Date reviewed: April 2022 | Tested by: Leah Tokelove | Price: £649 | www.bmwmotorradperformanceacademy.com
As part of its ongoing commitment to ‘making life a ride’ for fans of the brand, BMW Motorrad has worked tirelessly to add variety to their ‘world of BMW’ offering by introducing the ‘BMW Motorrad Performance Academy’- a track-based experience, to sit alongside other offerings, such as off-road skills, tours and rider training.
New for 2022, we fled to the stunning Anglesey Circuit in North Wales for the inaugural Performance Academy day to put the experience to the test, and I needed little persuasion in taking up the mantle for my first BikeSocial outing after BMW requested riders with little track experience. Anglesey should be on every track enthusiast’s ‘to-do’ list by the way.
The wealth of experience leading the training at the Performance Academy, and the limited number of just 25 participants, spread across four levels and multiple groups, sets the scene for a great day.
With five further dates bookable online, spanning from May through to September 2022, it’s one to particularly bear in mind if you have a BMW and if not, it’s still a fantastic day packed with personalised tuition, small group sizes, plenty of track time and the opportunity to ride some of the most technically advanced production motorcycles going.
The BMW Motorrad Performance Academy consists of four different levels with each level occupying a whole day. For those new to circuit riding, Level One offers the opportunity to develop your on-track skills covering the basics of body positioning, track familiarisation, corner approach, throttle control and, of course, gear selection.
Each course steps it up a level with the knowledge transferred from instructors to participants, until you reach the peak, the fourth and final course offered- the M Experience. This is aimed at those wanting to learn the fundamentals of motorcycle racing, for those wanting to learn that you couldn’t be in better hands to do so, benefitting from the experience of the likes of Steve Plater, the Bennetts British Superbike Synetiq BMW Team Manager and multiple time TT race winner, Ian Hutchinson.
For me, having done three track days prior to the BMW Motorrad Performance Academy, I was the perfect fit for Level Two- looking to build on the core techniques and acquire more advanced skills.
The full day’s training on a Level Two day, looks to pick up your pace and build on your basic skills, as you develop consistency in your lines and body positioning whilst developing your understanding of braking and acceleration on different parts of the circuit. You’ll benefit from a split between theory and circuit time, where in each instance you will take a lot from the invaluable analysis of your instructor. For example, a 30-minute briefing on Body Positioning by former professional racer, Steve Brogan, was followed by track riding and a debrief from one of the celebrity instructors. Along with three others in my group, I was assigned three-time BSB champ, Niall Mackenzie. He’s awesome, very attentive, and keen for each of us to progress.
With four different levels on offer, I think that every rider can find their spot on the day – from newbie to pro. It presents an unrivalled opportunity to take your first steps out on track, as it is so relaxed and not intimidating in the slightest. Also, probably the most important part, a well-prepared track bike, is provided as part of the deal! Matched with thoughtful tuition it’s impossible to leave feeling less confident than when you arrived.
I especially felt that the day was beneficial for those that thought their riding had become a bit stagnant. The benefits of having highly experienced instructors plus plenty of space on a track that includes my favourite section - a lovely long straight-ish bit from Turn 1 to Rocket In - to really develop your riding and take it to the next level. The attention and consideration you’re given is second to none, especially when you see your coach filling out a little form on your progress.
How does the day itself go? All four groups are together for the welcome briefing which is also where we got split up into groups after having a track talk, I’ll be honest… I never remember those things but was grateful to be given an idea of what gear to use where and to be able to refer back to the circuit diagram.
For those of us in Level Two, we kickstarted our full day of training with a really useful Classroom session with Steve Brogan, where he went into a lot of detail on body positioning, particularly how critical it was to progress your riding, which proved fundamental to setting the tone for my day. Classroom is a term used loosely, it was more of an informal chat and demonstration on one of the actual bikes that we would be riding, an S 1000 RR. Steve discussed advanced body positioning and emphasised where we should be looking and the commonly transferred habits from road riding to circuit, that do need nipping in the bud for track riding. He then offered out the opportunity for those wanting to, to get on the bike and demonstrate their natural riding position, where he’d then make the necessary corrections- similar to most experience-based training days, you take the most from it when you’re engaged.
This set me up well for what followed, the first circuit session of the day, pitched as ‘Introductory Laps’. For me, having never ridden anything bigger on track than a 650, knowing that if I at least sat correctly the rest would build up with confidence. We probably had ten laps to get a feel for the bikes and for those that had never ridden a BMW S 1000 RR it was an opportunity to develop an opinion to be able to ask more bike-specific questions to our instructors. It was also the instructor’s opportunity to gauge our ability ahead of the day’s training, as they led us out in small groups.
