OK, so it wasn’t actually snowing this time. Which is about all that could be said for the California (hah!) Superbike School Level 1 course at Cadwell Park. This time, I’d taken no chances and had ridden up the previous day, staying at a B&B near the circuit. However, come 7am and scrutineering, the local ducks were waterskiing on the Cadwell hairpin. So we all trooped into the first classroom session feeling a tad dispirited, and waited for the whole thing to be cancelled. Not a bit of it: “It’s wet out there, but that’ll focus you all on riding smoothly, won’t it?” Guess so – in fact only one person binned it, and that in the dry at the end of the day. Format? Simple – five track sessions, interspersed with classroom lessons, each adding another element to the mix of things to try. The order went something like:
Throttle control and no brakes drill – fourth gear only: lap times in the 2’15” range. In fact the ‘one gear, no brakes’ bit was something of a theme for the day. Then Turn Points – bloke standing at edge of track pointing to bit of tarmac at which to turn in. Ah, that late? Lap times down to around 2’03”, just by concentrating on turn-in. Next, Quick Turns: in late and use scarily heavy counter-steering to take bike to desired lean angle as quickly as possible. Lap times around 1’58”. Rider Input — better use of information, camber and track reading. Another 6 seconds off the lap time. And, finally, the Two Step — putting everything together with greater anticipation of the stages of the corner. Final result: lap times around 1’49”. OK, so some people could run around the Cadwell short circuit faster, but that wasn’t the point – it was all about technique, being smooth and thinking ahead. Definitely felt like I’d achieved something.
In the level One course, there were about a dozen of us, including some five Ducatis of varying degrees of track readiness, plus a gaggle of R1s and R6s, and a very ratty and much-dropped CB500, who of course blew most of the rest of us away – that at least was predictable. There was also one guy who’d obviously spent a fortune on attempting to turn his brand-new R1 into a Ducati – single-sided swing arm, high-level exhausts, rear-sets – the lot. Which rather begs the question… What was noticeable was that, while the R1s simply cleared off on the straights (what there are of them at Cadwell), come the corners, the Dukes could simply choose which side of the others they felt like riding around. Maybe there’s something to this Italian handling mystique after all.
The ride home from Cadwell is either a 60-mile blast down the very over-policed A153 to the A1, or 100 miles of twisty and empty B-roads to Peterborough, only resorting to motorway tedium thereafter. Of course I took the twisty option, purely to practice what I’d learnt. And it pissed down from Peterborough onwards: maximum score for my Furygan oversuit, less so for my goretex Dainese gloves, which did a decent impression of a sieve. To add to the entertainment provided by the lightning strikes to either side of the road, my headlight filled with water, which then made nice wavy patterns on the road ahead. That’s been sorted under warranty. Worth it? Absolutely – I feel I’m faster, smoother and safer — on club rides it’s been observed that I go “in deep and then stick it on its ear”. I must however learn to keep to track lines for the track and road lines for the road — I can do without extending the quote to “…stick it on its ear and into a hedge”.