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Review: Freddie Spencer's Street Rider Lvl 1 Class. Plus my pics with Nicky Hayden!

Freddie Spencer’s High Performance Riding School. Street Rider Level 1
April 11, 12, 13, 2007
Las Vegas Motorspeedway
by MotoVegas
Special Added Bonus are my pics with Nicky Hayden!

Disclaimer: The following is a wall-o-text. Yes, a classic "to long didn't read" (TLDR) post. Also, as of the time I took Freddie’s school, I am quite a novice to track riding. In fact, I had only one track day prior to attending the class. Accordingly, some of the “insight” I put here will be rather sophomoric to many. However, for me it is new territory. Also, some of my explanations may not be 100% accurate with regard to theory or application of what they teach at Freddie’s school; it is however, my best understanding at this time. Also, school rules, teaching insight and anything that works well in a list format, I will place in a bold font. That way, those that aren’t interested can skip the walls of text and look for the bold text only. Again, it may ramble on a bit, but I wanted to be as complete as possible. Anyway, thanks and enjoy the read.

April 11 – Day 1.

Well, the big day finally arrived. Considering how jazzed up I was about the class, I got a reasonable amount of sleep. Finally dozing off around midnight and waking up at 6 am. My good friend, Robert Gryphon, was staying at my house as I had coaxed him into attending the class. Indeed, Robert was such a good sport having literally NEVER sat atop a sport bike. EVER. He has been a cruiser rider for about 12 years. Myself, I had only been riding sportbikes since November 2006 and by the time of Freddie’s class had about 5 thousand miles on my sportbike (an ’07 ZX-14) and one track day under my belt about 2 weeks before the school. Of course I had been riding cruisers since about 1990, but the transition to sportbike was quite a change. The school was about to make that change even more noticeable.

In any event, Robert and I drove over to the Orleans. For those of you that don’t know, I was born and raised here in Las Vegas, so there was no need to stay at a hotel. After reading Bwhip’s review, however, I had already decided not to drive myself to LVMS but rather would take the shuttle. I figured there would be some insight and conversations that would be helpful.

Robert and I pulled into the Orleans around 7:20 am; the shuttle leaves at 7:30 sharp (at least that is what they say in their literature). At the shuttle we were met by several other students as well as lead instructor Nick Ienatsch. He is INSTANTLY personable and actively seeks out the students to introduce himself. Which is nice, because for us first timers to the school, as well as being new to the sport of track riding, there was a little nervousness of what to expect.

Along with Nick was instructor Shane Turpin. Like Nick, Shane is INSTANTLY personable. In fact, he is even MORE outgoing than Nick if that is even possible.

We load up our gear into the two shuttle vans and at 7:35 am drive away. Nick indicates he waits 5 minutes usually so that no one can claim we didn’t wait beyond the time indicated. As we drive to the LVMS speedway, I begin to strike up a conversation with Nick about various topics; riding, his book, how the weather will be etc. I also ask him about a rumor I had read on the MotoGP site that 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden may show up. Nick confirms, it’s no rumor, Nicky will be with the school the today and tomorrow and is working with Freddie on transitioning to the new 800 class bikes; which for those of you that follow MotoGP, you know Nicky has been struggling with these new class of bikes.

Even though I’m new to sportbiking, I have jumped head first into watching MotoGP and frankly, for the first time in my life get a little nervous about meeting a celebrity. A little something about me first. I don’t nor have I ever subscribed to the “Cult of Personality” that many do around the world. Living in Vegas, I’ve seen my share of celebrities and have never thought anything “cool” about it. Never once have I asked anyone for an autograph or picture. Ever. Not once in my 36 years. But I knew when the chance arose I would do both with Nicky.

Well, we arrived at the school and they had a nice spread of breakfast sitting out for the students to enjoy. A comfortable classroom, some fruit, bagels, juice, coffee, water, soda to get our day started. I was impressed with how clean the place was. Considering the school is basically a garage, somebody is working hard to keep this place pretty darn spotless.

As class got rolling we were formally introduced to our instructors as class came to order around 8:30 am or so.

Nick Ienatsch
Jeff Haney
Ken Hill
Shane Turpin (middle with arms out)

Apparently, Dale Kiefer, a usual instructor at the school was out getting ready for an for 6 different events happening that week and weekend (not as a racer, but his shop Racer’s Edge, is the Michelin Tire vendor for most of the stuff that happens out here). So, Dale was just to busy to instruct that week. Anyway, each of these guys has a riding resume that would make any one of us envious. Freddie’s school goes out of their way to hire ONLY riders that are accomplished on the national level in one aspect or another of road racing. That way, he knows the instructors don’t just talk the talk, but can walk the walk.

