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This is going to be a bunch of my thoughts on CSS, VIR, and my 999. Seems like everyone knows CSS is a fantastic school, and anyone who has ever been to VIR knows it's an absolutely world-class facility and track. But I'm just not into social networking, so who else will I share this with other than people with similar interest in high-performance motorcycling? Oh, and cool pics below.

So this was my first track experience, which goes without saying this is the first time I've been on the track on my 999. Interestingly, I wasn't nervous at all night before/morning of, but I did have some anxiety about the threat of rain and the fact that I left my air temp sensor at home on the headlight bucket -- will my bike even run without it? Will it run rough? I started it up the night before and it seemed to idle smoothly, so only thing to do is give it a shot. Monday was forecasted for a 50% chance of rain for my Level 1 course and Tuesday was 80% with flash flood watches for my Level 2, and let's face it -- I was somewhat nervous about crashing in the rain and also concerned about getting water and grit into every possible crevice and electronic component on this bike. I had new Q3s put on by the mechanics (180 in the back, for those wondering), who were much cooler than my previous experience with motorcycle mechanics -- he was adequately crusty for being an old seasoned mechanic but super helpful and willing to talk about whatever random thing a noob could ask. Tech in the morning was easy enough. All the work that Varmit put into this before I bought it from him was a pleasure for the tech guys -- they said it was always a relief to see a bike that's full safety wired come through. The 999 turned out to be the talk of the day around tech, the mechanic's tent, and with generally every other rider standing and staring at my bike at some point during the day -- comments ranged from the tech guys saying "what year is this? An 05?! It looks brand new!", another rider saying "man that thing is a work of art, I would be afraid to even ride it," the mechanic saying "ceramic brakes? Are you kidding me? How good are you?", and another rider saying "that is pretty much my dream bike." OK, so it looks cool, but how's it on the track?

First session you stay in 4th and no brakes. I had to ask at the start of the session if I could even go that fast on new and cold tires! Crawling through Turn 1 in 4th without any of the body position tricks or confidence in your bike, luckily the bike had enough torque to make that manageable. Got paced by a minivan for the first 2 orientation laps -- not gonna lie, it felt fast. There were about 20 guys taking level 1, and across all the levels I would say there were about 20 riders on the track with me every session, not counting instructors. It was crowded at times, particularly in Turns 1 (the hairpin), 4 (the left hook), and 7 (the uphill hard right at the end of the snake). No matter though because first session “throttle control" drill was total blinders. When we came in I made the comment that I didn’t see a single thing the whole session, like "what just happened.” It felt pretty good and the bike was running smooth though, and even by the end of the first 20 minutes you're gaining some confidence. The tip for rolling on the throttle beginning at the point that your steering action is done made a lot of sense, and that the throttle is just a reverse brake. Smooth throttle keeps your tires planted; a smooth roll-on after your steering action is completed settles your suspension and puts the bike in its happy place. And who knew you can make your way around a whole race track in just 4th gear and not use your brakes without bogging the engine down to 2000 rpm? It gave the intended impression of the importance of throttle control, not to mention it gave me more confidence in engine braking. There were about 3 riders for every one instructor -- some 3-person groups had guys from different levels in it, but mine had all level 1. With that, I saw and got attention from my instructor for about a lap per session -- Lyle was my instructor, and I give these guys a lot of credit because they don’t get breaks all day, they are going out with all three groups all day, so 15 sessions straight with a break for lunch. It sounds like kickass work, don't get me wrong, but it's gotta be exhausting work nonetheless.

2nd session “turning points” was still a bit of a shit show -- I hit the inside rumble strips once in Turn 1 and the outside rumble strips once in Turn 4. Luckily my death grip on the bars didn't cause a disaster. We had 3rd and 4th gear in this one -- with my stock gearing 3rd would turn out to be my go-to gear for basically the whole track other than the front straight and the snake, even in later sessions.

