Coaching or Class?

A recurring question I’m hearing is from riders is asking if they should take a class (i.e., ChampSchool (YCRS) or California Superbike School (CSS)) or get private coaching. I don’t think there’s an easy or simple answer to this. Add to this is the option of online courses, such as the one ChampSchool introduced last year called ChampU. I write this from my perspective which includes 6 (maybe more) full days with CSS and one 2-day ChampSchool YCRS experience. Way back when, I attended Jason Pridmore’s STAR school. I’ve also attended Reg Pridmore’s CLASS school a couple of times. JP now has a different training program which I’ve not partaken in and CLASS wasn’t really my thing.

Just tell me, which should I do?

One of the easiest ways to discern this, in my opinion, is if you’re consistently hitting your apexes, are reasonably swift and can execute clean safe passes, and aren’t disturbed by being passed closely and cleanly, you’ll probably find greater benefit in working with a private coach. If you’re having trouble consistently hitting apexes and your lap times aren’t within one to two seconds (barring traffic laps), then a class might make the most sense. If you’re mid-pack or slower in the intermediate group, a class will probably yield you a greater immediate benefit.

I love one-on-one coaching, however, if you’re not yet consistent in lap times, hitting all your marks, and/or not able to identify all the reference points for all corners without much thought, you’ll probably benefit from the formality of the school format.

YCRS & CSS have a formalized set of classroom points and on-track drills they will work on with the students. Some of this might be redundant for you but look at it as an opportunity to clarify any finer details of that subject. Both of these institutions often use video review as an important teaching tool. CSS has a tripod with a camera on the rear seat of their camera bike and you’ll probably do one 2 or 3 lap session each day and YCRS will have an instructor run chase on you for one or two laps each day. CSS does video review one-on-one with your riding coach and YCRS saves the video review for when the class is reassembled. The latter can be a little embarrassing if you’ve blown apexes but it helps you to see your mistakes and opportunities for improvement. It’s also helpful to watch other students because maybe you’ve been where they are and you can offer insight or maybe it’s a completely different issue that you just haven’t encountered yet. Both of the schools are taught by industry-respected primary instructors and the on-track riding coaches are typically accomplished national or regional club racers or industry experts. When I attended YCRS in 2020, Chris Peris and Kyle and Cody Wyman were some of the on-track coaches. YCRS usually offers a two-up ride. This will be thrilling, possibly terrifying. I personally don’t know that it yields huge benefit because it’s hard to be analytical about it while it’s going on. Maybe if you did 5 or so in a year it would serve more purpose but when I rode on the back of Chris Peris’ bike I was terrified as he ground down hard bits all the way through Buttonwillow’s Riverside corner so the fact that he was demonstrating trail braking was lost on me.

Private coaching (a hired coach, not a track day control rider) can be a completely different experience and it might take working with a few different coaches before you find one who gets you and can communicate what is appropriate for you and knows how to work through things with you so you can execute. In my experience, working with a private coach is slightly less expensive but be prepared to pay for the coach’s time, their travel expenses, potentially their tires, and their track fees. Some providers will let them work with you without buying a pass, but most will charge (ask ahead of time). Typically the net cost is pretty similar on a daily basis.

CSS @ Laguna Seca, circa 2017

What to Expect from a School/Camp

  • When you go to CSS or YCRS, you’re going to have a pre-determined curriculum unless you’re a multi-repeat customer, in which case you’ll be able to play a greater role in determining your curriculum (what you feel like you need to work on).
  • Bikes will either be provided (CSS for their 2-day camps) or they can be rented optionally (YCRS). If you bring your own bike to a YCRS event they prefer that your brake light is functional.
  • Gear is usually available to rent.
  • You will receive some 1-on-2 coaching (YCRS) or all 1-on-2 coaching (CSS) while on track.
  • You will have drills to work through, and these usually change each session–the usefulness of these will vary based on where you are in your own learning.
  • Costs will be in the $2k-$3k (USD) range, depending on the track you’re riding and the options you select for a 2-day camp/school. CSS does have a less expensive bring-your-own-bike school but these are single-day events with a 1-on-4 instructor-to-student ratio. Track fees are included in the cost of the camp/school. Please see each of the respective schools for the specific costs and details as the programs change.
  • Each of the schools *may* ask you about your experience at the track because they sometimes separate into 2 major groups.
  • The first time you do a 2-day school, you will be overwhelmed. As the expression goes, it’s like drinking from a firehose. You’ll be exhausted physically and mentally. Take notes, copious notes that you review later. I never took enough.
  • YCRS vs CSS? That debate rages on all over the InterWebs and I liked and disliked certain things about each. The fact of the matter is that they both have loads of experienced, qualified coaches, and some very successful road racing graduates. YCRS focuses heavily on using the front brakes for direction, speed mitigation, etc. CSS has the benefit of Keith Code having spent decades honing the curriculum and specific drills to address virtually any challenge. In my opinion, based on where I was with my riding when I attended CSS, Levels 1-3 were okay, level 4 was where the magic happened for me but that’s because it became more like private coaching as the curriculum was more flexible (and yes, we worked on trail braking, contrary to popular belief). CSS 2-day camps provide the bike (BMW S1000RR) and that took me a couple of sessions to adjust to. CSS did say that when they switched from analog bikes to the BMW with electronics, the number of riders crashing dropped very significantly.
Static body position coaching w/ CSS circa 2017 @ Laguna

