Late to the post, but as a noob...I think with Both questions, Good Beginner Bike and Experience for the school are well answered by asking another question as the jumping off point. "Why did you decide to ride a motorcycle?" and "Why do you want to come to the school?" For many of the people I've known that ride the image imbued with what they ride is so tightly inertwined with (or in some cases as/more important than) the experience of riding it is not something that can be easily, if at all separated. As a noob I sat on I can't even remember how many bikes because I wanted to be completely comfortable in seat height, riding position, bike weight, etc so I could concentrate on riding and not be distracted by any other factors. I test rode a BMW F800GT and LOVED IT. Bike fit like a glove, seat height, Clutch, gearbox, layout, feel...it took every ounce of willpower to not write them a check right then and there. BUT...while considering my first purchase I was constantly thinking about the fact I didn't have experience beyond doing some dirtbiking 25 years ago on closed logging trails in sleepy New Hampshire and taking the MSF course. I would also be riding around the streets of Los Angeles where one's margin for error is slim to none with the idiot drivers out here and a mistake with a heavier and bigger 800 bike would be exponetially larger than one on a much smaller 250. Add on how bummed I would be when dropping a $13K bike vs a $4k one. Sat on a CBR and it fit me great, I test rode a Ninja 250 so I knew what the 250 was like and bought the CBR. EVERYONE told me not to buy a bike that small. The guy at the BMW Dealership said "Even if you don't buy a bike from me, please...please don't buy a 250. You'll be bored in less than 6 months." After having the bike for awhile I think while everyone meant well, everyone was wrong. I understand why people said it and especially after doing the school I look forward to eventually getting a bigger bike. However, it was/is the right choice for me and the more time I've spent with it I have a hard time seeing how it wouldn't be the best choice for just about everyone to start when it comes to the learning how to ride aspect. The 250 is extremely forgiving and it allows a rider to invest their $10.00 of attention on elements other than the operation bike itself. Miss a shiftpoint, hit the throttle a little hard no big deal. Roll-off you slow fast, doesn't take much brakes to have a major impact, Awesome at traffic lights. You can keep your focus on your turns, traffic, pedestrians, the roadway as you learn what is important in the real world and what isn't. Is it great for highways, no...but you have plenty of manuverability and so long as you focus on your gearing, with a downshift you can access plenty of juice. Now would a potential H.D. buyer find the experience of riding thrilling enough after spending time starting on an import 250 ? Would they even entertain the idea of a smaller import bike?? Would a sport biker that has their heart set on a Gixxer find a small Ninja or CBR enough of a buzz rolling on heavy in second gear or 1st off the line enough to start with, then continue with a bigger bike? It also comes down to the $ question. Totally agree with Mike D. I am fortunate enough to be in a position to be able to make a choice to buy a 250 to start and lose some money stepping up as I progress. Though I don't see it as a loss on the $ side, I see it as an investment in myself and my skills as a rider. Many will probably not share that opinon. Factor in the extranenous costs with the intelligent riders with a good Helmet, gloves, jacket, pants, it becomes a more complicated subject when you break it down. My vote would be if one can find a way mentally and financially, start on a 250 it's PLENTY of fun as you're learning. As far as attending the school is the person there to go fast/learn to go fast/race? Do they want to learn how to corner/be a better rider? It also becomes an issue for the School: What strikes the proper balance for the majority of the riders? How many newer/slower riders can be accomodated before creating a drag on the track session learning and by proxy everyone's experience? There are standards but is it better served by a case by case basis. I came to the school with fewer miles than the usual 2k requirement, but I had a specific and focused attitude and those miles were done in Full Los Angeles traffic. Read Twist 1 & 2 and completely changed the way I mentally and mechanically related to the bike. After absorbing and practicing the techniques did some canyon runs including (for the Cali Folk) Coldwater, Laurel and then finally Topanga. Most of my friends that ride felt I didn't have enough experience to make the school worth doing. To me it was the key reason to go to the school, to get experience in how to do things right before developing bad habits. I could lay a fantastic foundation while I was still mentally and phsyically a malleable lump of riding clay. I wasn't attending to learn how to just go faster or as a potential racer, just wanted to learn the techniques to be the best rider possible. I say that made my relative lack of miles a non-factor and I got a TON out of the school. Now I was the slowest person on track for sure, so that kind of dovetails into a bigger picture question for the School in general. Was my relatively low speed/lack of experience a detriment to the other people on-track that may not have been able to ride as fast as they wanted, having to go slower and sometimes manuver around me? Did it affect what they got out of their learning experience at the school? How would that affect their decision to come back for more training? Am I a bigger detriment than some of the riders there that ended up running over their heads and crashed? I crashed as well (I think there were 5 of us that did over the weekend) but it was on the slowest section of the track and at the lowest possible speed so I was under my head. Would more miles under my belt before attending have prevented it? Given what I was working on skills-wise gut says no. Regardless of miles there is another aspect with riders stepping up to a bike that could be more than double in size of what they usually ride if the are using the school's machines. You can have plenty of miles with a 500 and then you're coming into a new environment with an unfamiliar bike that's heavier and bigger...how does that affect a rider? As one of them I was slightly intimidated, BUT the 1000 handled so beautifully precise on so little input it was a transcendent experience for me. Though I don't think I ever took it past 3rd maybe 4th gear so kept it under my 80%. Spent 90% of my time on the school's 800 though (and that's what I crashed) because my riding style was going to be in the more upright position so I wanted my training to reflect what the majority of my riding position would be in.
Lots of variables to consider in both questions. Regardless, I just signed up for Willow in April '14 and can't wait to continue the learning experience!