Why Did I Attend?
I’d been wanting to do this course for a while, a colleague of mine had heard great things about it, with veterans of motorbike riding having completed the course and wishing they’d done it twenty years before. So, here I was, making sure I didn’t wait twenty years before attending. The skill I wanted to learn was safe cornering and this course was level 1, in a series of 4.
The course information recommended that we stay overnight nearby, as it was a long intense day, so we booked ourselves into a nearby hotel as we live about an hour from the circuit.
We arrived at Eastern Creek just after 7am and were directed to a line where our speedos and mirrors were covered with tape – so we wouldn’t be distracted when riding around the track, they said. I found this distracting. Lesson one about track riding.
Next was the mechanical check; brakes, chain slack and tyre condition. The pressure was also dropped in my tyres to 30 psi ‘to give more grip on the track’, I think they overestimated how fast I intended to go, bless!
After registration I was fitted out with full leathers – mandatory for this course, either bring your own or hire some. I was fitted in a rather smart two-piece set of leathers for the day, which zipped together, I passed on the race boots (they didn’t have any small enough, or so I thought) although I would go for those in later courses.
Around 8am, everyone was called up to one of the classrooms for a safety briefing. Here we were introduced to the team who were involved in our day – the classroom teachers, the on track coaches and coordinators. We were run through safety flags and instructions how to behave on the track including no passing within two metres of another rider and no speeding in the pit lane.
Hi, I’m Keith!
After this we were encouraged to introduce ourselves to the people around us. A rather laid back older American man introduced himself to us as Keith, seemed like a cool guy, very friendly, said he was there to ‘help out’. Turns out he was Keith Code, ex motorbike racer and founder of the Superbike School, over on a rare visit to Australia and there to be a guru to the Level 4 riders, shows how green I was at that point – I was just interested in learning how not to die!
Next was our first classroom session with the very entertaining Steve, MD of the school, where we were run through the importance of throttle control and some of the science behind it. His repeated question of ‘what’s your job?’, has us, by the end, repeating our new mantra of ‘stabilise the bike’. And that was essentially the key to riding, if we master that then all would be well, easy in principle but skills must be learned and practiced to reach this desired outcome and this would be achieved by a series of drills. Steve told us to stay within our comfort zone, this wasn’t a competition, this was learning.
Our first trip around the track was familiarisation, where we followed a car to introduce us to the corners with which we would become very familiar by the end of the day. Each track session was preceded by a classroom session discussing the drill to practice and the science behind each drill. While on track, we connected with our on-track coach who would remind us (through pre-discussed hand signals) of the drill and we would either follow or be followed for them to provide feedback after the session.
Drill One – Throttle Control
We were then let loose around the track to practice our first technique: control the throttle by rolling it on evenly, smoothly and consistently, stay in fourth gear and control the speed of the bike without using brakes. The argument was that a bad rider spends their time controlling speed by slamming on brakes and changing gears constantly – it really helped focus the mind having to make sure I entered the corner at the correct speed.
I tentively rode my little Ninja around the bends, very mindful of other riders nearby; at this point I was still a Provisional rider with less than a year’s riding behind me.
And then it was over, maybe 10 laps, I met with my on-track coach who talked me through how I had performed at the exercise, asking me to recall which corner I had performed well in and which I had had trouble with – I would quickly learn that it was important to pay attention to these things although this first time, I had no memory of the corners, just me concentrating hard on managing my throttle.
Drill Two – Turn Points
“Every rider has a turn point. Whilst there is no perfect turn point to satisfy every rider, some turn points work better than others” – extract from the CSS Drill Sheet.
The second drill was assisted by the placement of taped crosses on the track and it was all about identifying a reference point on the track to start the turn of the motorbike. The idea behind this was, by carefully selecting the turn point, it made travel through the turn more effective by not being too shallow or too deep. This time we were allowed to use two gears – 3rd and 4th but still no brakes.
Drill Three – Quick Steer
“Your bike has two basic functions. It can change speed and it can change direction. Even a small improvement in your comfort and ability with changing direction leads to a large effect on your overall riding.” – another extract from the CSS Drill Sheet.
Drill three was a brilliant technique; it was introducing us to the concept of pushing on the handlebars harder to help change direction quickly, a skill which is very handy when I find myself going wide, and a very good alternative to freaking out and slowing down which, in fact, just makes the bike go wider. Understanding this concept was a revelation to me.
This time, we were allowed light brakes.
Drill Four – Rider Input
“Persuading your bike to cooperate with you is mostly a matter of technique, not the expensive suspension parts you buy for it” – extract from the CSS Drill Sheet.
Understanding the effect that gripping handlebars tightly has on the motorbike was drill four. A relaxed upper body position and gripping the tank with my legs gave me so much more control over the motorbike, truly ‘feeling at one’ with my machine – in the long run I also noticed that my wrists didn’t hurt at all after a long ride.
Turns out I was gripping hard and leaning onto the handle bars, as if I could control the movement of the bike with my shoulders… yeah, no. Amusingly the on-site coach’s signal to implement the drill was birdie arms i.e. waggle your arms like you’re dancing to the Birdie Song!
Drill Five – Two Step Turning
The final drill of the day was a bit of an introduction to Level 2. Building on what we had learned in the second drill, with turn points, this drill expanded on this technique with locating the turn point then, just before reaching that point and turning in, locating the apex of the turn. All about looking where we wanted to go really. Simple and effective.
So, How Was It?
And then it was over, I rode away feeing much more confident with my riding. Even Gary, a veteran of riding, agreed that he had learned many things during the day that had helped his riding. And then there was the chance to ride on a race circuit. I know I was there to learn but it was also a great chance to HURTLE DOWN THE STRAIGHT REALLY REALLY FAST!
Oh, and Channel 10 was filming this on the day too, it’s a great little piece, not too long and spotted, Ladyonmotorbike at 3m 13 seconds!
Kate Peck at California Superbikes School