California Superbike School | Levels 1 & 2 at Brands Hatch on the ZX-10R Ninja!

What should you expect from the California Superbike School? Alex heads over to Brands Hatch to complete levels 1 & 2 on the Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja.

California Superbike School - Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

Alex was invited over to Brands Hatch with the California Superbike School, to complete Levels 1 & 2 of the world-renowned track-based training school on the Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja motorcycle!

Right off the bat, this was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on two wheels. Not only was it a chance to swing a leg over the Kawasaki ZX-10R at one of the most iconic circuits in the UK (and therefore what I'd consider its natural habitat), but it was also a chance to seriously level up my riding.

I’ll go over what the course is all about, what you can hope to learn if you do attend in the near future, and what I came away with - mostly being a newfound understanding of how to properly navigate around a track, both picking the right lines (for me) and how to get the bike to do what I wanted.

This is a thorough read, so grab a brew!

Brands Hatch

Let me set the scene for you… the Brands Hatch indy circuit (1.2 miles) would play host to two days of the school, and whilst certainly a short circuit, that would ultimately be a good thing - as you’d quickly figure out the entire layout.

Though, I’ve certainly done a good number of laps virtually on many a videogame in the past...

Plus, Brands has a storied history dating back all the way to 1926, with practically all of the motorsport world at some point having a round at the famous circuit - more recently known for hosting the BSB paddock for a round & finale each and every year.

What is the California Superbike School?

First things first, this isn’t a track day. It was made explicitly clear that attending the school doesn’t mean you’ll be razzing around as fast as you can - rather, you're told to ride at 75% of your maximum in order to have that 25% in reserve to really focus on your technique, and the lessons at hand. This will come up again later on, trust me!

Way back when you passed your test, it is likely that at some point you were directed to the work of Keith Code; whether that was ‘A Twist of the Wrist' Vol 1 or 2, ‘The Soft Science of Road Racing’ or any of his other work - I know I was.

You'd certainly have heard of Keith, and he founded the California Superbike School to pass on his methodology to riders & racers around the world - and of note, Wayne Rainey, James Toseland, and Leon Camier were all taught by Code. To date, 65 racing championships have been won by trainees of the School, which operate at 90 circuits in 25+ countries worldwide, having trained over 160,000 students - many of whom return to re-do courses!

The UK school is headed up by Gary Adshead and Martin Plunkett (both winning Coach of the Year awards over the years), and operates with Keith’s personal endorsement and support. Whilst Gary will personally give the classroom seminars where you do the bulk of the learning, Martin will be out on track (with multiple other instructors) to ensure you are translating the theories into practice correctly.

There are 4 levels of riding to cover, with one level covered per day of riding & learning. Everyone starts at Level 1, learning and developing skills from the ground up with 5 classroom sessions paired with 5 on-track sessions to practice per day.

Level 1 & Level 2 - Price? What is covered?

Where Level 1 is a foundation on motorcycle control - working with the throttle, turn points, and your input to the bike - Level 2 is all about sharpening your visual skills, avoiding target fixation, and ultimately looking in all the right places to smoothly get around track.

Level 3 is all about how you interact with the bike with your body positioning and cornering, with Level 4 a more personal approach with video debriefs on tidying up your skills.

All lessons have their own accompanying hand signals that instructors on track will throw out to remind you what to focus on as you navigate the track, and all of the skills directly transfer to your road riding. It's certainly humbling when you’re feeling like a hero and your instructor comes past with one arm waving at the turn-in point.

Whilst the price varies per circuit, for Brands Hatch specifically all levels (1 through 4) are priced at £490 for the day’s training, and if you want to make use of the fleet of rental Kawasakis, this can be secured for £465 on top (per day/level) - I was on the ZX-10R Ninja, and there is also the Ninja Z650, Z900 and Z H2 to select from.

Hiring a bike for the day is super handy if you want to rock up and not worry about fuel, track insurance, tyre pressures, noise testing… as that’s all sorted for you! But you’re more than welcome to turn up on your own road bike - there was even a fella in my group on a lovely Triumph Bonnie!

Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja

Now as I just mentioned the ZX-10R, now would be a good opportunity for me to sing its praises. 

