STAR Motorcycle School Review
“Speed means nothing,” said Jason Pridmore in front of the morning’s group at the STAR Motorcycle School, “that will come with technique.”
As a student, educators have a knack for saying things that mull over in the mind, causing instant introspection and are not soon forgotten. That was one of those moments for me as Pridmore of the STAR Motorcycle School had dispensed the pleasantries with a few light-hearted jokes that immediately calmed the nervous energies in the trailer.
The first meeting of the day starts out simply enough, having the opportunity to see the staff and, more importantly, get a feeling of the room. Pridmore worked the room, asking anyone who was brave enough to share what it was that they wanted to work on while at the two-day event. Body position, downshifting, corner entry and exit, building confidence, and throttle control were called out. All of those voiced deficiencies were met with a wide smile and assurance that, yes, the STAR Motorcycle School will cover those topics.
Pridmore’s STAR Motorcycle School staff, for our two-day course, was introduced to us, among them were: Michael Gilbert (MotoAmerica Bazzaz Pro Superstock 600), Wyatt Farris (MotoAmerica Bazzaz Pro Superstock 600), Patricia Fernandez (MotoAmerica Pro Superstock 600, Ulster GP and IOMTT hopeful), James Rispoli (2011 / 2012 AMA Pro Racing Motorcycle Superstore SuperSport East, West & 2 time Overall National Champion, and British Superbike Series), Corey Alexander (2013 AMA Supersport East Champion), Connor Blevins (MotoAmerica Superstock 600), and Benny Solis (MotoAmerica Supersport). All of them are young, enthusiastic riders who have dedicated their off-season to training with Pridmore, the 2003/2012 FIM World Endurance Champion, AMA Pro 750 SuperSport Champion in 1997, and Formula Extreme Champion in 2002.
Surrounded by true professionals in the motorcycle world, not to mention fellow students with knee-pucks that had been ground down to oblivion, can be a bit intimidating. Make no mistake, however, the sheer joy and exuberance that Pridmore exudes in his teaching has rubbed off on each and every one of his instructors — you will be in good hands.
What do these people have to offer a rider who rides canyons and has a handful of tracks days under his belt? The answer to that question is simple: Everything.
The school caters to you as a rider, not the group. “If you’re out there going 40 mph on the track, that’s perfectly fine,” Pridmore told the STAR Motorcycle Class. “You’re going to get the same treatment as someone trying to break records.”
It isn’t a racing school, unless of course, you’re at that level. With the option to use one of their Kawasaki Ninjas — the 300, ZX-6R, or the ZX-10R — I went with the simplest option, my Ducati 749S. After all, Pridmore had told me, “That’s the bike we want to get you comfortable on,” and I couldn’t agree more.
After splitting up into two groups — Advanced and Street — it was time to gear up, check tire pressures, and line-up in pit lane. Pridmore has an ingenious technique for sighting laps where a handful of students follow an instructor. After each lap, the leading student falls back a position, allowing the next student to move up.
As someone who had never ridden Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, it gave me a level of understanding so that the track pulled no surprises. Lines were exposed to us by each instructor at a slow pace that allowed them to become ingrained in memory.
In typical form, the STAR Motorcycle School is built around the time on and off the track — 20 minutes on the track, and then a mad dash to the classroom for the next round of information. When one group is coming off the track and entering the classroom, the next takes over on the tarmac.
Instructors are not necessarily assigned to each individual rider. Though this could change depending on the size of the class; we had a sizeable group. Instead, they take a more holistic approach. With a handful of instructors out on the track, each one will revolve in a satellite pattern, watching and analyzing each student, pulling them aside, and sharing a few thoughts. Although some of the instructors seemed to stick with the advanced group a bit more the instructor/pupil ratio seemed ideal for everyone.
STAR instructors also make use of video cameras to further analyze your riding; they will sit down with you, marking each success or area that needs improving. Additionally, the videos really help with understanding proper line selection, as your instructor never fails to choose them correctly.
Of course, individualized help is available, as well, and each instructor is more than happy to do it when they’re not working directly with another student. It might sound like some people might miss out on getting the attention they deserve in this type of setting, but it reality it works; I found I received the input I needed, then I was able to practice it on track at my own pace.
After a lap or two, Farris flagged me into the pits and chatted to me about my body position. Interestingly, this was one area that I was previously confident in. I felt that I was ‘kissing the mirror’: driving my weight through my inside peg, and locking my outside leg against the tank. I was doing all of those things…incorrectly. Farris had picked up on one of the core issues with my riding; I wasn’t putting weight into the front end.
