The Yamaha Champions Riding School was designed to help motorcyclists improve their skill regardless of whether they ride on the street or racetrack.
If you weren’t raised on a motorcycle, learning how to ride isn’t the easiest talent to acquire. This is especially true when it comes to performance-oriented sportbikes- Yamaha’s latest R1 is capable of 100 mph in first gear! Yamaha understands this, that’s why it has partnered with Miller Motorsports Park to create the Yamaha Champions Riding School. The clinic was designed specifically to help motorcyclists improve their skill, regardless whether they ride on the street or racetrack.
The school follows in the footsteps of the highly-acclaimed Freddie Spencer High-Performance Riding School, which we attended before its unfortunate demise. It runs in either two- or three-day formats, with prices ranging from $2295 to $3395. Based out of Miller’s freshly paved 4.5-mile, multiple configuration road courses near Salt Lake City, Utah, additional dates are available at Nevada’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the winter months. A graduate program and pro camp is also offered for repeat students looking to expound upon original training. While the price tag is certainly steep, students get significant value for their dollars spent.
Each student is given their own Yamaha YZF-R6, one of the best racetrack-oriented sportbikes currently on the market. The suspension has been set-up for the rider’s approximate weight and fitted with new Michelin Pilot Power 2CT tires. There are also FZ6Rs and FZ1s for larger folks or those who prefer a more upright riding position. Each bike is fresh, clean and in perfect mechanical condition. Class size is limited to no more than 20 students, which ensure participants get a fair amount of personalized instruction. Aside from the awesome machinery and epic world-class facilities, it’s the staff that really makes Yamaha’s school stand apart from others.
Headlining the team is Nick Ienatsch, an accomplished motorcycle road racer, moto-journalist and author. Ienatsch is supported by an equally-talented coaching staff, including Ken Hill, Dale Kieffer, Shane Turpin and Mark Schellinger, all having won multiple road racing championships between them. These guys know a thing or two about riding motorcycles at a high-level. Occasionally Yamaha will ship in a celebrity guest instructor, the likes of Ben Spies and Josh Hayes. Our class had the opportunity to kick it with AMA Superbike racer Ben Bostrom!
Each student is given their own Yamaha YZF-R6 which is one of the best bikes suited for the racetrack.
Class begins each morning with students piling inside the school’s van to do some sighting laps of the circuit. On Day 1 you lap the faster 2.2-mile, 10-turn West Course, and on Day 2 the more technical 2.24-mile, 15-turn East Course. During the ride, either Ienatsch or Hill go over key fundamentals of track riding, including defining the slowest part of the corner (apex) and finding the optimum line for corner entry and exit. They also demonstrate with the van how a vehicle responds to brake and throttle inputs at various stages of a turn in order to help you avoid common riding mistakes. There is a lot of information being thrown at you quickly so it’s important to pay attention. Thankfully, the teaching staff are gifted communicators and capable of explaining each theory in a simple yet effective way.
At various points along the course you’ll exit the van and one of the guys will radio for a fly-by. Another instructor then whizzes by aboard an awesome-sounding crossplane R1 demonstrating the right and wrong way to execute a particular maneuver. Next, it’s your turn at the controls.
Students without riding gear can utilize school equipment courtesy of Alpinestars. After suiting up students divide into smaller groups by ability and assigned an instructor for the day. From there it’s time to hit the track, taking a few introductory laps, behind the coach, to get acclimated to the track, bike and tires.
After warm-up students move on to riding maneuvers where they learn line selection, body position, throttle/brake application and vision drills.
After the warm-up it’s on to a series of riding maneuvers. These exercises encompass a variety of subject matter including line selection, body position, throttle/ brakes application and vision drills. Students take turns at the front while the instructor monitors your progress and adjusts the pace accordingly. After everyone has had a turn, the group pulls over for a quick debriefing and progress assessment. Then it’s back on the bike and on to the next drill.
This on/off bike routine continues for the entire day, with minimal time actually spent inside the classroom or just standing around talking. While the curriculum is based on the successful formula developed at Freddie Spencer’s school, there have been some tweaks. The best thing is less talking and more ripping around with the throttle pinned and the engine screaming in excess of 15,000 rpm!
At midday everyone heads up to the classroom for lunch. While we ate, our guest instructor hung out and welcomed us to bounce questions off him. While typically most questions with a famous road racer would revolve around riding and racing, our chat with Bostrom focused more on debauchery and the hilarious tales he’s collected from 10-plus years of living the dream and getting paid to race bikes around the globe. One of the funniest Bostrom tales was when he and Kurtis Roberts were in Japan doing wind tunnel testing for Honda. Ask him about it sometime… It’s a good one.
Practice makes perfect. Waheed practices his cornering maneuvers under the watchful eye of school instructors. Although the school comes with a hefty price tag, the chance to ride at a world-class race circuit while working one-on-one with some of the nation’s best instructors makes it all worth it.
Afterward, our eyes moved to the screen to view a lap of ourselves riding as filmed off the trailing instructor’s bike-mounted video camera. The instructors critique your movements on the bike and whether you’re utilizing the best line around the racetrack. Being able to visualize what you’re doing with instant feedback from Ienatsch and company really helps realize your strong points, as well as what you need to focus on during the afternoon session.
Learning how to ride a motorcycle can be intimidating. Yamaha’s Champion School makes it easier by giving you the tools you need to ride with more control. With its lofty price, it certainly can’t be deemed cheap, but considering students get a couple days at the controls of a new Yamaha R6, around a world-class race circuit, working one-on-one with some of the nation’s best instructors – it all becomes worth it.