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.
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.
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.
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