A day at the Keith Code Track School
Well, I finally took the opportunity to take Keith Code's Cornering School with the results being an overwhelmingly positive experience. Wished I hadn't waited so long. Had a ball and learned a ton.
There are not enough kudos to give Keith and the staff for the school they put on. They are VERY positive and totally focused on you learning what is being taught. Any member of the staff would take time to answer your motorcycle related questions no matter how busy they seemed. They supplied water, snacks, potassium, salt, sunscreen and food for the students in an effort to keep everyone hydrated and mentally alert.
They have created a system where as long as the student makes any kind of effort at all, the student WILL learn what's being taught, WILL ride better, and have fun to boot. Success/improvment is almost guaranteed. Two thumbs up, fer sher.
The Track Barber Motorsports: GREAT track to have a first ride on. Yes, there are blind turns, but after a couple of times through, you'll know the track and the blind turns SHOULDN'T be a problem. If there is anyone spooked by blind turns, it's me, but it just wasn't an issue once I knew the track. When you lay her in, you KNOW the track is clear. Ain't like that at Deals Gap. Wide track too, which is good.
Carried the Bandit (as opposed to the 250) mainly on recommendation of NCRick and 'Nut. That was definitely the correct decision for a variety reasons. I can honestly tell you, that had I been on the 250, I'd have been stuck behind slower folks for the entire session and would not have been able to pass. It was frustrating enough being stuck behind a slower rider for one or two turns, much less being behind one for an entire session. I'd have probably popped a vein.
The Bandit was completely stock (except for the 5 degree advancer), but despite the terrible suspension, she performed quite well, not unexpectedly mind you. Only negatives that come to mind are:
1.) the weight - When combined with my fat ass and the stock suspension, there were a couple of turns where I obviously had to go slower than I'd have preferred due to peg scrapage. They don't like you to scrap parts and will point it out to you every time you do so.
2.) the chain - I should have put on a new chain. The existing one had a couple kinks but nothing too bad until the speeds picked up. Once I started going faster, the rear would pogo just a bit on straights when getting into the upper RPM's of 4'th gear. That was a bit disconcerting.
3.) the engine - when getting into upper RPM (9k'ish and higher), the engine gets frantic. It just doesn't seem comfortable. This had been experienced before, but it just seemed more noticable on the track. Would love to have the engine smooth all the way to the redline.
I ran Avon's 45/46 combo and they performed very well. Never lost traction although the front felt a bit light when going through turn 4, then later around turn 12 or 13. These turns had some pretty steep-to-me increasing elevation changes so that is probably normal regardless of the tires.
All-in-all, the Bandit did well (although I want a new bike now, although that really isn't new info). Two thumbs up.
The student (me)
Despite being told that I'm a decent rider, I was still scared/concerned/nervous that I'd be the single person in America that would fail the school and be the worst student ever. This was somewhat reinforced after the first session, but by the end of the day I was confident in my mad skills. jk, but I was much more confident by the end of the day and could obviously see improvements. Even my on course instructor (Jason) mentioned my vast improvement from the start of the day to the end. That felt good to hear. It was also good to talk to some other students that were having the same exact problems/concerns I was. Nice to know I wasn't alone.
What did I learn? Mainly that I'm one uptight Mo Fo. Life just isn't good until the bars are locked on with my version of GI Joe's Kung Fu grip. The main thing I "learned" was to be relaxed on the bars and most turns will be better. The annoying thing is that I KNEW this already, but sloppy street riding just created (or I hadn't worked on getting rid of) that bad habit. Keeping the bad habits away is going to be difficult for me without riding a track. It's going to take some serious, consious effort to try to stay sharp.
This was my first time on a track and I was understandably nervous. The focus for this session was throttle control and the rules were 4th gear and no brakes. Rolling on the throttle was no problem, but the no brakes was worrisome, especially at the hairpin (Turn 5). Not knowing the track or the turn in points was disturbing as well. My one decent lap was when following the instructor's line and rolling on the throttle when he "told" me. Funny anecdote, we caught up to some slower traffic and I just wasn't confident passing anyone. I distinctly remember seeing my instructor turning to look at me and the emphatic wave he gave me to get my ass moving to get by those folks. hehe, he was probably screaming, COME ON! hehe
Finished the session by missing the come-in-flag and having the track boss pull me aside and ask if I saw the flags. Nope. Damn did I feel stupid. Wasn't feeling too good about riding and was wondering if the rest of the day would be as painful as that. Definitely the low point of the day.
