The Learning Curve
It’s time to go back to school for our young rider as he attends the California Superbike School to learn a thing or two about riding faster and exploiting his potential
Story: Saeed Akhtar
They say you’re never too old to learn something new. You’re also never too old to re-learn something. Like every adolescent, who had just discovered the fact that being adept at a motorcycle impresses sophomore girls, I kept two dog-eared copies of Keith Code’s A Twist of the Wrist beside me at most times. Those, coupled with the eponymous DVDs, many years of watching race telecasts on Sunday afternoons and first-hand instructions from our very own editor, were the only sources of riding tips that I ever got. So when the kind people at Preethi Appliances, the firm that brought Keith Code’s brainchild California Superbike School (CSS) to the country, invited me this month for three days of coaching at the Madras Motor Sport Club racetrack, I grabbed their offer with both hands.
Keith Code’s success story was not so much a story of shrewd business practices as one of necessity being the mother of invention. Back in the era of rock-n-roll and hippies, he was an up-and-coming racer eager to improve his craft. However, as he found out to his dismay, useful advice was sparse and hard to come by. Racers those days believed that riding fast was an intrinsic art that could not be cultivated – it just had to come from within. Code made copious notes, asked a number of questions, made meticulous observations and, at the end of it all, decided that riding a motorcycle was a science, just like flying an aeroplane or sailing a boat, and that it could be learnt just as any other science could be learnt.
He finally decided that there was enough interest to set up a school where riders would learn to go faster in a non-competitive environment. This was met with derision and laughter from most racing greats, who didn’t believe that it would yield any perceptible results. Nevertheless, Code persisted and, very soon, his roster was boasting of a long list of world champions and race winners like Waine Rainey, Fred Merkel, Doug Chandler and James Toseland. Two of the youngest up-and-coming CSS students to join that hallowed list are 2009 British Superbike Champion Leon Camier and 2010 AMA Supersport Champion Austin Dehaven and they are both here at the MMSC track with us today. We had better pull up our socks. For three days.
The first thing that strikes you about the CSS team, who have flown in from the US, UK and Australia, is their sheer professionalism and efficiency. You immediately get the feeling that they have got their teaching methodology down pat and are determined to impart to the 50-odd students whatever they have learnt about riding.
Once the introductions were over, Gary, the course controller, conducted the obligatory safety briefing, stressing how necessary it was to follow proper hand signals and also keep an eye on the marshal’s flag at all times. We were given strict injunctions that we were not here to compete with one another, but to learn the art of going faster everywhere. Racing one another was strictly forbidden and anyone caught overtaking perilously would find himself sitting out of the class for the rest of the day.
That done, we headed for our first classroom session, with Dylan Code. Sitting in a classroom with Keith Code’s son expounding his father’s findings and teachings was a surreal experience. Soft-spoken, witty and with years of riding experience in his kitty, Dylan offered us just the right initiation into the perfected-to-within-an-inch learning methodology of the CSS. To avoid monotony as also to reinforce what we had just learnt, the classroom sessions were immediately followed by track sessions wherein the rest of the instructors alternately followed and led the student, minutely observing each of his moves. If somebody was found not correctly following what had just been taught, his assigned coach would move in and demonstrate to him what he ought to be doing, either by means of hand signals or body language. One of the reasons why they’ve been so successful is the CSS’ extremely low teacher-to-student ratio. In every group, each student had to share his instructor with only two other students, thus enabling a very personalised learning experience.
For most experienced riders, who have done their bit of track riding and are fast learners, the classroom sessions, when seen separately, might look like spoon-feeding. Sample this: for a session on turn-in points, they even taped the part of the tarmac just before the corner where you’re supposed to start tipping in your bike. However, much like any conventional school, it is when you add it all up that you begin to see the quantum leap you’ve just taken. By the end of the third day, I found myself getting in and out of corners much more fluently and cracking open the Apache RTR 180’s throttle earlier and with greater assurance. Body posture, counter-steering, turning points, modulating the control levers – every aspect of riding seemed easier now and I was struggling with the bike a lot less than before.
It’s true what they say: a lot of self-practice could possibly haul a genius up to the very top, but for us mere mortals, some expert coaching will always come in handy. I will be back next year.