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Report: Superbike School Goes To Rio

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A couple of months ago, Cobie Fair, Chief Instructor for the California Superbike School, called to ask if I might have some time in the middle of June to work a school. He?d need me for a week. It hasn?t been easy to take much time off for the past couple of years, so I asked, ?A week? Where is it??


?Rio de Janeiro.?


?Right. Lemme see what I can do.?


A few weeks later, Keith and Judy Code, James Toohey, Cobie and I were piled into an airport limo amid our gear, listening to the many fascinating things James had learned about Brazilian women prior to the trip. He?d learned quite a lot. So much, in fact, that it took most of the next 20 hours of travel time for him to finish briefing us.


We had also heard that getting through Customs might be a lengthy ordeal, taking up to several hours. Stories were circulating about frustrated travelers making obscene gestures to officials and incurring fines upwards of $13,000. Sounded serious. When I arrived at the Customs desk, the fellow behind the glass wanted to see my passport and declarations. He looked them over for all of 15 seconds, handed them back and smiled, ?Have a nice day.? That was the whole process. It was easier than getting into Canada!


The event organizer, D?cio, did an outstanding job of planning this event and provided students and staff with every amenity. He has in fact raised the bar for services provided at the school. He served incredible catered meals, hired a masseuse to work people over if they were feeling ?a little tight on the bike,? and provided a mechanic who gassed the instructors? bikes after each session. I?m including that last bit in the thin hope that Will, the CSS mechanic, might read this and draw some inspiration. For gassing the bikes, not giving me a backrub?


Brazil?s population is about 160 million people and the wealth distribution is very uneven, being second only to Bangladesh. 10% of the Brazilian population owns 50% of the nation?s wealth, while the poorest 50% of the population holds only 10%. People who ride motorcycles on a racetrack in Brazil are in the top economic tier. As we drove from the airport to our posh accommodation, we saw vast slums that served to remind us upon whose backs this economy rides.


Some of the things that go along with this are a bit surreal to a Norte Americano. D?cio?s cars are bullet-proof. This is not eccentric paranoia; there is a whole industry in South America based on kidnapping members of moneyed families for ransom. We heard of one family that has had 27 family members kidnapped over time. Kidnappers don?t hold out for extremely high stakes; the demands are typically low enough to be a trivial decision to buy the safe return of a family member. Thus, the industry thrives.


As far as I could tell, tourists aren?t at much risk for kidnapping, but there are some places you don?t want to go. In some areas of the city, bandits will throw a tourist on the ground and rifle through his pockets. There is no real safety in numbers, as the bandits have lots of friends. If not, one guy with a gun can be persuasive too.


Not that any of us experienced this first-hand. We were too busy getting sand on our tongues at the beach. Brazilians seem quite proud of their women, as well they should be. The bathing suit of choice for women is a variant of the bikini, called a tanga. The tanga is a very attractive garment that has the secondary benefit of being quite economical. You can make about three of them out of an ordinary dinner napkin and a roll of dental floss.


The next morning, we went to the Nelson Piquet raceway to get oriented. When we arrived in the vicinity, our first impression was of a high, bleak concrete wall encircling the place. The facility was very prison-like in appearance and the image was heightened by the presence of armed guards at the gate and throughout the premises.


The track was first constructed in 1975 and was rebuilt in 1995. The layout was very fast and the pavement looked wonderful. Crews were on the track cleaning it and painting the curbs in preparation for the Brazilian round of MotoGP. The scenery from every angle of every corner of the track was breathtaking.


We did off-track drills with the students that afternoon, which laid a good foundation for the next two days of on-track instruction. D?cio had provided three translators; one translated Keith?s classroom briefings, one was at course control in the event they needed to talk with a rider and one was in the hot pit to translate conversations when instructors pulled students off the track. It worked very well.


The mix of students included moto-journalists from the top four motorcycle publications in Brazil, a few current racers and some enthusiasts. Everyone was very eager to learn and most students were unfamiliar with the topics we teach. Still, some of the guys were pretty fast to begin with and doing reasonably well in their racing.


Students did a nice job with our drills and some of our techniques and material were quite dramatic to them. The one thing everyone kept saying was how shocked they were at how fast our instructors turn their motorcycles. To varying degrees they all learned to flick their bikes faster, but this was a very new concept to most of them. Another drill that occurs late in the first day focuses on getting riders to relax on the bike. At a point in the day where riders are beginning to tire, this is typically a popular exercise. On-track instructors ride with students during that drill, modeling a relaxed posture and pantomiming loose, relaxed arms by flapping their elbows as they corner.


