I hate to start a story this way, but I have some bad news: You’re not as fast as you think you are. No matter how talented, accomplished, brave, determined or just plain lucky you may be, there’s almost no way that you can actually ride a motorcycle as quickly or as well as you think you can. How do I know this? Because I used to not be as fast as I thought I was. But thanks to a two-time World MX champion with a thorough knowledge of the complex processes involved in hauling the mail and a knack for conveying this information, I’m slowly learning that it’s not at all about going as fast as you think you need to, it’s about breaking things down and building them back up in the correct order. Confused? Keep reading, this will all make sense in a minute.Last issue, you read Pete Peterson’s view on a one-day motocross school with Marty Smith. This, the sequel to that feature, is the recap of my experience on the next rung of the Moto School ladder, this time in a two-day intensive training camp with MX hero Sbastien Tortelli at his legendary racetrack in Perris, California. Now, I’d never received any sort of formal riding instruction before save for some much-welcomed tips from local pros and friends, and it didn’t take long for my perceptions about moto education to be completed shattered by Tortelli’s iron fist. Like most racers, I was under the impression that you show up at a riding school, fill your brain with little tips and tricks and then leave at the end of two days about four seconds faster than before. Not so! One of the first things that Tortelli stresses to his students is that the purpose of his riding school is not to make you faster immediately, but to give you the tools to make yourself faster over time. In fact, the champion warned in his still-present French accent that, “Eew may eeven become slover een zee next few veeks.” Sacrebleu!This leads to Tortelli’s next key point that all improvement comes from progressive steps. According to Sbastien, rarely will a rider stumble upon speed and chop three seconds off of his lap times. Rather, increased speed comes as a result of working on the most fundamental elements of riding and perfecting them in a specific order. And so, our day began with work on the basics, and the class of just over a dozen riders and I spent a good portion of the morning doing simple drills in the parking lot that, to be quite honest, felt awfully silly at first. That is, until I realized how much I needed to work on them. For example, Tortelli broke down the fine elements of braking and then stressed the specific succession in which they must be executed. You’d be surprised how easily the whole process can go wrong when you forget just one step! But when performed in the correct order, Tortelli’s finer points of braking become one smooth motion, and doing this for the first time provides a quick taste of what it feels like to work with the motorcycle.For MX Schools Part 1, click here.
After nearly an hour of parking lot basics, we moved on to the perfectly groomed Perris Raceway track to put our newfound braking skills to use and begin learning how to apply this to the art of cornering. One thing that I should mention here is that our makeshift class consisted of riders of varying age and ability, yet Tortelli was able to speak to everyone right where they were at. This is accomplished through the use of a tape recorder (or as he calls it, his “reh-caw-der”) that Sbastien makes notes with after each rider takes his turn doing a drill. These comments are then played back to the respective riders at the end of the drill, meaning that everyone-from the vet rider on CRF450R to the little guy on the KX65-gets to hear exactly what he or she personally needs to work on. Combined with Tortelli’s organized and effective methods for executing drills, this system brings quite a bit of personal instruction to the student. It might not be as personal as a one-on-one clinic, but it’s darn close. And don’t you dare think that when speaking with students, Tortelli is just a former motocrosser who thinks everyone should ride just like him; he’s actually one of the most intelligent, articulate (even with the accent) professors that our sport has ever seen. His way of conveying information to a rider-particularly a kid-is astounding to experience, and it was common to actually witness several of the other riders improve drastically after just a few thoughtful words from our teacher.Under the watchful eye of Tortelli and the ever-helpful advice emitted from his “reh-caw-der,” our class moved methodically from one drill to the next, each of which built upon the skills practiced in the last area. By the end of the day, it was obvious that Tortelli’s lesson plan isn’t just a random arrangement of activities; rather, it’s a well-planned series of skill-honing training evolutions that follow an almost scientific lesson plan. Another controlled element of the school is the fact that it takes place over two days, not just one. Tortelli explains that when you practice something during the day and then go to bed later that night, your mind is still processing everything new that you learned. He’s found that students see much more improvement and gain a deeper understanding of the principles that he teaches when they simply sleep on it and then come back the next day.And so, our class-minus a handful of mini riders who had a big race to go to-arrived bright and early on day two. Tortelli spent much of the morning patiently hammering home what had been taught the first day, and we gradually learned to take these skills to new sections of the track. I can’t give away any of Tortelli’s secrets, but I will say that I was truly amazed at how smoothly everything comes together when you put all the pieces together in the correct sequence. At one point, Sbastien waved me over in the middle of a corner drill after I’d been relentlessly pounding one single rut for the better part of an hour. “Eew just deed zat perfectly,” he reported. “I have nah-zing to add.” Success! While not at all focusing on going faster-just doing it right-I’d effectively touched on what happens when it all works the way it is supposed to. Needless to say, my speed through the corner improved drastically, and I’d be lying if I said my confidence didn’t as well.
