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Considering The Superbike School?

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There you are, trying to decide whether or not to spend what is, for most of us, a lot of money on a session at the Superbike School. “What am I, nuts?” you might be asking yourself. “Don’t I already know how to ride?” “This is going to cost me half of that new exhaust system I’ve been saving up for.”


Yes, it will. And if you do it right, it will give you much more speed on all bikes than that aftermarket exhaust will on your bike alone. It will make you safer and more confident on all bikes. I think the question you might ask is, “Do I want to invest in me, or in my bike?”


That’s a scary question. In a year or two, you might get half of your money back on the exhaust when you sell your bike. You won’t get a cent out of your investment in you. You have to be worth investing in, in order for the Superbike School to make any sense for you.


In 7 Superbike School classes to date, I have not met a single student that I thought made a bad investment decision. And this includes everybody from a recent motorcycle enthusiast, wife and mother who was initially terrified at being on the track, to people who are genuinely fast—way faster than most people who go rail-to-rail all the way up Mulholland from PCH to the Rock Store, or on the South Grade at Palomar, or for the full length of The Dragon.


“But,” you say, “if I buy the exhaust, I’ll have it forever. All my friends will know I’m cool. What will I have after the class?”


Great question. You will have invested in you. If you do this right, you will be a better rider—faster, safer, more confident, more in control of any riding situation life throws at you, whether on the track or on the street. You will have this forever. If you are worth anything at all, this is a far better investment than any go-fast accessory you could possibly buy.


What you get out of Superbike School depends a lot on how you take the class. I wasted my first class by going as fast as I could on the track, and trying to apply what the coaches and classroom instruction suggested when I could spare the attention. I have since seen other people get way less than they could out of the Superbike School experience the same way—and it really didn’t matter whether they were new to the sport or fast. Only in retrospect did I understand what I had missed, and decide to go back. Maybe I can help you get it right from the start.


In order to get the most out of what Keith has built into this program, you need to do one thing for sure. You might try a second thing, which I’ll discuss later.


The one thing for sure is that you need to ride slow enough that you can apply and evaluate what you are being coached and instructed to do on the track. I cannot emphasize enough that if you are frequently getting into your survival reflexes (SRs; see the Twist Of The Wrist Books), you will not learn what is being taught. No homo sapiens learns when he/she is amped on adrenaline—at that point, the rational mind is completely subverted in a mode where the body has the fastest possible reaction time and physical strength to cope with threats from 50,000 years ago. 50,000 years from now, when our distant ancestors have been “naturally” selected for survival on two wheels, SRs may be useful in motorcycle riding. But having your vision tunnel, your muscles tense up, and your capillaries shut down to prevent excessive blood loss when a velociraptor bites your leg off, aren’t going to help you when you are going wide in a turn, are they?


Stay in your head. Give yourself the ability to try what is being taught, and to evaluate the outcome. If you don’t have time or attention available while on the course to evaluate the results of your trials, you are not getting everything you should out of your investment. It’s worse than buying that race exhaust, and then not re-calibrating your fuel injection, because after you have paid your Superbike School tuition, driving at a pace that lets you evaluate what’s going on is free.


“Slow enough” can be very different speeds for different people—and that works out very, very well in the Superbike School. It is not just “O.K.” that different people will ride at different speeds in the school; it is a key part of the learning experience. The overwhelming probability in the school is that you will pass and you will be passed. Both provide great learning experiences, when rider/students approach the school in the right frame of mind. Slower riders provide faster riders an opportunity to study the art of passing in controlled, repeatable road conditions, but with different skill levels in the other rider. Faster riders provide slower riders an opportunity to see that there are new levels of skill and confidence to be earned. I have realized that both faster and slower riders are wonderful additions to the school experience, and I welcome all.


“Slow enough” means that you can focus intensively on what is being taught. Do the assigned exercise in every session—and don’t go a single mph faster than allows you that level of focus.


I also think you can ride too slow at the School. If you can always concentrate on the exercise, have plenty of time to evaluate what’s happening, and have attention left over—then you are not getting everything you could out of this experience. You cannot put “unspent attention” (see the Twist Of The Wrist books to understand what “spending your attention” is all about) in the bank. A dime of attention unspent at any point on the track is a lost opportunity to learn. (That goes for all life experiences!) Ride to stay out of your SRs, but ride to use all of your attention. (Don’t get me wrong here. You can’t learn when you can’t concentrate, whether lack of concentration is due to plunging into your SRs or being too fatigued or in too much pain. If you feel mental or physical fatigue to the point where your concentration might lapse, give yourself a slow couple of turns or a slow lap—or whatever is required to get back into your head.)