3rd session — “quick turns” — confidence going up. I dragged my right foot a couple times, which by itself isn’t a bad thing if you’re doing things right but I found out from Lyle that it’s because of my foot position on the pegs. For the rest of the day I focused on getting back to the balls of my feet after every shift action and didn’t have a problem with it any more, though I did still drag a toe slider once or twice. I also for from Lyle my first tips on body position: I’m pushing away from the bars and straightening my bottom arm to initiate a turn and through the turn, so instead of getting my chin down to my lower hand in the turn my head and my body are staying on the top side of the bike like I’m sitting on one of those high-tech racing sailboats that are at a 60 degree lean angle with the dudes sitting on top of it and the boat tracking in a straight line. I’m working against myself by doing this -- tip going into next session is relax the arms, don't fight the natural track the bike and the bars want to take, and get down on the bottom side of the bike. Hanging off the bike in a turn is about nothing more than shifting your weight to influence the center of gravity of the bike+rider -- you getting low through a turn allows you to keep the bike more upright with less lean which equals a larger contact patch and allows for harder drive out.

4th session — “relax”. I’m still inconsistent through the turns, most especially Turns 1 and 4. I’m crushing turn 7 (maybe people don’t realize that you actually gain traction on that corner due to the steep uphill?) and I’m also crushing the roller coaster section (turns 9-14). Some things just make sense to different people and I was smoking guys in this section every time without thinking about racing or picking guys off. As it turned out though, by the end of this session still being inconsistent with what apex I’m hitting I realized it’s because I’ve been target fixated on the yellow x’s they put down after session 1 for turning points, looking at the turn points and not at the apex or for that matter, the exit. Got some extra attention from Lyle on this session, and the feedback was to relax the arms and grip with the legs, which I just wasn’t doing. Gotta relax that upper body, make your core do the work.

5th session — “2-step drill”. Find the turn point, look at the apex. Ever had one of those "a-ha" moments where things started to click? Maybe you've had one on the bike where someone told you that one thing that made it all make sense to you. Well everything came together on this session. It really felt amazing. Looking to where you want to put the bike sounds obvious but everything is happening so fast that it wasn’t so crazy that I was just focusing on the “expertly-placed” turn points and not worrying about anything else going into the corners. With this new drill I didn’t have a single bad Turn 1 and was passing guys going into Turn 2, and the tricky 4/5 section I was also flying through. At the end of the session I came off the track with a huge smile on my face. Lyle said “Dude you were flicking the shit out of that bike and hitting some crazy lean angles! I kept trying to pull away from you a little bit to move on to the next guy but then I would look in the rearview and you were still there!” Anyone that says the 999 is outclassed nowadays might be right, but only on the long straights where it's just a horsepower war. And if there's one thing I've learned in this world it's that someone will always be willing to pay to have more horsepower than you. Before this session I was kinda questioning the methods and whether or not this course would really be worth it. But organizing it with these drills in this order is obviously based on dozens of years of experience to be the most effective way.

The weather held up and rain just spit off and on all day but not enough to get anything wet -- no real water on the track. I went into this course promising myself to focus on the training and to not get caught up in racing. Granted, it took a self-reminder once or twice to stay within my abilities, but I’m not racing for money or trophies out here, so I didn’t burn up the front straight like a lot of guys did -- I would guess I was going 130-140, but the hayabusa types and the ZX-14 types were boat anchors through the turns and then would rip down the front straight at 170+. Then I would pass them turn 1-3, and so it goes when you're on the track with these bikes. And what a wide variety of bikes there were! Diavels, Harley XL1200, Hayabusas, Ninja 250s, V-Stroms... Funniest observation for the day is that people seemed to be riding their stereotype (bear with me on this, I'm sure not everyone fits this mold so neatly, so don't get all butt hurt, but this makes me think of how people buy dogs and wind up resembling them after a while...maybe it's the same for bikes?): a short chubby loudmouth, sarcastic, and hilarious Australian guy on a Diavel, an extremely-country bumpkin mid-20s with totally unkempt hair and facial hair riding an old shaggy gsxr-1000 that he purchased for $1000 and that he had to jam a screwdriver in to bypass the kill switch; two guys wearing motorcycle gang/club leather jackets and airbrushed helmets on their Hayabusas; and me, for that matter? Am I a stereotypical 999 owner? By the end of the day some more comments I got were “Man I loved hearing that thing go by,” “Is that your clutch? is that what it’s supposed to sound like?” and “What a unique sound. Nothing sounds like a Ducati.”