We methodically spent the rest of the day going through the rest of the key elements of motocross: jumps, concrete starts, dirt starts and line selection. Each time I’d think I was getting faster and would begin to get cocky, Tortelli would gently put me back in my place by adding a slight element to a drill that would make me feel like a complete novice. At some point during that second day it finally sunk in that-as odd as it sounds-speed is one of the last ingredients of going fast. By focusing on the basics and absorbing the tried-and-true program that made Tortelli the rider he is, our class collectively understood that improving your speed is more about returning to the basics of riding and getting things right so that, as Sbastien explained, we have the tools to make ourselves faster.Tortelli wrapped up the class by candidly speaking with each student and explaining everything that he had seen over the course of two days. I took notes scrupulously, and was left with what I consider to be my personal roadmap to becoming a better rider. Now, each time before I go to the track I study this lesson plan methodically, and although the first month or so following the class was wrought with the return of several old habits and a deliberate reduction in the speed at which I was trying to do things, I pushed onward and reached a point where I saw significant improvement. But more important than the reduction in my lap times was the realization that if I strive to be slower than I think I should be, I’ll actually end up being faster than I think I am. And that’s a very good thing.American Supercamp:
Another Tool For The Toolbox
Want to do something crazy fun and learn at the same time? Enter American Supercamp, the two-day skills and balance improvement program that focuses on cornering technique, safety and speed through the use of-get this-minibikes. Fellow knowledge-seeker Jesse Ziegler and I spent a weekend with American Supercamp to see how it stacked up against formal motocross education, and we both came away wondering why we hadn’t done so sooner.Supercamp could be viewed as being a flat track-oriented class, as the entirety of the instruction takes place on a flat, all-dirt track. But the skills focused on will benefit riders from any discipline, be it roadracing, motocross, supermoto or just casual street riding. The emphasis is on safety and pushing one’s personal boundaries, which is why the course utilizes small-bore, four-stroke Yamaha dirt bikes. These TT-Rs are slid, crashed, skidded and swapped every which way during the class, and you end up learning a ton pushing the little bikes so hard. Not to mention that it’s an absolute blast! Many of the students at American Supercamp are repeat (sometimes third and fourth time) customers, and the atmosphere at the school is light and fun. A lot of learning takes place, and the amount of riding hugely outweighs the classroom time, so there is a lot of time to put what is preached into practice. Under the tutelage of renowned instructor and world-class smartass Danny Walker, the tempo of the instruction is perfect for all the riders in attendance.I can truly say that this camp represents two of the most enjoyable days of learning I’ve ever experienced, and I’m now itching to get back and give the American Supercamp’s supermoto program a go. The school is traveling, so camps are available in a wide variety of locations at a reasonable cost. Most camps are even divided into racer and nonracer groups, meaning that your wife or girlfriend will get just as much out of the same course as you do. If you’re looking for a great way to have some laughs, improve your corner speed and come away a much more versatile rider, visit www.americansupercamp.com and sign up today. Also, surf over to www.dirtrider.com and check out the full-on feature story on American Supercamp. You’ll be glad you did!For MX Schools Part 1, click here.