Nick has the class introduce themselves and the first thing I noticed was that there were 18 students; 7 of which had grey or salt-and-pepper hair. Only three riders appeared younger than I (I’m 36); a young lady in her 20’s, a guy in the military also in his 20’s, and one other guy in his early 20’s. And there were three guys in the class that were 60. So, it was refreshing to see folks of all ages interested in getting their riding skills up. I guess it is also a factor of financial ability. I reason that most young folks probably can’t afford the class tuition so it makes sense that the class would be made up of mostly folks with at least a modest (or greater) income.

Continuing on, at that point Nick gave us the 5 rules of the school.

1. Passing. Be safe, and give lots of room and always pass another student when their momentum is moving AWAY from yours.
2. If you crash you’re done. Kinda. If the crash is minor and the rider bones up to it (i.e. doesn’t blame the environment), they MAY let you back on the course.
3. Do NOT stop on the track and don’t use the inside roads that cross the tracks, only move with the flow of the track.
4. Don’t beat up the bikes.
5. Do not discuss crashing (prior or future crashes, nothing.)

Also, Nick tells us something that is really part of the foundation of the school

- Trail-breaking when used properly is a tool to be used to change your trajectory
- Carry break pressure into nearly every corner you encounter (some tiny/quick chicanes don’t need it)

As I point out later on, this concept seems odd to me at first, but REALLY makes sense once you start to apply it. At this stage in the morning, prior to the ride, I don’t really understand how trail breaking can do this. So, I just continue to listen and ponder about it and resolve to give the technique a try when I am out there. After all, I am here to learn! And learn from the best!

Next up, Freddie Spencer came in and introduced himself. He is a very likable and affable man. In fact, he makes you instantly feel comfortable around him when he talks. Indeed, I noticed that all the instructors we’re extremely approachable and interacted with students with absolute ease. Freddie then gave us some sagely advice before we headed off to the track.

- Be smooth.
- Be efficient.
- Less input with precision is preferred.
- Relax. Tension creates abrupt controls.
- Use your lower body, legs, torso, stomach at all times. Use those so-called “core” muscles and take it easy on your arms and hands.
- USUALLY break up to the apex of most corners, with slight gradual application
- It’s better to enter a corner slow and exit it fast than vice-verse because your line will be ruined (i.e. you will miss your apex) if you rush the entry

As you may know, they hit on this “smooth” concept quite a bit. And it’s simple to say, but clearly takes a lifetime to master. But to put it another way, one should never abruptly do anything on a motorcycle. Abruptness changes geometry. Abruptness changes the loading of the tires. And basically abruptness gives the rider a feeling of being out of control. When being “smooth” it is easier to maintain focus and keep your feeling of control. As Nick put it, never again will you “hammer” the throttle or “stab” the breaks in ANY application on any vehicle. To do so is the opposite of smooth. It is also the primary weakness of most riders and is a key sign of a rider that is not fully skilled or trained in proper riding techniques. And, according to our instructors, the truly great riders understand and apply this in their riding.

I recognize the following right off; I will spend the rest of my riding life in pursuit of that “smoothness” goal. It simply isn’t something that is decided to be done, then instantly achieved, but rather worked on. Always.

Well, we were about to head out and suit up for our first ride, then Freddie stopped the class and introduced our special guest. Nicky Hayden! He introduces himself and politely asked if it was okay if he shared the track with us the next couple days. Everyone laughs. Is it okay? It’s a sport bike riders dream! Freddie AND Nicky on the same course that you are riding on!!!! First thing I noticed, other than Nicky being as affable as the rest of the group, was his size. When ever you see him in pics around the Pod, you (or at least I) think of him as “average” sized. He’s not. He is a small man of rather slight stature. Very slim frame with narrow shoulders. I, of course, realize that my size and frame is not cut out for racing motorcycles (nor is it designed for racing any other thing man has ever devised for that matter), but my goal is merely to emulate the best and not to race. To be my personal best. After walking to my bike looking back over my shoulder at Freddie, Nicky and Nick all talking, I fully realize I am in the right place to work towards that goal.

