Cal­i­for­nia Su­per­bike School

The Cal­i­for­nia Su­per­bike School (CSS) was every­thing I ex­pected and then some


We head to our favourite school to hone our rid­ing skills

MY EYES were glued to my phone’s screen, watch­ing “A Twist of the Wrist II” again as the aero­plane I was on flew to­wards Chen­nai. In a day I was go­ing to go to school and, per­haps for the first time in my life, I was ac­tu­ally look­ing for­ward to it!

The Cal­i­for­nia Su­per­bike School (CSS) was set up in 1979 by Richard Lovell and the le­gendary mo­tor­cy­cle rid­ing coach, Keith Code. The fol­low­ing year wit­nessed the first-ever CSS train­ing pro­gramme. Code was a mo­tor­cy­cle racer back in the day. Later in life, he re­al­ized that his true call­ing lay in coach­ing other riders. Af­ter break­ing down the art of cor­ner­ing into bite-sized chunks, Code be­gan his jour­ney to be­come a world renowned rid­ing guru. Now, 39 years old, CSS has re­turned for the eighth edi­tion in In­dia and this time as well Bike In­dia was a part of it.

An alarm pealed through the house in the wee hours of a Fri­day, con­sis­tent with any other school day. ex­cept, this time, there was no swear­ing or snooz­ing it be­cause I was al­ready out­side wav­ing good­bye to my sur­prised par­ents as I headed off to the race­track. If you think of it, at its core, CSS is just like any other school. you have to be on time, wear a proper uni­form (mo­tor­cy­cle gear that has passed scru­tiny), mark your at­ten­dance, and bring all your learn­ing in­stru­ments (a track-ready mo­tor­cy­cle and tons of en­ergy). How­ever, un­like the schools of my years past, this one did not have a grumpy teacher, nor did it have a bor­ing sub­ject and, most im­por­tantly, there were no threats to call my par­ents. Post reg­is­tra­tion, the stu­dents were split into three batches (white, yel­low, and green) of al­most 20 each, with yours truly grac­ing the green one. Gary Ad­shead, Chief Rid­ing Coach/Sem­i­nar­ist and our equiv­a­lent of a head­mas­ter, in­tro­duced us to the rest of his team and to the for­mat of the school.

Three days (or lev­els) were CSS’ equiv­a­lent of an aca­demic year and the syl­labus had three main top­ics — throt­tle con­trol, vi­sion, and mo­tor­cy­cle han­dling — that you had to mas­ter to er... grad­u­ate. While one batch at­tended the class­room, an­other en­joyed some rest and the third was out on the track. All of our class­room ses­sions were han­dled by Keith’s son, Dy­lan Code, Rider Coach/Project Man­ager. Af­ter we were sorted into batches, each of us was as­signed to an on-track coach who rode around the track with the stu­dents, show­ing pre­spec­i­fied hand sig­nals per­tain­ing to the drill we were prac­tis­ing. Later, they tailed their pupils, check­ing their progress. I was placed un­der the watch­ful eye of Nickos Tsouma­nis, a bril­liant rider who was fluid on the mo­tor­cy­cle and im­pec­ca­ble in in­struc­tion. Af­ter ev­ery track ses­sion, I would roll into the pits to find him wait­ing for me. We would then

have a de­brief about my rid­ing for the ses­sion. Some­times in great de­tail; iden­ti­fy­ing my weak­nesses and how to work on them.

Day One

We be­gan the day with a re­minder that five of the six con­trols on a mo­tor­cy­cle were used to reg­u­late its speed (throt­tle, two brakes, clutch, and the gears), while the han­dle­bar changed its di­rec­tion. A rider’s fear of speed, lean an­gle, lines, road sur­face, and trac­tion stems from his lack of com­mand over the throt­tle. We were briefed about how the mo­tor­cy­cle be­haves un­der dif­fer­ent lev­els of throt­tle in­put. For ex­am­ple, a mo­tor­cy­cle’s rear sus­pen­sion ex­tends un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion. Sounds in­cred­i­ble, does it not? ea­ger to put sim­i­lar new-found knowl­edge to test, we headed out on to the track. The ‘fourth gear-no brakes’ for­mat made sure that I had to rely on throt­tle con­trol to get me through the cor­ners. While lead­ing me around the track, my coach would raise or lower his left fist to tell me how he was us­ing the throt­tle with his right. Mim­ick­ing his tim­ing, it was not long be­fore I ac­quired a smooth roll-on. For fully mas­ter­ing throt­tle con­trol, al­ways re­mem­ber this ba­sic rule: “Once the throt­tle is cracked open, it has to be opened evenly, smoothly, and con­stantly through the re­main­der of the turn.”

The re­main­ing four ses­sions of the day pre­pared us for faster and finer han­dling of our mo­tor­cy­cles. For the sec­ond drill, we were shown how to choose turn points for a cor­ner. The coaches had marked Xs on the track, mark­ing the points where we should turn our mo­tor­cy­cles. This drill was fol­lowed by the “Quick Turn­ing” ex­er­cise wherein it was es­tab­lished be­yond doubt that the best way to ac­cu­rately steer a mo­tor­cy­cle is counter-

steer­ing. For the fourth ses­sion, we were taught the nu­ances of rider in­put and how cru­cial it is for the rider not to up­set the nat­u­ral ten­dency of the mo­tor­cy­cle to bal­ance it­self. to em­pha­size the point, my coach rode ahead of me and flapped his arms while tak­ing a cor­ner. the fi­nal ses­sion of the day, “two-step turn­ing”, en­abled me to get over my fear of en­ter­ing a cor­ner at high speed by break­ing down my vi­sion into two easy steps. By the end of the ses­sion, my pho­bia was well on its way out.