It seems like a really cool group of guys that seek out something like CSS. I was befriended by 5 dudes at the Tavern for beers and steaks. One guy from Northern Ireland (grandparents in the NRA and wants to ride the IoM TT Masters some day) and the Australian guy on the Diavel that talked about how he has been riding for 35 years and before today he never knew he was a novice; he also asked about my opinions on Afghanistan and US/allied involvement, which I treaded lightly considering only a man with a strong opinion on something like that would bring it up with a new acquaintance. I highly recommend the tavern and the Lodge, by the way -- the website for VIR is not great and I had to book the room over the phone (what century is this?) but the rooms were pretty new looking, very clean, and even had a jacuzzi tub.

I feel like I'm running out of steam for writing and you're all probably running out of steam for reading, so I'll sum up Day 2/Level 2 quickly. All visual drills and further refinement of the skills you learned the day before. I was by no means perfect on what I learned the day before -- the "3-point" drill made a lot of sense visually and started to open up my awareness of the whole track not just what's in front of me (3 points: turn point, apex, exit point). I also rented one of the S1000RRs today -- the high prospect for heavy rain makes me both nervous to crash my own bike, and not excited to tear the entire bike apart to clean it. Plus what better scenario to test a high-tech new bike with traction control and rain modes? (And why do you need a good excuse to want to ride an S1000RR anyways?) At the end of the day, I was impressed with the BMW -- it was refined, powerful even in rain mode but especially when we got it out of rain mode, predictable. By the way, it did rain -- it effing poured on us during the fourth session, then stopped, then the final group of the final session of the day got rained out. To compare it to an automobile I expect it's a lot like driving a 2014 BMW M3 -- fun, refined, comfortable, powerful, elegant, smooth idle almost with no character. By comparison the 999 was more like an early 80s Porsche 911 Turbo -- no fancy electronic bits, totally analog, not an overwhelming amount of power, but a totally classic and eye-catching style and as much power as you could want to have fun with and a sound like an old classic sports car. Just totally different experiences -- I wouldn't say I liked the BMW more, or less for that matter. They are just different bikes that you should have different expectations for.

For anyone that's lasted this long in reading this, do yourself a favor, no matter your age: get on the track. Whether that's with CSS or another school or just a track day. It will change how you feel about motorcycling to push the limits of a bike and to do all the things that you've always wanted to do but never could on the street. Clearly these two days with CSS did not make me an expert rider. But what it did do was make me confident with the foundation that I need to get into track days safely. And it also made a total track convert -- riding on the street just can't possibly be as fun any more. Do yourself another favor and get out to VIR -- the surface is new this year, and the elevation changes and technical challenge they have worked into that course are just so freaking exciting, you could ride 100 laps there and still be trying to figure out those 14 turns on the North course.

I'll be at NCBike this weekend for Motorcycle Xcitement's track day, and back at VIR next month and in October for Cornerspeed's track days. I've been bitten by the bug.

First pic is first day, first session.
Second pic is first day, third session.
Third pic is 2nd day, wet 4th session.
Fourth pic is a fleet of 193 hp track weapons.
Fifth pic is the room at the Lodge.
Sixth pic is just a glamour shot.


460 Posts
Very nice write up mate. I've got to get my hands on a S1000RR and see what the hype is all about.

Track riding is where it's at. Street riding is so boring in comparison!
I've got a good 12-13 trackdays under my belt now and I'm positively addicted. The R6 makes riding the track easy!

174 Posts
Very nice write up!

Back in 2004 my wife sent me to the CSS for my birthday (keeper!) and I must say that it was quite possibly the most fun I've ever had on a bike. You learn so much that can be applied everywhere you, weather it's on the track or on the street.

I'd been riding for several years by the time I went and I too felt like a complete novice on a motorcycle. But the way things are set up there, you're not treated like a complete dickweed and they work with you so that you understand what they are trying to teach ya.

Sadly I've not been on the track since except for a Hypermotard release thingy. Now that I have my 996s though, that's gunna change!

Again cool write up. Oh...I think Lyle might have been my coach as well.
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