Learning To Lean With SoCal Supermoto

Hell For Leather, HFL -

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Formal training on a race track is the absolute best way to learn advanced riding skills. But, those schools tend to be very expensive. Not SoCal Supermoto, for just $199 you get expert instruction, a loaner bike and a full day on-track. Just as good?

Above: Our friend Darragh McDermott of Hollywood, California, crashing for the second time in a single day. Neither he nor the bike experienced any damage.

Why learn on a track when you ride on the road? Well, safety for one. On a track, there’s nothing to hit, nothing that will kill you and nobody that’s going to write you a ticket. That leaves you free to concentrate on going fast and learning how to go faster.

Why take a school as opposed to just attending a track day? Well, it turns out this whole riding a motorcycle thing is difficult. I’ve been riding for a little over two years but, in the absence of advanced training, I’m not what anyone would describe as fast or proficient.

On a track you can ride your motorcycle to the limit without fear of road conditions, police or speed limits. It’s even a better place to learn how to ride your motorcycle properly — by being taught by someone who was a professional racer and a former instructor at the ($1,850+) California Superbike School really helps cement the correct riding skills into you.

Yours truly.

Socal Supermoto
Before starting SoCal Supermoto, Brian Murray was an MSF instructor. Teaching new riders how not to fall over in parking lots, he gave over 2,000 individual lessons before moving on to something more advanced. The goal was to find a way to help riders advance their skill in a safe, consequence free, accessible environment. Supermotos are the perfect tool for doing so, replicating sport bike dynamics at lower speeds and standing up to crashes much better. On one, you still lean way over and trail brake and all that good stuff, you just do so at around 40mph instead of 100mph+. The ability of the bikes to survive crashes, plus their low service and tire costs are a big part of the reason the school can be so cheap.

Joining Brian is Stu Smith, who used to teach at the ($1,850+) California Superbike School. In contrast to SoCal Supermoto, that school throws students on the fast, intimidating BMW S1000RR. A lot of the mental effort California Superbike School students then expend is just adapting to that bike’s outright speed.

The school is taught at Adams Motorsport Park in Riverside, CA and that $199 price nets you training, track time and bike rental (Suzuki DR-Z400SMs), as well as action photos. Darragh is particularly happy there was a photographer on hand to capture his crashes. You need to provide your own helmet, leathers, boots and gloves.

Time To Learn
Before showing up, I really had no idea how to probably ride my motorcycle through a corner, nothing about braking, entering a corner or even getting out of one, shifting and riding on the straights.

Stu Smith.

Stu Smith was our instructor for the day. He started like most of us, knowing very little and began taking classes, going to track days and eventually teaching. He says, “it’s so awesome to see people become way better in one day than they were before and even it’s better to see one of your students winning professional races.”

Stu taught the following:

Proper Lines: “Most riders, when they start out riding, have a tendency to turn into a corner too early. That tends to make you run wide. When we get into lines and line selection, the thing we start with is where we should turn in, deeper and further into a corner, so they you a better apex and a better corner exit. A visual reference is helpful for this such as an ‘X’ on the track or a certain marker like a cone. The best idea for a good line is to straighten out a corner the best you can, have only one steering input, and roll on the throttle all the way through.”

Cornering.

Corner Entry: “People tend to corner too early for a couple reasons. Number one, it’s a natural thing to turn in early so you don’t go off the road, its a safety thing. Number two, the bike goes where you look. When you turn to look at the corner your bike starts to follow where you look, so try to look a bit later.”

Braking: “The best place to start with braking is to get most of your braking straight up and down. That means you release the brake and turn/lean simultaneously. Braking causes the front to compress and leaning causes the opposite, so if you do it simultaneously the bike begins to level out and remain balanced, allowing you to corner better.”

Positive Throttle: “The basic rule about positive throttle is that, once you get the bike turned, you get back on the gas again for the remainder of the corner. That makes the bike stand up and increases stability which allows for greater speed and faster corner exits.”

Apex: “I ask every class to define an ‘apex’ and I always get different answers. My thing about apexes is you choose when you are going to apex the corner, it’s the spot where you get closest to the inside edge of the corner. You want to apex later, to come off the corner early and you have better drive out of the corners to go faster.”

That’s a proper body position.

Body Position: “Body position is interesting on the supermotos — it is very different from on a sport bike. On a supermoto, you have to sit far forward on the seat to keep the weight on the front tire — if you sit way back you’ll begin to lose the front. Body positioning for a sport bike, biggest main point, it’s really important to not twist your hips, the outside leg should keep you on the bike — which allows for better cornering and more lean.”

How do these skills transfer to the street? “I try to relate to both to the track where we are at and street riding as well, turn-in points (on the track its easy with those Xs) you need to go into deeper on turns and when you approach your corner on the street you now know you need to go in a bit deeper, so you don’t run wide or go over the yellow. It all relates directly to the street, you just have to tone it down a little so it’s safe. Roll the throttle on the street for the stability it creates, it’s safer, it’s more balanced and, if you go across some gravel, it’ll be easier on the rider.”

