Freddie Spencer's Riding School Report and Review

Discussion in 'General' started by WildBill, Nov 13, 2005.

  1. WildBill

    WildBill Well-Known Member

    San Francisco
    I think someone in Santa’s office must have really messed up the big guy’s schedule because he came almost two months early this year. And instead of the usual lump of coal what did he have for me? The Freddie Spencer Three Day Riding School!!

    Before I went all I knew about the school was its location (Vegas, baby) and that it was supposed to be quality program. I hope this post will help others make a slightly more informed purchase decision.

    Bottom Line:

    Some of the best instruction you will find anywhere, great program, I unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone with at least good basic skills.

    What they teach:

    Trail braking and body position are the school’s primary focus. Other stuff is covered – limits of traction, throttle control/downshift blipping, rear brake use and some visual skills but they are secondary to, or in support of, the primary focus.

    The school uses CBR 600s and various tracks in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway complex. There’s plenty of track time and lectures are well focused.

    What you should get out of it:

    Greater turning with greater speed and much less lean angle than you’d think possible. Nifty for going fast on the track or getting yourself out of a dangerous situation on the street, for example a gravel covered turn or an unexpected obstacle. You’ll also learn to decrease your stopping distance from any speed.


    Nothing required, but if you aren’t at least somewhat comfortable on the bike and on the track you’ll feel like you are being force fed through a fire hose and probably not retain as much as a slightly more advanced rider would.

    Lead instructor Nick Ienatsch (two time AMA champion, Cycle World contributing editor, author and excellent teacher) has an excellent book, Sport Riding Techniques. Nick didn’t even mention the book until a student brought it up, explaining its Freddie’s school and the book was a separate project, but it contains the core of the class. Reading it before going in would definitely be a leg-up.

    And no, it would be almost impossible to just read the book and get the education you get at the school. Think of it as the difference between reading a great book on boxing and being coached by Mohammed Ali.

    Compare/Contrast: Freddie Versus California Superbike School

    I went to a CSS 2 day camp in 2001. That was a while ago and I was at the time a pretty inexperienced rider so it’s hard to compare. But, let me take a stab at it

    - Cost: About the same. Freddie’s list price for the 2 day session (what I went to was the 3 day version) is slightly higher than the CSS list price, but just by signing up for Honda’s Rider Club (no Honda required) you can get a 10% discount, putting the two within a few dollars of each other. CSS doesn’t run a 3 day school as far as I know.

    - Instructors: Freddie’s instructors are themselves world-class riders, while CSS instructors are excellent (but mortal) riders well trained to teach a curriculum. Of course, you can argue that a better rider isn’t necessary a better teacher. End of the day both schools offer excellent instruction. Freddie’s people, do, however, put on a better a show with highly dramatic presentations.

    - Focus: CSS is in my experience largely (not entirely, of course) about visual skills, while Freddie is much more oriented toward physical skills. CSS doesn’t believe in trail braking (or perhaps sees it as too advanced to teach at other than the very highest levels) while Freddie spends 75% of his time on it. CSS stresses counter-steering, Freddie warns against it.

    - Teaching style: CSS tends to teach narrowly defined skills with highly specific drills while Freddie teaches multi-skill techniques and expects you put them together on the track .

    Both schools are great, they compliment each other well and anyone who can attend both should do so. If forced to pick one I’d say that CSS may be easier to absorb for a less experienced rider, while Freddie will put top level racing tools into the hands of everyday riders who come in with at least the basic chops down.

    The experience:

    It’s a three day school with a mixture of track time and lecture sessions. Some highlights

    Day One: All students stay at the Orleans hotel, which provides really nice rooms for $65/night. A van from the school driven by Nick picked us up at 7:30AM. The first lecture began in the van on the way to the school’s home track, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Instead of going to a classroom the van continued onto one of the tracks we’d be using and Nick demonstrated some right and wrong lines. It was a great intro the track, especially for those capable of absorbing lines quickly.

    After our ride around the track we introduced ourselves to the class and had two brief talks, one from Nick and one from Freddie. Eleven people in the class, all male. Three were club racers who had previously taken the class together and were repeating it together, the rest were all forty-something riding fans, most owning several bikes.

    By 9:00AM or so were suited up and practicing body positioning on bikes parked in the garage. We also began to practice the s-l-o-w and repeatable hand movements that would be the essence of trail braking. A phrase we heard more than once: the slowest hands make the fastest rider.

    After perhaps an hour of this we were on the track, doing laps and cone exercises. The essence of trail braking is a gentle application of brake to compress the front forks, decrease wheel base and rake for a bike that turns faster. The body position Freddy teaches is with one cheek all the way off the bike, the head in line with a handlebar. The two techniques together do create an amazingly powerful cornering ability.

    During the day each of us got a chance to ride on the back of Freddie’s bike with instructions to watch his right hand. It was amazing to watch the speed produced by the smallest (almost invisible) control inputs.

    The day ended at about 5:00, after the group reviewed videos (together of course with always merciless but never hurtful live instructor commentary) of each of us shot from behind by instructor Jeff Haney’s (AMA National Superbike factory Honda rider). Having your mistakes called out to the group could have been tough but the school’s serious but relaxed tone coupled with egos checked at the door by pretty much all students (riding with Nick, Jeff and Freddie their wasn’t any other place to put them) made it a great learning experience.