The school has just recently partnered with Kawasaki to provide the full fleet of hire bikes for 2022 and beyond, and I was itching to get out on the 2022 sports bike to see how much of Jonathan Rea's ability I could replicate out on track - 10% of his skill would be nice.

To throw a few specs at you, the 998cc inline-four has 200 bhp and 115 Nm of torque at its disposal, twin 330mm front discs with Brembo M50 radially-mounted monobloc callipers that are paired with a 220mm rear disc, 43mm USD adjustable Showa forks, a horizontal back-link piggyback rear, up/down quickshifter, and a larger rear sprocket optimised for shorter ratios and short circuit racing. A true track weapon, in other words.

It was my first time jumping on the 207kg beast, and with a seat height of 835mm I was surprised to find it the ‘goldilocks’ right size for me (and at 6’4”ish that’s pretty good going). The inline-4 was exceptionally smooth, a stable foundation for me to jump on and practice the lessons without having to worry about any curveballs the bike may throw my way mid-corner. 

As it’s a new partnership for California Superbike School & Kawasaki, I was curious to see what the instructors & Kawasaki bods thought of the new fleet - and particularly for the ZX-10R, they were all thoroughly impressed at just how few adjustments were needed to get this track-ready. Apparently, it comes out of the crate and is good to go.

In any case, I seriously enjoyed riding around Brands on the £16,099 superbike, and if you’d like a more in-depth review you can check out Toad’s full feature from the 2021 launch.

What to expect, what’s in a day of training?

You have 5 classes, 5 track sessions, and around 5 breaks plus a lunch break throughout the day - with water, bananas & crisps provided to keep you on point. Classroom sessions are always followed by track sessions (sometimes a short break between), and you’ve got a few wranglers to get you where you need to be if you’re not sure - or you can ask them, the answer is always ‘check the whiteboard’.

Immediately after every 20-minute track session, you’ll meet up with your tutor for a debrief. They'll give you feedback and ask how you feel you’re getting on with the current lesson, what went well and what went not so well. There will be another two or three riders in your post-ride group, and it’s worth listening in for some extra bits of advice as they’ll be doing the same drills as you and you’ll pick up on more tips from the instructor.

At the start of each day you’re told to ride around in one gear and use no brakes to ease into it all, and you’re not worrying about someone dive-bombing you into Druids. Again, everyone is told to ride at 75%, so that all but eliminates any competitiveness on track. As the day goes on you begin adding more gears and some light braking, finishing up with all gears & brakes - or whatever you find the best for you.

Vital to remember; everyone is there to enjoy their time but also to focus on learning, there was no track day bravado to be seen, and it was all thoroughly well organised by the CSS team - all factors that are conducive for a prime place to learn (or re-learn) your fundamentals and build up your skill from there.

With multiple groups attending each day (all Levels 1-4), mostly everyone on track with you is going to be in your colour-coordinated group, and therefore in the same boat as you. Yes, you can absolutely overtake riders who are at a different pace to you, but you’re told to keep it polite - plus there are plenty of instructors on the track that’ll pull you in if you’re getting a bit too keen.

That’s another point, the instructors are genuinely some of the best on two wheels I’ve ever seen. They’ll circle around the track and follow you personally once or twice to see how you’re doing and let you follow them to get an idea of where to apply the throttle, where to turn in, where to look etc. How they do it all is beyond me, and they’ll rocket off to the next rider to repeat the process with the next student, leaving you to your devices to develop your skills.

It’s a full day of hands-on learning, so get there nice and early with a full belly, and you’ll be grand. I'll admit I made use of the catering services on-site for a lovely morning bap, delicious.

What I learnt at California Superbike School

As already mentioned, this was an exceptional time all-around. We were blessed with perfect conditions on both days - which certainly helped - but it was matched by a perfect atmosphere both in the paddock and out on track.

There is loads to learn and take in, but here are the most important things I came away with.

