Back to School

Adhish Alawani goes back to the classroom in order to learn how to ride around the track faster
Photography: Navaroze Contractor

The first time I ever rode on a racetrack was back in October 2008. Since then, I must have put in around a 100 laps on the Madras Motor Sports Track (MMST). Anyone would think that such a person should at least know the track and how to ride there thoroughly. Well, though not thoroughly, I still thought that I was quite good with the R15 at the Chennai track, until of course I was introduced to the California Superbike School (CSS).

The riding school is an initiative by Keith Code in order to impart racetrack riding lessons. CSS spread across the USA and later to other innumerable countries around the world. After years of painstaking effort in analyzing the various riding techniques, CSS has developed a curriculum which helps students learn the art of cornering. It has reached the pinnacle and is considered as one of the world’s best schools imparting track riding knowledge across five continents. When the Red Rooster Racing team offered me a seat at CSS, I grabbed it with both hands. Since I had to arrange for my own bike, I approached Yamaha and they were more than willing to give me a YZF-R15 which happens to be the best track tool available in the country and a bike on which I thought I had mastery around the Chennai racetrack.

The four coach team from UK’s CSS arrived in India to train 24 students over a period of four school days revolving around a curriculum comprising of 15 techniques taught in 15 classroom sessions. Each classroom session was then followed by an on track practical to apply whatever was taught in the class. After trying out the newly learnt techniques on the track, each rider had to debrief the session he/she had on the track. These three steps allowed students to learn the theory and practicals and at the same time also helped them zero in on their personal shortcomings through the debriefing sessions. With four levels spaced out in four days, the aim of the coaches was to make the students familiar with the art of cornering and to master it with the help of the techniques developed by CSS.

Day One:

1. Throttle Control and No Brakes Drill
Level I lessons began with throttle control and no brakes drill. The main motive behind the entire training was to make the rider ride the bike smoothly which can be achieved by keeping the bike stable through the corners. With good throttle control, the rider can get a better grip, better lean angles, of course speed, better lines and tackle bad surfaces. In short, good throttle control is necessary for almost all the vital elements of riding. The coaches asked us to ride the full circuit without using the brakes and controlling the bike with just the throttle. To add to that, everyone had to stick to one gear only, which made things worse since downshifts were strictly prohibited. Gary, the CSS safety attendant, instructed all corner marshals to look out for any brake inputs from any rider. The moment any marshal saw a bike’s front forks compressing under even the slightest of braking, the rider was black flagged, pulled in the pits and given a warning.

Sachin Chavan from Royal Enfield rides his track prepped Bullet 50

Adam, my personal coach, gives me off-track lessons on body postur

After having a hard time, I finally gave up my habit of hanging out my butt

2. Turn Points
The second lesson of the day gave us the second blow when Andy, our chief coach, told us that we were turning into corners too early – as early as a couple of bikes’ length! Turning in a corner as late as possible straightens the riding line through the corner thus giving excellent exit speeds. We all knew that theoretically, but not exactly where we had to turn off. The coaches made it easy for us by marking a cross at the entry of each turn. However, it was not as easy as we thought once we got onto our bikes and were told to run over the cross markers and then turn into the corner, as the markers were deep in the turns.

3. Quick Turns
After struggling a lot with the turn points, we finally managed to get into the turns as late as possible. However, things eased out with regard to using the turn points when Andy taught us the trick of quick turns. Basically everyone uses this trick subconsciously. Every race enthusiast talks of counter steers, but very few know that each rider going into a corner counter steers the bike to turn in. Now we were told to do it consciously. And trust me, it made things far easier and far less complicated. Slightly pushing the right bar towards the left in right-handers made the bike lean to the right and vice versa in the left-handers. This helped us go deep in the corner and then turn quickly after crossing the turn point. Counter steering, when applied appropriately with proper weight shifting, can result in the best cornering acts.

