Keith Code’s California Superbike School Review: Physics & Psychology
Throughout my 20s, my life consisted of music and fiction writing, and each brought their own unique lifestyles. In 2007, after years of beating the body with no sleep and much partying, I took a nervous breakdown. It was time for a major change, and motorcycles were at forefront–more importantly, sport motorcycles.
I got serious about riding on both the street and track, and my proverbial bible on technique became Keith Code’s “Twist of the Wrist.” The text was written in a simple style, but had more to it than just technique messages. There was an entire psychology behind Keith’s words.
I worked my way into the motorcycle industry around 2008, but I wouldn’t meet Keith until a BMW S 1000 RR launch at Circuit of the Americans in March 2015. We connected on many levels, from reading Tom Robbins’ “Jitterbug Perfume” to having a passion for personal development to participating in some ill substance activity in our youths. I also realized I participated in multiple riding schools, but never his.
This was about to change. Late that summer, I was testing of a 2015 BMW S 1000 RR and toured for over 1000 miles. While on my trip, I participated in the Level 1 California Superbike School at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Unfortunately, Keith had prior obligations and was absent. Though Keith’s presence was missed, his son Dylan and the staff did nothing but impress. From classroom and on-track instruction, the collective powerful state that each CSS team member displayed remained in throughout the day.
This was followed a year later by levels 2 and 3 during a two-day camp—this time with Keith present and using the school’s BMW S 1000 RR. During each session, I learned as much on-track as I did off-track, though many of the techniques didn’t come into focus until a few track days/street rides later.
Keith told me this would happen. It is like a huge jigsaw puzzle—with patience and discipline it all eventually comes together. “If you can quickly put together all the moving pieces,” Keith said, “you’re a damn magician.”
I’m definitely not a magician, and neither were some of Keith’s most prized students, such as Wayne Rainey, Scott Russell, James Toseland, Ben Spies, the Bostrom brothers, Tommy Hayden, Thomas Luthi, and Sandro Cortese, to name just a few. It all came together for these guys who, for me, are the equivalent to top CEOs of the enterprise business world.
CSS is rooted in physics and psychology; both have an equal part in any rider’s success. The CSS staff goes in-depth into both, and though it may take a few days to truly sink in, once it does your riding ability easily doubles.
It doesn’t stop there, however. An underlying theme of the school is once you achieve something, set another goal. This is a lifelong process that I’m sure even the best like Luthi and Cortese are doing daily as they reach new heights in Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
California Superbike School has garnered over 10 million miles in 30 years. I continually ask myself the question of why. Why did I buy that exhaust or suspension years ago rather than invest in myself? Fortunately, I’m not one to harp on things and, unlike losing a race, it’s better late than never.
Following are overviews of each level.
California Superbike School: Level 1 Overview
The intro class sets the rider growth in motion, addressing the most common issues track riders have, and teaches how to break some dirty habits. From throttle control to turn-in points to quick steering to relaxation on the bike, I had many “duh” moments.
There are the things we’ve been doing wrong for years, but only discover them with proper training, both on the track and in the head. Many mistakes, like relaxing on the bike, are just things we consciously avoid because it makes more sense consciously to tense up and muscle the bike around. Our subconscious is smarter, and wants the bike to work harder than us.
Level 1’s biggest takeaway for me was allowing the subconscious reaction surface, and become relaxed as can be on the bike. This allows the suspension to work in harmony with steering and throttle inputs, and body position. Plus, you physically do less work, which allows for more hours of less strenuous riding.
Dylan and I spoke about during Level 1 exercises of relaxation about breathing. I’m a huge fan of Tony Robbins, and one of his teachings that changed my outlook on life is getting into a resourceful state quickly through various ways, including physiological changes such as better posture and smiling.
Breathing is another Robbins’ lesson, and Dylan’s lessons on relaxing through breathing on the bike–even at speeds approaching 180 mph on NJMP’s front straight–paralleled those of Robbins. I committed to practicing relaxation tips not only on the track, but also on the street and during my other riding passion, big-bike ADV riding on single track. When things get hectic, I’m constantly telling myself, “Remember to breathe and let the suspension work, dummy.”
Level 1 ends with a Two-Step drill that introduces you to what Level 2 is all about—visualization. This drill not only addresses track problems by making creating a need for a wider view with use of peripheral vision, it also addresses many street-rider problems such as not having visual awareness of surroundings where drivers are typically unpredictable.
Vision is everything in riding; if you can’t see, the rest of is futile. One cool tactic that the school uses is placing two penny-sized stickers on each side of your visor, horizontal to your eyes. It forces you to focus on peripheral vision, which widens up your view, allowing you to see more, which results in not only additional safety but quicker speeds. I continue to practice this drill daily—without the stickers, of course.
