Monday, June 05, 2006

Keith Code's California Superbike School

This past weekend my buddy Hugh and I travelled to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL to participate in Keith Code's California Superbike School. Hugh took level 1 back in September, so he took level 2 this time, and I took level 1. Friday morning I rode up to his place in NE Georgia, prepped my bike (removed mirrors, taped lenses, etc.), and loaded it onto his trailer along with his GSX-R750 track/race bike.

We managed to hit Atlanta right around rush hour, then we encountered contruction, and finally we encountered some pretty nasty weather, so it took us quite a while to finally get to Birmingham. En route we stopped at a gas station, and the easiest way to leave seemed to be to circle around behind it; we didn't realize there was a car wash on the other side until it was too late, so we drove through it and got some REALLY odd looks from folks as the bikes emerged. :-) Couldn't resist a photo.

Once we got to the hotel and got checked in, we met up with Hugh's parents, Don and Roma, who came down from Nashville, and had dinner with them; they were super nice. We got to bed at a reasonable time, but I had the toughest time sleeping; I must have awoken half a dozen times; that's pretty rare for me, even in a hotel, so I must have been keyed up about the next day.

We awoke at 5:30 on Saturday morning; I was pumped up and ready to go! We were at the track around 7:00 for registration. There was plenty of time for getting our bikes lined up, eating breakfast, and chatting with fellow riders. There was a wide assortment of machines, including another VFR, several GSXR's, some Ducatis, CBR's, etc.

It was also quite a site seeing the flock of Ninja ZX-6R's available for student use.

We had a brief intro by Keith, who is a super nice guy with a great attitude, then we suited up and began the day. I rented leathers from them, and the size 38 AGV suit fit me perfectly.

The format of the day was pretty much 20-minute class, 20-minute time to relax and think about the class, then 20 minutes on the track. Rinse and repeat five times, with lunch thrown in the middle. Keith and his son Dylan alternated teaching; Dylan was very cool and knowledgable like his father.

Our first session focused on throttle control. Keith explained why it is so important in corners, and how being on the gas keeps the suspension in its sweet spot. We were required to run fourth gear only and no brakes for the track session. I wussed out and used brakes a couple of times, but it taught me to accurately choose an approach speed and throttle through the turn.

The second session focused on choosing turn-in points. They actually marked desirable turn-in points with x's on the track, but it was a good exercise to think about why those spots were chosen. Some were natural, some seemed odd, but they worked. We were still required to run fourth gear and no brakes, but having the turn-in points marked helped a lot, and I ran faster.

The third session focused on turning in quickly, which reduces necessary lean angle. For me, this was the most useful exercise. It basically boils down to pressing harder on the bars to get the bike leaned over in a shorter period of time. We could use third and fourth gears and a touch of brake. By this session I was feeling good and really nailing some corners. Turn 5, the hairpin, no longer bothered me, though the museum turn, which is a tight downhill turn, tormented me all day. I got better at it, but never quite conquered it.

The fourth session focused on relaxation. Once the bike is leaned over in a turn, no further steering input is necessary; if you didn't need to keep the throttle turned, you could theoretically remove your hands from the bars and continue in your turn. If it feels like you're having to press through the entire turn, it's because you're pushing against the other bar. If you relax once the turn is initiated, things work much better, and the bike is happier.

The fifth and final session focused on the two-step turn, in which the rider looks at his apex before before initiating the lean; this is something I'm already pretty good at doing, but extra analysis and drills certainly didn't hurt.

My BT020's performed very well, even though they're not the stickiest tires out there.

A girl on Keith's staff had a 125cc 2-stroke Honda cafe racer that she was tinkering on and ran a few sessions; she could haul on it!

That evening Hugh and I, Hugh's friends Rick and Steve-O (who was wearing a hillarious shirt that said "Orange County Who?"), and Bo from the Ninja 250 forum, got together at Ed and Nick's Barbecue, where we had some awesome barbecue and enjoyed discussing the day's events.

Sunday morning Hugh and I had breakfast with his parents, and then I headed homeward. On the way I took the Talleda Scenic Byway in eastern Alabama, which offered some nice vistas and opportunities to practice some of the cornering techniques I'd just learned.

What a fantastic weekend! The school was excellent, all the staff were awesome, spending time with Hugh was fun, seeing Bo again was great. Couldn't have been better! I look forward to taking level 2 at some point in the future.

Click here to see all my photos from the weekend.


At Sunday, June 11, 2006 10:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Payne... it was great to ready your blog, once again. Not to mention seeing you again and meeting Hugh, as well. As always, a good time.

Keep in touch, and keep writing.


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