The focus for this session was hitting the turn in points. They had marked the turn-in locations with masking tape (big X) and told us to use those. This was the big difference for me. Additionally, the rules were relaxed a bit letting us use 3rd gear (can't remember if we could use brakes or not). This was good for me because it put the engine into a good RPM range where I could roll on and FEEL the acceleration but could use the engine to brake me some. The first lap I pretty much was trying to find the turn-in's and by the second lap was already going faster, rolling on the throttle and everything. Felt good. Was better when my instructor came by and motioned for me to follow him. That's when it became clear WHY turn ins were where they were. Still struggled with the turn in points for the DR's (turns 2-3 and 13-14) and the museum turn (turn 8 ). Didn't understand HOW I was supposed to turn at those places.
Also struggled mightily with the hairpin (turn 5). This wasn't so much the turn-in point, I had that pictured well in my mind from the first session, but just making that turn disturbed me. This was when I scraped the hell out of the pegs (thought of Jeff_N during those moments!). Also very pleased the track is wide, because I definitely used it all.
Finished the session pretty darn juv'ed but seriously concerned about the hairpin. Spoke to my instructor about it and he was confident he knew the prob, but was going to let the class explain it. Interesting breakthrough I had in that session was that the proper turn in point isn't always deeper in the turn than what was pictured in my mind, but sometimes is sooner in the turn. That was almost an eureka moment for me. Feeling better about things.
Focus for this session is to flick the bike in quicker. We can use 3 gears and touch of brakes. I'm REALLY concerned about the hairpin.
Did much better with most of the turns, still struggled with the hairpin a couple of times though. On the other hand, I took it properly a couple times too, which was REALLY cool. It felt SO good to take it well/properly that I just HAD to pump my fist. Words just can't describe how GOOD that felt.
Finished this session feeling pretty darn good. Was definitely faster than session 2, the instructor was telling me I was doing well and not to stress the hairpin too much, just slow down a bit more and apply what we'd learned. The breakthrough for this session was that I realized that during the turns that were really bothering me (turn 5 and 7-8 ), I was gripping the hell out of the bars. Mentioned this to the instructor in the after-session-discussion. He had seen that and agreed with me, and pointed out that the next class would hopefully help me clear this up. PATIENCE, HUGH!
Focus on this session was to relax on the bars. We can use 4 gears and a touch more brakes. STILL concerned about the hairpin. It dominates all my thinking while riding.
Without a doubt, this was the BEST session. It all came together. I had a lap and half of hitting all the turn in's exactly where they were without moving the bike to hit them, understanding WHY I was hitting them there, rolling on smoothly through my "problem" turns and in general just riding the hell out of the motorcycle. The hairpin still bothered me, but I finally was slowing down enough for the entrance that a quick flick would put me exactly on the proper line, which allowed good roll on and I FINALLY got a GOOD strong drive out of that corner. What a freaking rush that was. MAN, it was awesome! My instructor pulled up next to me and motioned to remind me to put proper pressure on the bars for turn in. He dropped behind me to watch and that was pretty much when "the lap" started. At the front straight, he pulled up next to me and gave me two thumbs up. Pretty much from then on I was riding well. Rick would have been proud and I was pleased his confidence in me was not misplaced.
Numerous breakthroughs for this session...slow down to go faster (hairpin)...followed a much faster rider around a problem turn, saw the line and didn't have a problem there again...frustration with people that park in turns...wondered if anyone was frustrated with me for parking in the turns...sphincter tightening (but not grip tightening!) drive out of turn 12 that carried me to the edge of the track, RIGHT EXACTLY to the proper turn-in point for turn 13! Great drives out of turn 15 that lead to good passes on the front straight.
Finished the session VERY pumped. KNEW I had ridden well and was upset when the come-in flags flew (actually saw them this time!). Came up to the instructor for the after session discussion and his only response was "Congratulations Hugh, you can turn a motorcycle.". High praise indeed.