My outside arm was locked out, so I was hanging my upper body off the bike without sliding off the seat enough. In a handful of turns, I felt the front end of my bike wanting to tuck and had always attributed it to something other than my riding style. It wasn’t the bike or the plentiful Chuckwalla wind. It was me. Farris was right.
The session wrapped up and Gilbert spoke with me about the same issues. He, too, had seen them and wanted to render assistance. We went to a quiet area of the paddock, placed my bike on a stand and worked through it.
Gilbert took the time to sit down with me, leading me through the problems in my body position. “Think of it like this,” he said. “Imagine you have a chain attached to your belly button that leads to the gas tank. You don’t want to pull on that chain because it’ll hurt, so to move in the saddle, just swivel around the tank.” That was one of the first moments I had realized that my entire perception of something as important as body position was dead wrong.
Our next STAR Motorcycle School classroom session was dedicated to focus and how to achieve it. In the canyons, I most definitely have been shaken by a poor judgment call, a missed shift, or other distractions. Again, Pridmore preached that speed was not key. In fact, by focusing on that aspect, it will break concentration.
“Downshift first; then begin applying brakes,” Pridmore explained. That had never occurred to me, and out on the track it works. The bike is settled; I was able to focus on my corner entry. Everything slowed to the point where decisions were made instinctually. No longer was I under the knife, fearing that I hadn’t scrubbed off enough speed before entering a corner. His teachings work.
As I walked back into the classroom, I was in luck — it was the Body Position talk. And here is the difference with a school like Pridmore’s STAR Motorcycle School. Every technique taught is given context. Pridmore contacted Farris after he had watched him at a MotoAmerica race. Pridmore was concerned for Farris’ well being, and the two began working together in an attempt to fix Farris’s body position.
That has to be one of the most effective ways to impart knowledge. Students should question what they are being told — not in the negative sense, but to receive a further explanation. In this case, Pridmore and company provide context and justification for each technique, the why and how of a particular technique functions.
We learn through their struggles, building an enormous level of trust between the instructor and student. Consider it: Someone as successful as Farris went through the same problems that I struggle with. Though we’re worlds apart in terms of skill levels, there is common ground.
Post-lunch, Pridmore hands the reins over to one of his trusted staff and the STAR Motorcycle School takes a freeform approach. After each session, students can approach the instructors with any topics of the day, while Pridmore suits up for some much needed time out on the track, offering two-up rides, and instruction along the way.
With a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R on a stand in the classroom, I made full use of the services of Farris and Alexander. They rebuked a longtime fear of mine: That you shouldn’t be against the tank. The two-up ride is, by far, one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve had on a motorcycle, but more on that later.
The day progressed at STAR Motorcycle School. All of the students worked on their individual issues with the aid of our caring instructors. Over dinner, I had a chance to chat with my fellow riders. Paul from Alpine, Calif., who had only started riding just over a year ago, was beaming with excitement. In his short time, he’d clocked roughly 20k in mileage. Impressive.
“I don’t feel pressured here. I know I’m not being judged for asking questions, and they work within my limits,” Paul said. I felt the same way and by then, Gilbert had dedicated plenty of laps, checking my body positioning and aiding with line selection, while also managing to help out many other students.
That sort of atmosphere fosters positive learning. Paul felt at ease asking anything of the instructors, in an environment that is devoid of ridicule, and genuinely felt that he had progressed as a rider in a single day.
There were a couple of mishaps. An advanced group member had an engine fail, spraying oil on the track. That was cleaned up quickly by the wonderful Chuckwalla Valley Raceway staff. One rider had a minor low-side. In her defense, it was in a set of corners is not only off-camber, but also has a healthy elevation change. In short, Chuckwalla is a tough but entertaining track to figure out. Fortunately, her mishap didn’t faze her, nor did it seem to upset anyone. Everyone was extremely supportive and in no time at all, she was back out on the track.
I have to think that without the overwhelmingly positive atmosphere, feelings of discouragement would have taken over. I’ve been to track days and seen guys be put off by much less, but let’s give credit where credit is due. She showed an impressive amount of drive by never letting that slow her down. In fact, she was quite eager to use it as a learning experience, and clearly took note when we did the second day track walk, on Tuesday morning.
