BIKE India’s Adhish Alawani gets into an easy conversation with cornering guru Keith Code and talks about bikes, racing and the Indian experience
Bike India: So, Keith, first time coaching in India. How has been the experience?
Keith Code: Oh, yeah, this has been a fantastic trip and here we are on the last day. Time went really fast. We did two days of school in the first batch – Level I and II. The second batch was three days – Level I, II and III – and I’ve been very happy that the students are taking information so well. Everybody is improving dramatically and showing huge improvement. There are riders who have ridden this track so many times and even they are seeing so many improvements.
BI: That exactly is my second question. Some of the students during these five days have been professional racers, who’ve been racing here for many years, while some others are first-timers at the track. So how has been the variety of students?
KC: Well, what I have noticed over the last five days is that the Indian students – 90 of whom I have known for the last five days, only with maybe one or two exceptions – are very interested in improving. They’re coming to the school for the right reason. They’re not coming here just to ride around the track. They want to make some improvements; they’ve seen that we’ve been able to make some major changes in riding for them to the positive side. And I think that 95 per cent of the students have continued to be more alert, more aggressively interested in improvement. They have become converts now. They know that what we are teaching is good material.
BI: On the international scale what do you think is the potential of the Indian riders?
KC: That’s very difficult to say. We have a lot of guys on small bikes who may look completely different on 600s. Some people don’t get along on small bikes; they ride big bikes better. Some people need to learn the lessons from small bikes, so that they can move up in an orderly fashion up to larger ones. When we go to places like South Africa or Greece, we have, say, 85 per cent of students who have already done many track days. That’s not so here. Students here don’t have that track experience, so it’s just starting off the game. Because of the fact that we have just one track here, because the things are so expensive here, because of the fact that riders don’t have the facilities to ride like that here, I would say that we are starting at, maybe, a little lower level. But then we also have some students who are good and are right up there in a good range already. They are definitely above the middle.
BI: Going back to the history of CSS, how did it all start? What was the driving force behind starting the best school?
KC: Well, there really weren’t any schools back then. Preparations for a race included ‘how you prepare the bike, take the mirrors off’ etc. Very little riding technique was taught. There was nothing defined. There was nothing like, ‘This is one technical point, this is another’. The world was blank. So, while I was still racing superbikes in the 1970s, I started to develop some ideas about training people. I actually started doing that in the off-season from professional racing. During winter I would take a few students and teach them some theory, go through what they wanted to fix. I didn’t know many things then, but I discovered a couple of points that were key points. So when I retired from racing in 1979, I wanted to continue training and generating enthusiasm. That was a blank slate. No track days. So I started the school, I had the vision – bikes, leathers, helmets, boots. I got a lot of help from Kawasaki. They stayed with me for 30 years and so was with Dunlop. The economy got bad and Kawasaki had to withdraw. But then came in BMW and we have these awesome motorcycles called S1000RRs.
BI: You started back in 1979. The bikes then and the bikes now are completely different. Speed has gone up, tracks have improved. Have the techniques been modified to suit these changes?
KC: The fundamental techniques are the same. Now, you can do different things with motorcycles. You can do the same things that you did back then, but the motorcycles now are a little bit of help. However, with the same idea in mind, the bikes can also get you into trouble pretty quickly because they are short and tight. None the less, they have a certain amount of forgiveness in them. Our S1000RR are fantastically forgiving. They have ABS brakes, they have traction control. When we changed from the 600s, which we had had for decades and decades, to the 1,000-ccs, our crashes went down by 40 per cent. And that’s the bike. ‘Cause we put these guys on the bikes that were 100 PS earlier and now they are 193 PS bikes. And it’s safer. So, it’s one of the things that I have said for years and years. It’s not the power that gets them in trouble, it’s not the speed, it’s their mistakes. Mistake – they try to fix it, fix doesn’t fix it. So now it’s a bit worse. Then they try another fix and another fix. It takes several such cycles to crash unless you hit oil.