Getting there…

This is my first track day, how do I increase my overall confidence? “Confidence comes with experience, just doing it. Also kinda doing it gradually, not like trying to set the world on fire on your first track day. You go out and don’t get in over your head — don’t think you’re going to set track records and get recruited into MotoGP. You want to go gradually and press your limits not blow past them. In the end, get some training, a lot of guys do track days and realize they’re not as good as they thought. All the go fast parts won’t do you any good if you can’t ride — the more variety of riding you get, the better your bike handling skills become.”

Personally, I learned a lot from this course and realized many things about what it takes to ride a motorcycle well and what I need to do ride better. I’ll be taking the knowledge I gleamed from this course and will be practicing it over and over and over until I’m able to drag my knee. Then Wes will finally stop making fun of my chicken strips.

  • http://garrett-nelson.tumblr.com/ Garrett Nelson

    Been following these guys on Facebook for a while. They seems like they know what they are doing and the program seems like a good value. $199 for a track day, instruction, and a motorcycle to ride? What a deal! I’m thinking of taking a vacation to SoCal when the weather turns crappy in Washington to do their program.

    • ghaash

      It was an absolute blast, I learned tons. Darragh crashed a bunch (I heard the thuds.)

      • http://garrett-nelson.tumblr.com/ Garrett Nelson

        I hope I wound’t crash so much, but wouldn’t be so bad at slow speed I guess. Part of me actually wants to crash (is that weird) so that I know what it’s like. 40MPH on a Supermoto sounds like the right way to do it I guess.

        • Piglet2010

          I crashed in Turn 4 at Blackhawk Farms (in the rain), and while I hit the pavement hard enough to “broom” my left knee slider, I did not even feel temporary pain. Energy absorbing armor/pads really do work.

  • Jordan

    That price compensates entirely for the cost of living in California compared to living somewhere else and alternative track schools.

    That price is also misleading on California Superbike School. The two day camps cost that much, but you can also do one day schools for around $500 if you don’t rent their BMWs, which cost an extra $200 to rent.

    • Mister X

      So what you’re trying to say is, paying $300- more, and using/crashing your own bike, makes it a bargain in your eyes, right?
      Not even close…

  • Brian

    ANY school is a good thing, but some seem like they charge more for what they perceive as a value. I have done levels 1&2 of Cali SBK School ( back when they were pimpin Kawi 636′s )at Barber Motorsports Park, and I too found myself adjusting to an I-4 powerband and bike from riding my V-Twin. I know there are other schools that build skills like American Supercamp, and Cornerspin ( which I have done a few times), where you are taught on dirtbikes for to translate to the street, but on hard packed dirt surface. One of the most valuable things those particular courses get you comfortable with is finding the limit in the loss of traction, understanding it, and gaining it back. Learning to find where you might have otherwise not listened to the whispers of what the bike is telling you in feedback and how and what to glean from it and react. It has done wonders in helping correct things where I would have seriously hurt myself on the street by correcting behaviors that you might normally have incorrectly reacted to.

  • Brian Murray

    Thanks for the writeup! Just a quick corretion: I was never a MSF instructor, just 10 years doing private training with new riders. I have had a great relationship with the msf, both exchanging referrals and having many msf instructors come out to do our supermoto school.

    • Art Guilfoil

      I just wanted to note that I’ve been on the track as a non school rider while Brian was conducting his school a few times. He apparently runs a great school and it’s fun to see the guys he is teaching get faster and faster during the day. I’ve never seen a problem with his new riders so I have to assume Brian does a great job teaching ettiquite as well as technique. What a great way to get into the sport or just have a super fun and safe experience!

  • billg

    I’ve been to a number of track schools (CSS, CLASS, etc) and SoCal Supermoto is definitely the best bang for the buck. For the cost of a rear tire you get bike rental, track time, instruction, and photography. Plus the fact that the supermoto bikes and the kart track are a much less intimidating atmosphere, especially if you are new to track riding.
    Bill Go

    • Brian Murray

      Thanks Bill!

  • Piglet2010

    For those in the Upper Midwest, there is the Road America SuperMoto school (which also uses the DR-Z400SM).

    http://www.roadamerica.com/School/Supermoto.asp

  • Generic42

    Regardless of what you are comparing to, $199 for a day on the track, lessons and photos is amazing bang for the buck.

  • Brian Murray

    Man I would love to make it a traveling show. How cool would it be to travel with a trailer full of supermotos doing schools everywhere? Probably cheaper just to look for a cheap flight out. Do it in the middle on winter when yer jonesing to ride!

    • HellomynameisAG

      See you in January then. Fuck it, why not.

      • Brian Murray

        Rad, see you then.

  • Brian Murray

    Agreed. For the record we don’t compare ourselves with other schools, and encourage our riders to try them all. CSS, texas tornado, funcamp, etc… are all very worth it and excellent bang for the buck. We keep ours as cheap as possible to introduce as many riders to supermoto as possible.

  • Stuki

    I doubt any school teaching on fairly moderate SMs, are targeted at advancing 5+ year track riders from intermediate to advanced. For that, bring-your-own-bike (or rent megapower superbikes) are likely a better choice.