Now I’ll get to the advice I’ll offer for your Level 3 and Level 4 sessions. But it’s advice you should consider most carefully before accepting. A thing you might do in order to learn everything you can in the Superbike School is to occasionally, very deliberately, embrace touching your limits. And I very much do not mean going beyond them.


Perhaps this is a strange idea, and one I don’t think Keith’s books address explicitly. Here’s my thinking: Without question, the Superbike School program will improve your mechanical riding skills, tools and knowledge. You will find yourself becoming a faster rider, while being safer and scaring yourself less. This alone is great, and worth the tuition. But there is another aspect of this sport that deserves your consideration, because motorcycling is an inherently dangerous sport, with elements of risk outside your control. (When’s the last time you had a fordosaurus shift into your lane with no warning whatsoever? When’s the last time you carved around a perfectly familiar canyon curve and found a rock in your line?)


Beyond the mechanical skills of riding, there is the skill of staying in your rational mind, and refusing to give in to “survival” reflexes. This skill can be learned. I believe that part of the learning experience at the Superbike School can be occasionally, very deliberately, and in consultation with your coach, riding to the threshold of (i.e. just touching) your survival reflex trigger point. Learn what the onset of SRs feels like—when your body wants to take control from your mind— and learn to hold them off. Nobody can describe to you what SR onset feels like in your head. You need to experience the onset of SRs and learn to suppress them. (Alternatively, just stay well away from situations where your life might depend on dealing rationally with them. What are you thinking, riding that bike???)


For me, touching the edge once or twice per session is making sense. I can pick the times when I am not endangering somebody else, and when I can focus on the feeling of SR onset. If I touch the edge once or twice per lap, I’m not a good guy to be on the track with—either for you or for me. And being a danger to somebody else is not tolerated at the Superbike School!


Let me be very, very clear about this suggestion to occasionally, deliberately touch the threshold of your SRs. You do not need to ever touch the threshold of (let alone plunge into!) your SRs in order to learn to be in better control, or faster, or safer at the Superbike School. You will get all of these benefits without touching your SRs. Learning the skill of suppressing your SRs is not in the curriculum. But the Superbike School is an environment where this skill can be exercised, prudently, and where there are knowledgeable people to talk with about what you are experiencing.


Why did I recommend that you consider this advice for your Level 3 and 4 experiences, and not for your Level 1 or 2 experiences? In your first sessions with the Superbike School, you’ll be spending a lot of mental energy just learning the school routine, figuring out where the track is, evaluating the lessons, summoning the discipline to focus on the on-track exercises for 40 minutes at a time, learning that you can trust your life and well-being to your on-track coach and fellow students, etc. Many of you will be coping with your first or second time on a track, your first or second day in full leathers, and (if you’ve rented a School bike; see below) an unfamiliar bike. That is a lot of new experiences to cope with and integrate into your world-view! My strong recommendation is to focus on the given exercises and curriculum in Levels 1 and 2. You will find that much of what was new and distracting in your first two Levels has become familiar by Level 3. If so, you might want to allocate some of your attention to learning the skill of suppressing your SRs.


Let me summarize my suggestions this way: At every point on the track, and at every skill level, you can learn at most one thing at a time. Keith realized this fact years ago, and has designed the School to accommodate it. If you are focused on dealing with your SRs, you will not get what you should out of the exercises. In Levels 1 and 2, focus on (and ride at a pace to learn) the assigned exercises. Ride at a pace that demands your attention and challenges you, without driving you into your SRs. In Levels 3 and 4, occasionally, at times of your choosing and when it is not a danger to others, focus on learning the onset of, and the control of, SRs.


New Topic:


Are you pissed off that Keith won’t let you start with Level 2, or 3, or 4—because you are already fast? Are you deeply concerned that you might not be fast enough yet to be safe on the track? (I had both of these feelings when I was considering whether to sign up for Level 1!) Read on…


Here’s why you shouldn’t be pissed off with starting at Level 1: You will learn from it no matter how fast you are. The school does not teach you how to be fast, it teaches you how to be in natural control. But being in natural control enables you to be effortlessly faster, so you will get what you thought you wanted anyway. As an added bonus, you get safer. If you go to the school to learn, you will come away feeling that this has been one of the best investments you have ever made. If you go to prove how fast you are, you will leave with much less benefit—and very seriously humbled.