The teachings of Monday had taken hold and Paul hit on something that had me lying awake that night. The STAR Motorcycle School is not there to build on what the rider knows, necessarily. It is there to teach proven title-winning techniques. To succeed, we must have an open mind and that includes coming to terms with the fact that what we know as rider, might not be correct. Slow down it down; focus on technique. That’s when my struggle with body positioning began to click. My riding style was broken down and with the help of Pridmore’s staff, I was being built up again.
On Tuesday, I started out with a renewed sense of confidence, in no small part due to the track walk that Pridmore guided. When I was able to see what I was up against, touching and feeling the track under me, things became clear. I wasn’t utilizing the entire track.
My body position struggles continued, unfortunately. With the help of Farris and Gilbert, my left turns were in great shape, but my right hand turns suffered. I felt uncomfortable on the track and by the second session, I was completely dejected. Rispoli pulled me aside after a few laps and immediately knew what the problem was. Again, a bike was put on stands. “So you swivel around the tank and let your knee move forward,” Rispoli told me. “Your knee and eye-sight should be in line with your exit point.”
The last piece of the puzzle was solved. I was no longer twisting up, inputting dangerous feedback into the bars, and spent the rest of the day building everything that had been taught. I went into the school questioning my riding style and, by mid-day the second day, had completely altered my body positioning.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon honing those skills, along with a nifty braking drill that removed some misconceptions I had about emergency stops. Getting my downshifts done first, followed by braking and focusing on where to tip in. I felt balanced and stable on the bike. My hands were free to do whatever they pleased on the bars – light as a feather.
The highlight of the afternoon was the two-up ride with Pridmore. Nothing compares to it for a rider of my skill level and it was, without a doubt, one of the most shocking experiences that I’ve ever had on a motorcycle, but not because it was frightening. To the contrary, it was terrifyingly exhilarating. Pridmore demonstrates just what a motorcycle is capable of in the hands of someone at his skill level. If there is one aspect of the school that solidifies everything taught, it is the two-up ride.
It wasn’t the work of one instructor at the STAR Motorcycle School that made the school a success for me. Each dedicated staff member took the time to sit down and work through an issue of mine, sharing a large and important piece that I was able to slowly integrate into my riding. This is something I’ll still have to work on, but Farris, Rispoli, Alexander, and most importantly, Gilbert, helped me through it. My frustrations led to self-reflection and, in turn, realization of real solutions with their guidance.
The final classes settled on a tire talk, where Pridmore quipped that he’d “never seen a cold tire crash on its own.” What he meant is, the rider didn’t get heat into the tire properly — something we all need to be cognoscent of. It might seem to be edging on the mundane side, however, it stresses responsibility as a motorcycle rider. We must gauge the conditions and behave accordingly. Equipment is just equipment, as long as it is utilized properly and in functioning order, it will never lead anyone astray.
The two-day experience wraps up with some closing words from Pridmore and having everyone share what they are felt they would take away from it, with eager discussion of when next year’s schedule would be available. As you might expect, there will likely be some repeat customers. All of us took something away, as well as a certificate of completion and video recordings of us riding.
I left Chuckwalla Valley Raceway knowing that Jason Pridmore’s STAR Motorcycle School had stripped me clean of many poor riding techniques. We all have them, but most of us don’t know how to correct them. Worse yet, we genuinely believe they are acceptable.
Although a short, two-day course won’t solve all of your problems, it certainly can set you on a secure path. Without the enthusiasm, passion and unending kindness of Pridmore and his STAR Motorcycle School staff, I wouldn’t have been able to leave with such a resoundingly positive experience that has fundamentally changed me as a rider. For that, I can’t thank them enough.
The STAR Motorcycle School operates out of some of the finest California race tracks, such as: Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, Willow Springs Raceway and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Price is dependent on the time of year, track and gear or motorcycle rentals which STAR Motorcycle School will happily provide upon request. The option of registering for a single day or experiencing the full two-day course is available as well. For more information regarding Jason Pridmore’s STAR Motorcycle School visit http://starmotorcycle.com/ or call: (562) 802-7061
Special thanks: Jason Pridmore and the STAR Motorcycle School instructors: James Rispoli, Corey Alexander, Wyatt Farris, Patricia Fernandez, Conner Blevins, Benny Solis and Michael Gilbert. To Nita Gallardo and entire the STAR Motorcycle School support staff: Matt Gallardo, Jamie Nastal, David Kolb, Patrick Posey, and Jordan Keating, as well as Brian and Robert of CaliPhotography.
Photos by CaliPhotography