California Superbike School – Level One Review

Instructor Chewie demonstrated the gesture he'll use on track for throttle control

Imagine the scene: you’re handed the keys to a Ducati 1199 Panigale and invited to ride it on track at Silverstone. Pretty cool, right? But then you’re told to use only one gear and no brakes. Slightly less cool. 

Well, there’s a reason. Welcome to the California Superbike School, where every instruction through the six on and off-track lessons will improve you as a rider. Fact. You may want to climb on and immediately distribute every one of the 1199’s 192bhp’s then test the power of the ABS-equipped Brembo’s but that time comes later in the day. 

The CSS Level One is a one-day fast-track to gaining more confidence, competence and efficiency with a heavy focus on cornering techniques. 

Your natural cornering ability will be challenged and considerably improved with a series of drills each with its own goal and its own period of one-to-one training on and off track. You can use your own bike or hire one of the three Ducati models from the fleet to use during the day; 1199 Panigale, 899 Panigale or 1200 Monster S, at an extra cost of course.

Ducati 1199 Panigale handles corners with aplomb

Why concentrate on cornering?

The stability of a bike is one of the most fundamental reasons why we can ride around a corner at speed so it’s important to understand the reasons why a bike might become unstable. These are addressed early in the day and categorised as the controls of the bike which we, as the pilot of the bike, can affect.

Strange as it may seem, no brakes and only one gear helps you to concentrate on the essence of the first session; Throttle Control. Each session has an alternative focus and its own format, for example two gears and no brakes for the second drill; Turn Points.

On the track at the same time are the guys and girls who are doing the same level as you, on this occasion there were 18 others, split between 8 riding coaches. Each coach would spend a couple of laps behind you as you practise the drill before overtaking, making the universal thumbs-up gesture and leading you for another couple of laps while making a drill-specific gesture for you to know when he’s feeding the throttle in or pointing to the part of the track where he’s turning in, etc. 

Instructor gestures to look for the apex

A de-brief with your instructor at the end of each session helps understand what you were doing right and what you can work on next time. Then 20 minutes down-time before the next class room session, and so the cycle continues.

After the lesson titled Throttle Control comes Turn Points, Quick Turning, Rider Input and Two-Step Turning interspersed with an off-track Counter Steering session which is possibly the most valuable lesson of the day.

Counter steering - simple but so, so effective

Before I turned up, I thought I was confident enough on a bike on a track. I’ve never been one for the fast group at a track day but I thought it was just down to a lack of practise. But as with all sport or hobbies, if all you’re doing is practising bad techniques then all you’re really doing is developing bad habits and the rate of improvement will be limited. During the afternoon my new-found ‘real’ confidence was reaping rewards – I was much more comfortable tipping the bike in, and faster in doing so. It felt like the bike wanted to work with me rather than me fighting it, and once you begin to understand just what the 1199 can do, the benefits just keep rolling in. You’re encouraged to only ride at 90% but with each lap you confidence grows and you want to push on, practising new techniques. I wanted each session to last longer, despite the heat of the day. I’d have been perfectly happy circulating the 1.15 mile Stowe circuit until the sun went down.

Instructor assesses student before overtaking to guide

Level One has been an excellent learning curve and I’m almost tempted to recommend that you don’t go straight into Level Two on the following day, like some did. There’s a lot to take in from one day so it would be worth practising what you learn before bombarding your mind with more magical tips. 

Tips

  • Drink plenty of water; you’ll be given a 2-litre bottle when you sign-on
  • 20 minutes in every hour will be down time; call your mum, eat a sandwich, learn from others, do as you please
  • Check the condition of your tyres and their pressures if using your own bike
  • Make sure you’ve got plenty of fuel
  • A professional photographer is on site and will provide you many photos
  • Listen to the instructions and ask as many questions as possible

Conclusion

One day there was this thing called Counter Steering. It revolutionised how I approached corners! The team of instructors are not only first class riders but first class tutors who encourage you to analyse yourself after each sessionbefore delivering their verdict. Their guidance is usually spot on and leaves you begging to get out on track and practise some more. This course is an absolutely essential day for anyone who rides. Prices start at £409 but you're guaranteed to enjoy your riding so much more afterwards.

There’s still time to book yourself onto a California Superbike School day this year with Silverstone availability next month. Visit www.superbikeschool.co.uk

Here are some more photographs from the day:

An introduction for all riders across all levels before getting on track All riders across all groups have the same introduction before getting on track Your complete California Superbike School team Instructors lead the way around Silverstone's Stowe circuit The students lined up two-by-two 

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