Session 5 - final session
Focus on this session was to look for the apex before you actually arrived at the turn in point in an effort to have consistent lines from lap to lap. Still concerned about the hairpin, but it didn't dominate my thought process.
This session was just an extension of the session 4. Felt good about the whole thing. No real breakthroughs here, which concerned me a bit, but the instructor didn't offer any on-track advice and when it was over just told me I was nailing the turn-ins and was taking decent lines. To me, yet again, that was high praise.
Final thoughts - finally
So many thoughts regarding the whole experience, my poor writing just couldn't begin to do justice to the feelings I had. But here's a creative writing attempt.
Damn, there are fast people out there. I watched guys going twice my speed pass me seconds before I turned-in to the hairpin and these guys would just FLY through there. It really was beautiful to watch. Watching the instructors tail students as they flew by was just SO cool. It really was beautiful.
Getting passed (and passing) ended up being a non-issue. I was genuinely concerned that I'd wig out when someone passed me (or when I passed someone). Moot point. Might not be this way on a legit track day, but at Keith's school, passing well is WELL regulated and expected. The important thing is don't be rash and make crazy maneuvers. Be smooth and predictable and you'll be fine. Also helps to not have rear view mirrors.
As told by Rick, I'd be passed by folks and I'd do some passing. Most of the racers were passing me a couple times in the last couple of sessions, but no street rider passed me more than once per session and in general I was right there with them. Regardless, I was not a rolling corner, which was a huge concern from the beginning.
Might not be this way for a track day, but I brought WAY too much stuff to this. The two sets of gear (leathers and aerostich) was overkill, the numerous tools (my touring tool set and the home tool set) weren't needed. The travelling set would have been fine. Anyways, you are at the track to ride, not wrench. All the water, Gatorade, ice, cokes, etc, etc wasn't needed. The school supplied all that. Spark plugs, extra brake pads...nope, leave it at home. Don't need much brakes for level 1 class anyway.
Get the bike ready at least a week ahead of time. I screwed around (not really, but the result was the same) and finished a valve adjustment the night before the school. Didn't get the lights taped off or anything like that. Result?? The bike was ok, luckily, but the school uses duct tape and that leaves a NASTY residue. WD 40 takes it off well (recommendation from my instructor), but 3M Blue painters tape is far better. Guaranteed I'll have my stuff together far better next time. If the bike had probs, I'd have missed a session, no doubt, and there is no good place to really work on the bike.
Didn't sleep much the night before hoping the bike (and me) would be ok. Didn't sleep much the night after re-riding the turns in my head. I can still picture them clear as day.
Rode some on the street yesterday and was floored at just how small our lanes really are. Gonna be hard to practice the skills learned. I need to find me a stretch of road that has some decent turns, low traffic and practice the lessons taught at the track.
Keith Code is a super nice guy. VERY approachable. No nonsense guy, but straight to the point without any concerns if your ego will be hurt or not. He's trying to teach you, not make you feel good about yourself. If you learn what he's teaching, you WILL feel good about yourself and your riding.
It is AMAZING how much time you have to think and do things while on the track. Not sure if it is just me, but I had time to check the gear I was in, mentally practice the turn-in (or whatever we were working on in that session) well before actually getting to that point. Certainly this is a result of going slow, but it's nice to know the mind was ahead of the bike most of the time.
Payne, you should have come dude. You'd have had a ball and it would have been cool to actually KNOW someone else there.
Sorry to drone on and on and on, but this was an experience that rejuvenated my enjoyment of riding. The excitement that was present when I first started street riding came back. The desire to STUDY bikes and turning and everything that is motorcycles has returned. I KNOW why Rick will tirelessy have discussion after discussion about riding and turning and learning. Wish I hadn't waited so damn long to do this.
Lastly, I'll definitely be doing at least one of these a year, plus trying to throw in a track day or two. Old Baldy, I'll be up with you and the Canucks next year for your Ducs Unlimited track weekend.
I also want another bike now. I'd LOVE to get a GSXR 750 before the EPA rules come out and ruin all engine modifications. The wife has given approval, but as always, responsibility to the family must be taken into account. Need a house and to put the step son through college.
If you made it this far...DAYUM, you are hard core!