"You’re inextricably linked with Ducati, but what was the first one you ever rode or raced? The first bike I ever raced on a track was a Ducati, back in the summer of ’83. It was my dad’s bike. "
Ron Haslam Experience
The Ron Haslam Race School Experience and why you should do it
Whether you’re a newbie rider or consider yourself to be a pretty well-seasoned one, there’s always learning scope. And one way to do that is by visiting a motorbike tuition school. There are a number of schools up and down the UK that offer two-wheel tuition of some sort so I thought I’d put one to the test. The Ron Haslam Race School, to be specific.
Ron Haslam himself, if you don’t know, is a bit of a motorbiking G. As an ex Grand-Prix Motorcycle road racer, he has more than 30 years’ road racing experience under his belt. And that’s just him. At the school, he has a whole team of experienced instructors ready to tackle anything that its attendees throw at them.
I myself am a newbie rider. Just a couple of months’ passed, in fact. I have never owned a 125 and don’t have a bike of my own, currently, so you may well be wondering what on earth possessed me to go from passing my direct access course to getting out on the track. Well, I’ve always been one to throw myself in at the deep end and I’m a lover of learning so I thought what better way to learn than on a race track.
I decided my first ever track experience would be as part of the Premier offering, which sits right in the middle of the school’s five-course levels, designed for learner riders with no motorcycling experience through to motorbike racers looking to hone their skills.
Based at Donington Park (home of the British round of the World Superbike Championship), a new fleet of Honda bikes are to hand to use on each course, including the CBR125, CBR300R, MSX125, CB500, CBR650R and the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP, depending on which course it is you’re taking.
I knew exactly what I was looking to achieve ahead of attending my track day. I wanted to get smoother and tighter in my cornering and just learn an overall more relaxed way of riding, perfect the techniques so I’m not fighting the bike.
Using the new Honda CBR650R machine, the Premier half-day course offers a greater knowledge of machine and riding techniques. You turn up and from there you get changed into your leathers. Leather suits, helmets, gloves and boots are all included in the £310 price, but if you have your own then you’re good to go. I do have my own, but I figured I’d just use what’s available there. As we all know, one knock of the helmet writes it off and I kinda like my Shoei X-Spirit III. Anyway, all kitted out I was taken into a room with around nine other people where we were briefed on the layout of the track – I’d personally never been here before, never mind ridden/driven on it so this guidance was very much needed – as well as some hand movements and flags to be aware of. There are no headsets, communication with your instructor is done through hand and body positioning out on track. I was paired with a seasoned rider named Luke and our instructor’s name was Chris. Chris asked us both where we thought we were at; me having what little experience I had and Luke have 20+ years. I was inevitably nervous, but both Chris and Luke put me at ease. He took us both out on our first session to assess where he thought we both were.
There’s literally no point in telling an instructor where you think you are because that first session will tell all and they will spot a bullsh*tter. Back in the pits and Chris was pleasantly surprised by my performance. There was a lot to do with my technique but overall he was impressed with my ‘balls’. We were then taken into one of the garages that housed a static bike to help us perfect our body positioning and movements. Correcting anything that was out of place. For myself, I was too stiff in the upper body; more angle needed at the elbow and a more fluid slide from side to side. With the second session came the improvements, I felt much more agile than I did the first time around and really felt like I had something to prove. Following the third and final session, it all felt over too quickly but like I’d learned so much in such a short space of time, it was overwhelming but a thrill to process.
I came away from the Premier experience wanting, nope, that’s not right, ‘needing’ more.
Two weeks later, I was booked onto the Elite course. The crème de la crème of the Ron Haslam Race School experiences. Upon my arrival, I followed a similar procedure; got changed and waited to be called. My own personal instructor Derek greeted me with a smile, keen to find out what I was there for. Before I even opened my mouth, he showed me what I’d be on track riding… the almighty Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP. I was equal parts sh*tting it and eager to get out and open it up. I told Derek of my lack of experience but told him I was passionate and eager to learn. And he responded really positively to that passion. He told me to relax and that we’d take our time through each of the stages; there were four in total. The first session, again, being his assessment of where I was at. Well, the first session didn’t exactly go to plan. I was far too stiff, too nervous, and too twitchy on that sensitive-AF throttle. Derek was nervous. He sat me down and went through the track with me, detailing every section via a map, where I needed to change gear, where to hold the brake and where to get back on the throttle. It was time to get out for a second time. My god. I was in my bloody element. Learning the ability to feather the brake into the apex and throttle it out was incredible and completely changed my riding game. It tightened my cornering no end and helped me to come out of it much quicker than I initially thought I could and with every lap I was getting more familiar with the track and therefore faster, learning when to get on the brakes and how hard, as well as knowing the optimum point in which to get back on the throttle with grip. Once comfortable with the procedure and technique of each corner, I found myself opening up my line of sight to way beyond the corner, too. The four sessions were exhausting, but I still came away wanting more. I don’t think track riding is for everyone, but once you get the bug you get it. That said, even if you’re not looking to become a regular track racer, there is a lot to learn and a lot to be said for this condensed type of tuition. Much of it you can take to the road. Not necessarily the speed – I looked down at the Fireblade’s speedometer on the straight coming out of coppice corner, ahead of Fogarty esses and was doing 125mph at one point – but the smooth techniques in cornering and the body positions required to give the bike the easiest route possible to where you’re looking to go.
A Honda representative once told me that a track day with tuition is worth four years’ experience on the road and I have to say I agree. I cannot recommend this type of tuition enough and I’ll most definitely be back, whether that’s to do more tuition or simply as part of a track day on my own bike, it’s safe to say I well and truly have the track bug.
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