    And speaking of great learning experiences, there was a ratio of about 3 students to each instructor and the school was well organized so errors were quickly pointed out and necessary coaching provided.

    Day two: More track exercises, but this time on a different track, and talks in the morning. In the afternoon we rode dirt bikes with street tires in the mud. The idea was to produce a situation where it was easy to slide, falling didn’t hurt much (which was good, because while there were zero accidents elsewhere in the course, tons of bikes went down here) and we could explore how the bike felt as the rear tire neared its limits of traction and either slid out or stood up and ‘drove.’ Jason DiSalvo, currently I believe the world’s #3 Super Sport rider, joined the instructors to give some awe inspiring examples. When you first hear the tires screeching as these guys slid the bikes around every corner you begin to understand just what taking a bike to its limits is about. At the end of the day we enjoyed a catered dinner while we reviewed more chase-bike videos of our own riding from that morning.

    Day Three: Talks and track all day. More rides on the back of Freddie’s bike for students who either requested it or were prescribed it. Same track as used on day two but run backwards. Jason stayed with us and, together with the other instructors, continued to awe. The morning was lots of braking drills while the afternoon were laps that put together everything learned to date. The end of the day was another video review followed by farewells.

    Thank you Santa, thank you Freddie. Hope to see both you again.
  2. Mehran

    Mehran GroupRides net

    Thanks Bill .... good to know :thumbup
  3. Andy

    Andy Wheelie for Safety

    Los Altos, CA
    Fantastic write up Bill, thanks. :thumbup
  4. PorradaVFR

    PorradaVFR Well-Known Member

    Santa Clara
    Excellent write up - I'd love to do a few laps on the bike w/Freddie to see how much of a difference the rider makes. He'll take the same VFR I own and make it boogie like I can only dream of. :bow

    That said, I'm curious how he "warns against" counter-steering? I mean, if I turn the bars right
    (left to right) at speed, I'm pretty DAMN sure I ain't going to HEAD right...I'll go left. Is he calling it something else? :confused
  5. QuietRider

    QuietRider Well-Known Member

    Yes, very nice write up. Thanks.

    I'm curious about the warnings against counter-steering too. :thinking
  6. JeffKoch

    JeffKoch Well-Known Member

    Good stuff! :biggrin I became a disciple about 5 years ago - it really changed my riding tremendously, and I strongly recommend the school to anyone who's serious about riding and can afford it.

    On counter-steering, I believe what he's saying is that you initiate turns by putting your focus on "bodysteering" points (inside peg, outside knee on the tank), rather than by sitting on the bike and deliberately blasting the bars. You also usually do this while off the throttle and at least slightly on the brakes. You *will* countersteer with your arms, but it comes smoothly and with more feel this way. He describes some of it here:

    One of the coolest experiences I've had was riding Code's no-BS bike, after two rounds of Spencer's school and lots of experimentation riding no-handed. At the time, anyway, I was the only person Code had ever seen who could actually ride the thing, doing normal turns and figure-8s in the parking lot - it was all "bodysteering" and "throttle steering", and it taught me a lot about just how much control you had without using the bars. To turn quickly, you do need your arms.
  7. WildBill

    WildBill Well-Known Member

    San Francisco
    I think that pretty well nails it.

    To me this was an example of a 'white lie' to get you to do someting else, like novice riders being asked to grip the tank as a way of forcing them to relax their arms. Here I think what he's saying is s-l-o-w control inputs and don't forget that most of your turning power will come from your body position and throttle.
  8. RobertHaas

    RobertHaas Gone to Facebook

    Bill was this the "Pro School" or the Advanced riders school?

    I will be signing up for the Pro School this spring but right now it appears there will only be 2 all 2006. I sure hope Freddy does not close shop before I can get in and wad a couple of the xr 100's:biggrin
  9. WildBill

    WildBill Well-Known Member

    San Francisco

    I took the Sport Rider / Street Rider Level I. I don't know about the Pro School, but when I asked which would be better - to take level one again (there were some pretty advanced riders doing their second time through level one in the class) or level 2 I was told that it really didn't make that much difference and to go with whatever happened to best fit my schedule.
  10. JeffKoch

    JeffKoch Well-Known Member

    :thumbup That's the way I look at it too, kind of a "trick" - to do the important thing well, you focus on something else.

    The Pro schools tend to be populated by really fast racers (Nicky Hayden was in one I went to, Clint McBain and John Haner were in another, plus lots of top-5-plate club racers from all over the country, though there are also plenty of "normal" club racers too) who've never been exposed to the things Spencer teaches, and there's a lot of information crammed in, so I personally think the standard L1 class is a better choice unless you're already a fast racer looking for more of an edge. L2 vs. Pro, I'd suggest L2 - the Pro school will rehash what's in L1 but in less detail, and someone who's already done L1 won't get as much out of it. The Pro school does concentrate more on track riding, though, and the classroom discussion tends focus on racing tips, etc., which is great for racers and serious track hounds. :2cents

New Posts