I’m still lost as to what to say about the two days of CSS. They manage to cram so much in to such a short amount of time your brain gets melted by it all.
Going in to class I considered myself a safe rider who could get himself to and from work with a minimal amount of excitment. I did not consider myself to be a good rider or anything like a fast rider. By the end of the first day I was going a hell of a lot faster than I had ever thought possible and I was having so much fun.
Take any drug addict, put them on a bike and teach them this stuff and they’ll never need another hit for the rest of their life. I’m like a crack addict now waiting on my next hit at the track. Its two weeks away and can’t get here soon enough. It really is that much fun. When I finally got off the bike Monday I was grinning like a little boy who just got handed a new toy he had been wanting for the past year. I’m still grinning.
In general the level one and two classes are made from the material in Twist of The Wrist 2. Reading it, it sounds simple enough: “Once the bike is leaned over roll on the throttle”. Putting it into action is another matter. Same with the rest of the stuff. I don’t mean that it is hard. Simply that there is a huge difference between the intellectual exercise of reading and the actual doing.
The first on track drill is “Roll On”. Keith sends you out with his coaches and you practice rolling on the throttle as you go through the turns. Trick is: no brakes. You do it all in fourth gear! The goal is to teach you a sense of speed. Get that “Propensity for Velocity” thing going. I’m still alive so it is ‘safe’, just use your eyes and your sense of speed will guide you. My favorite set of turns at Mid-Ohio was the esses (6, 7, 8, and 9). You come screaming down the longest straight and have to toss the bike to the right. You are going uphill as you apex and then down hill on the exit toward 7. 7 is back up hill to the Apex and the road just disappears. It is freaking awesome. You’re leaned way over, if I was the type to lean off I would have had no trouble dragging my knee. The pavement is right there under your left arm, so close you can touch it. But you can’t see the road. It disappears down hill to turn 8. Just have faith and throw it left.
That isn’t right. It isn’t faith. It is the reference points. You look inside turn seven. There is a telephone pole there with a gray utility box on it. You look there; get the red rumble strip just over your left arm (I said you’re leaned over) and you’ll be lined up perfectly to go down hill for 8.
8 is flat. At least it felt flat to me, but you’re going really fast. There is a dark square of pavement way out to the left. Drive in to it and dive to your right. Get the red rumble strip under your right arm, hard on the throttle up over the hill for turn 9. If you do it right, you only need to make a small adjustment to clip the red rumble strip for 10. Add a little left drift going out on to the yellow rumble strip and then dive hard right again.
I could go on describing the whole thing. I can barely stop myself replaying it in my mind. I made so many mistakes that I want to go back and correct. You learn so much. The most important thing to me though is that there really isn’t any magic to it.
Keith has researched this stuff down to a pretty straight forward recipe. Every rider is going to interpret it a little different but at the end of the day – anybody can learn this.
Day 2 was less about the inputs in to the bike and more about how you use your eyes. The reference point stuff is super important, but learning not to tunnel vision down on to this is also super important. If you keep what Keith calls ‘wide screen’ view things seem to slow down. Approaching turns doesn’t feel as rushed. You have time to use his “three step” process. As you approach the turn point, without actually turning the bike look at the apex, when you hit the turn point using your peripheral vision, flick the bike in. Once you know you are going to hit the apex where you want, without turning the bike, look at where you want your exit point to be. It’s right there in the book. It is completely different when you have his coaches chasing you around the track though. You actually learn to do it.
Speaking of the coaches, Josh and Mike were awesome. The questions they asked, their feed back about my riding, everything helped me enormously. I’m certain that the other coaches were great too; I just didn’t get to spend time with them.
Keith and Dylan delivered most of the lectures. Besides the actual material I also learned a fair amount from the presentation style. I plan to adopt a few of their mannerism in to my stuff. What made them so effective was their easy going nature. They were humorous, but the humor only served to get their point across, not to be funny alone. Another thing that I had not really thought much about was that the focus of the school isn’t so much about going fast. It is about doing it right. They want you to learn to turn your motorcycle properly. Speed will be the result of doing it right. Initially I was being passed like I was standing still. By the end of the first day I had to learn to pass because I was going faster than many of the people in my group. By the second day I got to do a fair amount of passing and was occasionally passed.
BTW – don’t even bother trying to chase the instructors. They’ll blow you away like you’re in reverse. Oh and they cheat. They use the pull offs so they can sit and wait for the student to come around again. You pass by them; they take off and follow you awhile to see how you are doing. Then they pass you and signal for you to follow them. They’ll use a hand signal for whatever exercise you are doing when they want you to do it. Once they are satisfied that you are doing it right they wave bye-bye and either tell you to pass them or they just disappear ahead of you. The on track coaching is effective and seeing how well the coaches handle their bikes is inspiring. Seeing somebody going around a corner at speed with one hand off the bar signaling you is something to behold.
At this point I plan to go back to school for their level 3 and 4 classes. By then I plan to have a new bike. I’m now pretty well set on getting a ZX6. I road Will’s ZX6 (Will is Keith’s mechanic and Keith says the bikes belong to Will, so….). The magazine reviews of the ZX6 are crap. That bike is a rocket ship if you know how to ride. It leans forever, accelerates like it is late for something important and the brakes will pop your eyes out of their sockets if you aren’t careful. Kawasaki ought to have a sales person at the school to take orders.
Unfortunately, I can’t do the next levels until next year so between now and then I plan to do as many track days as I can. I’m also reading “The Soft Art of Road Racing”. I sort of wish I had read it before class too. It has some really good stuff. I also plan to get a transponder so I can collect lap times. My goal isn’t necessarily to get my times down. First I want them to be consistent. In my opinion without accurate lap times I can’t really improve. How do you know if that new turn point really worked? Did it matter that you at an extra 1000 rpm down the back straight? You can’t know without a transponder and lap times.
I can’t say enough complimentary stuff about CSS. They run an excellent program that definitely gets results. If you ride and want to ride better this is the place to go.
Mid-Ohio is a great track. The scenery is beautiful, the facilities aren’t bad. But most importantly it is a great track. You have to do the esses at the back of the track. All of the turns are fun, but there is something about screaming down that back straight and having to do all those turns one after another.