Getting Down and Dirty with SoCal Supermoto School
Have you ever dreamed of sliding a supermoto bike sideways into a banked corner, peg scraping on the ground and your foot skimming across the tarmac? It’s alright if you admit it and it’s OK if you can’t do it just yet. Even if you just want to give it a try, the best way to get ‘er done is with the help of the cool kids at the SoCal Supermoto School.
This low-stress, incredibly fun school features a one-day curriculum that provides a foundation for riding supermoto that will make sense to everyone from nervous rookies to experienced vets. I attended one of these $240 classes a few weeks back and while I didn’t manage to look like a tire-shredding pro by the end of the day, I was going a lot faster than I had been at the start, had a much better understanding of the supermoto riding concepts, and managed to navigate the dirt section without crashing. Oh yeah, I also had a hell of a good time. What more could you possibly expect from a one-day school?
Brian Murray is the president, owner, photographer, and lead instructor at the SoCal Supermoto School and his experience teaching thousands of riders over the past decade has helped him perfect his course curriculum. The class time is spent with the animated Mr. Murray explaining the basic tenets of track riding: how to spot your lines, proper body position, how to brake and downshift, how to drive out of the corners and, of course, how to avoid crashing along the way. After that, you get a half hour on the track to put his theories to work.
Class sessions and track time are alternated and before getting on the track you are given a set of concepts to work on, which are discussed in detail during the class. Throughout the day you are guided through the process of learning the track, trying to implement the concepts from the class, getting familiar with the bikes and then putting it all together. One of the great things about SSMS is that it offers so many courses during the year that you can attend multiple days at your convenience. If you come back multiple times, the track time and personalized one-on-one attention you receive at any of the subsequent schools will be tailored to your particular needs. You can even rent the entire school for a family or employee team-building event.
A fleet of Suzuki DRZ400s, TTR125s and Groms are your test mules at SSMS. As you can imagine, the bikes are hammered pretty hard considering Murray holds more than 100 classes a year with an average of 20-30 students in each class. As a result, you can expect to deal with some bent levers, crooked bars, and some finicky starter buttons here and there. Despite being rough around the edges, the bikes run strong thanks to the onsite tech running around swapping bars, adding fuel, and making repairs throughout the day.
The smaller bikes are great for new riders or someone looking to get familiar with the tight and technical Adams Motorsports Park track layout for the first time. They also allow you the opportunity to ease yourself into the program if you are not confident enough to jump right on the big, bad DRZ. For the most part the school allows you to choose your bike (or bring your own) and will advise you or assign you to a particular machine based on what they see from you when you’re riding.
I have ridden supermoto a few times but I am not very good at it and it seems I can only back it in by mistake (So many jokes come to mind from the phrase "back it in by mistake." –Ed), but I love riding dirtbikes on the street. I haven’t done it in about five years, but I’m not a total turd so I went into this to knock the dust off and focus on the dirt section later in the day because I have not had much time riding in the moto sections. On the track I felt I was going good but it took a while to get to where I was actually having fun and the bike was moving around a bit beneath me. I thought I was going pretty well at that point and was starting to get a fat head. Unfortunately, my buddy was with me, and he wails on everything he rides. So, all day long I was being passed and ridiculed while I was easing myself back into it as he blitzed me sliding sideways with his leg out and pegs dragging. Dirty bastard.
Anyway, just being on track is such a great way to get your riding jones out of your system and when you get to learn a few things along the way, it makes your effort even more rewarding. I believe that all sportbike riders should spend a few hundred bucks to attend a few track days a year, just so they have the opportunity to ride their bike WFO and feel what their motorcycle can really do. It’s a great way to improve your riding skills, scrape off those chicken strips and maybe even come to realize that riding like a crazy bastard on street is not a good plan. After attending this school, I also think it would be a great idea to sign up for one of these classes, too, because you can learn a lot from riding a dirtbike on the street. Probably more than you might expect.
The DRZ400 is a butt load of fun on a tight track like this. You will learn more riding a DRZ under 100 mph all day here than you will risking life and limb on the street. Here, you learn to keep just the right amount of momentum and maintain the proper gear selection so you can get a good drive toward the next turn. It’s the basic premise of hauling ass and you don’t have to worry about cops, deer, or dirt (well, maybe a little dirt) while you’re doing it.