California Superbike School: Level 2 Overview
Having finished the first level of California Superbike School, and spent some serious time practicing riding techniques and overcoming some psychological riding challenges, I entered Level 2 with pure energy to learn more. Level 1 vastly improved my riding ability–both from a safety and speed perspective–and I was ready for the next push.
Level 2 focuses all energy on visualization. As Keith told me, most riders lack confidence due to not developing optimal visualization while riding. Basically, the more you see and the faster you see, the more confidence you’ll build to take it to the next level.
The visualization practices begin with finding Reference Points, which can change every lap based on speed or other riders. I practiced finding two to three sharp reference points in every corner, transitioning smoothly from each one without losing focus on objects on the wider horizon.
Level 2 also introduces the Three-Step drill, which builds on the Two-Step skill learned at the end of Level 1. Again, this is great knowledge for the track rider, but just as good for a street rider.
After a few exercises I never realized how much time I was wasting by not smoothly moving my eyes from reference point to reference point; this was my biggest takeaway of the entire school. It helped me smoothen out my lines on the track, as well as on canyon rides, especially those where I had never ridden before.
The Level 2 techniques teach you how to read a corner quickly and smoothly, which is needed for safe street riding when the throttle gets cranking. I can recognize danger quicker, allowing me to compensate for anything that otherwise would have not been noticed.
Level 2 ends with a Pick-Up exercise that introduces you to Level 3, which is all about riding technique.
California Superbike School Level 3: Overview
Many are surprised to hear that body position is not worked on until Level 3. Sure, there are pointers along with way, but body positioning is not fully analyzed until the third level, further explaining how significant it is to manage rider input of controls and visualization.
Once Level 3 begins, you find yourself using muscles you never knew existed. Having Level 3 directly after Level 2 during the two-day camp has some serious advantages. By day’s end, you’re quickly putting it all together and everything begins flowing.
One of the biggest takeaways for me was that I had too much of my butt off the seat, and was hanging off way more than needed. Not only did this refinement of body position significantly reduce fatigue, it also changed the psychology of my riding habits.
I now think of my motorcycle like a dance partner, and as an extension of my own body through various points of control–feet, hands, butt, and knees.
I had always set up for corners a tad too late; Level 3 allowed me to fully address this for an entire session.
As Level 3 continues, the techniques become more refined. Two of my favorites are the Hook-Turn (use your head/drop shoulders to tighten a line) and a Knee-to-Knee technique for transitioning the bike from side-to-side. The latter allows the bike to remain completely stable, and brings additional confidence in these flicking situations (watch Dani Pedrosa and you’ll quickly understand!).
With this working of body position, along with further digging into the mind and motorcycle relationship, some quick lap times result. Not even pushing, my instructor Andy “Spidey” Peck—the lead instructor of California Superbike School in the UK—and I were dipping into the lower 1:30s, far better than my 1:37s from previous visits to NJMP. Yeah, the MotoAmerica crowd is running 1:20s, but I’m far from a disciplined professional racer.
It’s amazing how we sometimes forget about the basics–in life and in riding. California Superbike School addresses the basics, and helps create a stronger relationship between the psychology and physics of motorcycling.
The school has not only dramatically improved my street riding and on-track confidence levels, it did something more. CSS brought about a philosophical view of motorcycling that immediately transitions into matters of the mundane.
The principles are meant to be mastered over a lifetime of riding. Once a smaller goal is achieved, such as knee-to-knee mastery when flicking a bike from side-to-side, you immediately set another one.
The true success stories are those that continue to live by such principles of riding through their very last days. You won’t become a MotoGP racer, but the personal satisfaction of knowing you have improved is the ultimate success story.
As I continue working on my goals, I am planning Level 4, which introduces one-on-one training to tackle all personal riding goals—something too look forward to this summer. There are students who have taken Level 4 a dozen times or more, and I plan on becoming one of those–a CSS Level 4 Lifer. This will help me continually set smaller riding goals and achieve them before moving onto the next one–the same philosophy I follow in life.
Motorcycles have changed my life for the better since I “woke up” in 2007, allowing me to live in a more resourceful state that’s abundant with energy and happiness. Once I added California Superbike School to the mix, this resourcefulness only grew, and gave me more focus to sustain a successful lifestyle through the end of my days.
Photography by Caliphotography
- Helmet: Arai Corsair
- Suit: Dainese Aspide P One Piece / Spidi Tronik Wind Pro
- Gloves: Dainese Carbon Cover ST Gloves
- Boots: Dainese Axial Pro In
- Base layers: Woodcraft Stay Dry Shirt, Alpinestars Tech Base Pants