Wednesday, 19 April 2017

California Superbike School

It's been nearly 6 months since I completed California Superbike School (CSS) level 1.

Time enough for the after affects to bed in and for me to be able to come away with a solid idea of what's what.

It has taken some time for the experience to sink in and for the learnings and drills to become reference memory rather than a focal point. That is to say - I can now reflect on what was taught and execute as needed rather than deliberately try to practice each technique. This last statement is important, read on. 

The content, the instructors and the students: 

CSS runs like clockwork - you'd be hard to find fault in the operating rhythm. 
Instructors are a calming mix of approachable, yet firm - allowing pupils to put their trust in their mentor. 

The day begins with bike scrutineering followed by an introductory theory session in a classroom full of like minded motorcyclists - eyeing each other with a mixture of nervousness and anticipation. 

The diversity is amazing, riders from all walks of life with various backgrounds and vastly different levels of skill. Diversity is one of the most resounding themes with motorcyclists; never expect anything. 

While surveying the room you'll no doubt catch eyes with a repeat CSS student - a level 3 or 4 perhaps (achievement unlocked) - who'll respond to your skittishness with a knowing and sympathetic gaze, as if to say: "Yep, you're shitting yourself now - it's OK mate."

CSS level 1 is broken into 5 theory components, each with a corresponding on track session to practice the drill. The complexity of each technique builds sequentially throughout the day, and it is a long day. Be prepared and well rested - this will fatigue you both physically and mentally - I guarantee it. 

Each drill is closely related to the Twist of the Wrist content and the syllabus follows its mantras as expected. 

We line up for the first session, the location? The World famous Phillip Island MotoGP facility.......oh man, my loins are tingling......yep - definitely shitting my pants now. 

Drill 1 - Throttle control - No brakes, 4th gear only:

The intention of the throttle control drill is to remove distraction and understand that the job of the rider is to 'stabilise the bike' - where the throttle is the primary control impacting this task. 

Getting on the throttle early and rolling on smoothly increases traction and stability by letting the chassis do its job. And brakes? No brakes.

As our instructor drummed into us "if you can't get your speed right without the brakes and only 1 gear in use, how do you expect to get it right with them?"

Good point.

Drill 2 - Turn in point - No brakes, 3rd and 4th gears only:

It was surprising how much wider and later (deep) into a corner we were coached to turn in. It makes a huge difference to the rider perception of the corner and actually changes the aspect/profile of the corner itself. 

Drill 3 - Quick turn - Light braking, 3rd and 4th gears only:

Building on drills 1 and 2, the aim of the quick turn is to control speed and stability with the throttle before sighting a turn-in point - remaining light on the bars - then BAM! One deliberate and direct input to flick the bike over and into the turn.

Oh yes, that will do nicely. 

Drill 4 - Rider input - Light braking, gears 3, 4 and 5:

No surprises here - death grip bad, light on the bars good.
This drill starts the conversation around body position and how to carry your weight through you legs, locking to the bike.

But really, at level 1 - this session is more about letting you have another track session to begin consolidating what has already (hopefully) been learned.

Drill 5 - Two-step - Full braking and gears:

The Ah-Ha moment.
This drill is like sliding a precisely cut key into a well crafted lock. 
The tumblers and pins move about and align as the key snugs home. 

The two-step binds drills 1 - 5 into a cohesive cornering technique by coupling throttle, turn-in point and vision into a fluid and more repeatable method of control. The two-step approach decreases the perception of speed and gives you more time to evaluate and execute the corner. 

Game on.

After affects and conclusions

At first I was keen to get out onto the road to practice what I had (should have) learned. But all was not well. 

CSS is very track focused and relies on you to be able to see clearly through corners and be able to rinse and repeat the process to hone the skills. This is not really how roads in the real world work: Sketchy surfaces, blind corners, debris, traffic, gravel, wildlife, cagers.......etc...

I was struggling to put into practice the drills as there was not a direct mapping or translation for something like quick turn, or two-step in the twisties on tree-lined roads with gravel washouts. 

Frustration was building. I was overthinking everything.
I was riding worse, more hesitant, less in tune with the bike - I felt like I was broken and couldn't ride anymore. 

So I did what most do - I pushed it harder.
And had some very real near misses I'd rather forget. 
One such incident pushing wide on exit on a tree lined road, hitting gravel and going off the road - I have no idea how I didn't go down other than I remember letting the bars go to do their thing and the bike remained upright.
Adrenaline and poo came out. 

For a time I wished I hadn't done CSS. My brain was full of track technique.

Fast forward to now. To a point where I have finally been able to take what works and realise that not all aspects relate to all situations all of the time - and I'm glad I did CSS. 

Will I do level 2? 
Yep - game on. 

......You've shit yourself, haven't ya mate? 


  1. Hey Mate, have you done anything to adjust throttle on your bike? I know the suspension will make a major difference for control and trust in the bike, but after a single track day (which will be a lot less than your school) and a year of commuting I'm convinced my throttle is a switch and not a dial. I haven't done any of the popular US-based ECU flashes as they don't use our same MT-09 ECU nor do they use the same fuel. If you haven't done your throttle how do you trust rolling on and off?

    1. Hi Mate, thanks for reading.

      Other than the dashboard config of setting the CO level to +14 across all cylinders, I've done nothing else. However, if you have a 2015+ bike you can no longer access this setting.

      By setting CO higher (base value is 0) you are increasing the amount of carbon-monoxide which is accepted by the sensors, this allows the bike to run richer at low RPM and helps to smooth throttle transition. It's not perfect but it helps.

      If you have any more questions just shout out.

  2. I attended CSS three times as well as the old Freddie Spencer school. I think the solution you need for road turns is delicate trail braking all the way to the apex or until you determine the turn is safe, before you go to maintenance throttle. The discipline of trail braking is critical for street survival.
    NICK IENATSCH great experienced instructor for surviving on the street.

    1. Some very good advice there - thank you!

  3. As always a cracking no BS review. I'll be attempting this in the new year (2018) when $$ permits. The one take away from the CSS course is you really get to see how your bike handles at speed and on a track. How did the 09 handle PI?


    1. Thanks for reading and the kind words Juz.
      The MT09 was fantastic on the track, plenty of power and agility.

    2. Nice .. I look forward to the next around the bay trip! Someone time in Summer when it's nice n hot.

    3. Sounds good mate.
      You'll have the MT-10 by then, yes?

  4. Not sure on what bike.. Toss up between the S1000R, Street Triple RS or the MT-10 SP.. From all accounts the MT-10 is thirsty though and doesn't have great tank range.

  5. Nice article. Exactly what I wanted to know before my CSS1 coming sept. Thanks