Jump to content

Superbike School - Level 2 at Willow Springs


Recommended Posts


Yesterday, I did Level 2 of Keith Code's California Superbike School at Streets of Willow Springs. I did Level 1 at Firebird just a few weeks ago, and I was really pumped about getting to try another track, and learn some more.


At the track, we checked in and were given our bike assignments. Since I felt I pretty much maxed out what I could do with the RT at level 1, I decided to do level 2 on the school's bike, the Kawasaki ZX6-R.


Now...I have basically no experience on sportbikes other than friends saying "Here's my new CBRYZFGixxer9000RRRRRRRR, go take it around the block." I had no idea how to sit on one and I certainly had no clue how it was going to do on the racetrack.


My first impression when I sat on the bike: "I feel like I'm gonna break this d*mn thing!" Seriously..I'm pretty sure my BMA tankbag loaded for a tour weighs more than this Ninja. And I'm supposed to trust this thing in the corners???


After our first classroom session, we set out for a couple of parade laps. I spent the whole time trying to figure out how to sit on this contraption. I knew I shouldn't have a bunch of weight on my hands, but I was having trouble fiddling around with the details of making that happen.


The track was mostly dry, with just a few patches of wet here and there. The first session on the track was 4th gear, no brakes. I did OK, except that this little bike accelerates pretty good, even in 4th gear at low RPMs. I was coming out of the turns on the gas, then I'd be too hot for the next, and I'd have to brake. I was red-flagged...for that and because they thought my autocom connector dangling out of my helmet looked like an unfastened chinstrap. The red-flag was interesting...I got it and gave them a big nod to let them know that I saw it. Then, about halfway around the next lap (you make a lap, then come into the hot pit when they red-flag you) my instructor passed me and motioned for me to follow. Crap...now what...do I follow him, or go to the hot-pit??? I followed him. The next lap, the red flag was again pointed at me, so I came on off into the hot-pit. There was some discussion about ignoring the flag, but everything was fine once I explained that I was just confused and not sure what to do since the instructor motioned to follwo him. Lesson learned...the flag takes precedence over all else on the track.


After that, I worked my throttle control more to keep the speed down. I had one more incident where I used the brakes. Turn 3 is tricky to learn...a big left-hander with 3 radius changes that starts out at the end of a downhill and turns to go back up the hill. We're supposed to be able to make this with one steering input, on one arc. I nailed it and was so pleased with myself that I was hot coming into turn 4...a really tight right-hander.


After the first session, my confidence was totally gone. I didn't feel good on the bike, I wasn't happy with my throttle control, and I was totally pissed at myself for coming into turn 4 hot and screwing up a pretty good lap by using the brakes.


The rest of the sessions kind of blurr together, so instead of a play-by-play, I'll just go over what I feel like I learned.


First of all, Level 2 is very different than Level 1. Level 1 is mostly about physical skills...push here, twist this, ride to this spot and turn, etc. Most of Level 2 is about visual skills, and that is much less tangible.


Vanishing Points:

Code talks about the vanishing point...the spot that's basically as far down the road as you can look. I had been having trouble in turn 8 "The bowl"...a nice downhill right-hander that's got a 20-degree banking. bascially, I was getting sucked down to the inside and all I could see was the inside edge. As a result, I was not getting on the power as soon as I should have. By keeping my attention on the vanishing point, I was able to easily see what was going on with the track at that spot, and I could therefore put myself where I wanted to be...on the gas. grin.gif


Wheelspin does not equal instant death:

This led to my overcoming a big fear of mine...wheelspin. For whatever reason, I was just convinced that if I spun up the rear wheel while leaned over in a corner, I'd crash and that was that. But on the 2nd lap after the vanishing point exercise, I found myself coming through the bowl hard on the gas at about 10K in 3rd gear when I heard the rpm's go up and felt the rear end step out sideways a bit. I just held onto it and low and behold, I did not crash. thumbsup.gif Over the rest of the session I experimented with getting on the gas more and more in that turn and almost every time, I'd spin up the rear wheel. cool.gif I don't know what I was so affraid of. thumbsup.gif



This is basically just keeping your vision as wide as possible and shifting your attention around without moving your eyes. Most of all, don't get tunnel vision. The first time I came through turn 3 really working on keeping my vision wide, I saw a whole new line that I could take. The next time around, I took it and found myself coming out of 3 in a perfect position for 4. cool.gif Awesome. Turn 4 was no longer a big deal because I wasn't so "busy" coming into it...my line put me in a position where I was headed straight for the entry point of Turn 4 already over at the left side of the track (4 is a right-hander), so I could stay on the gas longer, and brake later before making 4 instead of coming out of 3 wide and having to swing back in, then slow down, then make 4.


wide track:

One of the drills had us make a lap on the right side of the track, a lap on the left, and a lap in the middle. Speeds were low and we were supposed to be looking for reference points to use when we were setting up our turns. Every turn needs at least 3 RP's, so it is important to figure out what they are before you get into the turn. I found a bunch of RP,s, but the big thing that struck me was how wide the track was. After those 3 laps of going slow and basically looking down across the whole track from both sides, then from the middle made me really see how much asphalt I had to work with. This made me comfortable passing in places that I would never have even considered feasible.


