It’s pretty awesome when you can learn a subject directly from the people who wrote the book. Keith Code wrote the book “A Twist of the Wrist,” which is the book people suggest when taking a motorcycle to the track.
He also started California Superbike School 43 years ago and still runs it today alongside his son, Dylan. The school has visited over 117 tracks around the globe, so it’s fair to say this professional organization garners plenty of respect.
I’ve never been on a superbike or on any motorcycle at a racetrack. Heck, I’ve never worn a leather riding suit before.
With that said, I do have many miles around the globe atop adventure motorcycles. I also have a few thousand miles on public roads on sporty motorcycles and a good bit of track experience in cars.
With some nerves — I generally like a roll cage around me when going fast on a race track — I attended two single-day courses at the California Superbike School at the Ridge Motorsports Park.
Day one was the Level 1 course, and day two was the Level 2 course. The key is that I kept the rubber side down, while also learning a ton about how to make a motorcycle perform.
Check out my experience in this installment of “In The Field” below, and keep reading for my takeaways from the school and how you can get on track as well.
California Superbike School: What You Can Expect
Think of the California Superbike School as a “Guided Experience” of how to properly and safely get the most performance possible out of a sports bike, with a focus on track riding specifically. While the school offers classes for nearly all skill levels, you will want to come to the program comfortable riding a motorcycle in general. This school isn’t about how to ride a motorcycle, but how to ride one well on a track.
Generally, you’ll be at the track from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. During that time, you will get breakfast and lunch, five 20-minute track sessions, and attend five classroom sessions.
Between sessions, you’ll get a quick debrief of your track time from your assigned riding coach, who is only working with two to three other riders. You’ll also get about 20 minutes to relax, rehydrate, and refocus before going back on track.
Each track session you’ll be working on a specific drill, as well as trying to pull all the other things you learned together. It’s not about lap times at all, but instead applying newly learned skills that will hopefully become new habits.
The California Superbike Experience
In the classroom, you’ll have instructors who are truly knowledgeable about the science behind how motorcycles and humans interact. You’ll learn lessons on the best practices to work in concert with the bike, while understanding your own physical and mental limitations.
This information is supplied through video, whiteboard diagrams, discussion, and interactive drills. So, no matter your learning style, you will be able to absorb the info.
Besides the classroom time, you’ll also spend time on bikes in the paddock getting hands-on instruction. This will happen with slow-speed exercises, stationary on-bike body position exercises, and special training bikes.
For these beginner classes, I spent some time on a lean bike. It’s basically a bike with outriggers that allow you to get into the proper corner lean position at slow speeds without falling over. A very good tool for quick learning.
You’ll also learn the track that you’re at, first through classroom discussions around a dry-erase map of the track. And then, by doing some slow-speed sighting laps around the track.
Track, Bike Details
The program I attended was The Ridge Motorsports Park, a 2.47-mile, 16-corner track with tons of elevation change and a wide range of corner styles.
The California Superbike Schol currently uses BMW S1000RR motorcycles for its track programs. The bikes are very powerful, but also extremely easy to ride. They have a host of electronic gadgetry that help keep you safe while you learn.
Do expect to be sore from this program. You will find your body in some new and awkward positions, and likely using some new gear. I got a super-crunchy neck, some blisters on my hands, a rub spot on my Achilles, and sore spots on the inside of my knees from pressing into the tank — all well worth it, though.
Top Tips From California Superbike School
Look, I’m not going to give away all the school’s secrets, but I will share with you some of the important lessons I learned and that the school teaches in-depth.
Vision: ‘Wide View’
A lot of the first two levels of instruction at the California Superbike School is about vision, and rightfully so. The old adage of “look where you want to go” is true for most activities.
Of course, the worst-case scenario is becoming target fixed on something not on your intended path. This is usually driven by fear and will make for a bad day. But of course, the school goes much deeper than that.
One key vision drill that really helped me was called “Wide View.” The idea is that your attention should be on the whole track, plus a little. This allows you to take in tons of information about any hazards that are not only in your path, but also next to you, entering the track, and way up ahead.
By having a wide view, the world also feels a bit slower. That offers a big help when you’re going quick and everything is coming at you fast.
One of the main goals for the Level 2 course is to “create smooth visual flow.” The key to this is to not jump your vision all over the place looking for danger, but instead establish a smooth visual pattern that leads you around the track on the right path.
“Create a trail of visual breadcrumbs that lead you around the race track,” instructors told me. By find reference points around the path you want to travel, and then smoothly move your attention through those points around the track, and you’ll find success.
To do this, you’ll first need to find your turn-in point, corner apex, and exit zone. Then you’ll start to connect the dots with your vision.
Smoothing out the connecting of the dots, instead of hopping from one to the next, is a major key to being fast and smooth on track.
‘Game of Speed & Direction’
Controlling a motorcycle is mostly about throttle, brake, and steering control — once you’re looking where you want to go, that is.
