MCUSA’s Ken Hutchison got an opportunity to learn from the best when he turned laps in front of three-time AMA Superbike champion Doug Chandler.
Grab your clip-on tight and hang on: We’re going to Doug Chandler’s Performance Motorcycle School. No matter how good you think you are, you could be better. No matter how fast you are, you could be faster. No matter how much you think you know, you need to learn more. That’s why going back to school to learn how to become a better rider sounds like such a great idea. Were not talking any ordinary classroom here, though, we’re talking a 10-turn, triple-digit straightway classroom. Let’s get it on!
Three-time AMA Superbike champion and former MotoGP star Doug Chandler is looking to help develop the next generation of American road racing talent by making his tutoring and mentoring services available to the public through his racing school. With no less than 39 school sessions available in 2006 and even more in store for 2007, the odds that a DC school is coming to a track near you are good, but you had better be ready to put your money where your mouth is. Unlike many schools, Chandler limits his session to four riders so he can maximize the amount of one-on-one interaction between himself and his students, so there’s no blending into the background at Champ.
Our school took place in association a Cascade Track Time event at our home track, Portland International Raceway. The 2006 Honda CBR600RR Project Bike equipped with Michelin Pilot Power Race rubber, and yours truly, would be the test subjects. (Since the original posting date of this article the Doug Chandler School reorganized to provide its own trackdays. The new company Doug Chandler Performance Motorcycle School, runs both school dates and track days at multiple California tracks, including Buttonwillow, Thunderhill and Laguna Seca, as well as Reno. For more information visit www.dougchandler.com and check out the MotorcycleUSA Trackay/Riding School Schedule.)
The morning started off with a formal meet and greet between Doug Chandler guest instructor Lance Holst and the students. These two would pilot the pair of DC School Kawasaki ZX-10R machines equipped with front-facing video cameras used to capture our riding on tape, a critical component of the school curriculum. Chandler utilized the second instructor to make sure that the majority of each student’s track time is captured on video.
Each student then introduced themselves and explained what they hoped to get from the experience. There were two local racers who recently moved up to the Expert level, a local Kawasaki dealer who was looking to improve his track prowess, fellow MCUSA test rider Don Becklin and myself. We were instructed to check tire pressure, take it easy as we get familiarized with the track during our first couple sessions, and save ourselves for the afternoon when we could start to really push hard as track temperature increased. Chandler’s goal is to point out no more than two changes from his list of 10 fundamentals to work on at a time. Any more than that he believes is too much to comprehend and implement effectively.
At the end of the second session, all five of us joined Chandler in the school motor home, a.k.a. classroom, where the personal instruction takes place. Using on-board video footage to show us what we were doing right and, more importantly, what we were doing wrong, is an excellent way to get the message to sink in. Chandler generally spent four to five laps behind each rider per session which was plenty of time to evaluate that rider’s style and leave enough time to discuss it in class between sessions. Every one of us exhibited incorrect body position, so that was the first thing all of us had to work on.
“A lot of guys tend to get bound up on the bike,” explains Chandler. “They get the lower half of their body off to the side okay, but they’ll keep their head and shoulders on the centerline. That creates more pressure on the bars and that’s the last thing you need. You want to hold onto the bars but you don’t want to lock the steering up. The bikes don’t tend to like that very much. If you can position your body so that you are secure on the bike with your legs around the tank and on the pegs, then you can keep the handlebar pressure light – the bike will do more for you that way. Use the leverage from your upper body to pull the bike over if need be, rather than when you are looking above the windscreen and trying to push down on the handlebar.”
It was painfully obvious on the video that this was the case with my riding style, so along with working on body positioning, we were instructed to start identifying reference points next time out. We would go over them both in the next class. It was easy to recognize the issue and change it for a while, but old habits are hard to break. I was able to get my upper body out from behind the windscreen for a while, but once I started picking up the pace I tended to revert back to what I was familiar doing. At least I was picking up some good reference points though.
Back in the class, the body position issue was brought up and Doug pointed out a few key reference points he wanted us to use during braking and line selection that we were missing during the video review. By giving yourself a larger track to work with, instead of cutting corners too early or too late, it allows you to brake less, carry more speed going in and then carry more speed on the exit.