What I found is that the fundamental techniques remain the same. We have refined them for sure. When I started off I knew a little bit. Now I know a little more. Where everything else goes, I don’t know. Every few months we improve, almost every year or so I find a new way of teaching something. We have schools in Australia, New Zealand and England. We have started two in Spain and Greece. So the amount of information I get back when I want to test something is huge. When we develop a new technique, we go about in a scientific manner. It’s not like ‘Hey, that turned out well for that rider, so let’s use that technique’. No. We wait for a long time, test it, maybe for a year or longer before we can say, ‘Okay, it’s good for stating as theory’.
BI: What’s your pick, MotoGP or WSBK?
KC: I think WSBK. My heroes, for sure, Pedrosa, Rossi, Lorenzo love the equipment, but it’s so expensive that there are not enough guys to fight it out at the top. To me as a spectator, if I want to watch a race, world superbike is better. There are a number of riders, the competition is tighter, they are fast, there is a lot of talent. It’s not like MotoGP, where the top five guys are within half a second with the qualifying tyres and then when it comes to the races, it’s just brrrrrrruppppp, it stretches out. As an enthusiast, it’s WSBK for Keith Code.
BI: Then, WSBK or Isle of Man?
KC: Ah, that’s like chalk and cheese. They are so different. IOM is the real road racing where it all started. There were no racetracks, so Isle of Man is pretty much good. Do I think if it’s insane or not to ride 200 mph bikes on narrow roads over an island with no run-off areas and all, well, ummm, I see it two ways. It’s quite a challenge. I know the feeling of mastering something like that. It’s very satisfying. Everybody goes there to do that. It’s a completely different mindset. I respect it, I appreciate it. And I hope the reasons for what it is, it continues to be like that for all of them go there for that.
BI: From all the MotoGP racers, who is your all-time favourite racer?
KC: It’s got to be Rossi. I respect many other riders – Kenny Roberts, Mike Hailwood. These riders are incredibly right. They changed racing quite a bit, but nobody has the spirit that Rossi has. He is the reason why MotoGP is alive and well. He is an asshole, maybe, normally, but what he gives to the sport, he has been the biggest asset ever. He has been the most popular rider.
BI: So what do you think is going to 1happen in 2011?
KC: I have no idea. I don’t have a crystal ball. It’s absolutely unknown. As for myself, because Rossi has contributed so much, I would love to see him get onto the Ducati and win the championship. Even if he doesn’t win the championship, I want to see him stand there on the winner’s spot a lot of time. But, by the same token, I want Dani and Jorge to do well too. And I hope that couple of other guys can get up there and compete with them. Will they? I don’t know!
BI: Coming back to the Indian scene, you have heard of Sarath who is going to be riding 125 cc GP? What do you think about him?
KC: Yeah, it’s gonna be a big jump for him from a 150-cc, four-stroke to 125-cc, two-stroke GP bike. It’s like 25 bhp bike here, a 60 bhp there. It’s going be quite different. But I have seen some of our younger riders whose transition from the 150s to 125s has been smooth. They have picked those up pretty fast. But I don’t know him. I don’t know his riding.
BI: What is your favourite race bike?
KC: Well, you know, when I raced superbikes back in the 1970s, the superbikes were horrible. They were weak, the frames were weak. There was a fair amount of horsepower like 140 hp, but those were like big bicycle frames. So we had to do all the modifications on the bike and I did them myself. I was the main mechanic on my own bike. It was not like, ‘I got the frame’. I had to continuously modify something, weld something. It was never perfect. You were chasing the problem all the time and fix it to find another one. We didn’t know much about suspension then. It was a lot of power and horrible handling. So I wouldn’t say that those were my favourite bikes. I had some great rides, but, for me, I think I have had the best time on the 250-cc GP bikes. That was great fun! But then we don’t have them any longer.
BI: One last question. Will you be coming back again next year?
KC: Yes, we intend to come back. No schedule has been set as yet, but we are very enthusiastic about this thing.