We head over to our bikes, and do a safety check; the front break lever nut & bolt, the front break fender and caliper nuts, the chain tensioner nut, the rear wheel nut, the chain tension and overall overlooking of the bike. Everything looks good. Lets moto!!! So, we role out to LVMS Inside Road Course (IRC) where we will be for the next two days.

Well after 2 laps of following Shane Turpin (my instructor for this session) I came to the realization I simply don’t physically fit on these 600s. Be it my size, my lack of flexibility, or my personal distaste for this much physical discomfort (or a combination of all three) it was apparent I couldn’t focus on the drills if I was fighting the bike and monkeying around on it for three days (or as my buddy Robert commented, “Jay, you’re right, you do look like a monkey f*cking a football on that bike”). So, Shane radioed over Norm to get me another bike. Btw, Norm is a really cool guy, and is the lead shop mechanic, as well as a native Las Vegan like me… although even more native than I as he is a member of the Paiute Tribe. So, Norm brought me a VFR 800. Nice, I fit on it just fine. Sure it was bigger, and heavier, but I was used to a bigger bike, coming from my ZX-14. Shane told me I made the right choice especially because my head would hit the windshield when I moved side to side on corners quite a bit, unless I had my ass on the rear plastic. Which apparently, is improper. (I’m still not sure why, I mean, if that is what it takes for me to fit, why not do it? Well, I wasn’t about to argue, I wanted off that iron maiden contraption asap).

-Side Note. The VFR has this funny spike in power around 6700 RPMs and it is annoying. I never got comfortable with it over the three days, but at least the bike fit my body better.-

Our goal today? Simply to learn the lines, and hit the apex. Which brings up another point that the school focuses on:

- hitting the apex repeatedly and on every corner will allow you to go faster; blow the apex, and your speed is wasted. Therefore, FOCUS on nailing the apex even if you are going a little slower.

As with everything, easy to say, hard to do. However, the point they make is that if you DON’T hit the apex repeatedly, you will be sloppy and won’t be able to repeat a good lap. You will “luck” into a good lap and be inconsistent. Hence, learning to nail the apex is key. Key before all other keys.

Also, speed is NOT on the agenda this first session out. The instructor’s want us to learn to identify lines, and work on them. In order to hit those apexes, Nick told us to use our front break as a geometry-trajectory tool. Here comes that trail breaking stuff they were talking about in class; and not simply to scrub speed, but to effect the direction of the bike. Sure bikes turn by the physical act of counter-steering, but understanding that is too simple a notion said Nick. Rather we need finer control over the bike. And we would use the break and body position to effect our input to the bike. Basically trail break to get the bike pointed properly into the corner. Need to tighten the turn a bit more to hit that apex? Add a tad more pressure on the already being applied front break. Need to widen the turn a bit more to hit that apex? Back off on the pressure that is already being applied on the front break.

This is somewhat foreign to me. I was a “break before you turn” kinda of rider. Coming from cruisers, I was taught it was a mortal sin to have any lean angle and have the break applied. When I wanted to adjust my radius I either added throttle or closed it; hoping that was enough. I would spend the next three days unlearning this old school habit that millions of riders are taught. Also, it wouldn’t be until the middle of the third day until the concept fully clicked.

At this point, on day one, I was trying hard simply to find and maintain the lines. Turns 5, 8b and 9 were hard for me to navigate and I had trouble with them. And thought about them quite a bit. Like obsessed over them.

They also had us run cone drills. Basically a slalom style set up. Goal is, to turn wide enough, and use our break to bring us around and pointed in the correct direction and then roll on the power, and then break, get our direction pointed the other way and roll on the power. Rinse and repeat. Sounds easy. And for many it is. For me, it’s a tricky but useful drill. It was pretty cool watching Nicky Hayden run those drills. He was very very fast (duh!) doing them.

Which brings me to Nicky again. I was lucky enough to ride on the track quite a bit that first day. A few times (most of the time actually when we were on! LOL) he would be stuck behind someone (not that he was stuck, but he probably didn’t want to scare us newbs too much) and when he was, I would hurry up and get behind him. I did so in order to watch his body, his lines and basically anything else he was doing. That was pretty neat. I went around for quite sometime just hoping to get behind him for a few seconds here… a few seconds there. Which I did. He is really a treat to watch.

We took a break in the middle of the track near turn 8a and watched Nicky for about 10 minutes. Nick would point out what Nicky was doing. Example:

- Head should be at it’s lowest at the exit of the corner as you roll onto the power.