Doug points out that getting a good drive out of a turn is a key to a fast lap. In the long run, it’s safer than late-braking heroics or spending too much time on the side of tire and, subsequently, off the gas. Gear selection plays a role in all of this, and the video does not lie. It is up to the rider to figure out how to keep the bike on the boil – Doug can’t twist the throttle for you. For the most part I was getting good drive out and I was impressed with my consistent darkies on corner exits on the video. Too bad I have a tendency to park the bike at the entrance of the turns.
Braking was the next subject addressed by the champ, and this seems to be a common error on the part of most riders Chandler works with. The solution is to worry less about braking in practice, selecting a reference point for your apex and nailing it lap after lap in order to increase your speed. Braking prowess will come with time. The trick is to first pay attention to how fast you can go through that corner and work on scrubbing off just the right amount of speed on the brakes as you start turning in. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is obviously a useful bit of knowledge to have at your disposal.
Ken was able to work on his body positioning courtesy of suggestions from Chandler and fellow instructors after he had turned some laps on the MCUSA Honda CBR600RR project bike.
“Most of the time riders don’t take the time to use a turn-in point,” Chandler points out. “They charge the corner and go in deep but they tend to slow the bike down too much What you make up by braking late and hard, you lose on the exit and it makes it a fight (to make up lost time) the rest of the way around the track. I prefer to have a good reference point turning into a corner, and once you hit it consistently you can always just move your braking point further into the corner into that mark until you start missing it. That to me is a no-brainer. It’s one of the more simple things you can learn.”
After a few classroom sessions were in the books I was steadily feeling more confident in my line selection and braking points. I still felt I was getting good drives out of the turns and I was sure my body position was looking better because I could feel the difference as the bike was settling in mid corner sooner than it was at the start of the day. About the time I was thinking I might make honor roll, D.C. knocked me down a peg or two in the next trip to class. Apparently my body position was improving, but the timing of my move was not quite right.
“A lot of guys don’t like to get their body into position prior to braking,” Chandler explains with serenity in his voice. “They keep their body in line with the centerline of the bike while braking and then shift their body into position. I push them to get into position prior to braking because that’s one less thing you have got to do when tipping into a corner. You don’t want to be moving around on the bike and get the thing upset even more or make it take longer to get it settled into the corner if you can get off. Do your braking and back shifts, and then as you’re using the brakes and tipping into the corner, its one fluid motion.”
I could see on the video that this was exactly what I was doing. I would charge into the braking zone with my body perpendicular to the track, hammer the brakes and then tip it in while moving my body to the side. I would get into full hang-off mode just before the apex and even though I was pretty smooth doing it, the bike was still receiving bar inputs contrary to what it needs, and you could see it was just finally settling in at the apex. Good thing the CBR600RR is notoriously stable and forgiving.
Over the next couple sessions I was able to use the reference points without thinking about it too much. It really helps to judge entry speed and where you are heading through both the apex and the exit. In the past I felt I used reference points pretty well and, as it turns out, I should be using two or three times as many. With that change permanently logged in my long-term memory, it was riding position and braking that needed the most attention.
The key to a fast lap is getting a good drive out of a turn, which MCUSA Prez, Don Becklin, displays on his very own Triumph Daytona 675.
According to both instructors, I was generally carrying good speed and continued to drive out hard despite not doing either fundamentally sound. It was great to hear someone with Chandler’s history reassuring you that you’re not as bad as you think you are. Lap after lap I grew more confident that, not only was I doing the right thing, but that I was making improvements across the board. I’m still surprised at the difference in the way the bike feels through a turn after I got into the habit of combining downshifts, braking and moving into position on the side of the bike simultaneously. It sounds like a lot to do at one time when in fact it starts to become a smoothing habit after a short period of time. Getting a feel for doing this allows you to focus on carrying more speed in and getting even a better drive out.