Andy gives us lessons in the classroom; never thought classrooms could be so much fun

Gary inspects the riders’ safety gear and bikes before getting onto the track

Navaroze Contractor gets a feel of the R6

4. Rider Input
After getting a hang of throttle control and counter steering, it was time to learn motorcycle-rider communication. It is of utmost importance for the rider to keep his body loose and free on the bike while riding. The simple theory is ‘be gentle on the bike and the bike will be gentle with you’. The handlebars’ duty is to steer the bike and not take the weight of the rider. So the first thing we had to do was to refrain from putting any load on the bars through our arms. Holding the bars freely also helps in letting the suspension work freely on bumpy surfaces and helps steer the bike comfortably. Also, the forearms suffer less fatigue since they aren’t clinging onto the bars tightly.


5. Two Step
As we approached the end of Level I, we were introduced to the first lesson of taming our vision. Two step, as the name suggests, is a technique that involves two steps – fixing your riding line such that you are heading towards the marked turn point and then turning your head and vision towards the apex of the corner while still keeping the turn point in your peripheral vision. This helps in getting more time for determining the apex of the corner and makes it easier to hit the apex since the rider looks at it even before starting to turn into the corner.


The students follow Glen during a sighting lap

Preetham Dev Moses and Andy strike a pose while inspecting the bike

JET records Rohit’s debriefs for later reference

Day Two:

1. Reference Points
The vision drill that began on day one continued through Level II on the second day. In the first lesson, we were sent out on the track to find reference points around the circuit. We were told to hunt for references, on the track or off it, that we could use as indicators for various actions like rolling off the throttle or marking an apex or even defining more accurate lines on the track. This improved the students’ observation about the minutes across the complete length of the circuit. With the help of reference points such as tar patches or certain bushes just outside the curbs in a particular corner helped me in ascertaining my lines and apexes. Not just that, following the same reference points for every lap around the circuit helped everyone in maintaining consistent lines.

2. Change Lines
The second lesson of the day gave goose bumps to every rider on the track when coach Andy asked us to investigate the lines of the track which no one had ever visited. This basically included exploring the complete width of the track. We were asked to do three laps; the first one sticking to the extreme right of the track, the second from the extreme left and the third using the exact centre. This introduced us to the dangers around the track in the form of bumpy sections that we had to be careful of. At the same time, we also learnt about some smoother sections that we never thought of using earlier. The main intention behind exploring the new lines was to prove that there is not one particular race line for a circuit. One can use various different lines depending on how comfortable he feels on which line.

Hand signals were an efficient way of communication with the students. Andy is seen in this picture guiding Vikram to the late apex with his hand signal

Glen teaches the technique of the hook turn

3. Vanishing Points
After getting used to the better lines, we had to progress one more step with reference to the two step drill that we had done the previous day. This one was the vanishing point search or the three step drill. In two step, we used to ascertain our line so as to hit the turn point and then look into the corner to fix our apex. The three step was an extension to the two step; we had to target our exit even before we hit the apex. This made it even easier to go through the corner since we had even more time and space to hit the correct line around the bend. In case the exit point is not visible, as is the case in tight hairpins, we had to fix a vanishing point which would eventually lead us to our exit point. The three step or vanishing point drill was a lot tougher as the eyes had to work really hard to fix the turn point in peripheral vision, then hunt for the apex and then go even further to ascertain the exit/vanishing point.

4. Wide View
It is of utmost necessity that we see more while riding on the track. It helps us know what is happening around us, who is approaching us from behind and how much space we have at our disposal to ride around the circuit. Including our peripheral vision, our eyes can almost see through a 178 degree range. Training our eyes to use this complete range was not easy, but the results definitely rewarded us with more space and confidence since we had a wider vision now.

Alisha gets her share of personal training from Glen

Dedication was seen from both sides – Andy’s teaching as well as the students’ learning

Students line up in the pit lane before getting out for practicals

5. Pick Up Drill
The final lesson on the second day was a shift from vision to riding posture. When a bike is leaned over in a corner, there is lesser tyre contact which leads to decreased traction. To gain more traction, it is necessary for the rider to use the centre of the tyre as much as possible, which means that the bike needs to be as upright as possible. However, to maintain stability through the corner and while exiting it, the rider has to keep the centre of gravity low. For achieving this, coach Glen taught us the pick up drill in which the rider has to straighten the bike as soon as he crosses the apex of the corner and has to hang off the bike to maintain a lower centre of gravity. This feat can be pulled off by doing the opposite of counter steering, i.e., giving a slight push to the left bar while leaned over to the right in a right-hander and opposite to that in a left-hander. However, the rider is expected to hang off and duck down so that the low centre of gravity is maintained even if the bike is straightened. The pick up drill helps the rider make stable exits through fast and sweeping corners.

