Freddie Spencer Riding School

September 17, 2008
Adam Waheed
By Adam Waheed
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His insatiable thirst for life is only surpassed by his monthly fuel bill. Whether rocketing on land, flying through the air, or jumping the seas, our Road Test Editor does it all and has the scars to prove it.

Freddie Spencer aboard a Honda CBR600RR.
If you’re serious about the sport of motorcycling and looking to ride faster, safer and more confidently, then Freddie Spencer’s Riding School is for you.

Staring ahead at the white board my mind momentarily fades away. A flashback into a drably painted room; a sleepy-eyed teacher dressed in pleated khaki pants and a worn-out collared shirt stands behind a podium droning on-and-on in a voice so monotone you could cry. Meanwhile I’m swearing to myself that after graduation day, I’ll never subject myself to this kind of boxed-in boredom.

Fast forward a few years and I can’t help but giggle. Because after years of trying to flee the classroom, I’m parked right back inside. But instead of crunching quadratic equations and determining the critical mass of a hydrogen atom, we’re studying lean angle and corner apexes–the fundamentals of speed a’la Freddie Spencer’s High Performance Riding School.

Established in 1997, the Spencer Riding School was founded by former 250 and 500cc Grand Prix racing World Champion, Freddie Spencer. Spencer saw the need to dispel performance riding fact from fiction and teach key riding techniques that provide the base for safe, fast and fun motorcycling.

The school began operations out of Las Vegas Motor Speedway and has since expanded, now operating remotely out of the recently built Miller Motorsports Park, just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. For us, the choice between the two venues became clear after attending the inaugural HANNspree World Superbike Championship round at Miller earlier this spring. After watching the World Superbike boys duke it out around Miller’s smooth ribbon of pavement, I was as giddy as your mom watching an old Sean Connery flick–I had to ride that track.

But I needed some help. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to ride everyday, I feel like I hit the proverbial wall in terms of my own abilities. I could easily lap comfortably within my own limits. But at the same time, no matter what I did, I never seemed to go any faster or make any tangible progress–that is, without doing any sketchy maneuvers. Other riders would routinely comment that my body position was awkward and that I used an unnecessary amount of lean angle mid-corner–which could make me more susceptible to that dreaded crash-bang-boom scenario. I knew something had to be done and a performance riding school seemed to be the logical answer.

Sitting inside this improvised classroom, I consider myself lucky. For in my 10-plus years of motorcycling, I’ve never had any formal instruction. Like many of you, I learned how to ride on my high school buddy’s “insert name here” 600. Along the way I’ve had plenty of “helpful” tips from good-hearted riders–just like you probably. But as I discovered, many of those tips were nothing more than misinformation handed down like old wives’ tales.

Ienastch and Hill are gifted communicators. Here they outline a few safety rules before departing out on track.
Ienastch and Hill are gifted communicators. Here they outline a few safety rules before departing out on track.

Apparently I’m not alone. A glance across the room confirms this and our nine-person class is as diverse as the passengers on a New York City subway. On one end there’s Dennis Coyle, the youngest looking 70-year-old dude I have ever met. Coyle is a retired lawyer from Florida and has been riding bikes for more years then I’ve been alive. Yet until this class he had never ridden a sportbike, let alone ridden one on a racetrack. Seated in front of me is Elizabeth Francois, another track newbie looking to improve her street riding skills. For her the ability to ride safely and in total control is can be a matter of life or death. Her daily grind consists of a commute aboard her CBR600RR through New Mexico’s mountain passes enroute to her 9 to 5 gig as an explosives engineer. But don’t for a minute think you’ve to be a novice to be sitting here. On the opposite end of the spectrum there’s me and repeat-student James Gutherie. In contrast to Dennis and Elizabeth, James’ motorcycle riding habits consist mostly of racetrack excursions aboard his Ducati 998. But despite our group’s differences in where and what type of riding we do, we all share the same desire to improve our skills.

Providing instruction for our class is Chief instructor Nick Ienatsch. Ienatsch has been with Freddie’s school since its inception and has a long-history in the world of motorcycling. His exploits include tenure within the AMA 250cc Grand Prix racing ranks while working as a journalist for some of the major U.S. motorcycle magazines. Additionally, he’s also penned a performance riding book titled Sport Riding Techniques, so rest assured he might know a thing or two about that thing we call performance riding.

Supporting Ienatsch is another motorcycle heavy-hitter by the name of Ken Hill. Hill joined the Freddie team in 2004, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience courtesy of his 20-plus years of motorcycle development and roadracing. 