There are many reasons why you shouldn’t be concerned that you might not be safe on the track—assuming that you are reasonably comfortable handling the bike’s controls. First: The school is a controlled environment that is much, much safer (my opinion) than the streets or canyons. (Where else can you ride that the safety record is better than one serious accident in 1.5 million miles???) The Superbike School has a superb team of track marshals who watch out for everybody’s safety (and do not tolerate dangerous riding), the tracks are generally very safe with good run-off at the right places, and the on-track coaches are always there to help. Second, you will be shown around the track by a coach before you have to do it on your own. This is a very non-threatening first experience! Third, the passing rules are very generous to those being passed, and rigorously enforced, so that the person being passed never has to be concerned with the passers. Fourth, there is no minimum speed requirement. You do not have to maintain any pace faster than you are comfortable with. You will not be pressed to go faster, or resented by other riders for going at the pace you feel you need to go to be safe and learn. Fifth, all of the staff, and the vast majority of the students, are ***absolutely delighted*** that new people are coming into the sport, and will do whatever they can to make you feel welcome. Sixth, taking the Superbike School classes will give you a better chance of surviving on the street!


If you make this investment, you will like what you learn about riding and about yourself.


The fact of the matter is that riders from both ends of the experience range (and all those in between) co-exist very well on the track, in the Superbike School. What sounds like a potential recipe for disaster or boredom does not turn out to be so. It’s a richer learning opportunity for all. There’s always somebody faster, and slower, out there. Don’t be deterred by delusions of adequacy or inadequacy—just come with an open mind, a genuine desire to learn, and a recognition that you are worth investing in.


Another New Topic:


You might be wondering, “Should I bring my own bike, or rent a School bike?” This is a tough question to answer because of the different financial situations and learning goals of prospective students. I have a CBR 954, yet I rented the School bikes for the first 4 classes I attended, and am very glad I did. You do not need the brute power of a liter bike (or even that of a 400, for that matter) to “get” what’s being taught. In fact, brute power is counterproductive in many ways. A broad powerband and agility are the best bike characteristics to bring to this experience.


The bike rental seemed like quite a bit of money to me at first. But track riding is taxing on a bike, and you get very competent tires and tuning in a School bike. You don’t have to haul it there or back, or spin wrenches once you’re home. At the end of the day, you just walk away from it. All the rentals are late model Kawasaki 600’s, and they are very, very good bikes. The modern 600’s deliver more than enough power to get everything the School is trying to teach you. (Last class I was in, a very young rider on a 100cc race bike was doing quite well in the pack!) If you’re shorter than 5’6”, or not used to a bike weighing 400#, the Kaw 600’s may be a handful. But they have smooth throttles, brakes and suspensions, and it’s a simple truth that these bikes are at the same time lots of fun and very friendly to ride. (I also had a lot of fun experiencing the contrast between my CBR 954 and the Kaw 600’s) All in all, my recommendation is that if you don’t have a track-dedicated bike, and don’t have a compelling reason to get track experience on your personal bike, then renting one from the School makes a lot of sense.


On the other hand, if you want track experience with your bike, then do not hesitate to run it in the School. In the classes I’ve been in, students have ridden everything from serious race replicas to Harley roadsters. I recently bought a CBR600 for track days, and since then I have used my own bike at the school. (No, I still don’t have an aftermarket exhaust. Yes, I am faster now than if I had spent my money on the exhaust instead.)


Last Topic:


Should you do anything after your class, to get the most out of this experience? Oh hell yes! You can apply everything you learn to your everyday riding, and should do so. (If you are not determined to do this—to change your riding style to one of determined focus on applying what the Superbike School teaches, to one of determined focus to improve with every ride—then maybe you should buy that pipe instead.) Applying what you learn to your street riding, and building it into your normal riding patterns and responses, will increase the value of your next day at the Superbike School as well. And it just might save your life.


If you’re the type of person who can absorb knowledge from books (and you probably are, if you’ve read this far!), and can afford the Twist Of The Wrist books, then you should re-read them after every Superbike School day. You will get even more out of them after each School session than before, because you will have the context, experience and coaching to understand what Keith has written. You will also get a second perspective by reading these books, because Keith’s understanding of the “technology” of riding and how to teach it have evolved over the years since he wrote TOTW-1. Reading a description with a slightly different perspective on some lesson point often helps to clarify that point in your mind. Reading the books helps solidify your understanding of what you were taught and worked on.


Final Thought:


If you haven’t figured out why I’ve taken the trouble to write this, it’s pretty simple. I have had great experiences at the Superbike School. I have met a lot of really nice people there—both staff and students. I keep coming back (I’ll be taking my 5th Level 4 this Spring) because I still learn things in the School that I wouldn’t on my own. Coaching works! I’m safer, faster, in better control because of my School experience. I would feel great if any of you decided to try the School, or got more out of the experience, because of this letter.


I’d enjoy meeting you there.


-Eric Bott

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