Skip Barber Superbike School | Review
Motorcycle Racing Schools
For 30 years motorcyclists worldwide have admired the Skip Barber Racing automobile driving and racing schools that operate across North America. Now, Skip Barber has developed the Skip Barber Superbike School Powered By KTM at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, for those of us who prefer speed on two wheels.
Not just any school, the Skip Barber Superbike School Powered By KTM lead instructor is Michael Czysz, and he just may be the most broadly qualified motorcycle riding instructor in the world. The CEO and founder of MotoCzysz, Czysz is heavily invested in the investigation of chassis design and performance, as well as how the motor of a motorcycle affects the handling of the bike. Czysz is also an accomplished racer, giving him an unbeatable array of skills for the job of teacher.
Because of the secrecy that surrounded the MotoCzysz C1 motorcycle, one may expect the Czysz himself would be something less than outgoing and anything other than an effective teacher. Fortunately, this is not the case, and Czysz brings an engaging combination of enthusiasm, intensity and knowledge to the table.
Further, his is an amazing speaker, rarely pausing, and never uttering an "uh" or "um" as he flawlessly simplifies and explains the sometimes-complex physics of motorcycle riding.
Supporting Czysz at the Skip Barber Superbike School Powered By KTM is a selection of race-bred instructors. At the school I attended, Eric Bostrom was a guest instructor, helping riders and working the white board in the classroom.
Eric Bostrom has an AMA Supersport Championship and AMA Formula Xtreme Championship to his credit. His easy-going manner and chemistry with Czysz made Bostrom a valuable, unadvertised asset to the school.
The Skip Barber Superbike School describes itself as an "advanced training program [that] is suitable for riders of all ability levels, as riders are broken into groups based on experience and skill level."
This was certainly the case with the group I observed-it ranged from a teenager who rides a Kawasaki Ninja 250 on straight Florida roads to hardened track school and track day addicts. The only qualification needed to take the class is a driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement.
As indicated by the "Powered By KTM" addendum to the school name, KTM provides the bikes for the school. This means 1198 RC8s and 1090 RC8Ss. KTM 990 Super Dukes are available, but the instructors didn’t encourage any students to ride them.
The RC8s were a handful for some of the less-experienced riders and the shortest rider (about 5-foot tall) had difficulty keeping the bike upright when stopped. The staff worked to assist the rider and tip-overs were averted.
A quick assessment of the riders’ abilities resulted in the riders being broken down into groups of 3 or 4 like-skilled riders, with an instructor dedicated to each group. As the two-day school progressed, a few riders migrated between groups, as their skill levels emerged and enhanced at different rates. The class size is limited to 20 students.
To start the two-day education, students were driven around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the process of learning the track begins. Each corner is explained on-track and in the classroom, so that the riders have a good idea of the circuit–including such legendary challenges as the Corkscrew and Andretti Hairpin–before their initial rides. Initial rides, as expected, are slow and deliberate, emphasizing the proper selection of lines and the importance of hitting apexes.
Sessions in the classroom are followed by track sessions to bring the theory to life. Some riders struggled initially, but as the days went on, it was gratifying to watch their skills and confidence on the KTMs increase. None of the students were native KTM riders, so everyone was equally unfamiliar with the school’s motorcycles.
Being V-twins rather than fast-revving in-line fours, the KTM RC8 and RC8S provided Skip Barber Superbike School students with a nice mix of raw power and controllability. Likewise, the handling of the RC8 is forgiving, so the bike did not frighten any of the riders after the first few laps around the MotoGP course.
On-track teaching is a mixture of laps done under instructor observation, as well as some very specific drills, including braking and mastering the very tight Turn 11 and the double-apex Turn 2. There were a few mishaps during the drills, though nothing that prevented further instruction.
Unfortunately, a crash by one young and enthusiastic student on the first day ended his class due to a knee injury. Even with highly skilled instructors on a world-class racetrack, mistakes still can happen. Safety is continually stressed during the classroom sessions, and strict rules of behavior have been developed for the track. This class had a respectful group of riders, so there were no discipline problems.
Czysz is something of an unorthodox teacher. He gives attention to less-understood concepts such as trail braking, emphasizing the importance of using both sets of brakes on the motorcycle. He also explains how the skills learned that allow you to go fast on the track can also be applied to street riding to make it a safer activity.
As you’d expect, great attention is given to throttle control and body positioning throughout the class. Video is taken during sessions, and then reviewed by the teachers and students to improve assimilation of the lessons. At the conclusion of the class, students are given digital video copies of their final laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca so they can continue the learning process.
The teachers are highly supportive of the riders-perhaps sometimes too supportive, in my observation. Sometimes a bit firmer tone can be effective when a rider is consistently making repetitive errors, and when the always-friendly encouragement is not provoking the desired change. Still, the endlessly encouraging atmosphere is welcome.
Riders are welcome to bring their own riding gear, and coverage from head to toe is available for rent (topping out at $200 for a full set of gear). In addition to the $2,599 tuition for two days, a $200 per day damage liability reduction option is available, which means you do not have to pay anything out-of-pocket if you crash a bike. I consider this to be a mandatory additional cost, as it allows you to ride aggressively, without worrying about the cost of an accident. It doesn’t take much of a fall to blow through $200.
The class runs from 8am to 5pm each day, with a cold buffet breakfast and hot buffet lunch served and included in the class price. At other times, energy and nutrition bars are in great supply, along with plenty of cold water. Czysz requests that cell phones be disabled during the class, so the student can give 100% attention to the lessons–a wise rule.
When judging the effectiveness of the Skip Barber Superbike School Powered By KTM, one needs to consider its self-stated goals: "The two-day Superbike School is designed to help you to improve your overall riding skills, including bike control and your ability to handle a powerful motorcycle.
After completing the Skip Barber Superbike School Powered by KTM you will be able to ride any motorcycle more safely, more accurately, and more predictably with confidence. You will have learned how to remain in control at all times, including during braking and throttle application. You will have learned how to choose your ‘line’ and how you should approach the corner. These are important track skills that can be applied in every day riding on the street."
At the class I attended, every single rider who completed the course certainly could be described as meeting that wide-range standard. Watching the lesser riders, one could see them getting on the throttle sooner and the brakes later as the two-day class progressed. The riders who were already fast and experienced, had instructors like Czysz and Bostrom showing them the way around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at speeds that were undeniably exhilarating.
World class instructors, a world class venue and an appropriately high performance motorcycle instantly makes the Skip Barber Superbike School Powered By KTM one of the premier motorcycle education experiences in the world.