Why? Well, people in the know will say that training is a good thing. You can apply it to any bike so it
stays with you for life and the fastest bike doesn't always win. Well, quite often it does but thats usually
because the best rider's on it too. So, in order of importance then, this is how the budding racer
should spend his/her money (and yes I know this is subjective):
4) Race exhaust & fueling sorted (jetting)
5) Everything else - blue printing, porting, cams, brake upgrades, lightweight wheels etc etc
Now, before anyone gets upset, heres the theory. If you buy a brand new bike, run it in and take it to the track and log your best time, which of the above 5 will give you the best time improvement per £? So, the above assumes that the bike is functioning perfectly and that you aren't Valentino Rossi. Happy?
At a trackday earlier in the year Simon Knowlson followed me and gave me some tips and I couldn't believe how much they helped. Ian Wiltshire, who's in Oz, saw this picture and mailed me to correct my body position, in particular where my foot was. Again, I've been following his advice since and found an improvement. So these things helped me to decide to look into more training.
I have Keith Codes "Twist of the Wrist" video and also have the "Twist of the Wrist II" book. Personally I think the book is better, although I find the bold text rather annoying (flick through it and you'll see what I mean). Both, though, had things that I found useful, even if I didn't always apply them (shutting the throttle mid-corner still being something I do far too often). Anyway, as I felt I'd got something from these I got in touch with Andy Ibbot at the California Superbike School(CSS) and booked a school. Now, everyone starts at Level 1. There's no way to fast track it as the school wants to make sure everyone understands the basics before they move onto the next level. Also, they take notes and build on these as you go. It was a bit far to drive there, ride and drive home again so I stayed at Laundimer House, a B&B a few miles from the circuit. Lovely place, they spoil you with cake and chocolates in your room and its a remote farm house so I felt safe leaving the van/bike etc all there overnight.
I don't want to go into the CSS course specifics, buy the books or attend the school if you want to get better, but I'll try and give an idea of what you get for your money. You have 5 track sessions. Preceeding each session you have a classroom session where Andy explains what you will be working on. He doesn't just tell you, he questions you to make you think and try and get you to understand what it is you will be doing and why. He's quite funny too.
Next, you head out on track. An instructor will be monitoring your progress and there are three pupils to one instructor. But, the instructor covers three groups. So when you come in you have a few minutes to get some feedback from him then he's back out working with his other three students. Whilst out he may give you some hand signals and he may ask you to come into the pits to explain something. My instructor was Paul Debnam, seemed like a nice guy and was easy to talk to.
One of the things the books tells you is that you learn best when riding at 70-80% of your ability. This is where I had a slight problem. Level 1 drills involve using 1 gear, no brakes and following a racing line. I'm fairly confident that when Valentino Rossi is riding his RCV at 75% of his ability he's going a fair bit quicker than me on my FZR. So I kept catching other students on the way into bends. There's also an 8 feet rule (no nearer than 8 feet between you and another rider at all times - a very sensible rule). So, you ever tried to pass 5 bikes, all 8 feet apart, when you aren't allowed to change gear, not allowed to use your brakes and you should be on the same line? So I would pass some bikes, sometimes but when I caught a group I'd either hang back or ride slowly through pit lane to make some space.
Now, I'm not fast, but I'm not slow either and one of my biggest racing flaws is I'm hopeless at overtaking. I was also having trouble doing the drills so slowly, all the naturalness of my riding was going to pot as I was going at 50% of my ability. To put this in perspective, I was trying to set a speed for a bend that I would take significantly faster with a different body position pretty much every time I rode it apart from today. It just felt weird. I was really uncomfortable on right hand bends, even when there was no-one around so I asked Paul about this and he said "we cover body position on level 3". I'm usually comfortable on lefts and rights so something was up but as we weren't working on that today I was supposed to ignore it, as they don't want you thinking of too many things in one go.
Paul did call me in to say that I was adjusting position too late so to try doing it earlier and that made a massive difference to my riding. He also asked me to follow him for a bit and we went significantly faster than I had been on my own and I felt so much more comfortable and able to focus on what I was doing, I guess I was nearer the 80% mark for those laps. He also improved my rolling on the throttle skills from the slower corners.
I won't claim that I was getting the drills right. In fact, I'd say that it was likely I was getting them wrong. But for me there were other areas that needed attention, things more specific to me. I would rather have had an instructor follow me for 5 laps, come in and have a chat about what I felt was good and bad and then get instruction, follow the instructor and go again. As it was, after each session you get a quick chat with your instructor about that drill, you then get in a class to be given a new drill and then you get assessed against that drill.
I did have a nice chat with the Dunlop man who advised that I bin my tyres when they turn blue. In terms of performance he suggested that my tyres would be at their best for around 50 laps and then performance would tail off. He also explained that, for example, the GP tyre would offer more outright grip than my RR tyre, but only if it was being used at the right temperature (which he suggested was in excess of 80 degrees). He also explained that in colder conditions the RR tyre may well outperform the GP tyre. All good stuff.
In the last session Paul came past and signalled I should tag on. This session is all gears and brakes and we did one fast'ish lap. I felt much more comfortable at this speed. Whether it was just because it's more like I'm used to or whether it was because I'd actually taken some of the skills taught on board is up for debate (I'd like to think a bit of both). I enjoyed that anyway.
Back at the van I was thinking through what I'd got from the day and whether it was money well spent and sadly I'd have to say no. I wish I had attended the school before I'd started racing, or even before I'd attended any trackdays. It is excellent training, great that it gets you thinking and its all sound stuff. Thing is, I've read it, watched it and don't think it meets my needs where I am now. That might sound cocky but I reckon that drills 1 to 4 could be covered in one session for club racers, going back over parts they aren't doing properly. I'd like more specific training based on my shortcomings and I think you have to get to level 4 for that, which at £300 a level makes it a bit pricey for a tight-ass like me.
What this does do (in my opinion) is highlight that there is a gap in the market for club-racer training. Club racers are generally a poor bunch, spending all their money on race entries and tyres let alone anything else. If Ian was here I would rather pay for him to come to Mallory on an ACU open day and do some 1 to 1 or even 1 to 2 coaching. So I think before next season starts I will 'interview' some of the faster guys and maybe ask them if they'll help me out.
However, this is only MY OPINION, so don't say I said it wasn't any good because that just aint true. Buy the books, CD's, DVD's, videos and even do the school. Theres a lot of good stuff in there its just the level 1 day didn't meet my expectations. I'm sure if I could afford the £900 for levels 2 to 4 I might change my mind so if any millionaires (or magazine editors!) read this and want to sponsor me through it, please mail me.