MotoUSA tucked in for the KTM Superbike School to see what we could learn during two beautiful days at Laguna Seca.
“Back to school…oh, back to school…”
As Adam Sandler so elegantly sang in the hilarious film Billy Madison, going back to class isn’t the most desirable of experiences; I’ve just never been a fan. Unless it involves motorcycles and a world class racetrack – that’s a whole different story…
Thus, when Motorcycle USA was recently invited to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to attend the Skip Barber Superbike School powered by KTM, yours truly quickly jumped at the chance. I may have more laps around ‘Seca than I dare to count, but there’s always room for more. Not to mention the prospect of learning – I’m always open to improving, especially when it comes to anything on two wheels.
Lead by chief instructor Jeff Haney, the KTM-powered school uses a host of orange machines and is geared for all level riders. Highlighted by the RC8 sportbike, they also have a fleet of Super Dukes and 690 Dukes, giving students a variety of machines to choose from.
We found the KTM RC8 to be a good fit for the school. We’ll wait to give a full report on the bike until after we ride the 2010 edition in a few week’s time.
Curriculum starts off with the basics, focusing on the front brake and corner-entry on Day 1, then moving on to trail-braking and rear brake, as well as corner exit on Day 2.
The first day begins with a ride around the track in a van to discuss lines, which for those who hadn’t been to Laguna Seca was a huge help. This is followed by a host of laps following your assigned instructor around the course to get to know the layout on two wheels. Groups are split up by previous experience and skill level so as to mesh everyone well, with typically three to four riders per instructor.
For the second session each instructor mounts a GoPro camera on the back of their bike, having students shadow them for at least one full lap. Post session, the group reviews the videos and the instructor establishes what key areas each rider needs to work on for the following two days. Personally, my inside shoulder was tucked too far in and I needed to open up my body, according to Haney. I also wasn’t pushing the bike up onto the meat of the tire quickly enough on corner exit.
Their use of cameras and immediate instruction provided a great way to see exactly what one is doing wrong, giving you the ability to get pointers on how to fix these areas immediately. This is something I had never experienced and it was great to see where I needed to improve with such urgency, providing a goal to strive for right from the beginning. From there it was time for some drills. Ah, yes, drills…
This is where things slowed down a bit, in more ways than one, but the intended purpose was as such. Designed to demonstrate some of the technical aspects of riding, but at a slower pace, were the main purposes behind the drills. They have you do the intended drill in a set part of
the track, one at a time, then proceed the rest of the lap to practice. This worked well initially as we went through a host of drills – turning though slalom cones, braking straight up and down, trail-braking and rear brake – throughout the course of the two days.
These are intermixed with sessions on track as a group while following your instructor, as well as classroom sessions. The in-class time features motorcycle technology taught by Michael Czysz and riding technique with Haney or former racer and school instructor Ty Howard. This system all works well and I was able to improve my riding position by a healthy margin quickly, which I’ve continued to work on since.
The classroom sessions about motorcycle theory with Czysz were highlights for me personally, as Michael is well educated in regards to all things two-wheeled and does a good job expanding one’s perception of how to control a motorcycle, as well as how they work.
Body position was the main area yours truly had to work on. Judging by this photo it’s safe to say the school helped.
The only place I think the school comes up short is a lack of free sessions for students to practice on their own. For only one session at the end of the second day were we able to ride on our own and really push our personal limits. And they stressed the danger and importance of this sole session like we were about to race a Grand Prix or something. This is where it started to feel like ‘school’ again, dragging on a bit long.
The first day didn’t feel nearly as slow paced, as a quick refresher course was nice. But by about 11 a.m. on the second day myself and the rest of the advanced group were dying to get a few open sessions at the beautiful Northern California racetrack. It was almost a tease to be at such an amazing place and be confined to only drills and teacher-led sessions. I think they could have easily put the students out in skill-level-based groups on their own by the end of Day 1 or the beginning of Day 2, with instructors riding amongst them for safety.
Chief instructor Jeff Haney leads MotoUSA and the more advanced group down the corkscrew at Laguna Seca.
But as a whole, taking the wide range of student abilities into consideration, I would rate the school highly – especially in regards to how hands-on they are with each student. I talked to some of the less experienced pupils and they all came away very happy with what they had learned and impressed with the school and its instructors – some even signing up for a second course.
As for the more experienced guys, this might not be the ideal school for you. It is definitely more geared toward learning the basics, which a refresher course in isn’t bad, but they never really dived into the more advanced aspects of track riding or racing, with the exception of trail-braking. No doubt Haney and his team of instructors have the ability to do this, it’s just that being able to accomplish this while still catering to the less experienced guys, which made up the majority of the class, would be next to impossible. This is why if you are a racer or avid track day guy, I would recommend you wait until they do an advanced or ‘race’ school before spending $2199. On the other hand, for the less experienced guys, if it’s track basics and advanced street riding skills you are after, this is $2199 well spent.
Spaces are still available for the December 5-6 class this year, while they have five dates in 2010 open for sign up as well. Online registration and more information can be found at: www.skipbarbersuperbikeschool.com.