Words by: Warren Norton
Back to Basics
I am a musician by night and a motorbike enthusiast and I own and regularly ride a 2015 Yamaha R1 superbike. The California Superbike School (CSS) event at the Clark International Speedway in Clark Air Base, Angeles on the weekend of 18 and 19 February 2017 was something that I had been looking forward to for weeks. Two full days of learning, riding and hanging out with other riders – I couldn’t wait! CSS was founded by Keith Code and has been around in different countries since 1980. Their mission is to improve your riding skills through quality instruction with the personal goals of each rider as their focus. CSS, in cooperation with BMW Motorrad, has been has been invited quite a few times to Clark over the last few years and has been gaining reputation as the the motorcycle industry in the Philippines has been booming.
My calendar, reminders and notifications were set in my cellphone and I had been carefully planning out what I needed to bring and how I could make sure I was alert and ready. Then a challenge presented itself – I had a gig the Friday night right before! Nooooo! My wife had to drive me from Manila right after my gig and after I had had a few drinks. We arrived at our hotel at 2:30 AM and by the time we checked in and I had fallen asleep it was 4:30 AM and then my alarm went off at 5:30 AM. A quick breakfast and extra strong coffee were what I had to hang onto before getting to the Clark International Speedway.
When I arrived at the Speedway at sunrise, there was a lot excitement and electricity in the air with the prepping of the bikes with the correct tire pressure, safety inspections of all the bikes and students’ riding gear by CSS staff. This was followed by signing up for registration, being assigned to a class/group and finding out which instructor would be looking after you on the track after each classroom lecture. The classes were at maximum and we were divided into our levels. Each rider was assigned a number that was stuck on the student’s bike and helmet so that your assigned instructor could easily show you the drills to be done and spot you while you were out on the track. There were about two or three riders assigned to each instructor for the track times. Each of the five classroom lectures were immediately followed by track times to practice what was taught in the classroom. After the track, there was a one-on-one debrief with your instructor.
The ambiance was electrifying with the turnout of students that were sharing the experience to improve their motorcycle riding skills from highly trained instructors that have been in the business for quite some time. As the activities began, I felt the instant rush of focus and energy and I got my head in the game quickly.
For the duration of Levels 1 and 2 over two days, I was supposed to be assigned a BMW S1000RR sport bike but was assigned BMW S1000XR touring bike instead. It has all the electronic aids you can think of. The 1000XR felt a bit awkward at first as I had never ridden a touring bike before, but I soon began to enjoy the comfort of it, especially for someone who is in his late 40’s with only a few years of riding experience under his belt. This could’ve been a blessing in disguise as I was hoping for the more aggressive, not-so-comfortable, race-track-biased sport version – BMW S1000RR. That isn’t nearly as comfortable as the 1000XR touring bike.
Levels 1 and 2 basically covered the most important basic riding skills of vision, throttle control, bike stability, steering, as well as technical information of a bike geometry and suspension function. Even for seasoned riders, it is always good to have what you know broken down and re-learned systematically.
But the CSS is not enough. I believe that for a rider to really maximize what they have learned, it is a must to practice what has been taught immediately after, or as soon as possible, in a controlled environment like a race track to build muscle memory and visual and body coordination, in order for the newly learned skills to become second nature while riding on the road or track. In effect making you a new and improved, safer rider; this in turn can be taught to other riding buddies making it safer for everyone.
I am grateful to C! Magazine, BMW Motorrad for giving me this opportunity and making it possible for me to experience the famous California Superbike School, which I have been dreaming of doing ever since I started riding motorcycles five years ago. Let’s get to the track and ride safe!