  • You get out of the day(s) what you put in. Prepare to go with an open mind, the right attitude, and ultimately be switched on for the whole day.
  • The instructors are there to help you, so any questions as you’re going around track with them and they’ll be able to help you out - plus Gary in the classroom will happily open the floor to questions and queries. 
  • The instructors aren’t just telling you what to do, they have a unique way of making you answer your own questions with the knowledge you’ve picked up in the classes along the way. It’s all thoroughly engaging, and if you’re prepared to identify what you need to work on in each session (regardless of what bike you’re on and your perceived skill level) you’ll end up riding around confident in your new abilities. 
  • A confident rider breeds confident riding, and confident riding means safer, collected and consistent output.

But that’s not to say it was all roses for me!

Sometimes I carried too much speed into corners, ran wide a few times, missed countless apexes - but because I could identify (with the instructor's help) what I was doing wrong and what to work on, by the end of day 2 I felt exponentially better than the morning of day 1, and ultimately performing far greater.
I genuinely ran so wide into Clearways (the one just before the straight) that I had to pull into the pit lane, tell myself off for being way too eager, and remember that all-important 75% rule. Reigning it in from that point on was truly the turning point for my day 2.

So it goes without saying I was by no means the best rider on the track (those accolades lay with the instructors, to be honest) but their keen eye for the nuances of riding, like when you’re rolling off the throttle too early, applying throttle before you’ve set the correct lean angle, or just needing to focus on something else entirely, the feedback here is what I found to improve your skills ten fold. Exactly what we’re all there for.

With more time to think about upcoming corners (and on a 1.2-mile circuit they come around fast) I was able to apply the lessons more accurately, and end up actually carrying more speed and control around track, finishing day 2 with a huge grin on my face from how well that last session went.

Top tips for California Superbike School

A final few tips for you, then! 

  • So to follow on from me getting a bit hot-headed, my first tip is that the 75% rule is vital. Whilst it may be there to make sure nobody is getting out of hand, it’s also crucial to ensure you have that 25% in the tank to focus on your technique and apply the classroom lessons and individual tips your instructor is giving you. Plus, you’re less likely to bin it if you’re taking it that bit steady!

  • It doesn’t matter what your perceived skill level is, everyone starts at level 1 working on the same basics - don’t get offended, don’t feel like it’s far lower than you, just get on with it. 
  • Whilst a litre sports bike is a natural choice for some on track, the aforementioned fella on his Triumph Bonneville was keeping up with everyone on track! Or a young Talent Cup rider on his 250cc racer that was absolutely having everyone effortlessly - skill over substance in its purest form.
  • You can’t learn it all at once. You’re given the knowledge to go away with to work on at your next track appearance (or on the road), and the school regularly has riders return to re-do levels and be part of the CSS family once more.
  • Lastly, it’s your day. Go with the right attitude and enthusiasm to learn, and I genuinely think any rider will come away with the tools to expand their riding skills both on track and on the road. Know your limits, know the bike’s limits, and create that perfect synergy to continue learning when out for a ride. And have a good time, most importantly.

Oh, and remember your back protector - it’s a requirement on UK circuits now.


I didn’t quite get my knee down over the two days, but that isn’t the ultimate goal of the California Superbike School. My day 2 coach Martin reassured me that at no point that day did he get his knee down himself - it may look great in photos, but realistically it’s not the key to going ‘faster’ on track. We’re not Marquez (or any of the MotoGP grid), so don’t expect to come away from a day of riding around a track starting at zero and ending up a hero!

Worth noting that the day was also hosted by Carole Nash, and there is a discount for those that take part in level 1 and up - and if you really impress and are the star student of your group, you get £50 off your policy. Mega!

As of writing, there are still dates available at Cadwell Park, Bedford Autodrome & Brands Hatch - and a waiting list for Donington. Apparently, Cadwell is great for Level 3 students, but Brands was great for 1 & 2.

Whether looking to book yourself on a place for a bit of track riding tuition, gifting someone a day out at a UK circuit, or getting more confident on two wheels - I highly recommend getting booked in. You can do so here.

A huge shout-out and thanks to Duncan for being my tutor on day 1, and a massive shout-out to Martin for day 2. With that, a massive thanks to all of the California Superbike School team, who were great fun to be around. And a special mention & thanks to Jane, she’s the boss of the show!

Images are from Tim & Impact Images, big thanks to him - and you can purchase your own photo packages from the day if you attend, which is always a bonus.

And also a big thanks to you for reading this far!