I have been riding motorcycles for over 35 years. Starting on dirt bikes as a kid, I ended up riding both dirt and street. I thought I was a pretty good rider, until I got on a roadrace track for the first time a couple of years ago. The skill set required there is quite different from anything else — but the skills developed on a roadrace track can be transferred, to some extent, to your street riding experience.
Freddie Spencer is a three-time World Roadracing champion, and is the only rider in history to win both the 250 and 500 GP championships in the same year (something that is considered virtually impossible, today). Freddie, with the help of some very skilled instructors, has been conducting a riding school at the Las Vegas, Nevada Motor Speedway for several years. The way he conducts his school reflects his personality and thoughtful approach to the art of riding a motorcycle.
Face it, our basic character traits don’t change much as we grow older. My mom yelled at me for not picking up after myself 30 years ago, and now my wife does the same thing. Freddie Spencer became a World champion because he carefully analyzed, and practiced, the skills necessary to do so. To this day, Freddie comes across as a very thoughtful, and precise, teacher of riding technique. His school reflects this.
The course I took was a two-day course. This, in itself, is a very important element of learning. The first day has your head spinning with all the new information. Being able to sleep on it, and then come back to the classroom and track to reinforce things is invaluable.
Freddie combines classroom instruction with extensive track time on late-model Honda CBR600F4s. The instructors assisting him during my course included former AMA National Superbike factory Honda rider Jeff Haney, and journalist/professional roadracer Nick Ienatsch. I can’t do justice here to the illustrious background of either Jeff or Nick, so take a look at Freddie’s website for details. Suffice it to say here that the experience level of these two men is matched only by their teaching skills.
Although Freddie was constantly involved — leading many of the classroom discussions and providing on-track demonstrations — Jeff and Nick provided most of the hands-on teaching at the race track. These guys have great communication skills, and clearly know how to pinpoint your bad habits on a street bike.
The sport rider/street rider level one course I took is intense. Intense in the sense that these guys are really trying to teach you something that will significantly improve your riding, both on the track and the street. On the first day, in addition to driving home the basic Freddie Spencer riding philosophy and technique, Jeff and Nick (as well as Freddie) observed each of the riders on Las Vegas’ 9-turn infield track and noted their most significant riding flaws.
My main problem was abrupt throttle application, particularly when exiting turns. A very old habit, it was something that was difficult to overcome — particularly on Day One of the course.
With Jeff standing near a corner on the track to observe student’s corner entry, mid-corner and corner exit techniques, and then, by radio passing this information to Nick, each student would stop and speak with Nick for immediate feedback on their riding technique. This occurred over and over during Day One, practicing different skills and working on bad habits. Unlike some “schools”, this is a real school, not a glorified track day.
As I said, so much information comes at you on Day One that, despite your best efforts, it is difficult to absorb and apply. On day two, the instructors and the students try to reinforce the basic skills learned on Day One, and further work on changing bad habits into proper riding technique. There is lots of track time again on Day Two.
Freddie’s school classes are small. My class consisted of a total of nine students. With three instructors, the level of personal attention is quite high, and your access to the instructors’ knowledge is always there. Freddie’s schools are not cheap, and they are intended for the rider who is very serious about making real progress. Freddie has a school for all skill levels, from the street rider right up to the pro-level racer. Take a look at Freddie’s website for details and prices.
The fundamental questions I had about riding a street bike on a race track that I couldn’t seem to answer anywhere else were answered by Freddie and his instructors. Simple, but important questions about body positioning (including, how much to “hang off” the bike in corners) were addressed, and there was plenty of opportunity to pick the brain of all three men during class breaks and lunch regarding each rider’s personal questions and issues.
I clearly became a better rider as a result of Freddie’s school, and now, roughly two months after taking it, I still think about smooth throttle application and other techniques I learned. Most importantly, in my day-to-day riding, I think about the safety tips and techniques stressed by Freddie, Jeff and Nick.
If you are (1) serious about becoming a better rider, either on the street or the track, or both, (2) don’t mind working for it, and (3) your ego can handle constructive criticism, you should try to get to one of Freddie’s schools. You won’t regret the experience. Many of Freddie’s students come back and repeat the classes, or move up to higher level classes to refine their skills.
Oh, yeah, the class is also a lot of fun. The 600s are great to ride, and are set up specifically for Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Freddie, Jeff and Nick try hard to make the experience enjoyable for each of the students. Liberally sprinkled with the instruction is good humor and a “stay loose” attitude, another important part of good riding.