Day Two

the sec­ond day also saw me rise be­fore the alarm went off and bolt for the race­track. post at­ten­dance, we as­sem­bled in the class­room, all prim and proper. the day be­gan with in­struc­tions on how to pick out ref­er­ence points. ref­er­ence points help you make friends with a cor­ner. once you have picked out at least three (turn point, apex, and exit), you have to en­sure that you look from one to the other pro­gres­sively and not flick your eyes from one to the next. pop­u­larly known as the “lazy eyes” tech­nique, it en­ables you to map out your line visu­ally.

For the sec­ond drill, we were asked to ex­plore the width of the road by rid­ing on one side of the track for a lap and then on the other side for the fol­low­ing lap. I kept to both ex­tremes of the track for a cou­ple of laps, some­times rid­ing on the bumpy kerbs. when I re­sumed nor­mal rid­ing for the third lap, there was a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in my per­cep­tion of the track.

From there, it was a smooth tran­si­tion into the “Three Step” drill, an evo­lu­tion of the fi­nal drill from the pre­vi­ous day. We were briefed about dif­fer­ent cor­ners and sce­nar­ios and how to ad­just our vi­sion for each one. Once past this mile­stone, we were taught the skill of “Wide View”, an ab­so­lute must for both road and track rid­ing. Tar­get fix­a­tion and nar­row vi­sion are two of the main rea­sons why peo­ple crash. With a wider view, the rider gets more time to re­act to a sit­u­a­tion and this re­sults in smoother, more com­posed move­ments on the mo­tor­cy­cle.

Hav­ing taught us all there was to the vi­sion as­pect of mo­tor­cy­cle han­dling, it was time to head into the first ma­chine­han­dling drill, the “Pick Up”. The idea be­hind the ex­er­cise is sim­ple: you get max­i­mum power to the ground when your rear wheel is up­right as com­pared to when it is leaned over. Fur­ther­more, it is much safer to wring the throt­tle when your rear tyre has a larger con­tact patch.

Day Three

The last day of school fo­cused on the finer tech­niques of ma­chine han­dling. Post a quick re­vi­sion of the pre­vi­ous days’ drills, we were in­tro­duced to “Hook Turns”. To ex­e­cute the hook turn, you have to drop your el­bow and head close to the han­dle­bar and send weight for­ward. This helps to tighten your line through a cor­ner. Ini­tially, I was scep­ti­cal, for I be­lieved I would lose the front if I put my weight on it, but when I tried it dur­ing the track ses­sion, I was pleas­antly sur­prised that this trick worked. The next drill was about how to steer the mo­tor­cy­cle while en­ter­ing high­speed cor­ners. We were shown how hav­ing the arms par­al­lel to the tank of­fered more lever­age than grab­bing the bars at an an­gle. A firm push on the in­side bar and then re­lax­ing both arms while open­ing the throt­tle smoothly saw me power out of cor­ners faster than be­fore. Code’s tip on us­ing the out­side foot-peg to ex­ert pres­sure on the tank worked for me and I was more sta­ble on the mo­tor­cy­cle while cor­ner­ing.

The next cou­ple of drills were fun and re­quired a lot of fo­cus. The “Knee to Knee” and “Hip Flick” helped me get rid of any in­sta­bil­ity I had on the mo­tor­cy­cle pre­vi­ously. For the last ses­sion of the school, we were taught how to de­ter­mine good “At­tack An­gles”. Tak­ing the ex­am­ple of the turn points drill we had done ear­lier that week­end, Code showed us how to ap­proach a turn point in or­der to get the fastest line out of the cor­ner. ea­ger to prac­tise this new coun­sel, I headed out on to the track. Af­ter a cou­ple of failed at­tempts, I slowed down and did the drill pa­tiently, im­ple­ment­ing every­thing they had taught me over the past three days. Soon enough, there was a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in my rid­ing. My coach, who usu­ally ap­pre­ci­ated my ef­fort with a thumbs-up sig­nal, over­took me and burst into a vol­ley of air punches and un­der the hel­met I was beam­ing. Soon he dis­ap­peared from view, leav­ing me to en­joy the last few laps. I prac­tised and per­fected every­thing I had learned; gain­ing more con­fi­dence with each cor­ner.

For all you riders and mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­asts, if you want to learn and hone your rid­ing skills safely, this is the place to be. As for me, I have moved this to the top of my list of favourite schools.

“Once the throt­tle is cracked open, it has to be opened evenly, smoothly, and con­stantly through the re­main­der of the turn”

Fresh from class, we line up for a track ses­sion

Coach hud­dle in progress

Stand­ing in a queue for reg­is­tra­tion

Eas­i­est way to go down on one knee

Nickos Tsouma­nis (cen­tre) helps me an­a­lyze my mis­takes

By the end of the sec­ond day, I was more sta­ble while ex­it­ing cor­ners

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