So I attended the level 1 school at Barber a couple days ago and during the second track session I low sided. My bike was almost going to be just fine until it hit the grass and flipped, pretty much destroying the poor girl. I wanted to share why I crashed, why I think the exercise of "no brakes" is bad, but also why it's good. Lastly I wanted to share so others can learn from my depressing experience.
For starters - I'm 100% fine. Leathers did their job, took all of the abrasion damage and I walked away unscathed, and sad.
Here's what happened:
I went into turn 5 with too much heat. I committed to not using the brakes since in session 1 I did use some brakes (including trail braking into turn 5 when I came in with too much heat but made the corner unscathed and without any issue) so the only hope I had of slowing was engine braking. Turns out engine braking in 3rd gear on my GSX-S1000 really isn't great. Combined with the downhill at turn 5 I just wasn't going to slow down enough to feel safe. However, my speed actually wasn't the main issue.
The main issue is I kept adding lean angle to force my bike on the line I wanted. Note that I didn't need to force this line but for whatever reason I felt like I had to in the moment. I was already at the inside of the corner - I had nearly 5 car lengths of track to my right and nobody around me. I could have let the bike drift some and go a little wide, but in the moment I didn't. That's when the feeler bolt on my left peg started to drag. Ultimately this is what took me down: the feeler bolt caused the rear tire to lift a little and it washed out, causing a low side.
Why I think "no brakes" is a bad exercise
Turns out I actually don't think it's bad - what I think is bad is the lack of guidance by coaches and instructors on how to actually ride the track with throttle only. I asked around and it turns out nearly everyone was using brakes the entire time. I get the whole idea of being a better judge of corner entry speed, but the moment you're too hot, unless you're already on the brakes you're going to start braking while leaning which is bad. In fact the guidance should be trail brake every corner but with minimal brake pressure just in case you're in too hot. I tried to commit to "no brakes" but that means you just can't make a entry speed mistake or you pay the price. Before you say "you should have known better": remember - coaches that I've paid money to teach me told me to do the exercise with no brakes. They put it entirely on me to know if I needed brakes, but am I not a student there to learn? Before you say "well that's why they don't teach beginners", just know that there were multiple people there who didn't even understand what counter steering is. If you got your motorcycle license in nearly any state, you understand counter steering. So I don't buy the "we don't teach beginners" argument.
Why I think "no brakes" is a good exercise
It turns out that removing brakes from the equation lowers the cognitive load while riding and I actually felt freer to just ride and explore the track. Given that lack of brakes was not the main reason I crashed, I still think it's useful for the end goal: judging corner speed and following lines. Taking brakes out of the equation makes the learning process a bit simpler. What I would beg for instructors to do is limit it to 2nd gear only. In 3rd gear I can quite easily hit 120mph. In 4th gear (which they also allowed) I can quite easily hit 135mph. So yes: do the "no brakes" exercise, but 2nd gear only is the right way to do it. The point of the first two exercises is methodology and technique - make it clear there will be more "fun" to be had later in the day (maybe even offer an open session as the last session of the day) but encourage everyone to slow the heck down.
Here's a more in depth assessment of what I think went wrong with me:
1. If I had trail braked into turn 5 I would have been fine hands down
2. If I had not tried to force my line and let the bike drift a little I would have been fine. I was on the inside of the turn and had 5 car lengths of track to my right and had no reason to force my line. I had plenty of space and nobody around me and I could have just not leaned so much. In my head it was more important to follow my line but also to not use brakes (because they said so). One major take away is don't force your line with lean, maintain your line with trail braking and throttle control but at all costs allow the bike to use all available space rather than leaning more
3. I *think* I may have had enough time to lean the bike back up a bit after hitting the feeler on my peg. But it happened so fast that it went from touching to wiping out within like 3/4 of a second and I just wasn't ready for it - in fact I assumed I could let the peg keep touching and be fine
4. Part of me wonders if I kept trying to lean after the peg touched and maybe that's what lifted the back tire rather than the peg doing it alone. Although after watching videos like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6XsByRh14I this guy just touched his peg and the back wheel shifted which seems to indicate it really was the peg just grabbing and lifting.
Anyway - my final assessment of level 1 is it was worth the money because I did learn things I didn't know before and some important lessons were taught (other than my crash). My caution is that coaching takes very little ownership of your safety so by all means do what YOU think is safe which means when they say "no brakes but 3rd gear" and you're on a liter bike, 2nd gear is probably safer if you actually plan to not use the brakes. Oh and make sure you ignore all the pro racers riding around you attending the same school you are because they'll probably make you do something stupid. Finish the school safely and you'll get plenty of value out of level 1.