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My First Track School: Css Camp!


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Hello all,

 

I wrote a full report about my experience at the CSS Camp at Mid Ohio last week and posted it for my Honda V4 buds. Here it is in case anyone's interested.

 

Tim

 

Hi all. Sorry this took so long to post. No internet where I was staying during the school and I was too pooped to type very coherently anyway. Anyway, as promised, here's my report:

 

My experience with the California Superbike School "Motorcycle Camp " is now behind me and I must say that it fully met all of my expectations! The entire operation is well organized and very professional...it needs to be because they cover a LOT in 2 days! The school uses 4 levels as its curriculum structure. All first timers to this school begin at level 1 regardless of experience or background and this ended up being about half of us. The "Motorcycle Camp" is the 2 day all-inclusive package that covers one "level" on each of the days and sets up one track coach to 2 students for the track portions of the day. Individual days with ala carte pricing (your own bike and or leathers, for example) are also available at lower rates, but with less track time and more students per coach.

 

The first day started out with an intoduction of the entire staff to all of the students attending that day. Along with the intros was a flag signal briefing and a general track briefing covering items such as such as passing rules (permitted in most sessions with a 6 foot minimum), no wheelies or stoppies etc. Once the higher level students went off to do their thing, we began our first briefing with none other than Keith Code himself. I was a bit suprised to see him personally doing the level one "groundschool" since he certainly has plenty of staff around who could just as easily subbed for this task, but I have to say, getting personal instruction from the "head cheese" really let me know I'd spent my money wisely. Most of the classroom briefings were from Keith himself, a few were from his son, Dylan. Both of these gentlemen are excellent instructors! After the first briefing, several of us went to do some low speed steering exercises in the parking lot. Once that was done we headed to the pits to meet our coaches and begin the track session. Riding begins with 2 orientation laps, which are done at a leisurely pace and single file with no passing just to get to know the track. Then they lined us back up for the first drill.

 

Each of the track sessions focuses on a specific drill and the briefings lay out a particular concept to be learned, the specifics of the drill that relates to or teaches that concept and and the drill's desired objectives. The first drill, for example, is "Throttle Control" (arguably the most important basic skill as is thoroughly explained in the briefing). On the track, you must do ths drill while ONLY using 4th gear and NO brakes (other than to avoid a collision etc). The idea is to force you to enter the corners at a fairly slow pace and to develop the habit of staying ON the throttle once leaned over. Rolling off mid turn and/or changes in lean angle (referred to as "cornering corrections") are ideally to be avoided during this exercise. The students launch basically one at a time and at some point during the series of laps, your specific coach will likely swoop down from out of nowhere and follow you to determine if you're doing things properly. Using a follow me gesture and hand signals he (or she) can give personalized instruction to you out on the track. Just following the coach's lead and doing what they do helps tremendously in performing the drills properly. The other drills follow the same pattern of briefing, then track time which will at some point include a demo from your coach. Once they see improvement in the particular drill, they speed away (usually to help your partner student). Each drill slowly loosens the restrictions, so by afternoon you're cut loose in any gear and braking is allowed as needed. Having operating restrictions during the drills keeps other variables from muddying the water; they keep you focused. I found this system worked very well and I think it's safe to say so did everyone else in my group. After each track session you meet back in the pit area for a short de-briefing with the coach and then it's beck to the big trailer for another classroom briefing. There's barely time to take a leak!

 

On the first day (level 1) the drills centered mostly on riding technique: specific skills of handling the bike. Day 2 (level 2 for us) has drills that are better described as vision exercises. These, just like the level 1 drills, are done while lapping the track. Because the drills try to keep you focused on incorporating a new skill to add to your riding "tools", there is really less emphasis on actual lap times. They're looking for you to perform the drills with some degree of accuracy, hopefully while not forgetting the skills you worked on with previous drills. An easy example is the "turning quickly" drill. Basically, this drill tries to get you to delay beginning your turn a bit and then push the bars firmly to establish a lean QUICKLY, because once the lean is established, it's time to add throttle to stabilize the bike and finish the turn with minimal additional input. This technique is all but assured to result in a faster overall turn.However, while the thought of delaying the start of a turn while approaching a very challenging curve makes perfect sense when viewed from a cold, analytical classroom briefing, actually persuading yourself to DO this in real life and at a decent clip requires some practice! One of the other drills, "relax!", attempts to get you to do just that: don't get rigid on the handlebars and ...let the bike do most of the work. Problems can arise because these two skills seem somewhat opposed to each other and it becomes a bit of a trick to use both of these skills at the same time.

A quick example:

On one corner on the second day, I felt I was doing OK, but my coach whipped in front to lead me through the next one and gave me the flapping arms (think of the German "chicken dance") which is the "relax" signal, followed by the "quick turn" sigal. It wasn't until I saw the flapping arms that I realized that, yup, those arms are WAY too rigid! I loosened-up in the split second before the next turn, and sure enough, a MUCH improved corner: faster turn in, precise AND more relaxed. Remember that both the "relax"and "quick turn" drills were introduced and practiced on the previous day, but on day 2 there were so many other things learned that those 2 got weak and needed to be re-focused on. If only I had a whole week to work on this stuff!!!!