As usual, every student improved, but some of the results were stunning. One racer came to the school in hopes of improving his times by 2 or 3 seconds; he finished the second day running times 9 seconds faster than his previous fastest, most desperate race lap! He wouldn?t stop grinning. It would be fascinating to see his next race; his competitors are going to wonder what the heck got into him.


For our part, we found the track very entertaining. It was partly the sheer speed; most of the corners are fast and the back straight is the longest on the GP circuit at over 1000 meters. The MotoGP bikes will be hitting over 200 MPH on that straightaway. Even our 600?s were hitting the rev limiter in top gear.


While the pavement had seemed perfectly smooth when we were puttering around, at speed some turns were quite bumpy. The grip levels seemed good when the sun was out, but in the shadow, the grip went off. I?ve read since returning home that the course is not renowned for its high level of grip. Anyway, it made fun riding for us and the upcoming MotoGP will be outrageous.


On the morning of the second day, one of James? students had a bee fly into his helmet. He was in turn eight or nine and suddenly had this critter buzzing around in front of his eyeballs for the remainder of the lap. He sat up on the bike and started to freak out a bit, death-gripping the bars and wobbling around. Who should happen by at this moment but James, who saw all the shenanigans and decided he?d better help the guy out. He passed the rider, got his attention and started flapping his elbows, ?Loosen up, dude!?


D?cio punctuated the event at the end of the second day of classes with a party. Before he let any of the instructors start drinking, he had us each answer a brief interview question for national TV. I think he was wise to do things in that order, now that I have seen how we all behave drunk. Everyone was included in the party. Between the track workers, paramedics, officials and riders, most socio-economic groups were represented. We all participated in group photos and festivities, and it meant a lot to all of us to have contributed something to this event. Students, support staff and instructors, all went to dinner afterward to celebrate well into the night. We indulged in everything you might expect from people who know they have absolutely no obligations the following day.


Indeed, we awoke around noon and ambled down to the beach to get a little more sand on our tongues, body surf and drink coconut milk out of coconuts while lying in the fine, white sand. Later, D?cio?s good friend Mario took us on a driving tour of one of the local mountains. It wasn?t until we were high on the mountain looking out over the vast city that I really understood how amazing Rio de Janeiro is. The scale is immense, the layout beautiful and the geology bizarre. Huge granite batholiths rise out of the shoreline to heights of over 2000 feet. These break the city into segments, so it isn?t possible to see the whole city from any part of the city itself. Keith may have said it best when he said, ?This is like San Francisco on steroids.? It?s an apt description from both the standpoints of the difference in scale and geographical relief.


On our last day, we decided to go shopping. Some of us were under orders to bring something home. Requirements included: Must be Brazilian, must not be a tanga. That?s OK, none of us guys were any too eager to be seen in the local Speedo-thingy the men wear. We ended up in the largest mall in South America. In many respects, this could have been any large mall in the US. One of the few remaining clues that we were still in Brazil was the presence of many stunning Brazilian beauties. As we strolled through the mall, James risked whiplash time and again. Sometime later, we noticed that the girls in various shops were making a sport of watching men watching women. Whatever else you can say about Brazil, it makes no pretense of being gender-neutral about anything.


That afternoon, we said our goodbyes and began the long trip home. I?ve had most of a week since to reflect on the warmth and genuineness of everyone we met, the enthusiasm and gratitude of our students and the grace, thoroughness and thoughtfulness of our hosts. It was a special and memorable trip in which we were treated to many wonderful things and got to provide a few Brazilian students with the best rider training on Earth.


Andy Burnett

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  • 2 weeks later...

Next Brazil school, could be as early as September, won't be at Rio, will be at another track further south, Curitiba (not sure if that's the correct spelling).


They are for sure working gung ho to get school started down there.


Now Andy's summary was very nice, but a few things that didn't end up in there. One was "how many caparineas does it take to make Andy truly jovial?" Caparinea is the Brazilian version of a margarita, and it's really good. Whatever the number, we achieved it. Or the fact that James (and the rest of us) needed chiropractic adjustments from strained necks.


It was an excellent trip, though the plane ride back seemed to take forever.




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