The Lean Bike:

I have no idea how to sit on a sportbike, so it makes sense that I have no idea how to hang off of one either. The lean bike fixed that. The lean bike is a cool little bike that has outriggers on it so that it doesn't tip over (although I've heard stories to the contrary eek.gif ). You can go out there and just run around in circles around the skidpad working on body position. I was doing well to the right, but on left turns, I was coming off the bike twisted and it was forcing me to support myself with my left arm (not good). Back out on the track after riding the lean bike, my speeds went way up because I discovered how much faster I could corner while hanging off. I also figured out my problem with left turns...when I would shift, I wasn't bringing my left foot all the way back to the proper position on the peg, so I couldn't support meself at all with that leg. As a result, my lower body twisted when I would hang off. I never really got it 100%, but any time I found myself in a left turn with my left arm stiff, I'd push back hard with my left leg to support myself and my left arm could go loose.


Other interesting moments:

After turn 8 is a long straightaway where you really wind it out. At the end of that straight is a downhill, then a little kink, followed by a left. If you're perfectly lined up, you can blast stragiht through the kink without turning at all. The problem is that you're flying down the back straight at around 110mph and you CAN'T SEE the kink because of the hill. David told us there's a water tower across the other side of the big track and if you aim for that, you'll go straight through the kink. That was REALLY hard work forcing myself not to let up. I'm flying down the straight and that little 600 sounds like it's gonna blow up (I regularly saw the shift light at 14.5K once I got comfortable letting it rev that high.) and I'm pointed at that water tower and telling myself "I'm NOT going to slow down. I'm NOT going to slow down. I'm NOT going to slow down. I'm NOT going to slow down. I'm NOT going to slow down. I'm NOT going to slow down. I'm NOT going to slow down." all the way down the straight. Then you come over the rise, see that you're indeed going to make it through, then you get on the brakes and dive into the left.


At one point, I got passed coming out of the bowl by a bunch of the fast guys (I think David was in the bunch). Just before I crested the rise, I realised that I was fixating on them and I was going a good bit faster than I normally would. "I'm NOT going to slow down." turned into "If I follow these lunatics, I'm going to die." eek.gif . But all it took was for me to sit up for a second and everything popped back to widescreen and I tapped the brakes and dropped into the left with no problems.


Speaking of passing coming out of the bowl...our last drill was the "pickup drill" which is a way to get the bike upright sooner coming out of the corners so you can get on the power earlier. I had trouble getting the timing right, but the bowl was so wide that it didn't really matter much. I came up behind Denny and noted that he was roughly in the middle of the track coming out of the bowl. I figured I could pick the bike up earlier, nail the gas and go around on the outside. On the next lap, I executed my plan and it worked splendedly until Denny also did the same thing. eek.gifeek.gif I was gaining on him and had plenty of room to get around on the high side when he pushed the bike away from him and it stood up and drifted out wide. I was almost overlapped at that point and didn't feel like I had any choices, so I just stayed on the gas. I made the pass, but it was WAY too close. I'm not sure how close it was, but it was definitely NOT 6 feet and I felt like a total sh*t for doing it. After that session, I appologized, but Tool said he had already forgotten about it. Such a great guy. thumbsup.gif


One of the most interesting things that I took out of Level 2 is a healthy list of stuff that I need to work on. Among them (in no particular order):

1. Physical fitness. I'm really out of shape and my legs are screaming about spending all day perched on top of that little sportbike.

2. I need to get lower on the bike. My upper body is still too high and I need to get it down.

3. I need to shift more. It was easier not to, but I know I would have improved my lap times if I had shifted a few more times. For example: I'd come into the last set of tight turns in 3rd when 2nd would be more appropriate.

4. I need to get over my fear of braking. I'm really affraid of making a major error in judgement on my speed and getting in a situation where I'm unable to brake enough to get the bike to my desired entry speed. As a result, I was usually slowing down WAY before I needed to. That's a good thing to do on the street, but I'd like to be more confident and proficient in judging the braking abilities of the bike so that I could wait later to slow down on the track.

