I recently completed Levels 3 & 4 at the CSS two day camp at VIR and thought I would write a review for those that might be interested.
First the back story:
Early last year I was looking to improve my riding skills. I had gotten back into riding about a year before and I felt I was reasonably comfortable on the bike again. I had taken the MSF rider safety course, and while it had value I wanted more information. A quick inquiry with the shop that works on my bike and Keith Code’s California Superbike School was recommended. I was casually familiar with the name, even remembered it from my days riding sportbikes in college (think Regan and Bush the First). Clearly they had been doing this for a while so I signed up for the Level 1 one day class last May (Review here)
. I was so impressed that I immediately signed up for Level 2 in August (Review here)
. Once again CSS did not fail to impress and I even tried to get out west for a late fall class but work interfered (damn the bad luck). So I decided to wait until May again and spring for the two day camp.
On to the review:
One Day Class vs. Two Day Camp
I decided to spend the additional coin on the two day camp for several reasons. First the coach to student ratio at the two day camp is 1:2 as opposed to 1:3 at the one day class. I felt the additional time with an expert reviewing what I am doing would be invaluable. Second while the cost is higher, considering the additional track time (7 sessions a day compared to 5) it is not exponentially so. And the lower coach/student ratio means there are at least a third less people on the track less traffic meant more time working on my riding instead of dealing with slower or faster riders (yes dear reader, I was passed…a lot…but thanks to Trevor and Missy running Course Control everyone was very well mannered). Finally, the two day camp is more of an experience, with fewer people you get more attention, less stress, and a better overall time and after all, this was my vacation.
Structurally the camp runs much the same as a one day. Registration began at 7 and we were grouped into two color coded riding groups (as opposed to 3 at the one day) while the staff cooked scrambled eggs and sausage, set out fruit, pastries, bagels, and (good) coffee. At 8 we began the day with an all hands briefing where Keith introduced the team, went over how the day would flow, and explained the flags and Course Control rules.
My riding group (yellow) included riders of all levels so we split off to our respective lectures while the other hit the track (this alternated all day, except for lunchtime). After the first lecture we then hit the track, lining up at start finish where our coach for the day introduced themselves. Then as you pulled up to the start line Course Control would ask you (by name) to verify what drill you were working on (they have it noted on their log) and what the gear and brake format is. (A note on this: the day starts out with 4th gear and no brakes then progresses to full gears and full brakes through the day. At first I found this awkward but after doing it a few times now it makes sense and I even found myself limiting the gears and brakes when I was free to use any and all as it helped me focus on the drills.)
We then did a sighting lap single file, no passing and were turned lose to practice our first drill. 20-25 minute track sessions were immediately followed by a debrief with your coach, a few minutes to hydrate and get something to eat (fruit, crackers, chips & dip, etc are available all day) then it was on to the next lecture (rinse, repeat). There are 5 lessons (just as in the one day classes) so the final two track sessions are yours to work on what you and your coach feel is appropriate.
In addition, the off track bikes (steering bike, braking bike, lean/slide bike) are available to the students throughout the day to work on those specific skills; and each student did one lap on the video bike each day. The video bike was very useful for me as it highlighted several issues that we could focus on in addition to the normal curriculum.
Level 3 content
The level three content is as follows:
1. Hook Turns - format 3rd and 4th, no brakes
This would have been worth the price of admission for me right here. The hook turn allows you to tighten up your turn without increasing lean angle. When I got it down I was amazed and can see this being an excellent tool on the road as well as the track.
2. Pivot Steering - format 2 gears very light braking
This method of locking onto the bike is something I had been working on since Level 2 and it showed. I had good form and finally felt comfortable with the concept of weighting the outside peg – something that had felt rather nebulous for a long time.
3. Knee to Knee - format 3 gears light braking
Maintaining a firm lock on the bike is critical to stability and transitioning from one side of the bike to the other requires you to plant one “pivot” knee before removing the other. This is not something I found natural and will have to work on it but when I got it down I eliminated the head shake (due to unwanted rider input on the handlebars) I was getting in the chicanes.
4. Hip Flick - format full gears and brakes
Part two of transitioning from one side of the bike to the other. This was awkward for me as well and I had to focus on it (as with any new skill) but again when I managed it the benefits were obvious. (I can add here that I used muscles in my inner thighs that had been dormant for many moons and the spoke their displeasure most vocally in the days that followed the camp).
5. Attack Angle - format full gears and brakes
After the first track session the CSS staff tapes Turn In point for each corner on the track. This give the students a solid target but also takes the thought out of picking their attack angle for the turn. This drill addresses that and moves the student along to picking their own attack angle based on what they want to accomplish in the corner (ie fastest line, passing, delayed apex, etc)
Day Two’s structure was the same, except for a start time of 7:30 since there was no registration. As I was working on level 4 this is where the program becomes specific to the student. In the first lecture session you fill out a survey where you describe your riding and what you want to work on.
Based on the review of the Camera Bike footage my coach felt I needed to work on my vision skills. My improvements from Levels 1 and 2 had allowed me to increase my pace however my visual skills hadn’t caught up. The coaches were able to break down what I was (and wasn’t doing) and throughout the day I worked on Two-Step, Three-Step, and reference Points. By the end of the day I had dropped 10 seconds off of my lap times and felt much more comfortable with where I was going.
I made the statement in my earlier reviews that CSS was the best money I had spent on motorcycling and I continue to feel that way. The program is logistically well run (this type of event could easily go Charlie Foxtrot), the focus on customer service is outstanding (for most of us this is disposable income so we should enjoy spending it), and the education is priceless (I had a near miss on the road last year that I am sure would have ended badly without the skills I picked up from CSS).