AFTER doing something for 25 years, you might expect to get the hang of it.
But it doesn’t necessarily work like that, I’m learning. Because more than 25 years after I started motorcycling, I’ve just discovered I’ve been doing corners wrong.
Not something tricky, like a full-lock figure-of-eight. Corners. The things at the end of every straight. Wrong. For 25 years.
I learned this at the California Superbike School, doing their level one, one-day course at Silverstone's Stowe circuit.
In the first of five classroom and track sessions, we were given simple instructions: ride the circuit in one gear using no brakes and, after turning into a corner, accelerate smoothly and consistently through it.
I couldn’t do it, at least not on every corner. I’d find myself running wide and shutting off.
Maintaining a constant throttle I could do, but this wasn’t enough for my instructor, who called me off the track to remind me of the simple task: roll on.
This wasn’t fun. Surely I couldn’t have found the limits of my ability so soon?
Then we had the second classroom session, in which we were told yellow crosses would be put on the track to indicate the turning-in points for corners.
Our classroom teacher – and it did feel a bit like going back to school - also talked us through where these should be.
It’s an interactive teaching style. Rather than just tell you something, he leads you to arrive at the conclusion yourself by asking the class questions.
Questions like: What happens to a motorcycle’s suspension when you open the throttle?
I thought the front extended and the rear compressed. Apparently both extend. The class wasn’t convinced so the teacher demonstrated, sitting astride a Ducati 899 Panigale and blipping the throttle. It seemed he was right. Another thing I’ve spent 25 years not learning.
If you get the first button of a shirt in the wrong button hole, the rest will be wrong too. Corners unfold in a similar way. Calfornia Superbike School put the first button in the right hole with those crosses on the track. Until then, corners had been to me what shirts are to a five-year-old. I’d been doing them up all wrong, or upside down with the collar folded in, and carrying on oblivious until a helpful grown-up came along and sorted out the mess.
I’d been turning in too early. That was why I couldn’t roll-on the throttle through the bend. It meant I found corners tightening up instead of opening.
In the space of an hour, I made what felt like a profound step forward. Now I could accelerate smoothly through the bend, lean angle increasing along the way, without fear intervening and making me shut off.
At the end of each classroom lesson we were given an objective for the next track session, and expected to write it down in notepads. I told you it was a bit like going back to school.
The next objective was to turn in and get the bike pointed along our chosen line as quickly as possible, by counter-steering.
The track session that followed didn’t feel quite as revelatory as the last. If nothing else, I must have already picked up counter-steering. Finally something to show for 25 years. Surprisingly, some people in the classroom had seemed unfamiliar with the concept.
Two more classroom and track sessions followed, each with a new lesson and objective. I found it a little more than I wanted to take in during a single day.
In the final session the teacher told us there were professional racers who understood less about steering than we now did, including some of the fastest out there. One conclusion would be that the understanding is therefore unnecessary.
But I can see that, having paid £409 for the course, riders will want to learn as much as they possibly can and not all will be as slow on the uptake as me. As the day progressed we were permitted to use all gears and full brakes. Having made what felt like a significant step forward earlier in the day, I just wanted to get back on track.
The fact I was riding one of the school's Ducati 899 Panigales, available to hire for an extra £269.99, may have had something to do with this.
It's hard to believe looking at it, because it's physically tiny, but the 1199 Panigale's more-accessible little brother makes a claimed 148hp and 73lbft of torque.
The throttle response is aggressive, even with traction control in Wet mode, which the school had strictly set the bikes to, to prevent riders spitting themselves off with that torque. The TC won't let the rear spin up.
It's a fast revving, eager engine, with a glorious note, in a superbly handling package.
I wasn’t using the crosses anymore. I was beginning to intuitively choose my own turning-in point, later and better than I would have done before. Enough with the objectives. I wanted to enjoy the 899 and my new found confidence. I felt faster, smoother and safer. Locating the apex before turning in? That’s for the next 25 years.
Or for California Superbike School’s level two course, which I’d happily do.
Tested: California Superbike School Level 1 course at Silverstone Stowe circuit
Price: from £409