Day Three:

1. Hook Turns
The third day’s lessons were concentrated on improving the posture of the rider. We started off with the hook turn, a technique used to tighten the line by executing a special maneuver midway through the corner. This is managed by pushing the rider’s weight forward and towards the inner handlebar while leaned over. The act brings the bike on a tighter line suddenly giving the rider more exit speed since the tighter line implies a straighter line. The rider can use the hook turn as a corrective measure in case he needs to get back on the correct line after running wide in any corner. The coaches, in fact, suggested we use the hook turn in as many corners as possible for much better exit speeds.

2. Pivot Steering
Pivot steering was an extension to the counter steering that we learnt on day one. The human body works in opposites and this theory is used in pivot steering. Consider for example, a right hand corner. We push the right bar slightly towards the left in order to lean to the right. Now at this point of time, if we push the left knee against the tank (obviously towards the right), then it creates a better effect of leaning. The coaches made us understand this in a simple way. We were asked to stand opposite a wall with our palms resting on the wall. Now, if we had to lean towards right, we tried to push the wall with our right hand. At the same time, if we created tension in the left leg (which resembles the act of pushing it against the tank), the lean became easier. All we had to do was apply this simple trick on the bike while cornering. This incidentally, leads us to use the lower back as a pivot. The upper part of the pivot is exercising the push in one direction while the lower part is doing the same in the opposite direction, hence the name pivot steering.

The coaches made sure they supervised each student’s riding by standing off the track and observing them through the corners

Adam and myself in a debriefing session

The students gather around Andy during one of the off-track training sessions

3. Knee to Knee
After learning the basics of body posture while cornering, it was time to study the movement of the body through consecutive opposite turns. Going from right hand to left hand corner or vice versa, the rider is expected to move his upper body from one side to the other. Since the upper body and the arms are to be kept as loose as possible, the bike can loose stability while shifting from one side to the other. To avoid this, the rider has to maintain a good grip on the bike by hugging the tank firmly with the thighs. While flicking from, say the right-hander to the left-hander, the rider has to first bring the right knee in (which is sticking out towards the inner side of the corner), clamp it against the tank and only then let the left knee leave the tank and stick out.

4. Hip Flick
The hip flick acts as an extension to the knee to knee exercise. In hip flick, we were told that when both the knees are clamping onto the tank, the weight has to be shifted from one side to the other by flicking the hip first and then the upper body. Once the weight is transferred to the other side, only then should the rider stick out his inner knee. The combination of knee to knee and hip flick maneuvers helps in stable quick flicks through a series of opposite corners.

The R15’s low footpegs restricted my lean angles to a great extent

Rohit Giri, the Red Rooster Racing team rider, bagged the Star Student award after showing immense dedication throughout the four days of training

TT Varadarajan, the sponsor, gets tips from Andy

5. Attack Angles
The final lesson of the training came in the form of improving our attack angles. Attack angle is the angle as shown in the illustration above. The larger the attack angle, the smoother and faster the corner speed. Sticking to the wide line as much as possible before entering a corner and then executing quick turns properly will lead the rider into better attack angle for the next corner. Thus, the better attack angles work best in a series of corners where a perfect line is crucial for the final exit.

Day Four:
The first three days were spent in learning 15 techniques through three levels. It was now time for the final day and the final level of training. Level IV concentrates on personal shortcomings. Whatever the rider wasn’t been able to apply properly through the first three levels was taught and practiced again until he/she got the hang of it. Thus, the personalized Level IV also proved to be a great revision for everyone for everything that was learnt during the previous three days.