What is the purpose of this? To keep the center of gravity lowest as possible and have the least amount of lean angle possible to apply the most amount of power as early as possible. I filed that one away, and tried to remember it. One thing I noticed about these pros when riding. They rode as if they were on rails. Their lines were outstanding. Guess that talk Nick had with us about hitting the apex of every corner, every time, is what makes them carry such perfect lines.

Anyway, one time Nicky went around out of 7 and was applying power and his rear slipped (the way you always see them doing in a race) and Nick pointed out that Nicky was testing the edge of traction and would guarantee on this next pass he wouldn’t do that again. He was right. Nick also pointed out Nicky was so gentle with the input controls; that spin out was no “hammered down” throttle, but just a tad more than the tire could take. “Hammer” the throttle there and you’ll crash. He told us gentle, precise hands is how the pros control motorcycles, not heavy lumbering hands.

Which leads to what Nick said the 4 primary reasons most motorcyclists crash.

1. Lack of concentration. Always focus when riding.
2. Abrupt application of hand and foot controls. Note the opposite of smooth.
3. Rushing the entrance. It’s better to slow down on the entrance, as there is no penalty for entering a corner slow… but there is a large penalty for entering it too fast.
4. Repeating the same mistakes and not correcting them.

I really kept my mind on these 4 factors all weekend, but didn’t “talk about them” but rather kept them floating around my brain. In fact, missing out on number 1 and forgetting 3, caused me to run off the track on day 2… but more on that later.

While we practiced more we shot our first video. Man, I felt horrible during that ride. I felt like I was trying to remember every single note from a symphony and yet I can’t read or write a stitch of music! That is how overwhelmed I felt. Ken followed me and after the lap he told me it “wasn’t bad and that it looked pretty good”, but honestly, I think it sucked. Anything I did right I was sure was unrepeatable because I was not confident of what I was doing. I forgot to use my breaks quite a bit and I was relying on old habits. Rolling off and coast through corners. Yuck, I know, I know, that’s horrible, but old habits are hard to break. They also told me “not to follow people” but rather, pick my line and take note of others, but don’t follow them. Also, they told me I could use much more speed on the straights. Easier said than done.

Before we went in, we also got to ride with Michael Czysz a bit with him zooming around on that MotoCzysz. Man that bike is big, loud and fast. Apparently when the rules changed from 990 to 800 and the prototype that was about ready, was, well, no longer about ready! Shame too, because he is a really nice guy to meet. Very personable. And he was not associated with the school so there was no reason for him to be personable unless he really was. As an aside, I hope he can pull together the bike in an 800 cc format, and get it running. That would be cool.

Back to the class to decompress and watch our videos. Overall, the day and the weather was perfect. A tad breezy but nice, in the 70s. Shame because day 2 the weather would end up sucking.

April 12 – Day 2

Robert and I returned to the Orleans and loaded up in the van. I got a better night sleep dozing off around 11 and getting up at 6 am. The weather forecast was windy and rainy. Odd thing is, it didn’t look like it was going to rain. Of course, the weather is deceiving in the desert. It always is.

When we arrived at the school, the clouds starting showing up and the wind started picking up as well. The breakfast set up was the same as the day before. Today, we would ride half the day on the track and the later half on the XR-100 dirt bikes.

Nick gave us some things to think about. He told us to remember that:

- Radius = mph.

That is, the tighter the radius of a turn, the slower we must go. The larger the radius, the faster we could go. So, when selecting lines – or when trying to select lines in my case – always try to make the radius open up as much as possible for that particular turn. This clicks in my head, and makes sense. As with everything at school (any school) it is the act of applying it that is the real trick.

Nick also mentioned that rear tire traction was a function of lean angle + throttle or lean angle + breaks. At any given time the sum total of those factors are all the rear tire traction you have at your disposal. Nice in theory, but what does it mean? Well, according to Freddie he wants to use the least amount of lean angle for the least amount of time he can get away with. Why? Lean angle isn’t a good thing but rather a necessary evil. So best to minimize this evil, if you will. And if you think about it, less lean angle for less time means more time on the throttle. Which means faster. Again simple concepts to say, but certainly will take a lifetime to master. Ways to minimize that lean angle are lowering one’s center of gravity. And doing this by getting one’s body and head off the center line and down deep inside the turn.