Since I was there as a non-paying customer I waited to pick my bike until the actual students were on the track... So, I spent more than half my day on the mini-motos. Which just happens to be a helluva lot of fun. The school has a pair of TTR-125s with street tires and another guy seemed to latch on to one of them every time out, too, so we were constantly riding with each other. Battling with someone really helps figure out what works and what doesn’t, especially when you’re on equal machines. It was helpful to me because the other guy had been here a few times and could haul ass on this little bike. By the time I was tired of the TTR the two of us had built a nice little on-track bromance, but I was aching to get on a big bike.
You might be asking why I would use the word battle and it’s simple. Because racing is at the core of supermoto and is a popular component of the educational process. It gets real entertaining after lunch (provided by the school) when they incorporate the dirt section into the mix. By the time pizza arrived, most of us were hauling ass on the track and feeling pretty good about how far we had come in a short period of time. But once the great equalizer comes into play, it really separates the wheat from the chaff. Navigating a motocross section with a chicane, a small double, huge 180-degree banked turn and a table top on street tires can be tricky so it was no surprise that many students took a dirt sample during the first few laps. The trick is to be upright when you brake or get on the gas and maintain momentum so you don’t have to twist the throttle too far in the slippery silt.
As the day wore on, a fine layer of dust formed on top of the fairly tacky dirt, making it even more likely to take a digger since we were all going faster and faster every lap. Personally, I ride off-road a lot and love riding dual sport, enduro and taking big ADV bikes on the crappiest roads I can find because, well, that’s fun to me. So, while I didn’t go down I definitely got crossed up a few times and it took a while to build enough speed to clear the table top after a few sessions. Murray mentioned that riding on the dirt was similar to running from the cops on a golf course. You still haul ass but you have to modulate your throttle and braking inputs to survive the event. About this time, his teaching style was starting to get through to me personally. Also, at this point, things were getting real fun.
Our instructor was encouraging us to haul ass, prodding us to make strong, safe passes and guiding us through the process of clearing a 50-60-foot jump while he was running around the track taking photos, documenting our ineptitude or glory, depending on what turn he was in. Some of the students were seriously fast, too. Many of them were returning customers with more than a half dozen classes to their credit. There was a big gap between the guys with experience and the rest of us. My buddy, and about four other guys – including some dude in spiffy yellow leathers with flames – were particularly speedy. They were sliding sideways, backing it in, riding wheelies and banging bars in the dirt as the competitive nature of riding supermoto started taking over all of us.
Everything was going great, until my sidekick crashed out at the end of the fast straightaway going into the first turn, hairpin. He was relatively unscathed but while we were gathering him up and making fun of his misfortune, I missed out on the grand finale. At the end of every school, the students are lined up for a six-lap GP-style race that requires them to run to their bikes, start them and hit the track in a winner-take-all showdown for the right to be the top dog of the day. As expected, the guy in the fancy leathers won in an epic come-from-behind battle while the rest of the class were having the time of their life going head-to-head in the mid-pack skirmish. I included a video from a student race earlier in the season, just so you have a point of reference for how great it is.
When the dust settled and everyone was back in the paddock safe and sound, there was not a single person without a huge smile on their face. Everyone from the rookies to the legend were bench racing, exchanging tales of near crashes, great passes, missed shifts and dragged pegs. I was bummed I missed out but I was stoked for the students. It turned out that four of them had come over from Arizona and a couple made the trek from San Francisco (about 450 miles away), just to do this class. While talking with them afterwards they all had nothing but praise for the school. All of them wanted to come back, even the young lady who had only been riding for a few months that was there with her dad to get seat time in a controlled environment. She was happier than anyone else there.
Anyone with the balls to send their students out in a race on the school bikes is a stud in my book and when you combine that with Brian Murray’s cool demeanor, you get an instructor that is capable of teaching you how to go fast without having to beat it into your head with mechanical devices, videos, or by cramming their personal philosophy down your throat. Imagine your favorite riding buddy helping you get better at something he is good at. That’s what Murray does for his students. So, if you are looking to enjoy a low-pressure, educational, and highly exciting riding school experience that focuses on the basic techniques of supermoto then you should check out SoCal Supermoto School.