and you resign yourself to meeting them at the next stop or you push further out of your comfort zone until you suffer a near miss.

Classroom session at the California Superbike School

Sound familiar? Well, the good news is that you can improve your riding in safety at places like the California Superbike School (CSS) where I went to take part in the Level 1 training programme.

The school uses the methodology of world-renowned riding coach and former racer Keith Code who set up his first school in 1980.

Racers who have been trained by CSS or by Code himself over the years have won 60 world and national racing championships and include Wayne Rainey, James Toseland and Leon Camier… and now me.

Ben gets out on track at Donington Park

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Donington Park bright and early to sign on as I had been forewarned to keep an open mind by others who had completed the training.

The first task of the day was to get my bike and kit through scrutineering before getting my Level 1 literature and wristbands.

At this point, I was also handed a bottle of water and told to drink it as soon as possible – as hydration was the key, they say, for staying sharp.

Ben receives feedback from CSS Director Martin Plunkett

The day is split between training room sessions, track time and debriefs with your riding coach – who in my case was CSS Director and Deputy Chief Riding Coach, Martin Plunkett (best behaviour, then).

In each classroom session we were taken through a single aspect of riding theory before being given a drill to use on track that would force us to focus on and practice that specific part of the process.

The first class was about throttle control, for example, and the first drill involved riding around the circuit using only fourth gear and no brakes.

CSS Director Gary Adshead gives a classroom session

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the school is absolutely not a trackday. If you go expecting to be riding flat out all day you will be disappointed.

In fact, you are asked to limit yourself to 75% of your riding ability so that you can focus on the techniques within your comfort zone.

Nor is CSS a race school, despite its illustrious alumni. The techniques you are taught also apply to road riding but are taught on a track because it is the safest place to do it.

The riding theory is put to the test on track

If you follow the steps and drills you will get faster as a natural by-product of the process but what you gain most is a better understanding of how and why a motorcycle behaves a certain way and what you can do to control it.

Once you are on track, your instructor comes to find you and watches you ride before asking you to follow them so that they can show you where you can improve.

This is done with a set of hand signals which means your coach is riding one-handed while simultaneously riding to best practice principles themselves and watching you in their mirrors to check you are doing it correctly.

Bad weather doesn't stop a session as the theory is the same whatever the conditions

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that training a coach takes a year and only one in every 25 applicants makes the grade.

By the end of the day I felt like my riding had improved, but more importantly my understanding and confidence was through the roof.

It’s a tiring day and there’s a lot to take in, but if you want to take an honest look at your riding and work out where you could improve methodically and with proven results, then CSS is for you.

California Superbike School Kawasaki

And don’t be fooled into thinking that if you’re not a racer or a trackday enthusiast then you shouldn’t go to a day like this, the classroom sessions regularly apply the theory to real-life road situations and greater control of your bike will always improve your safety – getting that bit quicker is just a nice bonus!

Now it’s your turn

CSS is split into four levels with each of the first three focusing on a different aspect of riding. Level 4 then revisits the areas you and your coach feel you most need to work. The days run at Donington, Cadwell, Bedford and Brands Hatch, each level costs £480.

Bike hire is available and the school runs a fleet of Kawasaki ZX-10R, Z900 and Ninja 650 machines (a ZX-10R will cost £465 inclusive of fuel, tyres, insurance). 

Watch Michael Neeves’ guide to cornering on a motorcycle here: