Motorcycle skill and confidence – training with California Superbike School

How I got my mojo back

By Marissa Baecker photo-2 Physical injuries require medical attention and after parting with my bike this past summer, my minor physical injuries that occurred in the U.S. came in at a whopping $154,000 bill. I had travel insurance. I ride because I love it. When I put my helmet on – the chaotic world we live in goes quiet. No cell phones. No radio. No advertisements. No nothing but the teasing of the senses in the open air. Since the ‘incident’, my physical injuries healed and I returned to the bars but soon realized I had sustained further, invisible, injuries in the form of emotional and mental trauma that had not yet healed and were impairing my ability to fully enjoy a motorcycle. I was target fixing for any potential hazard and every muscle in my body was tensed and reactive. Disappointed to have my peace taken from me, I sought out experts to help restore my mental and emotional strength. A statement on www.superbikeschool.com read:

“For decades expert riders have proclaimed riding to be 90% mental.”

There it was in black and white. If physical riding injuries require professional care why not heal the emotional and mental injuries with the same professional expert care? “I’m going to California Superbike School!” This world renowned motorcycle school houses some of the best international race coaches available. These guys train professional moto athletes and have married the art with the science of riding to the point where every rider, no matter their ride, can benefit from intensive training.

California Superbike School trains riders with the 2014 BMW S1000RR

California Superbike School trains riders with the 2014 BMW S1000RR

As I walked toward the 30+ bike fleet of 2014 BMWS1000RR motorcycles, all lined up, shining in the morning desert sun, at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, my stomach pitted. I was scared. The sensation intensified as I scanned the sea of riding enthusiasts mingling over breakfast in front of two, decked-out 18-wheelers, swapping riding stories like they had all been life-long friends. It is amazing how small the world becomes when its international inhabitants converge to one location to share the same passion. Brazilian and French accents mixed with that southern drawl of the U.S and the distinct sound of Canada. Of the 30 students in attendance (just three gals -level I, II and IV), eight were Canadian, four, including me, from British Columbia and the youngest, a 15-year-old motocross racer in attendance with his father from Montreal. Ironically, this teen could control a motorcycle at high speed better than I could and yet not be old enough to drive a car. The ratio of coaches to riders is 2-1 on the track plus classroom seminars that teach you one of ten specific skills at a time, when combined together give you a complete toolbox for high speed cornering, braking and control of a motorcycle. This is not a ‘learn to ride’ program nor is it an advanced rider, training program. This is specific high-speed skill for a track where the skill is transferable to everyday motorcycle riding.

debrief

Morning debrief with coaches and riders.

First order of business was an introduction of the entire coaching staff to the riders each morning. The CSS is a well oiled machine. On track coaches, classroom coaches, off-track coaches, video coach, track control and class wranglers and it all runs smoothly and efficiently. As soon as you get off the track, there are coolers full of water, Gatorade, potassium pills, bananas etc. because they know how the body reacts and what needs replenishing to carry on especially when they are armoured in leather in the mid-day sun in a desert. Level I consisted of 15 riders plus me, the lone gal and as intimidating as it was to be on the track with testosterone driven speed demons, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to 25 year CSS veteran, world wide chief riding coach, Cobie Fair, whose overall kind mannerism gave me the confidence that I had come to the right ‘doctor’ to solve my problem. No judgments. No criticism. Just encouragement and gentle nudging when he knew I had more in me than I thought I did. After our first classroom session on throttle control, we each mounted our numbered saddles and meandered to the start line for a two-lap orientation aboard our new horsepower and then . . . it was open throttle.

Marissa Baecker takes to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during a training exercise at the California Superbike School

Marissa Baecker takes to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during a day 1 training exercise at the California Superbike School (photo by etechphoto@usa.net)

“Holy Sh*t! What am I doing here?” The first words that passed through my head. Accident images flashed through my mind and I struggled to remember the particular skill that we were to be working on. Cobie, who I am certain is wearing a blue spandex suit with a capital S under his leathers, saw my struggle, pulled in front of me and tapped the back of his bike – my signal to watch, keep pace and follow him. Through this exercise he would gain my focus, gently pull me past my wall and gain my trust that he would keep me safe. Each and every rider follows this protocol with coaches every track session – no matter how fast (or how slow in comparison) they would be going. Learn the skill, the speed will follow with each accumulating lap. The bikes do not have speedometers making the experience entirely sensory.

Marissa Baecker followed by California Superbike head coach, Cobie Fair at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Marissa Baecker followed by California Superbike head coach, Cobie Fair at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (photo by etechphoto@usa.net)

During my last one-on-one with Cobie before lunch, and still struggling with accident imagery, it hit me. The realization that my accident could have been avoided had I gone to this school last year rather than post-accident. In all my years of riding, without knowing it, I lacked essential tools as a rider that might have allowed me to get out of a slide, correct a wide turn and control the bike in gravel. That was tough to accept. As I walked the grounds with Keith Code, the founder of the school, we talked and he said something so important that every rider should know – “It’s always our fault.” He wasn’t placing blame and didn’t mean the statement literally but rather that it is the riders’ responsibility to keep learning, refine our skills, wear the proper gear, ride within our limits and keep training. If we don’t do these things, and we have an accident – who is really to blame?

Marissa Baecker takes part in a training exercise at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during Day 2 with the California Superbike School (photo by etechphoto@usa.net)

Marissa Baecker takes part in a training exercise at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during Day 2 with the California Superbike School (photo by etechphoto@usa.net)

By the end of the day, I was crossing over to a stronger mental state and accident flashbacks were no longer present. Now I could move forward and my speed began gradually increasing with my confidence.

Marissa Baecker takes part in brake training with the California Superbike School and coach Gerry Signorelli

Marissa Baecker takes part in brake training with the California Superbike School and coach Gerry Signorelli

Off-track sessions included steering clinic, braking bike, stationary lean bike and moving lean/slide bike and on-track offered the video bike. Which one you took was dependent upon what you wanted to work on and where your coach felt you could improve. I was sent over to the braking bike and as hard as I tried, as fast as I got, I couldn’t lock the front wheel of the bike. It was impressive to know that I could grab the lever with that much strength and maintain control of the bike. By the end of my 14th track session, 10th technical riding skill classroom training and two-days of leather wearing, motorbike riding in the Nevada desert, I was cornering twice as fast as my fastest straightaway the day before. track As I filled out my satisfaction survey, I was handed a package including a dvd of my track session with the video bike, reference material plus a Level I and II completion certificate. Most importantly, I walk away from this school with renewed faith in my ability, a huge smile and a 2014 session schedule –now on my Christmas list.

Reserve your place for 2014.

2014 California Superbike School Schedule

IF YOU GO:

You must have proper track gear – one piece leather suit or jacket and pants that zip together, full face helmet, proper boots and gloves – if you don’t you can rent it from the school. Be prepared to provide an imprint of your credit card for any damage that may occur to their bikes if you make an error. The school considers you to be an athlete – show up like one with proper nutrition, hydrated, rested – not hungover, still buzzing from the night before – you will be refused participation. thumbsup

MY GEAR:

bionicfrontsuit bionicsuitback suit Arai Signet Q – Tropic helmet

Alpinestars Stella Motegi 1-piece leather race suit

Alpinestars S-MX 5 Women’s boots

Alpinestars Stella GP-Plus leather gloves

Alpinestars Bionic SP Protection Vest

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