From the moment Ienatsch and Hill whisk us away from our comfortable Marriott Residence Inn accommodations, coaching is non-stop. Both of them are outgoing and candid making you feel comfortable. Once we arrive inside the MMP facility we take a few laps in the school’s van in order to familiarize ourselves to Miller’s rewarding layout. On the first day we used the 2.2-mile, 15-turn East Course and on the second day we used the same length, 10-turn West Course. Both tracks are quite different and it’s really cool that you get to experience both for essentially just one price.

During the ride, Ienatsch points out each corner apex and fills your head with, at times, an almost overwhelming of do’s and do-not’s. But don’t stress, because throughout the day, he has a wonderful habit of constantly reiterating these riding fundamentals so by the end of the two-day curriculum you’ll have them memorized like they are the answers to a college final. Providing backup to Ienastch’s words is courtesy of Mr. Hill aboard a Honda CBR1000RR. When radioed, Hill zooms by demonstrating both proper as well as improper technique which visually shows you the right and wrong way.

In the morning the class gets up close and personal with some corner apexes.
First things first. Our class gets up close and personal with the track. Here Ienastch points out a corner apex.

Inside the classroom we go over what we’ve just learned and everyone gets a chance to ask questions, etc. A few important safety rules are outlined and then its time to ride! One of the cool things about Spencer’s school is that you don’t even need riding gear to attend. They have literally racks of Kushitani suits and the correct sized helmet, boots and gloves for any sized rider, boy or girl.

Each student is assigned their own identically prepped 2008 Honda CBR600RR. Suspension settings on each bike have been set-up based on each rider’s individual weight which takes out the dreaded set-up variable and makes it that much more easier for you to learn the basics. Mirrors, turn signals and switches are removed and the headlights are taped over, while Michelin Pilot Power street tires handle things in the black, sticky rubber department.

Out on track, our nine-person class was split up into two groups based on riding ability. Each group then conducts a variety of different drills and exercises allowing you to practice the riding techniques and demonstrate to the instructors how you’re getting along. As expected some of the drills are more exciting then others, but it’s important to remain alert and focused because each individual drill works in conjunction with the others giving you a complete curriculum. Both instructors do a top-notch job of keeping tabs on what you’re doing right and wrong. They’re also quite skilled in keeping you focused on the specific task at hand.

After we run through the drills we reconvene back inside the classroom and the instructors critique each student. It’s important to mention that both Ienastch and Hill are highly skilled communicators and have an unusually high ability to really zero-in on what you’re doing right as well as wrong. These guys truly know their stuff.

In the beginning, one of the things I struggled with most was breaking my bad riding habits, especially my twisted body position. But with both repetition and the instructor’s persistent critique I began to slowly make progress. One tip that really helped me was to constantly repeat some of the key phrases Ienastch and Hill would use that really helped me stay concentrated. You’ll also notice that on Day 2, everything you learned the day before becomes a heck of a lot easier as you’ve had a night to sleep on it.

A catered lunch is provided during which we viewed a wet MotoGP race from this season. Watching the race in conjunction with our instructor’s commentary really highlighted the importance of what we were being taught. And that in essence is one of the highlights of Freddie’s school. By breaking down the individual mechanics of the subject matter (such as lean angle, tire contact patch, suspension loading, etc..) and by providing visual examples, in addition to all the actual track time you get, makes the instruction easily digestible. It’s literally 100% guaranteed to improve your riding.

It s all smiles after two days at Freddie Spencer School.
It’s all smiles after two days at Spencer’s Riding School. Riding at Miller Motorsports Park was icing on the cake.

Towards the end of each day one of the instructors will follow you for a lap with their onboard video camera recording your every move. Back inside the classroom they review the footage with you, instantly gauging your progress. And even if you aren’t making any improvement they’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to get with it.

Without a doubt one of the school’s biggest attributes is its staff. From the instructors down to their in-house mechanic, everyone is exceptionally talented and entirely devoted to their job. They do everything possible and give you all the tools you need to become a safer, faster and more competent motorcycle rider—all the while you’re having a total blast riding a great track, hanging out with great people and learning skills that make the sport of motorcycling even more enjoyable.

Since attending Spencer’s school, I’ve done a number of trackdays and can see that I’m not only lapping quicker than before, but I’m doing so more confidently and in a safer, more controlled manner. Now that’s what I call fun. Hmm… maybe its time for the 2-day Pro School.

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