The California Superbike School made me realize quite a lot of things. The first was that I had hardly learnt anything considerable in the 100 laps on the track that I had done before attending the school. Secondly, after putting in around 200 laps over these four days with CSS, I understood that there is a lot more to track riding than we can even imagine. Thirdly, we can get vague ideas of how to ride a bike on the track by reading or listening to experts, but it can’t be mastered unless you have coaches like the ones from CSS guiding you every time you make a mistake. The way the instructors made sure that they paid attention to every rider while he practiced and applied the theory on the track was phenomenal. It gives you an assurance that every mistake you commit will be rectified so that you do not pick up any wrong habits even unknowingly. The experience at CSS was undoubtedly one of the best I have ever had in my biking career and I am definitely looking forward to at least a couple of more schools with CSS whenever and wherever possible.

A crashed R6 makes its way back to the pits

Maximum student-coach interaction was the key to the training’s success

Sponsors and Organizers

TT Varadarajan (MD – Preethi Mixers and Grinders), a bike enthusiast, has attended several sessions of the California Superbike School abroad in the past few years. These sessions had such an impact on TT that he decided to bring the school to India. His aim was to make sure that upcoming young talent from the country gets the best guidance available that would in turn help them succeed not only on the national racing scene, but also on the international level.

TT also organized the event in an extremely efficient way. From the corner marshals, the pick-up trucks (for crashed motorcycles), the ambulances and medical backup to food and drinks’ supply all day long was amazingly managed.

Giving TT a helping hand were the Red Roosters Racing team from Bangalore who provided the motorcycles and their tyres for the coaches and complete technical backup. Dinesh Reddy, the owner of the RRR team and a hardcore enthusiast, supported Mr. Varadarajan’s cause in every possible manner. Mr. Amit Sandill, RRR Team Director, was present throughout the four days of training along with his team of mechanics headed by the Joe Rajasingh, the chief technician of the RRR Team. A special applause for Joe who made sure that the bikes ran in perfect tune. Navaroze Contractor, Editor at Large of BIKE India was also present throughout the four days of training.

Champion Trainer
Adhish Alawani gets one-on-one with Andy Ibbott, chief coach of the California Superbike School, UK to reveal the master’s experience of coaching in India for the first time.

Tell us something about yourself. How did you get into the schooling business?

I started riding bikes at age 14. I didn’t start racing till quite late in life actually. I was about 32 or 34 years old. I did a season with Yamaha 250LC, then a season on 600 and later started doing nationals 600s. During a race in the New Era 600 Championship, I crashed while leading a race and the guy running at the back broke my back (laughs). That time it was pretty much decided that I didn’t want to race. Racing is fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I didn’t want to take the risk any more. I got away that time walking and I like walking (laughs). Earlier, I had done the California Superbike School in November ‘95 in the US. At that time, I was working as a test rider with Fast Bikes magazine. After doing the school, I went from midfield to top three straight. That is when I decided to bring the school to the UK. The first year was a complete disaster. Nobody knew about the school or about Keith Code and the work he had done. But I was convinced that it would work. So we continued dedicating our efforts in 1997 and here we are in 2010 in India.

So how has it been in India so far?

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We had some wrong preconceptions about how it would work out here. But everything including the bikes that Red Roosters have supplied are of good quality and the racetrack is phenomenal. We were expecting the worst, to be honest, but the track is absolutely brilliant.

What are your tips for kids who want to start racing early in life?

Oh, I was speaking to a young lad today who came along with his father. He is 12 years old and wanted to start racing. The thing is that we have to make sure he is having fun with it. There are so many risks involved. It is tough physically and financially too, it is hard. So you’ve got to enjoy it. I mean, look at Rossi. When do you see him serious while racing a Grand Prix? He is smiling at the cameras and always happy. I am sure there are times when he is not, but he never shows it.

How many schools do you (CSS, UK) do in a year?

We run 273 events.

And that is around how many countries?

23 currently – essentially from the top of Norway to the bottom of Africa and from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast of India.

The final and most important question, will you come back to India again?

100 percent. We are already talking with TT about how we are going to arrange the event next year and what we are going to do. Do we come in the same format? We are already looking at which month to do it in, which is most likely to be January. We might want to do it again this year in December, but I would prefer doing it next year in January.

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