5. General laziness with body position. Some of this might be because I'm out of shape, but I kept finding myself with crappy body position if I wasn't constantly reminding myself what I should be doing. I would be up against the tank, my torso would be too high, etc.


The little ZX6R proved to be a total blast and I was amazed at how those Dunlop D208's gripped.


Overall, I had a total blast and I can't wait to do level 3 and 4 as soon as time and finances allow. thumbsup.gif


Oh...and my best lap was a 1:51.31, which I was fairly happy with. I definitely see some big blaring areas that I can work on which will help bring that down. I'd be willing to bet that getting into better shape, getting the timing on the pickup drill down, and making even a 50% improvement in my braking would knock off at least a couple of seconds.

Link to comment

Russell, I think you did remarkably well. Watching you it was hard to believe that this was your first time on a track on a sportbike. How long is the adrenaline going to last? A week? After that, you can just bring it back by imagining each turn in your head and running it again. smile.gif

Link to comment

Excellent write-up, Russell!

It's tough for us tall guys to get into the proper position on those little bikes. I found myself squeezing the tank with my legs just to keep my hands from going numb.

Let us know how your quads feel tomorrow..that second day after is the killer eek.gif


Dick Frantz said in the "Perception" thread over in "Ride Well":

And, I want to note that "Track Schools" are very low on my list of ways to develop Road Riding. Their huge danger is inspiring the Rider to corner faster -- because they have become more comfortable doing so -- without enhancing in any way, or enough ways, their ability to respond swiftly, seamlessly, and appropriately to the challenges presented by The Road. And now, they are going even faster: They've gotten in ever further over their heads. Certainly, tracks provide a safer environment to practice cornering skills, and at elevated levels of stridency


Curious to hear your opinion on that since you've ridden quite a bit with Master Yoda. I will admit that my riding immediately after my track day became a bit too aggressive for the streets, but now that that has modulated, I feel what I learned in the track school equips me with better visual skills, cornering skills and braking skills that directly translate to better street riding.


Good job, and nice picture on the other post!

Link to comment

Curious to hear your opinion on that since you've ridden quite a bit with Master Yoda. I will admit that my riding immediately after my track day became a bit too aggressive for the streets, but now that that has modulated, I feel what I learned in the track school equips me with better visual skills, cornering skills and braking skills that directly translate to better street riding.


I think all of that stuff that Dick said COULD happen. Doing Level 1 on the RT got me totally 100% comfortable with my bike leaned as far as it can physically lean. It also got me hanging off (although I wasn't doing it exactly right). I have done several sport rides since doing Level 1 and I found that my overall pace did not go up. If anything, I've become more aware of all of that stuff out there that'll eat your lunch when you're riding on the street, and I've lowered my entry speeds accordingly. At the track, my peg feelers were touching, or just skimming the surface on every single turn. Back in the real world, you can look at my tires and you'll see my same old familiar 1/2" chicken strip that I've had for a long time.


Hanging off was interesting. Dick urged against it because it "looks fast". i.e., it gives people the perception that you're going fast and that's not a good thing when you're interacting with a non-motorcycling public. I tried it for a week on my commute and discovered that he's totally right. Lots of people would honk when I'd pass them on turns hanging off. Normally, I just slide over maybe a couple of inches, but I keep my knees and elbows tucked in and my upper body mostly centered. It is enough to impact the "trim" of the bike so the steering is neutral, but it doesn't "look fast" to normal folks. I've been passing all those people in the same corners using Dick's recomended cornering posture for 2 years without getting a reaction, then I switch to hanging off and I get honked at 4 or 5 times in a week.


Some other stuff...at the track, I never even touched the rear brake...never. In fact, I rode with the ball of my right foot on the peg the whole time. On the street, I ride covering the controls...brake and shifter. I feel that this is more prudent on the street because it can do some good. At track speeds, using the brakes in a corner is not a good idea because you often don't have enough traction to deal with cornering loads AND braking loads at the same time. But that's fine because you know the track...so you don't need to use the brakes mid-corner. On the street, stuff can happen and you need to be able to react. So, you go slower and use less lean angle so that you have a larger margin and you can use the brakes if you need to.


So...I agree that some stuff that you learn at the track should not come with you onto the street. And I agree that you need to have your head on straight and not get overconfident. Yeah...I CAN go 40% faster around this corner. I know I can because I've been going around a similar corner all day at a greatly elevated pace. But I SHOULDN'T because it would not be prudent. The hanging off thing, is mostly about public perception, and I think that's important as well.


