Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We test the California Superbike School's level one course at Brands Hatch

Al, GSX-R750, Brands CSS

I've been riding a long time - twenty years this year. But to be honest, I've never had much in the way of formal training. Rather, I've sort of got stuck in, and hoped that spending thousands of miles in the saddle would magically induce talent within me.

Of course that works, after a fashion. But there comes a point where you can really benefit from spending a bit of time with an external body analysing what you're doing, and working out how to make it work better.

That point was probably about seven or eight years ago for me, but better late than never as they say, so I was pleased to sign up for the California Superbike School's Level One course at Brands Hatch last week. I borrowed a Suzuki GSX-R750 (the gentleman's premium choice for track duties), put on my best bib and tucker, and set the alarm for an early start (sign-on starts at 7am, erk).

I'd heard a lot about the CSS over the years, not all of it good. But I have to say that my experience was overwhelmingly positive. There's a strong focus on classroom work - you spend half the day in a room with director Andy Ibbott, talking about what you do on a bike, broken down in quite a detailed way. Ibbott has a good classroom manner, engaging yet challenging, and the nature of his teaching has the students constantly asking and answering questions. If you're an experienced rider, you might not feel quite at home with some of the 'black or white' statements on the nature of things, but there's no doubt it's a positive, effective learning process.

But don't think this classroom emphasis detracts from track time. I got five decent sessions at Brands, only maybe one less than at a trackday, and the more controlled nature of the day meant fewer red flag stoppages, so less lost time. The on track instructors follow you around, offering tuition from the bike, or calling you into the pits for more in-depth instruction.

Criticisms? Well, the mix of abilities is very wide: my Level one group included a British Superstock racer and a novice rider who'd only ever ridden 500 miles in total. The instructors kept good order, but at times the disparity in speeds stood out, not helped by the compact nature of Brands Indy. And on a minor note, some of the instructors have rather outlandish nicknames, in the manner of a Top Gun parody sketch...

But all that said, and the £412 cost of the day considered, I'd definitely go back to the school. All of the students I spoke to were similarly positive too, and if you're considering some track-based rider training, I'd be happy to recommend the school.