    SMs on a tight track, are a pretty good setup for learning twisty road and canyon riding skills, however. For anyone from dual sport riders to Harley dudes. In addition to being a great way to learn SM riding for it’s own sake. And at $199, it’s cheap enough that anyone that aspires to ride more proficiently, on any kind of bike, can afford to attend.

    Heck, at $199 for a whole day, I bet even bicyclists could stand to benefit from the added confidence it would add when going downhill on twisty roads. I know I was the absolute downhill demon in my local peloton of overweight oldies, in no small part due to MC experience making me much more comfortable taking corners at some speed and lean. Once the road turned uphill, however…… Bring your own leathers may be a bit of a showstopper there, though; as even at 40mph, lycras aren’t really all that as far as crashing goes…..

    • Mugget

      Don’t get the wrong idea about my skill level – Intermediate group is just above Novice, and the majority are out of Novice after one track day, or even the first day if they’re super-keen. (All riders who haven’t ridden on a track before must start in Novice.) I was not at all fast or especially competent, even after all those years. The reason I mentioned all of that was just to illustrate the night and day difference after attending CSS. Now I would honestly describe myself as moderately fast, and competent. BIG improvement!

      The thing is that any good training should focus on the same things, the technology of motorcycling does not change, regardless or rider experience or the type of bike. Physics are physics. The foundation remains and riders can choose to build on that according to their desire to push themselves, get faster, safer, etc. So the idea of needing specific training that is tailored to a particular experience level is kind of invalid. Any good coach/training program should be able to help a novice just as well as a racer. Summary: don’t worry about looking for training that is tailored to your experience level, any good training will do.

      I have a soft spot for supermotos, $199 including rental is a pretty good deal. And the fact that they’re introducing people to the world of SM, only a good thing. SM deserves much more recognition, anyone who is working to introduce more riders to SM is good in my books. Providing good training at the same time – can’t argue with that. I just wanted to comment since the article seemed to make a big deal of the price of CSS. And given my experience there it would be worth it if a single day cost 4x as much. You can’t put a price on speed & safety. Imagine what people would pay to be able to ride like Rossi et al?! My message to people is to just get out there and get some training! Then go and get some more!!

  • UrbanMoto

    Man, Cali gets all the good stuff.

    Awesome crash shot, given that no one got hurt. I’d totally blow that up and hang it up in my office. “Yeah, that’s me. No biggie.”

    One thing I noticed in the fine print:

    “What if I crash/dammage the bike?

    We have a 2 strike policy on crashing on asphalt. If you
    go down twice you’re done for the day (dirt doen’t count). If you follow
    our instruction ideally you won’t be crashing at all! Our damage policy
    is a “gentleman’s agreement”, meaning you break it, you pay for the
    part. We don’t worry about minor scratches and tip-overs. Generally
    speaking damage, if there is any, is very minor. I’ll let you know the
    cost of the part, and we’ll run your card right there at the track and
    you’re back riding.”

    So, did Darragh have to hang it up after the second crash in a day?

    • Darragh McD

      There are RideApart readers in my office – the first presentation after this post went up, someone featured this image. Thanks Wes & Dan. That’s enough exposure for me, no need for the frame.

      The bike rode away from both crashes; but the rule is stated clearly at the very top of the morning – go down once – it can happen. Go down again and you’re the reason we can’t have nice things – you need to think about what you’ve done. It’s only fair really. Brian didn’t need to say anything – it’s about the only rule that’s set for the entire day.

      I crashed twice, on a soaked wet track during a thunderstorm, on slicks (enough excuses). In the dry you’d really really need to be reckless to test this policy… The bikes & track are in good shape, so you’ll find your limit before the bike’s – it’s your fault if you crash. I was riding to the limit of my capability and I learned a lot in the dry. In the wet I overstepped my ability and I needed to dial it back more than I did, apparently. I again learned a lot; but the hard way.

      (Almost) none of the group hung around to ride post-rain, and really I don’t think that I deserved to roll the dice any more on someone else’s bike. I should have learned that the track was way, way slicker than I was allowing for.

      Above is crash one (lost the front trail braking to the apex. I did make the apex – with my face). Down two was much less dramatic: the rear lost traction under throttle and a simple low-side ensued (at about 20mph max). Thankfully there aren’t any photos of #2 as Wes & Dan would have had a hard decision which one to make the lead shot.

      I’d echo everything that Dan said in his article: great school; Brian and Stu are great guys and great teachers; and yes – it’s worth flying out here to take part if you can make it work. I’ll be back again; if they’ll have me.

  • Steve Schlosser

    Just a quick note for Brian and socal Supermoto, I’m a 2x student both having taken sportsbike fundamentals with Stu and Brian’s very own instruction with Supermoto style and both times were excellent. The School is a well oiled machine with more track time then an actual track day!! I would rather pay the $200 to attend the school again then attend a track day on my cbr anytime of the week. I plan on attending a 3rd time before my own Supermoto purchase because its just that worth it.

    Thumbs up to Brian and Socal Supermoto for being something great