More than anything else, what Level 1 gave me, was confidence. Confidence means you're not affraid, and that means you're not as close to PANIC. Panic is bad and will never help you do anything other than maybe get to meet Al Schibi (Arizona Al) and get a ride in his medivac helicopter.


Level 2 had two things that I think will really help street riders: Vanishing Point, and widescreen. Vanishing point will be a great tool on roads I haven't ridden before because it gives me instant information on what the corner is doing, and it helps me pull my attention away from the inside of the corner and up to the place where I'll find my exit point. Widescreen helps because it keeps your attention out wide so you can see what's going on. On the track, it helped me several times...once I was following a slower rider (I think it was David <snicker> ) and was really working to keep my attention up on my exit point instead of that other rider. That worked fine, but I found myself focusing on the exit point to the excusion of all else, and I was getting too close to the other rider. I said "Widescreen" to myself and forced my vision back out wide, while still keeping my attention on the exit point. Not only did that keep me a safe distance from the other rider, but it let me see a good opportunity to pass that I would have likely missed.


On the ride home, I remember buzzing down the freeway and feeling like everything was going in slow motion. All of the cars around me were SO predictable, it was almost scary. I found my self initiating lane changes which would move me across three lanes over about a 1/2 mile distance into a hole in traffic that didn't exist when I started the initial move. It worked for me because I had my attention so wide that I was seeing what was going on in every lane on that freeway (6 lanes going my direction) and I could easily plan my route through traffic so that I always had the largest possible time/space cushion between me and the other cars.


So, in a nutshell...I think Dick's point that track riding can lull you into a false sense of security and teach you some things that you probably shouldn't be doing on the street is valid. There is in fact a big difference in the challenges that are presented to a street rider and a track rider. As long as you realize that, I think track experience is very helpful to street riders because it just adds to that bag of tricks that you've got up your sleeve that you can use to get out of trouble.

Link to comment

Russell, I think you did remarkably well. Watching you it was hard to believe that this was your first time on a track on a sportbike.


Thanks! That definitely took some getting used to. Did you see me almost dump the thing pulling out of the lineup for the parade lap? I think it's got about 15 degrees of steering, but I pulled out, feet up, and cranked the bars over...and nearly crashed because they hit the stops much sooner than I was expecting. Putting a foot down is only bad on a trials bike, right? dopeslap.gif


I really enjoyed riding that little 600. It was amazing how much power it's got and how high it revs. I remember one of my first times down the back straight I was buzzing along and my ears were telling me that the bike was about to fly apart. Then I looked down at the tach...8K. eek.gif Once I got over that I'd just stay on the gas until the shift light came on, then I'd grab a clutchless upshift (Glad I learned how to do those) and keep going. Amazing.


And I couldn't get over how well those tires gripped.


Where those DOT-legal tires, or were they for race only?

Link to comment

Russell, the tires weren't racing slicks (they aren't necessary and have bad warm-up characteristics), but I think they were D-208 tires. Yes, street legal.

Link to comment
Curious to hear your opinion on that since you've ridden quite a bit with Master Yoda. I will admit that my riding immediately after my track day became a bit too aggressive for the streets, but now that that has modulated, I feel what I learned in the track school equips me with better visual skills, cornering skills and braking skills that directly translate to better street riding.


Mark, your question was addressed to Russell, and he's already answered, but I feel compelled to weigh in on this. I don't agree with Dick. Doesn't mean he's wrong, but that is my perspective.


a) Every motorcycle experience is helpful.


b) The relevance is exactly as Russell stated: you learn to control the bike and not panic.


c) Anybody who gets a big head because of a track day and then rides too fast on the street afterwards has a head problem, not a skill problem, and they'll get in trouble regardless, at some point, in some setting. My goal is not to ride faster (on the street)--I want to ride better.


I think the best plan for improving skills is not to take an either/or approach, but combine parking lot practice, track day, trials, motocross, whatever. And then keep thinking about it.

Link to comment

Good answers David and Russell! Thanks.


I agree with the cross training philosophy. I wasn't sure how the Trials riding would help me, but now I play a game every time I come to a stop trying to see how slow I can go and how long I can balance at a stop. By the way, I'm picking up my dirt bike tonight!

Link to comment

By the way, I'm picking up my dirt bike tonight!


Whatever you do, DON'T post a ride tale a pictures here. nono.gif It's hard enough fighting off the "I MUST HAVE A TRACK BIKE" demons without having the "I MUST HAVE A DIRT BIKE" demons in there as well. dopeslap.gifdopeslap.gif

Link to comment

And I couldn't get over how well those tires gripped.