When we head out, to the IRC again, the wind is pretty bad. And the overcast skies are getting worse. I can feel the humidity rising in the air. The clouds are getting ominous and threatening to rain at anytime. Nonetheless, I spend the morning working on the breaking. In fact, they set up cones after turn 1, and after turn 5. The goal? See if we can be finished with our breaking by the final set of double cones, hit our apex, and be moving along at a nice speed. There are 4 sets of double cones in the corner. The idea is, if we finish breaking before those final set of cones, we could of carried more speed into the corner (provided we are hitting our apex). And if we finish breaking after those cones, in all likelihood we missed the apex and blew the exit of the corner and therefore likely blowing the entry of the next corner.

This drill hard for me. It is slightly confusing because my focus is on so many different places. In fact, one time I am focusing (read as target fixating) on those damn cones, my mind is lost in the moment, and with the humidity my face shield fogs up (because I am panting trying to figure out what I am doing). Well, I realize (too late) that I have screwed up. I was so focused on breaking just the right amount that I didn’t break enough nor did I pay attention and look ahead. And yes, eyes down is a sin (remember what Freddie said, always keep those eyes up!!!). And a little panic set in as my shield fogged out. I had a choice. Add lean angle and more break some more or stand it up and run off the track. On the track, the option is easy for me. I stand it up and run off the track. I really kick myself however. Had that been the real world, I could have been killed or injured or at the very least had a broken bike. Corners in the real world are not as forgiving as they are on the track. Not even a little bit as forgiving. “Don’t forget that fact either, Jay”, I think to myself.

My concentration is really broken now. So, like a kid failing a test at school I ride with my head low and slow back to the inside of turn 8a (where the school truck is sitting) and call it quits for about 20 minutes. Nick asks me why, and I tell him what I did. He said to remember to keep my eyes up at all times and slow down and keep working on the drill. I tell him that my focus is gone and I need a break. He smiles at me and says “Right choice, Jason. When you can’t focus or concentrate you shouldn’t ride.” Well with that remark, Nick helped me make lemonade out of lemons. I guess I’m not the worst rider in the world after all!

Well, a bit later I get back on and work hard to relax and keep my eyes up. I also do my riding video about 30 minutes after I ran off the track. Again, I think I am horrible and the world’s worst rider, but Ken tells me I did a decent run. And that I need to trail break more to adjust my geometry angle more precisely and add a little speed on the straights. Also, I was failing to sit up when I was breaking. A recipe for getting rear ended on a track day they said.

Shortly thereafter it started to rain. They called us off the track and headed in for some lunch before the dirt tracking. Freddie spoke to us again. He asked us what we thought and how we were doing. I’m a bit of a bull in a china shop in any setting so I basically told him what I was feeling, namely “Freddie, I notice that I am THINKING about what I am doing. I am using my brain actively in an attempt, albeit often vein, to effect what is going on around me. I’m not just riding on the back of this bike. I am trying to pilot it. I am trying to command it.” Freddie smiles. He says “so many people tell me that when they ride they don’t think about what they are doing. This is wrong. Always be thinking about what you are doing while riding.” Well, I think to myself I must be doing something right, Freddie didn’t tell me I’m a raging idiot. Haha. In fact, Freddie mentions the following scheme when riding

-Focus and actively use the thought process while riding by:

• Being Aware
- such as how you feel on the bike

• Use Proper Techniques
- such as being sure blip your throttle on all downshifts
- smooth imputs to the controls

• Have a Plan Every Time you ride
- consciously work on specific problems you are having
- with the goal of improving on those problems

• Get Comfortable
- Relax
- Your first lap take it really really easy
- doing this will increase your confidence
- and increasing your confidence will increase your consistency

Nick and Jeff also speak and ask us how we feel. The class across the board is more confident. We are all really working on using the skills (trail breaking, body position, eyes up, smooth control inputs) they are teaching us to work on our riding. And honestly, it is working. Folks are looking better.

We get ready to head out to the dirt track. Personally, I’m not that jazzed about it. I calculate that I’m here to learn to ride street bikes better, not toot around on tiny dirt bikes that don’t fit me. However, I give in and turn myself and preconceptions over to them and the school curriculum. After all they are the experts.

Let me, let you, in on the theory as to what and why we are doing it. Basically, to get down the notion of traction control; as applied through the 3 primary forces that effect traction usually working in a “duo-like” fashion:

- Rear tire traction is a function of lean angle and throttle or lean angle and break.