After a short break while others were out on track, Circuit Session 1 followed; the first of two 20-minute sessions to continue getting used to the bikes, learning the circuit, and practising what we’d been taught. We were led out in groups of two by one of the instructors, this was especially helpful having never ridden Anglesey before. Steve Plater showed us the way and we followed his lines with enthusiasm, at this point in session one my weakness was the oh-so distracting view as you ride down into the corkscrew section, after a few distracted laps in session one I realised that I wanted to do more than skim my knee sliders, so I soon stopped soaking up the view like I was on my holidays.
For session two we were assigned to whomever would be our instructor for the rest of the day. For me, I was fortunate enough to be under Niall Mackenzie’s instruction, or ‘Grandad’ as Mr Plater kept calling him! For session two Niall led us out as a small group of two where he continually observed, leaving us to continue to find our feet before passing on his wisdom. I was beginning to make more of an effort to make the most of the ‘apex point markers’ and aim towards them, as opposed to feel repelled by them, as the day progressed these were pivotal to my progress.
The first taste of 1:1 tuition came just before lunch, where Niall took each of us out for a handful of laps, with him leading for a start before waving us by, so he could observe from a different angle and see if we had been paying attention to his lines. After our first 1:1 ride, we pulled back into pit lane where he jumped straight off his bike and offered in-depth feedback on what went well and what we’d be working on after lunch.
For me, I had a great position on the bike (thanks Steve) and Niall could tell that I was really trying to move my weight for the appropriate corners, but it could of course always be better. I needed to try and get myself in position sooner, to be better set up for the corners. As well as that I needed to use more of the track, my lines weren’t bad by any means, but I just needed to make the most of all the track on offer. The lunch break then followed, which left us all in a great spot, to chew the fat on our first proper de-brief of the day.
The afternoon began with another classroom session, this time with BMW’s Technical Manager for the South of England. Having Steve there was especially an added bonus for those with a BMW S 1000 RR because he talked us all through the technical side of the bike, in particular the fancy dashboard and all the things it can change. He was able to share advice on how to get the most from BMW’s technology, when you’re out riding your own bike. He also went through the changes that had been made to get the bikes track ready. Everyone in my group certainly benefitted from that session.
Then it was down to the nitty gritty of the 1:1 tuition. In the afternoon we all benefitted from a further two fifteen/twenty-minute track sessions with Niall, mixed between leading and following. Owing to the small group sizes we were all able to spend the time talking with our instructor, taking on their valuable feedback that made this tuition truly bespoke. I found this such a useful element of the day, I really took on board the feedback ahead of my first session after lunch. I was immediately making the most of the space out on track, I felt myself carrying more speed and being able to set myself up for the corners much sooner, meaning I didn’t end up slowing down too much before the corner and could carry myself through the corner more confidently.
Having Niall on hand to let me know where I was making these improvements was superb, he was offering advice on what I could turn my attention to next allowing me to have another good push before the day was out. It was also nice to hear that I was leaving as a different rider than the one I arrived as, and this came to show in my final session of the day where I felt much more fluid and at ease, full of confidence linking together all I’d learnt. I didn’t feel like I was going in blind anymore and felt much more calculated. I was thinking about my braking points and where to accelerate.
Above: Instruction comes from a very high level
There is a lot that you can take from the BMW Motorrad Performance Academy and apply to your road riding. As someone with a limited knowledge of track riding prior to the day, I didn’t realise how much more effective it is to just relax and lean into your turns. It makes it all link up and flow together nicer and when you’re at that sort of angle you realise that you shouldn’t be fiddling with your throttle too much and upsetting your flow, enabling you to turn more effectively and smoothly, which would be way safer out on the road. I’m not saying I’m now going to be getting my knee down on every corner, I just know that relaxed body positioning is something that I can easily transfer to my road riding and as a result act more competently.
Also, the importance of looking ahead and at the next problem area. Of course, it’s a given looking where you should be riding but the fact of the matter is looking further ahead enables you to be better prepared for whatever comes next and, on the road, that is vital.
Above: Fellow classmate, Andrew Ingram
Also with me on the day was Andrew Ingram from St Albans, who has a BMW S 1000 RR for the Track and a Ducati Multistrada for everything else. This is what he had to say about the day, “I’ve been riding for about fifteen years, I’ve done a lot of touring all over the world and probably for the past ten years or so I’ve got into my track riding, but not as much track stuff lately.
“I thought it would be good to get some feedback on what I needed to do, to get to the next level with my track riding. I feel like I’ve got to a certain level and have been stuck there ever since, kind of stagnant. It was also a great opportunity as a BMW owner to ride a bike that I’m already comfortable on, knowing exactly how it feels and handles- it’s going to be straightforward applying the feedback from today into riding my own bike going forward. I also picked up one or two things from the technical classroom session this afternoon.
“I feel like I’ve had loads of track time and has a great opportunity to take so much of Niall’s knowledge onboard. I think it’s amazing how few people are on here, at times I’ve been riding a circuit pretty much to myself, not having anyone come past me or catch me up and overtaking, that’s something you don’t get on a track day! With so few people out on track, coupled with the relaxed environment, the BMW Motorrad Performance Academy really has surpassed my expectations.”