The very first exercise you do in the Level 1 program at the California Superbike School is “Throttle Control.” Instructors taught me about having a smooth constant roll on and getting off throttle to lean the bike/change direction.
The biggest cause of crashes is rolling on the throttle too soon. You only want to roll on the throttle when the lean angle is complete and the bike is on your intended line.
With that said, it takes 20-30% throttle before the bike actually accelerates. So, to go fast, you’ll need to slowly roll back into the throttle a bit as soon as you’ve set your lean angle and are going where you want to go on track. Then, roll into the throttle more aggressively once the bike is mostly upright and headed out of the corner.
To turn the bike on track, you want to add counter-steer pressure to the handlebars. More pressure to get more lean, but not abrupt pressure changes.
You can push and pull at the same time to add more pressure. Once you’re at the lean angle you want, you can release the pressure off the bars and the bike will hold the angle and line you set.
When you brake, it compresses the front shocks. When you let off, it rebounds. You want load on the front tire to get the bike to turn in, so trail the brakes off slowly — 1 to 2 seconds of linear release when practicing — to keep the suspension compressed until the force of the corner compresses the shock and you don’t need brakes any longer.
One of the hardest things for me to get right was a proper riding position. Luckily for me, though, I didn’t have any bad habits to break, as I have very little experience on this style motorcycle.
Even after some great instruction, I’m still no expert on body position on the motorcycle. But here are a few tips that helped me get way better quickly.
First, get your elbows low and lock onto the bike with your knees and the ball of your feet. This combo allows you to relax your arms and turn more easily with better leverage. Ideally, you’re pretty weightless on the bars.
To turn, lock your outside leg onto the bike with your knee and ball of your foot, with a calf flex to lock in, after you’ve first moved about half a butt cheek to the inside of the turn. Also, set up early for a turn, or as my instructor told me, “Move your ass before off the gas.”
There were two other tips I tried to always remember when on track. The first one was to have a “sad back” when on the bike. Basically let your back slouch, versus being tight and upright. This helps keep the tension out of your arms and with aerodynamics. The second tip was to get your head forward and inside of the turn — usually getting your chin over the inside edge of the windshield.
And a personal tip from me: I had a lot of neck pain on day one. To alleviate this, instructors told me to not worry about having my eyes level with the horizon. Just keep your eyes up and pivot your head without lifting your chin. For sure easier said than done, but it will help a ton.
Drag a Knee
Here’s a revelation for me (and I’d guess many others): Dragging a knee is cool and a useful tool, but the idea is not to lean the bike over very far, but instead keep the bike as upright as possible.
The further the bike is leaned over in a corner, the more the suspension has to travel when going over bumps. So, if you can get your body out over the side of the bike, in a knee-dragging position — while keeping the bike relatively upright — the bike can handle imperfections in the road surface better and stay planted.
Not only does this allow you to corner faster and in control, but also to accelerate harder out of the corner.
Pay for a lap time package, which is cheap at only $20. But don’t look at your times until after your program is done.
At least for the entry-level programs, it’s really important to focus on the drills and being safe on the track, and not worry about shaving time off your laps. Progression and skill-building are the keys, not lap times.
It is very fun to see your times afterward, though. I managed to shave 19 seconds off my lap time from session 1 on day one to session 4 on day two. Session 5 on day two, I was too tired and slowed by 2 seconds, off my fastest lap.
The Key to a Great Experience
The key to having a great experience and learning a ton at any performance driving school is to come into it with an open mind, no ego, and a focus on learning over going fast. Speed will come with knowledge and experience.
Build up your speed progressively as you get comfortable on the equipment, on the track, and with the new skills you’re learning.
The next most important things you’ll want to bring with you to the California Superbike School are a baseline of good fitness and being well-rested. Making a motorcycle perform on track will take some muscles you might not be used to using and will take a lot of focus and mental energy.
And don’t forget the calories and electrolytes! To stay alert and focused throughout the days of school, make sure you hydrate and snack continuously. I can’t stress enough how much good hydration will play a role in your success.
Oh, and be sure to use the break periods to relax and turn off your brain for a few minutes. On track, your brain needs to be firing on all cylinders.
Get on Track: California Superbike School
While no track schools are inexpensive, I think the pricing for the one-day California Superbike School classes is one of the best values in performance driving/riding out there. For well under $1,000 ($825 in 2023), you get a full day of on-track riding and training, on a top quality bike — just show up and ride.
All riding gear is only $75 more, if you don’t have your own. For a bit less ($200 less in 2023) you can bring your own bike to use at the school as well.
The 2-day classes might even be a better value, as they offer more individual instruction, video analysis, and more track time than the single-day courses while teaching the same curriculum. They do cost a bit more, though.
With 10-ish tracks on offer all across the U.S. — and more on offer in the U.K. and Australia — operating nearly year-round, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to schedule a program with the California Superbike School. I highly recommend it, and plan to go back myself for further rider development.