Two Days Ago
I showed up at the MMST, greeted by uncharacteristically pleasant weather. It was warm, but not life-threateningly hot as it usually is. I’m here for the California Superbike School brought to India by Preethi. And this edition is even more special – Andy Ibbott, Darren Sweetman, Steve Brouggy and Dylan Code among others have come down, the first time riding coaches from CSS around the world have come together for a track school. I wandered off towards a few cars that had just pulled up. Among all the new faces, I saw a familiar one; one that I recognised from the Twist of the Wrist books and videos that are imprinted on my brain – Keith Code himself. Another day, another idol.
Two Days Later
Again, it’s almost perfect riding weather. Right knee dragging, the world is blurring past at an insane angle. Going as fast as I dare through C5, I feel almost blessed; the gods of motorcycling are smiling indulgently upon me. I wind open the throttle perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. Then, with a sound that instantly reminds me of Batman’s two-wheeled contraption burning rubber in The Dark Knight, my R15’s much-abused and frayed rear tyre loses traction, throwing me headlong into the first proper powerslide of my life.
Had it happened only two days ago, I wouldn’t be recollecting scenes from Christopher Nolan’s excellent movie, but sweeping the track with my own tumbling physical self. The difference is, just yesterday I’d seen Keith straddling a chair and explaining the Pick Up technique and later practised it on track with coach Darren Sweetman’s eagle eye observing my every move. That was among the many things Keith and his merry band of instructors taught us at Levels I and II of the CSS. And it seems, given the fact that I didn’t crash, I even managed to learn a few things. Things that every motorcyclist must be made aware of. Two wheels deserve two lines, even if they are by someone as poetically challenged as I am.
Throttle control and no brakes drill
Just the right hand, no fingers though,
Settles your mind – smoother and faster you go
Riding around the track in one gear without brakes. Once steering input is applied, the throttle is wound open smoothly, evenly and progressively throughout the remainder of the turn. No, not at the apex as I used to earlier. This drill helped me home in on the correct corner speed on a stable motorcycle as opposed to barrelling into a turn under hard braking on a squirming motorcycle. I realised that the throttle stabilises the bike more than any other method of rider input.
You want to turn; what point’s best?
With closed throttle, choose the deepest
Turn point – it’s the point from where it’s easiest to aim your bike at the apex. The deeper the turn point, the straighter your line through the corner, the faster you go. I found that
a straighter line usually means a later apex, much later than I previously believed. It was only the fear of running off the track that used to make me turn earlier than needed.
Push the inside ‘bar, quick and hard
The deeper you go, greater the reward
Countersteering – we’ve all been doing it. Practising quick turns made me more aware of it. I found that a conscious and precise steering input is way better than a vague action that I was used to performing almost unconsciously. Again, it was only fear of crashing that had prevented me from trying this out all along.
NOTE: While it is theoretically possible to wash out the front with a hard shove, Keith has never seen it happen. Only, make sure you open the throttle right after you turn or it will happen!
Relax, let knees grip the tank,
If elbows are wings, you’ve got top rank
Relax. Now, I’ve learnt that I don’t need to throttle the ’bars (heh heh) in a corner. Being followed around the track, I was asked to flap my elbows in corners to see whether I was actually relaxed. I responded by flapping all around the track, lap after lap, even when I wasn’t asked to. Like everyone else, I too like relaxing. Later, I learnt to grip the tank with the outside knee in corners and both knees while braking – the lower body has greater strength than our arms. That immediately translates into relaxed and more compliant suspension. Relaxing combined with better understanding of throttle control has been my biggest gain at CSS.
Turn point; what’s next?
Train your eyes to hit the apex
This is all about training your eyes. Locate the turn point and look for the apex just before you hit the turn point. Start the turn once you see a perfect bullseye painted all over the apex.
NOTE: Always look where you want to go and don’t forget throttle control!
Any points – only ON the track
These are markers, to aim your bike at
Since your bike goes only where you look, where you look automatically becomes important. Reference points help you mark your bike’s position in advance, be it entry, apex or exit.
NOTE: Don’t look at that tree right next to the road.
Know the track, not just what’s under your wheels
You never know where you’ll end up
We were made to ride on the left side, on the right side and in the middle for one lap each. And just like that, I understood that I have enough and more space to ride on. We often tend to fixate on or limit ourselves to the parts of the road that we’ve used forever and neglect the unused parts. Once I’d realised this, I was calmer and found better ways around more than a few corners.
After Apex, the Exit you eye,
Then faster through the corner you fly
Yet again, it’s all about the eyes. Add ‘looking for the exit’ to the Two Step. Result? I was more confident and was able to open the throttle much earlier than I could before.
NOTE: It works superbly!
Peripherals, Entry, Apex, Exit
More you’re aware, the better you target
Tunnel vision-ing through turn points, apexes and exits gave me confidence. Being aware of these points, way before I got to them, gave me even more! Be more aware of your lines and surroundings.
NOTE: I think riding on roads like ours develops wide view almost automatically. Whether I was using it to its fullest advantage is another matter.
Pick Up Drill
Fix the exit, stand the bike upright
More rubber, grips the tarmac tight
This technique can be used for two things – to get better drive out of corners (like the MotoGP boys do) and to get better traction in low-grip conditions. Once you’ve located your exit point, pick up the bike while you’re still hanging off. More rubber equals more grip.
When all of these techniques are used in unison, as I’m trying to do every day, it all comes together quite beautifully; reminds me of how a motorcycle is more than just a sum of parts. What was even better was being in the company of Keith – he’s much like Albus Dumbledore, headmaster at Hogwarts – and his team of motorcycling wizards and the way they spread motorcycling knowledge. The way these techniques have helped me is nothing short of magic.
So what did I really learn at CSS? Well, I’ve had my fair share of scary moments. I’m not claiming two-storey highsides and 180-kph tankslappers, but they were scary enough for my limited abilities. The common thread was, they all left me on a motorcycle, consumed by that most crippling of human emotions – fear. CSS revealed to me that one can overcome fear by thinking about the things that one does on a motorcycle, and I believe that’s the greatest thing a motorcyclist can learn. Converting these techniques into skill, well, that can only come through practise. I hope I’m ready in time next year!
Who do we thank for bringing CSS to India? TT Varadarajan and his company, Preethi, that’s who. TT has been attending CSS in the USA for a while now and didn’t think twice before bringing CSS to India The second year of CSS in India was a fantastic success. Hopefully, they’ll make it a biannual event!