Where those DOT-legal tires, or were they for race only


Dunlop 208zr's are the only tire I'll put on the Duc but I only get 2,500 miles out of the rear one.

208 GP's will only give you 1,500 to 1,800 miles of use before your changing them again. dopeslap.gif

I'm putting new tires on the Duc every six weeks now days. frown.gif

Link to comment

Bynum, if you become as good of a rider as you are a writer, the world better look out. thumbsup.gif (Not that you're not already a phenom rider IMO)


What a write bro. Glued to every sentence.


Now, perhaps you can come closer to understanding my preoccupation the last year with my "sixxer" and all the track daze craze?? Bouncin' an RT off the rev limiter is one thing, but when the sixxers are bouncin' off at 15K, thassa whole different world huh?? eek.gifeek.gif


Do you get your track bike before or after escrow closes?? grin.gifgrin.gif

Link to comment

Do you get your track bike before or after escrow closes??


After. smile.gif


This track stuff is so totally cool.


The best thing is that now I have a laundry list of stuff that I KNOW I need to work on. Before, I was pretty much doing what I knew how to do and that was that. Riding that little 600 brought out all of these problems that I wasn't seeing when I'd ride the RT.


Now I just have to figure out if I want a dedicated track-only bike, or a bike that I can also do sport riding on the street. I waiver on that one. The RT already takes me as fast as I probably should be going on the street, but it would be really fun to have a more sporty bike for those solo blasts on the weekends. On the other hand, if I don't have to worry about registration and insurance, my options go way up and the price comes down. We'll see. thumbsup.gif

Link to comment


Well, I will tell you that havin' a sport bike for the street, AND a dedicated track bike is nice, BUT, it makes my money funny sometimes. Twice the tires, parts, mods, upgrades, etc. Tough to keep up with in todays world with ever rising costs on everystuff.


OTOH, having a track only bike is nice because if you wad it (and you will if you really push hard and often), you still have your street sport bike to ride. Not to mention the lack of reg and ins as you stated.


I have many friends here that have to play the "tape lites, remove fuses, remove mirrors, etc" game on their streetbikes to go to the track. I also have a few (very few) friends who have dumped their streetbikes at the track, and missed some street time because of it.


Tough call IMO because theres so many pros and cons.


Personally, I'm just glad to see you getting a taste of the track. It's very addicting. thumbsup.gif

Link to comment

Here's a shot setting up to pass Tim (bakers_rt) on the inside coming out of the 2nd gear "esses" onto the front straight. By the way, today is Tim's birthday:



Link to comment

Who's zoomin' who Dave? Hey theres always next time. Not that I'm competetive or anything. Just kidding and I sure had a great time riding with everybody and hope to do it again, and again, and again and, Hey did someone say this is addictive? dopeslap.gif

Link to comment

Happy Birthday, Tim. It was really great meeting you and riding with you.


One of the funniest parts of the weekend:

We're all sitting around the dinner table on Friday night. Gerry is trying to organize a pool to see who gets the best laptimes. At one point, we're all arguing who's going to be the fastest (we all thought it would be the other guy) and David nods to you and says "You, with the motoGP bike." (For those who don't know, Tim has a sweet little Aprillia 2-stroke.) Tim sits back and says, in a perfect "Mom, it wasn't my fault" voice, "I blew it up...on my first time out!!" yelrotflmao.gif

Link to comment
Gerry is trying to organize a pool to see who gets the best laptimes.


Well now, there's a stretch of the imagination... tongue.giftongue.gifgrin.gifgrin.gif

Link to comment


Voodoo. I'm with you on that on!!


Excellent write up and refresher course of the tools that Code works on.


Now if it would warm up and stop raining & snowing here, we might be able to go out and practice.


Glad you boys had fun, wish I was there too.

Link to comment

Now I'm never gonna catch you, Howard, and Denny!


We promise we'll wait up at the end of the road if you promise not to land on us with that newfangled parachute thingy of yours! welcome.gif

Link to comment

In spite of my jealousy, that was great fun to read! grin.gif You've done an excellent job of passing along a whole lot of good information.


I guess the days of you having to work to pass me and Jake are over, huh? bncry.gif

Link to comment
Now I'm never gonna catch you, Howard, and Denny!


We promise we'll wait up at the end of the road if you promise not to land on us with that newfangled parachute thingy of yours! welcome.gif


Funny you should mention that...I've got a newsreport I have to dig up for you... grin.gifgrin.gif


Congrats again, Russell.



Link to comment


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...