I’ve been riding motorcycles for 19 years. In that time, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to ride with some talented and knowledgeable people; riding with those who are better than you is essential to the learning experience. I like to think of myself as an “advanced intermediate” rider—I generally run in the front of what you might call the “B Group,” or, if I’m really on my game, the back of the “A Group.” I’m no track junkie, but my street riding skills are solid and I’m smooth, I hold my lines well and I’m predictable.
For all of that, I’ve never had professional instruction. I’ve made it this far without a serious incident (rapping my knuckles on my wooden desk as I type this), so what could I have to gain from a track school? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Three-time AMA Superbike Champion and AMA Hall of Fame member Reg Pridmore has been teaching his techniques for mastering your motorcycle since 1972, and I recently had the opportunity to join his CLASS training school for a day of instruction at the Streets of Willow race course in Rosamond, California.
Reg makes it clear that CLASS is not a racing school; it applies track riding and racing techniques to better your street riding skills. However, I would also add that it is not a school for the brand new rider. Make sure you’re comfortable with your bike’s controls and riding at freeway speeds before you sign up.
The class as a whole is broken into two smaller groups, with a maximum of one instructor for every five students (my group had nine students in it, with three instructors). The groups rotate with 20 minutes in the classroom, followed by 20 minutes on the track. There is very little downtime or standing around; you get an hour lunch break but otherwise your day will be full of learning and practice on the open track.
Reg provides the bulk of the classroom training, going over subjects such as choosing the correct line, looking through turns, smooth downshifting and effective braking. He also teaches the importance of body position, with a special emphasis on using your body weight to help steer the bike. Opinions abound on the validity of such a technique, but it’s hard to dispute that body positioning and counter steering can be used effectively in tandem.
I entered CLASS with two major goals: I wanted to improve my cornering, particularly in regards to downshifting/braking/throttle control, and I wanted to experiment with body positioning. Reg, his wife Gigi (whose ride of choice is a CBR1000RR) and their team of instructors showed us how to select our gear position and complete our braking before leaning into the turn, and to maintain what Reg calls “maintenance throttle” to stabilize the bike through the turn.
The instructors watched the students closely as we lapped the track, often following for several laps before zipping past and tapping their tail to indicate “follow me!” Then it was up to us to mimic them as closely as possible: stay on their line, pay attention to where they shift and brake, and move our bodies on the bike. After a lap or so, they’d drop behind us again to see what we’d learned. After we exited the track at the end of each 20-minute session, they were waiting to give us feedback and suggestions.
With the constant rotation of classroom and hands-on instruction, the day goes by quickly, and you begin to realize that you’re going faster, and riding smoother and with more confidence, with each session. In the last session before lunch, we began by doing braking drills, practicing smoothly rolling off the throttle as we squeezed (not grabbed!) the brake lever.
It was during the track session immediately after lunch that I realized how much I was learning. Turn 13 is the last turn on the track, a double-apex right-hander with few visual markers and no lines—and quite a few bumps. Like just about everyone else in my group, I was struggling with 13. It seemed like every time I came around, my line was different, and I was having trouble committing to my “maintenance throttle” as I leaned deeper into the turn each lap. Maybe it was the hour-long lunch break that allowed things to gel in my head, but when I came around to 13 this time, I smoothly leaned over, shifting my upper body and moving my chin towards my inside mirror, looking at my exit point. I pushed on the inside footpeg and relaxed my arms, anticipating the chatter as my FZ-07 negotiated the bumps in full lean. It was every tough, rough canyon curve I’ve ever been intimidated by—and I nailed it!
I’ll continue to practice what I learned at CLASS, and who knows? Maybe someday I’ll even be able to keep up with EIC Tuttle and Senior Editor Drevenstedt! Until then, I can say with absolute confidence that my day at track school was invaluable and has made me a better, more confident street rider.
It’s never too late to go to school. Reg Pridmore’s CLASS operates March through November, at numerous tracks in California as well as Virginia International Raceway (VIR). Pricing varies by date and track, but is generally in the $250-$375/day range—a very modest amount of money considering the quality of instruction and how much track time you get.
You are encouraged to bring your own bike, so long as it’s capable of freeway speeds and has street tires (there are plenty of off-road riding schools for you dual-sport riders). That said, CLASS does offer a limited number of Honda rental bikes that are ready to ride when you get to the track. You can get more information on those, as well as what gear you’ll need and what else to expect, on their website: classrides.com.
If you can’t make it to a CLASS, there are plenty of other street-focused track schools out there to choose from. I can guarantee, you’ll have fun, make new friends and come away with skills that will make you safer on the street.