Also, the guys wanted us to become familiar with the idea of loosing traction and gaining it back. That is, pushing traction to the edge and bringing it back before she goes down. Now, I will be completely honest. I get the theory. And the exercises were a blast. A hoot of a time. We practiced sliding the rear out to point our bike in the right direction, doing donuts, and carefully manipulating the throttle and break to “ride the edge” of traction through muddy/slippery course, and we also did races against each other. We even did a bunch of mini-races against each other on teams to “add pressure” to the setting and to see if we kept our cool and applied the controls even under the pressure of “a race”. I can’t lie, it most “fun” I had at the school.

However, I felt that another afternoon of drills on the track would of taught me more than an afternoon in the dirt. Why? Because I simply have no fear of falling down on a XR-100 and in fact I fell 3 times that afternoon. And frankly, the application of XR-100s to riding track bikes in 600-1000 cc class, is (imho only) esoteric at best. Again, I understood the purpose and the theory of the exercises, but would of preferred to do a school not with dirt bikes in it.

Also, when I take the course in the future, I will try to do the school that DOESN’T have this component of dirt riding in it. Of course, if you are a dirt rider you will LOVE this. And will likely learn quite a bit. But for me, it was to theoretical in nature and to much of a stretch to find the application on the street or track. Loosing traction at 100 mph on a 400+ pound bike on concrete isn’t in the same league as loosing traction at 12 mph on a 75 pound bike in the mud. Again, I turned myself over to accepting what these great teachers were teaching, but I personally am not convinced of the value of the dirt riding that we did there, as it applies to road riding.

After the dirt tracking we head back in for a nice catered dinner (yum, lasagna) and watch our video from day two. Without a doubt the class is performing better. Also, as with the first day, I feel my ride is pretty bad. By in large however, they don’t rip up my ride as much as they did a few other students, so I reason (or should I say rationalize) to myself that “at least it was better than yesterday”. Which, even with the wind, I have to admit it was a tad better. I am still having a problem not sitting up when applying the breaks, and I could be trailbreaking deeper into the corner. Heck, some corners I don’t break at all (bad). I promise myself I’ll work on it for day three.

Well, as the class is finishing up with the videos, I hear somebody mention that Nicky is leaving and heading out the back. The day before, and earlier in the day, I made sure I didn’t bother him, I mean, he’s the champ and he’s here to learn not to be hounded by some lousy track rider like me. But, I figure (as did a few of the other students) that he was leaving and his training was done, and now would be the right time to approach him. I saw he was at the exit of the garage talking to Nick. Myself and a few other students approach him and ask for a few pics, and some autographs and wish him well in his upcoming race. He graciously let’s us take a bunch of pics with him and he signs several autographs. Here is a pic of Nicky flanked by course instructors Jeff Haney and Nick Ienatsch along with a fellow student named Milos. This is a pretty cool pic of Nicky about to sign my copy of Nick's book Sport Riding Techniques (good read btw). And of course I had to steal a pic of myself standing next to 2006 MotoGP World Champion, Nicky Hayden! I wish him well in Turkey and he takes off. So ends day 2 at Freddie Spencer’s riding school; me shaking hands with the 2006 MotoGP world champ and wishing him well. Nice.

April 13 – Day 3.

I slept like a baby. I must of fallen asleep around 8:30 pm and woke up at 6:00 am. So I got really rested up. And I was ready to really apply the skills I had learned the first two days. Also, as my buddy Robert and I headed out, we noticed that the weather was perfect. Light winds, no rain, and perfect temps.

Our final trip in the van, all the students at this point were very familiar with one another and the instructors and students were chatting away during the ride like we had all been friends for 20 years. A very comfortable setting.

When we get to the class, we are again reminded that we are going to be on a new track. It’s the “South Outside Road Course” ORC. Which shares a couple corners with the “Las Vegas Classic Course”. Before we head out Nick gives us some things to remember

- Body Position: Don’t be in the middle of the bike. Very few tracks have areas that allow for any time to be seated in the middle of the bike. And none of the tracks we have ridden. Get your body prepositiong done early!
- Be consistent with your body position habit, using the same body position and motion for every corner.
- Don’t miss the Apex
- In slow corners… GO SLOW. There is NO penalty for going slow.
- Keep the eyes up. Keep the eyes scanning at all times.
- Use breaks for EVERY direction change.

