Jen interviews motorcycle education guru Keith Code about the importance of riding school.
When I talk about my motorcycling history, I often say I’m "lucky" because I dropped my bike within the first two weeks of owning it, and subsequently I had a very quick Come-to-Jesus on the realities of motorcycling. Within a month, I was back in a parking lot course taking additional MSF rider’s classes to continue getting feedback on my riding. A few years have passed since then, and I’ve continued to participate in motorcycle schooling. I love it! Yet, I find that I’m in the minority. I get it - motorcycle schools are expensive. Many riders say experience is a better teacher than anything. We take riding personally and often don’t want to take criticism from someone else. But I can tell you as a rider who continually seeks out educational opportunities, with the right program you can progress more in one day with instruction than you did in one year just riding. But why take my word for it?
I decided to ask two former racers and professional motorcycle instructors what they think about the subject. In the first of this two-part series, I interviewed Keith Code, the legendary racer, author of the worldwide standard Twist of the Wrist book and DVD series, and creator of famous California Superbike School. The school has taught over 150,000 riders and can boast training many world class champions with Keith’s techniques. The website shows a wealth of really fascinating training bikes, in conjunction with BMW S1000RRs that the schools rent out. If you’ve ever wondered about track school and how to become a better rider, Keith has some pretty good advice ...
Why should riders take a motorcycle school?
Keith Code: Because motorcycle riding is, probably, the most multi-tasking activity that a human can engage themselves in, and it is important to both understand some of the science and some of the art of how to ride. Understanding what is important to observe and not important to observe can come from a vast experience of riding. However our experience is when riders experience the true fundamentals of riding motorcycles, they make huge improvements. Even those that have ridden over a million miles.
All a rider has to do is look at their own areas of uncertainty, at those moments when they do not feel 100% confident on the motorcycle. The question I would ask is, "Would you like to handle that? How would it be if you didn't have that uncertainty? How would it be if you didn't have that lapse in your confidence, and you were focusing on business of riding the motorcycle rather than being worried about what's going to happen next, trying to anticipate what's going to happen to you?" When you know what the actual basics are, then you know what to put your attention on.
What skills would you learn that you might not from just general experience? How do your schools relate back to street skills?
Keith Code: When you ride a motorcycle, we have a tendency to ride what feels good. And what feels good isn't always correct. In many cases, it's exactly the wrong thing to do. So what can a rider learn? They can learn proper technique and technology of how to ride the motorcycle, and get good coaching on it so they can get to the bottom of their problems.
What I've tried to do over the last 40 years or so is break riding down into bite size pieces. It's easy to generalize and give people advice about riding. But when you get down to it, it's a technology. And what we know is that the motorcycle itself is built on technology, the roads that you ride on are built on technology, and how you relate with the motorcycle, there is a technology to it. Technology means there are specific actions that the rider needs to be able to perform when they ride their motorcycle. Having those broken down into their individual pieces makes it very easy to learn. With those under their belt, it turns riding into a completely different thing. It's super important to understand the basics. We have broken them down into 15 individual skills that we train on our levels 1-3. But that's really just scratching the surface of it.
READ MORE: How to Save a Motorcycle Slide | RideApart
How do I determine what school to take?
Keith Code: Well I think that comes down to parking lot courses or track schools. The advantages of track training are the obvious in that it's a closed road circuit with very few distractions. There aren't a lot of cars running around the race track, there aren't any intersections, there aren't running dogs or pedestrians, etc. The track can be considered a laboratory where you can isolate the rider's individual problems that they have, and be able to educate them on the correct technology on how to ride the motorcycle. I think the track is the best place to do that.
So, should a brand new rider come out to a track school? No, I don't think so. It's important for a rider to make some errors and to find that they aren't 100% confident in every aspect of their riding (Author's note: Keith later recommended to me that a rider gets a few thousand miles under his or her belt before hitting the track). It's better to have someone come out who's made the errors, than someone who hasn't made any errors. They (new riders) would like to have more confidence, that's for sure, but they haven't experienced those problems. So the more experience the rider has, the better it is when they come to a track school. For sure I know that's true for ours.
What can a rider do to get more experience if they are too new to attend a track school?
Keith Code: There are educational materials out there that people can read and videos to watch so people can learn to do it properly. And that's the least expensive way of going about it. A lot of the stuff on YouTube (laughs) is full of crap. I think it's important for people to get as much education as possible. The more education that a rider has had when they come to us, the easier it is for us to coach them.
I would recommend my own books and DVDs, because I know what went into them and I know what they have in them. The Twist of the Wrist books are standard around the world. It's in 9 languages, with 3 more languages working on translations. The first book came out 30 years ago, and the second book came out 20 years ago. It's kinda like "they're really old.” So is the information Sir Isaac Newton gave us back in the 1700s, but if you're an engineer and don't know that then you can't build anything. So old, in this case, is better than what's the newest-slickest-trickest-quickest technique that somebody comes up with. The new techniques have to sit on the real true basics, and I'm just really lucky to have had the inspiration to find what some of them are. I don't have them all, but I've got a few.
Can you attend a track day without going to track school? Would you recommend a track school with your first track day?
Keith Code: Yes, of course, lots of people do. They go to track days at various tracks around the country. It's a laboratory, so your errors and uncertainties actually come up much easier on the track. Plus it's so much fun to ride around the track, because you get to ride the same corners over and over again. It's got its own self-test in it. Quite a few of our students go out and do some track days, then see the problems they are having and they come to school. Then they go back to the track, and they are a lot better.
I think once they've had some road riding experience, coming to the school is going to make their first track day experience much better, productive, safer, and rewarding.
How do you know you have found a quality school to attend?
Keith Code: You have to do some research. Not all good riders are good coaches. That's true in any sport. If I wanted to improve my golf game, I wouldn't go to Tiger Woods. I would go to Tiger Woods' coach. It's true in many sports and many areas, the guys who are fantastic at it, they got it because they've been doing it for so long and coaching is a particular job. It's not the same job as being a good rider. It's got its own angles to it. It's an art form in its own, to be honest.
It's important to look at what the school does, what resources they have, at what they've accomplished as far as rider training goes. Certainly there have been schools that have really famous guys attached to them, and they went on and then they collapse. It's not just the name. You have to look a little deeper, talk to people who've been to the schools. For sure, with our school, most of our student recommendations come from other students who've already done the school. That's where 75% of our students come from. That's great for us because we don't have to advertise very much. It's a little bit of a research proposition, see what their websites says, does it looks like it lines up with how you learn?
So in conclusion, when it comes to taking your riding to the next level, consider a track school. The California Superbike School is an obvious choice, but many tracks also have track schools associated with them if you’re just looking for a place to get started. Often times, you don’t even need a sport bike to attend a track school or a track day – you can find plenty of YouTube videos where people track their Goldwings, F800GS, or other regular street bikes. Going to a school means having a professional watch you and give you input to make your track day go as smoothly as possible – so all those jitters in the back of your mind can fade away.
Photos from California Superbike School.
If you want more information about the California Superbike School, go here.
Have you been to track school? How has good coaching helped your riding?