What to Expect from a Private Coach

This is going to vary dramatically from one coach to another. The private coaching I’ve done has included 2 different coaches, one used to be fairly local to me and he spent years coaching with Ken Hill. I’ve also worked directly with Ken a few times in the past couple of years. The availability of Ken and his coaches is extremely limited so that might be difficult to coordinate. Ken Hill and Alan Schwen operate a track day provider in Washington state called Track Time. You can book a couple of different tiers of private coaches through Track time. If you do that, you’ll also need to pay for your track day(s) first, then book the coach.
Since this option may not work for everyone, you can also refer to the USMCA (US Motorcycle Coaching Association) for potential coaches to work with. I have not used this myself but many of the CSS on-track coaches are listed on it. You may want to ask for referrals from the prospective coach.

If you employ a private coach, I would highly recommend that you work with one who can run video chase on you. Video is one of the most effective tools for identifying developmental areas in your riding, whether it be your lines, your control timing, your accuracy, your body position/timing, etc. When I’ve worked with Ken and his coaches, we’d ride a session, then come in and immediately do the video review. When this time comes, be humble, accept compliments, and be ready to accept constructive criticism. An experienced coach will be able to readily identify your greatest opportunity areas–whether this be accuracy, riding more safely, passing, etc. Spare them excuses, they’ve heard them all and they can see what’s going on around you so it won’t do any good.

Don’t expect the private coach experience to be as deliberate and have the same concierge-type service that you might have had from a camp/school, it won’t be. This will be all businesses and they are there to work on you and your riding.

Little bike brigade: 1-on-4 private coaching with Cameron Gish, circa 2021 @ Buttonwillow

Preparation for Coaching or a School

  • If you’re riding your own bike, make sure all maintenance is done well in advance and that your consumables (tires, brake pads, etc.) are fresh. Bring fuel, it’s not included unless you’re riding a rental, and even then, check ahead of time just to be sure. The worst thing is to spend this kind of money and NOT being able to ride. You don’t want to be wrenching or futzing with clickers in-between sessions when you should be debriefing with your coach.
  • Check for track facilities–most offer fuel and lunch and maybe breakfast, although when I rode at The Ridge (Washington state) last year, I was surprised they didn’t have fuel at the track. I did bring my own so I was prepared.
  • Ask the school or coach about recommended accommodations, be it camping or recommended local hotels.
  • Depending on where you are with your riding, bring a lap timer/data logger and a means to affix it to the motorcycle you’ll be riding and a laptop for data analysis. My first day working with Ken at The Ridge in 2021 we didn’t even bother to look at the data because I was still learning the track so we stuck with video. On the second day I was getting closer to hitting the marks so we were able to review data.
  • If a similarly paced friend is interested, maybe consider sharing a coach for a 2-day event. I have found that 7 sessions in a day with a coach can be overwhelming so maybe having a couple of sessions to work out details before returning to your coach can be useful. Ask the coach ahead of time to make sure that’s okay with them as it will make their day busier.

Alternatives to Schools and Coaches

  • In my opinion, there really is no substitute for live coaching/training, however, if that’s not a reality or if you’re just getting started, YCRS launched ChampU in 2021 and it covers virtually all of their live curriculum. In my opinion, it’s a bargain at $50 (USD) for a lifetime membership.
  • Life-at-Lean has a nice library of technical aspects and a (private) member community.
  • There is some good reading to be had as well, I personally have re-read Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist Volumes 1 & 2 multiple times. Each time I find different things that are more applicable than they were before.
  • Andy Ibbott’s MotoGP Performance Riding Techniques has a lot of good information and there are lots of quotes from MotoGP stars, there’s a chapter on race craft that I really enjoyed.
  • Nick Ienastch’s Sport Riding Techniques is the foundation for YCRS.
  • Simon Crafar’s MotoVudu series has some good bits but I found some parts conflicted with my primary pedagogy but I liked the way Simon explained a couple of things.
  • Blayze has a video review program that I’ve used and like very much. Lots of good tips in their blog section as well. It’s a general sports + motorsports platform so sometimes finding just what you’re looking for takes a while.

I personally have my own learning methodology and it mostly involves communicating with my riding coach and submitting videos and data for him to review. Because the process works for me and I’m data-minded, I will periodically ask trusted fast riders to take my bike out and then I can compare data. Most racers/riders aren’t going to be too excited to do this because they probably don’t know your bike and its condition. You may need to explicitly tell them that they aren’t responsible if they bin your bike. Keep in mind that they are trusting their life in your hands because they don’t know you or your bike. I’ve been successful because they know me and my bike.

The reading and online resources are tools I use to supplement my learning. I suggest finding one voice and sticking to that. That’s not to say you can’t research alternatives but if you’re working with one line of teaching and you find something that contrasts or might cause something to resonate, don’t hesitate to ask your coach about it. Coaching shouldn’t be a one-and-done sort of thing, it’s an ongoing process. You might feel like you’re bugging your coach but your questions might help them refine their curriculum (don’t hit them up too much though, at least not without sending them some money from time to time).