He also wanted us to start thinking about the track and corners in a new way (well new for me, and for most of us). Namely what kind of corner is it. Now, what the heck does that mean? Basically, according to Nick there are really three types of corners working with and against one another. And you must look at them in relation to one another in order to get your best time around the track:

1. Entry Corner
2. Exit Corner
3. Balanced Corner

What does this mean and how do we determine what the corner is? Well, a corner is best looked at from the start of it’s breaking zone, to the start of the breaking zone to the next corners. An “entry corner” has much more straight prior to the entry of the turn. This means, you will have a long breaking zone prior to the entry of the turn. The “exit corner” means it is going to have a long straight after the exit of the turn. Thus it is EXTRA critical to really nail the apex in an exit corner, so your drive out will be on point and fast. Also, if need be it is important to sacrifice the perfect line coming out of a prior corner (if necessary) if the prior corner that leads into an exit corner doesn’t allow for an optimal setup of the upcoming exit corner. Why? Simply because so much speed and time can be made up on a fast exit type corner. Example? In the IRC it is important that you set up turn 9 very well. It is a HUGE exit corner with the front straight coming off of it. In order to set up turn 9, it is necessary to slightly sacrifice the “perfect line” coming out of turn 8b. If you don’t you will loose speed on the straight because you didn’t set it up as early as you could have had you “sacrificed” a bit of the perfect line out of 8b. And, finally the “balanced corner”. It pretty much has as much straight before and after the turn portion of the corner.

Well, that’s a lot of information churning around in my head, and I make my way out to the new track on our final day.

Right as we get out there I get my two up lap. Bummer, it’s not Freddie Spencer. He hurt his wrist a few weeks prior in a skiing accident and it’s not fully healed, so two up riding with Freddie is out of the question for this class. So, I get a two-up with Ken Hill. Let me sum this ride up. Precision. Absolute precision. We move around the track at around 30% faster than I do by myself, and never miss a single apex! Ken’s application of throttle and break is… well PRECISE! I was totally impressed. As much as I was bummed out that I didn’t get to go with Freddie, I was thrilled to say that being on board a motorcycle with two people, traveling at speeds faster than I am able to by myself and to see it done with such skill, reminds me that I have much to learn. But also, that riding like that is indeed possible. I found think to myself something Freddie said back on day one. He said, “riding these bikes is not about ‘natural ability’. It’s about learning, and applying the right skills. And while not everyone can be a world champ, certainly everyone can become really skilled riders if they invest in the time, effort and concentration it takes to become a great rider.” You’re damned right Freddie. After my ride with Ken, I resolve to hit my apex on every corner for my video, regardless of speed!

Nick sends us out for some laps to practice hard breaking along the back straight of ORC (after turn 6). They want us to come in as hot as we can, and bring the bike to a SMOOTH but rapid stop inside the cones. I’m coming into turn six setting myself up, trying to hit the apex so I can shoot out of 6 properly and enter the break zone to work on this emergency breaking drill. But something happens in the middle of turn 6 that would finally drive home the point of using trail breaking to affect our bike’s angle and trajectory.

I came into 6 using my break to get me on target for my apex when all of a sudden, my two fingers slipped off the break lever! Instantly, my line is shot and I run super wide. Like really super, stupid wide. And right then it was like a bell went off in my head. I think to myself “wow, this trail breaking stuff to affect your direction is not bullshit.” I immediately move on to the break zone, totally forget about the break drill and go to Nick and tell him the experience I just had. He smiled shaking his head up and down and said “See, what we mean?”. In fact, during the next break he has me tell the class about my experience and he then asked the entire class to do the same thing in that turn to really experience the massive change in your direction when you are not using your breaks. For me, it was really a banner moment in the three day course. Above all else, a new skill had been really and truly added to my riding repertoire.

Well, I continued on with another round of fast breaking. That was pretty neat. The theory behind it is to become comfortable with your speed and ability to bring the bike to a rapid stop. Jeff and Nick reminding the students “smooth steady application of the break pressure”.

Next, Nick had us stand in a corner and watch, Jeff, Ken, Shane and Freddie come into corners hot and present them with emergencies. In fact, one time when Freddie was coming at us at race speed for this particular corner (around 100+ mph) Nick said he was going to “toss some gravel in the road”. He moved a cone directly into the line of Freddie and said “see this is gravel we just put gravel in the road to right into the path of his line?” Then as Nick is still speaking and all of a sudden somebody in the class (wasn’t me and I didn’t see who it was) kicked some real gravel into the track!!! Holy shit!!! Freddie is coming in like gang busters and there is real gravel in the road. Nick’s eyes get big, he yell’s “No! Not real gravel!” jumps into the line waving his arms to signal Freddie this is a real emergency. Freddie, being the true professional and truly gifted and skilled rider is at full speed but comes to a stop in a very short distance; 70 feet or so (give or take). From full race speed he did this.