“If you talk to racers who have done this for a long time, you get them to think back to what they have seen on the track. A lot of them don’t necessarily say they see or use reference points, instead they say they do it by feel,” says Chandler. “Well, I believe that feel comes from reference points they’ve determined earlier in their career. It’s something in your subconscious that you don’t think much about. I didn’t think much about it until I started doing the schools. Some people don’t pick up on them, but there’s consistency to what you see on a track and you need to use it.”
The master had spoken. I did my best to absorb his input, process it and put it into play. I had completed my school experience and elevated my riding to another level. The most important change was that I became confident in my riding. I was smoother, more consistent and looked much better (This is important to all moto-journalists) through the turns. Plus, I feel more comfortable knowing that I am doing the right things rather than hoping I am doing them. Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s correct.
Reference points are a key element to a good consistent lap, and without them you are essentially flying by the seat of your pants. For many riders that is fine, but for those intent on shaving lap times, improving their skills and being fundamentally sound, it is one of the most simple additions to your repertoire. Once you start using them, you will understand why it works. They are the baseline for other key improvements as well. Chandler believes that using reference points for line selection on corner entry and corner exit, as well as establishing consistent braking points, are a critical part of staying smooth and understanding what you and your machine are capable of.
This is the first part of a cerebral game we often simply refer to as riding. There is so much going on that we can easily take for granted the principles, evaluations, dynamics, actions and reactions that are taking place every second you are maneuvering the bike. A single moment of indecision can spell disaster. Depending on when or where the moment occurs determines the result. It can be as painless as a loss of position or as unfavorable as a get-off. Taking the guessing game out of the equation frees up your mind for working on other essentials like body position, maintaining momentum, nailing the apex and setting up a great drive to the next turn.
Turning laps with Chandler on your tail, you have an experienced pro able to pinpoint areas for improvement. It’s also the only possible situation where you will ever have Doug Chandler riding behind you.
It is nearly impossible to address all 10 of his fundamentals in one day. This is why Doug encourages riders to take what they learn and implement them into their riding and then following it up with a return visit down the road. Once these new skills become ingrained or second nature, then it is time to join Chandler for a second class and fine tune their riding further by addressing advanced issues like tire management, confronting panic, relaxation and throttle control. Once the speeds pick up, it opens up a whole new level of issues you have to contend with.
Fortunately, the easy-going demeanor of this three-time AMA Superbike champion helps to keep the students calm. This was reflected in the comments from the other students who repeatedly mentioned how appreciative they were that he never made them feel inferior in the classroom as he critiqued our riding on video. Personally, I took his input as gospel. Who am I to doubt the input of an instructor with a resume this extensive?
Chandler also wants to be sure that potential students are aware that he is also available for personal training in both Supermoto and Superbike outside of his scheduled schools. That’s right, contact DC Racing directly and arrange for your entire team to get one-on-one instruction at the track of your choice.
“I like to keep the school small for the simple fact that some of the other schools put on by big-name racers don’t really provide interaction,” Chandler muses. “Sure, they’ll talk in the classroom but they are not out there with them the whole time and I think that should be part of the deal with having your name on the school – then you should be out there working with them. To me, that is part of the novelty of riding with an old racer.”
The 2007 class schedule will be released in February, and class sessions are expected to begin at the end of March once the weather turns warmer. As a former racer, Chandler knows all too well how Mother Nature can lay waste to an afternoon of riding and he is quick to point out that the last thing he wants is to try to squeeze classes in too early and have riders leave disappointed because they were rained out.
Chandler’s easy-going personality ensures students will not be intimidated, and the three-time champ manages to deliver critiques in a positive manner.
Summing up the DC racing School experience, I have to award it the MotorcycleUSA.com stamp of approval. Not only do you get the invaluable input from a professional rider using on-board video to facilitate improvements to your personal riding style, but you get the undivided attention from one of the greatest riders in the motorcycle history. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Well, what are you waiting for? The Doug Chandler Performance Motorcycle School curriculum is very friendly and informal. There is more interaction with the premier instructor than you will ever get from another school. Some people need the big classroom environment to be comfortable, so there’s no doubt the competing schools will continue to do fine.
If you want more hands-on instruction and detailed analysis of how you ride specifically, then there’s only one choice: Doug Chandler’s Performance Motorcycle School.
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