 

One other thing I do want to mention, which is obvoius when you think about it but really HAS to be experienced to be appreciated, is how insanely FAST the coaches can be. Most of them are on identical bikes (ZX6Rs) but they are SO FAR ahead of the skill level most of us were at, it absolutely boggles the mind! Here I am, Mr HOTS**, dialing my little green bike out of the "keyhole" and picking up speed really quickly and suddenly 2 or 3 bikes pass me so quickly I absolutely can't describe it. They're almost always coaches sneaking up on thier students to observe the drills. When some squid does this kind of cr** on the road, it's annoying. But HERE, it's perfectly normal and you learn to get over being startled by a pass early on. Actually, I found it fun to watch these highly talented riders at work. They can demonstrate fairly serious turns with one hand on the bars and one giving hand signals to me so effortlessly I can't describe it. They aren't trying to show off, they are just that good and this is how they do what they do. Amazing!!!

 

Another tool the school has which is worth its weight in GOLD, is the camera bike! This bike has a yellow boom that sits a couple of feet above and behind the rider. Once each day, everyone in the "camp" gets one lap on the camera bike. The images are razor sharp (absolutely NOTHING like the images on YouTube, for example), the sound of the engine is perfectly clear and just enough wind noise to be useful. At some point during one of your track sessions, a staff member directs you to this bike, loads a memory chip and tells you do do exactly 1 lap at about 70% of a full-out run. Once the lap is complete, he removes the chip, hands it back to you and sends you to one of the garage areas where a coach is standing by to personally review your lap on a laptop. The camera misses nothing. You can clearly see where I was looking and when; exactly when, where and how fast turns are made and of course, the line the bike actually travelled. Shift points and rpm are clearly audible. What a tool!!! What's so cool about this thing is that what you as a rider in the moment may not notice, the camera makes absolutely obvoius. Anyway, after the review, you're handed a chit with your assignment for the next session. On day 1 mine was throttle control, day 2 it was delaying turn points a bit and turning quicker (Keith actually looked on while we reviewed that one).

 

There were a number of suprises over the 2 days, all of them good. One of the first was the personal instruction from Keith. Another was when my day 1 coach told me toward the end of the day that if I didn't start at least leaning my upper body in a little during the harder turns, that I better not try to lean the bike itself much further as I was just a hair from dragging metal. ME? Close to dragging metal parts on a full-on sport bike? YGBSM!!! If that doesn't prove that I got some confidence that day, I don't know what would. The catch, of course, was that this was actually a warning! If I want to improve from this point I MUST start using some body positioning. If I don't and try for any more lean, it could be bad. Frankly, I've never been a particularly flexible person and it ain't getting better as I get older, but there's no denying the fact that correct body positioning can make a huge difference in helping the bike to turn. I'd read about this before and was aware of it but never imagined it would seriously apply to me since I never envisioned myself pushing a bike hard enough to make it really useful. What my coach told me was to move my upper bod toward the inside of the turn. I ended up taking it a bit further by sliding my butt off and crouching a bit lower as I did. The difference was VERY noticible: I really felt more "at one" with the bike and it raised my confidence level even more. Unfortunately, I didn't try doing this until the last 2 track sessions of day one, and I was getting tired. At about the same time, my back started protesting all of this odd (for me) body positioning over the course of the day.Then the next day I found out I wasn't really doing this right anyway, even though it did improve my riding. Read on.

 

In addition to the briefings and track sessions, there is one session each on the "steering drill" and the "lean bike". These are short one-on-one sessions with a coach in the parking area and are scheduled almost randomly. Basically, a coach with a clipboard shows up between one of the track/briefing sessions and its off to the parking area. The steering drill (about the first thing I did on day 1) was mostly a low speed slalom through an imaginary set of cones. Here they just want you to get a feel for the bike and offer a few tips on body position. Late in the afternoon on the second day, I got my session on the "lean bike", which is a specially set up bike with an outrigger device to allow it to lean at very low speeds for close observation of the rider by the coaches. It is used for cornering body position training. What I found out using the lean bike was that I was making it harder than it needed to be. Rather than sliding my butt over to the inside, what I should have been doing was more of a twist of my hips toward the inside and way less lateral movement off the seat. Unfortunately toward the end of day 2 in addition to being generally tired (especially my legs) my lower back decided it was again unhappy about any of this and was giving me the "warning tickle", which is NOT to be ignored. By this time there was only one track session left, so I did the best I could with the touchy back and ended the day with a pretty conservative final session.

 

I can't end this review without mentioning Keith's wife, Judy. Judy is the "wrangler"...she actually manages the school and keeps the daily activities running smoothly. She's the one to ring the school bell (literally) to signal when it's time to wrap up briefings and get to the trailer for another class session. She arranges and serves a fine breakfast and lunch, snacks in the afternoon, makes sure everyone keeps hydrated, handles a bunch of clerical stuff and God knows what other things that I don't know about! The Codes are VERY hands-on, very personable people. Everyone on the staff does a fine job and seems to have a genuine desire to help you suceed.

 

All in all, I absolutely couldn't have asked for a much better first time track experience. The weather was all but perfect. I more than met my personal objectives (even without the "slide bike") and I now have a lot of tools to draw from to improve my street riding. I wish I had more time to work on what I learned over these 2 days. It's a lot to take in and it would really be cool to practice all of this stuff and really tie it all together into a few consistant laps. Another 2 day camp would theoretically bring me to level 4, but to be realistic, I need a lot more practice before I'd really feel ready for that. We'll see what the future brings. For now I would recommend this school to anyone without hesitstion. $2200 was a lot of hay, but it was well spent.

 

Type "California Superbike School" into your search engine to get to their site and get more info. There's lots more that I didn't get to in this little report, so if your interested in more details on my time here, ask away!

 

Best...

 

Tim

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Thanks for sharing that, Tim. I've always wondered what a 2-day camp was about. Very informative and entertaining.

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