Nick looks at the class, and reminds them “I meant simulated gravel, but did you notice that Freddie had his eyes up and was able to stop from those speeds in that short distance?” Nick went on further “it can be done folks, real emergencies, real speed, in a short distance. But only smooth, steady increasing application of those breaks can you do it properly. Freddie just showed you. For real.” Freddie was cool about it and moved on. All in a days work for him.

They sent us out to do our videos next. I was trying to remember everything I had learned over the three days, and for my own skill level, I was trying to do it as fast as I could (not fast per se, but fast for me). I went around the track and actually felt I did pretty well. I screwed up turn 7 for sure, but the rest of the track I did… okay. And doing okay made me feel pretty good, especially because I had felt like my two earlier videos were horrible. In fact when we got back to the classroom and reviewed the tapes later on that day, Nick said “Good lap, Jason, really good. You missed 7, but other than that, keep working on what you’re doing. Nice lap.” Of course, I see every little error in the video and makes me feel crappy, but having Nick tell me I did a good job, made be feel pretty good. And to be honest, I can see the improvement in my lap and my skill from day one.

Anyway, the remainder of the day on the track was spent doing open lapping in two groups. Half the class would go for about 15 minutes, then the other half would go for about 15 minutes. This went on two maybe three times. I did feel faster, more confident and was more cognizant of what I was doing. Trailbreaking. Body position. Head at its lowest during the exit. Balls of the feet on the outer portion of the foot pegs. Smooth application of controls. Eyes up. Weight off my hands. Hit the apex. The faster I go, the longer my breaking zone. Move the body up during breaking. Don’t rush the entrance. All of it was swirling around in my head. And I was applying all of it. It felt great. With that, our training ended. We headed back to the class to review our videos and to “graduate”. Everyone said their goodbyes, we packed up and headed back to the Orleans in the shuttle bus. I felt a little bummed as we were leaving. Bummed that we didn’t have another three days to be around these world class motorcycle riders. But there is always next time I figure!

While I’m no racer, nor have desire to be one, I felt the instruction I received was invaluable. Worth it’s weight in gold. I feel so much more confident on the bike now. I also feel like I have a basic tool set for riding well; tools which I understand and have applied and shared with other riding friends of mine.

Will I go back? You bet I will! In fact, I am already making plans to get into the Street Rider 2 course as soon as possible.

Entire photo album from Freddie Spencer's Class that I and a fellow classmate took. Enjoy.

PS As of 4/26/07 My riding videos aren't in. And the word is, it can take some time before the school sends them to us, so I posted the review without them. When they get here I will post them... along with a cool lap they ran behind Nicky Hayden!

649 Posts
that's quite a read but i got through it and won't even be late for work!!!! Very informative 'cuz like myself, there are probably a lot of riders who want to get into track days but don't really know what to expect. Not everyone is a racer, but i think most of us at some point want to add that type of experience to our riding career. Thanx for taking the time to share this info!!!!!!!!:mfclap

266 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
that's quite a read but i got through it and won't even be late for work!!!! Very informative 'cuz like myself, there are probably a lot of riders who want to get into track days but don't really know what to expect. Not everyone is a racer, but i think most of us at some point want to add that type of experience to our riding career. Thanx for taking the time to share this info!!!!!!!!:mfclap
No problem! And I appreciate the comments!

Btw, only 2 people in that class of nearly 20 wanted to become racers. The woman and the guy in the air force. The rest, were simply street riders that also do some track riding. And remember what I wrote in there. 3 guys were 60! A couple were in their 50s. Quite a few were in their 40's and several were in their 30's (like me). So, it was a wide spectrum of ages. The skills taught in that class give street riders greater command over their bikes -- cool thing is, you are practicing on the track so 100% concentration on your skills; unlike the street where 90%+ of your concentration is spent not focusing on honing your riding skills but rather on the people in the cars who are trying to kill you.

Also, four of the riders (including my buddy Robert) were "Harley only" types. And they all had a blast!

67 Posts
sounds like you had quite a bit of fun. I think someday maybe i will try a driving school. I need to myself graduate to a larger bike, (im 6'2 and 220 lbs in a zx6r) but i like the smaller more nimble bike for now. It has been allowing me a greater ability to feel more confident i think. But i hope to next season be riding a zx10 or zx12 but if i dont feel ready i will stay with my 6. I really like it so far.

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